Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Role of Spirituality in Politics

(This speech delivered to the Fellowship of Reason, July 6, 2008

This year we are seeing a phenomenon in politics that I have not seen in my lifetime.

In the 60s, John and Jackie Kennedy added an esthetic level to politics with their youth, style and grace. They captured the imagination of the country and even though the election was close and the politics not especially noteworthy, they still are remembered by many as the high point for defining American presidential style.

This year we have the candidacy of Barack Obama. Although some people try to compare Barack and Michelle to the Kennedys, I don’t buy it and think it is a stretch. It is true, they are working on a classy presentation, but it doesn’t come off natural to them, at least for Michelle, in the way it was for the Kennedys.

But there is something natural to Obama: The spiritual.

He speaks in the measured cadence and repeated phrases of a practiced preacher. He is charismatic and eloquent. Girls swoon and faint when they get near him. The cheering and screaming in his presence goes beyond the meaning of what he is saying. Obama is the apotheosis of a rock star.

His candidacy is a spiritual quest. He promises hope and change. Don’t all spiritual quests imply hope for change? When one is filled with despair and life is meaningless, is not a spiritual quest needed? “Surely there must be something greater than, more exultant than my little life. I hope so. Obama says there is. Let me follow him.”

Obama has arrogated to himself the role of the person who is going to lead the way and heal the rancor of our divided, angry nation. Obama is going to have us rise above our pettiness and even suggests correcting our wrong-from-the-start actions. Follow him and we will transform this entire mess we find ourselves victim of.

When I go to Obama’s website, I find a beautiful website. Unlike the others, the graphics are extremely well done and consistent. For a political website, it is an extraordinary esthetic, i.e. spiritual, experience.

The colors are red, white and blue except they are not the navy blue and the robust red that we know as our country’s colors. Obama’s blue is a lighter, a medium blue with shading suggesting a sky. His red is a toned-down, slightly-grayed red such that it isn’t so definite nor bold. It is quieter, doesn’t excite too much, and let’s you be with it all without feeling threatened.

McCain’s site, on the other hand has a picture of him in front of furling flags of a deep blue background with white stars and gold fringe and is associated with the pomp and grandeur of the elected office. (This is not an endorsement of McCain - just a comparison of websites and what in us to which they appeal.)

Obama’s website’s header has Obama’s symbol of a rising sun over a red and white striped landscape placed over the right shoulder of a picture of Obama dressed in a white shirt and a silvery grey tie. A halo effect of a lighter sky surrounds his shoulders such that his white shirt and the whitened sky merge as one at some places of this image. To the right of this image are the words: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington . . . I’m asking you to believe in yours.” At the bottom of the page is the statement: “This website is powered by Hope.”

Clearly Obama is appealing to spiritual aspirations of a different order than whatever McCain is appealing to. I don’t deny that the office of President of the United States has a spiritual component to it. My question is: What spiritually can our President provide? Asking that, maybe we can know whether Obama is on the right track in his spiritual appeal to America?

The United States has the clearest principled founding document in the world. In the Declaration of Independence, we declare that “all men are created equal with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – that to secure these Rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - “

This agreement by which we live and true ourselves to in the course of our political life sets the standard for the spiritual nourishment that we need from the government. When our government is upholding this agreement and clearly acting in accordance with it, our spirit is buoyed and we feel confident to live our lives in the freedom that is ours by right. We are free to pursue our happiness. We are happy that our government is doing the job it was designed to do.

Witness the reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Second Amendment Right to keep and bear Arms. Many people got goosebumps when they heard this decision. This is the most life affirming court decision that I remember other than Roe vs. Wade, the decision affirming a woman’s right to her body. The United States may be the only country where the citizens may keep and bear Arms for the reason of keeping their politicians and government in check. With government running amok untethered by its duty to provide for our liberty, its about time we put these guys on notice.

When it does not uphold these principles and the lines of proper action are unclear, we become spiritually diminished and threatened. Upset, irritation and anger result.

There can be plenty of disagreement as to how to carry out the simple principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence and in fact, we all know that it is the nature of government to encroach on the rights of the people, infringe their liberty and impede their pursuit of happiness.

I assert that America’s spiritual health coincides with the government hewing itself to the principles for which it was founded.

Obama, however, is not presenting himself as a person committed to carrying out our founding principles stated. He nowhere refers to them and when asked about his view of one or more of them, he equivocates, coming down on both sides of the issue – as he did with the Second Amendment. He is committed to Change and Hope, two amorphous meaningless words nowhere in our defining documents. Change to what? Hope for what?

Because Obama is not grounded in the principles of our founding documents and there is a good bit of evidence to say that he simply doesn’t agree with them, believing instead in class warfare and the divisions among men, he must find an alternate spirituality with some attraction in order to attract voters. I say he is fashioning himself as The Savior – the one who will provide the change and the hope that those attracted to this kind of spirituality can go for. They’ve bought it many times before. Why wouldn’t they buy it now.

He is fashioning himself, not as a proponent of ideas, but as the personality that is going to take us to the Promised Land, that heaven beyond our ordinary lives. This is why I think his website graphics and preacher-ly cadences evoke these otherworldly associations.

As an aside, many of the emblems that designate constituencies he hopes to attract are basically a circle in a blue background. Each one is elaborated to designate that particular constituency. The circle in a blue field is reminiscent of the UN flag, a world organization, not a national organization. Again, “heaven” is beyond our ordinary lives and ordinary boundaries.
My conclusion is that his appeal to the kind of spirituality he seeks to evoke is fundamentally inappropriate to a political campaign in the United States of America.

The constant polling of people gives us data that he is winning. I don’t really believe them at this point primarily because the main stream media has been so wrong in its predictions of past elections. But, then again, they could be right.

There are two things that worry me most about this election. First, have the practical, logical, reasonable people who are responsible for their own lives and that constitute the bulk of this country slipped into the minority; and have those who think they can profit by punishing the rich corporations and individuals or feel guilty for the success they have achieved or think it is time for a man with a different skin color regardless of his ideas to run the country become the majority?

Second, will Obama as he confidently embraces contradiction upon contradiction and eschews being governed by reality take on the status of a God? When he embraced Bush’s faith based program and said he will make that program the moral center of his administration, I fell silent. This was a daringly bold move. He blew off all his past condemnations of Bush and any likenesses of Bush as even remotely viable in this election. He risked his Hate Bush constituency. With this action he no longer gave heed to foe or contradictory stands or anything by which we measure a man. He is in the process of extricating himself from the realm of ordinary man. Either he will find himself licking his wounds at the curb because we judge him absurd or we will be drawn to him because of our fascination. Maybe he will become an uberman. Will we raise Obama on high to lead us wherever HIS heart desires in any moment of OUR future?

Why do I NOT think that ANYONE’s spiritual future lies there?

1 comment:

robert574 said...

Seems like Obama is running for the 3rd Bush term.