Monday, December 10, 2007

Obama and Religion

A plethora of posts lately! Can you tell my Art History page is kicking my a**?

Reading CNN and came across an article about Clinton's staffers (now fired) who forwarded emails regarding Obama's supposed Muslim beliefs. I find it rather absurd that people can't forward an email they disagree with in order to show, to paraphrase one of the women, how dirty politics is growing. I remember that email as well and found it equally heinous, though perhaps this Clinton forwarder should have included a response -- I was unsure of the message I was being sent from the person who sent it after all. But that's not my point. The comments on that article ranged from declarations that Obama's religion shouldn't matter to suggestions that his current church is Afrocentric and therefore exclusive and therefore Obama would make a bad President -- and I suppose is also a bad American by implication? So I googled it and found this lovely Fox News article I'd like to comment on. (And let you know why it connects with my Art History paper -- I promise it does!)

The Fox News article is provocatively titled: "Questions surround Obama's Controversial Pastor," though it seems that most of the questions are concerned over nothing, judging by what was reported. (I'd check the church's website, but don't have that much time!) What I found most striking was its quotes that (I'm paraphrasing) suggest that you have to be black and poor to understand God. Now, why would Obama (a wealthy man) go to a church that preached this? What would he gain? But these suggestions caught my eye because what they listed as facts .... were factual contrary to the doom and gloom the article implied. First, that more black men end up in prison than college and second, that racism is alive and well in this country. The article rather evinces that latter fact...

But, reading on I noticed that one of the major problems that seems to come up is the message the church preaches that blacks share a common history with the Israelites and that the Biblical story resonates deeply and accurately with their own history. My first thought was, the Anglo-Saxons also believed this. (See, I told you this is related to my paper!) In fact, they went so far as to depict Biblical narrative in contemporary garb, even (gasp) changing traditional iconography to make this point more explicit. They considered themselves exiles from the Promised Land...just like the Israelites...and just like Obama's preacher. So why is this so problematic in our day and age?

I think a lot of it has to do with race, but I'm also interested in what this suggests about how some Christians view the Bible -- it's something that happened in the past and only affects Christians in that it gives out rules for daily life, but really only about social issues (like abortion and homosexuality and sex in general). The idea that the Bible can be interpreted as a symbol that extends beyond a rule of conduct, but truly absorbed into one's life and made a living, breathing entity -- as do these identifications of black heritage with the struggles of the Israelites -- doesn't really fit with the more rigid, historical text.

The other thing I found interesting is how Obama has reportedly indicated he does not believe everything that his church says. Some guy at some Acton Institute in Michigan was astonished by this: "If Barak Obama has really submitted himself to his church like he’s claimed, why does he have a different expression of faith from his own pastor?” Where to even begin?! This statement smacks of a lock-step view that makes polemical beliefs dangerous; it suggests that only one view is acceptable and that one cannot modify, correct or evaluate the message that's given one. This, I think, is the danger that is truly presented in this article: that there are religious perspectives that teach doctrines that cannot be challenged and instead, no matter how innocuous or dangerous, must be followed to the letter.

I'm left with a great deal of excitement about this election: in our supposedly inclusive, non-racist, religiously free country we have being confronted with our hypocrisies -- and have the choice to conquer them, or perpetuate them. What makes this election so interesting is how all the candidates, Democrat and Republican, have something potentially controversial about them: race, gender, religion (a million different ones), social values and so forth. We're suddenly faced as an electorate with choices that reveal what our country is really about: opportunities that extend beyond what we believe on a single issue. The Founding Fathers (well, some of them -- they weren't a single block of people who believed the same thing after all) were fond of creating factions: not a two party one like we have now, but one that asked each person to make decisions based on an individual conscious, to compromise on some issues and remain firm on others. To vote with one group and then side with a different one the next day. When we can't conveniently pigeon-hole our candidates, then suddenly a discussion on what really matters might be able to occur.

And we might find a man like Obama who can stand up and say that beliefs matter, tradition matters, but integrity and reflection matter most.

1 comment:

Painted Rock Pictures said...

Thought you'd find this interesting.

Jerusalem a poem by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

It looks like Hillary might not be so inevitable after all!