Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Barack Obama

I had a friend from Poland e-mail me this speech from Barack Obama and he asked me some questions that he was hoping for my feedback on. The speech can be found here:


My friend asked me the following questions, which I hope I answer to his satisfaction:

What do you think of it? Is it a hijack of religious language? Is it a Trojan horse into Christian mindset? Or maybe Obama has right to formulate his opinions using religious language? And by using Christian language he is legitimizing it? Or maybe he is rather discrediting it or abusing it?
Before I get started, I would like to say that Obama is quite the rhetorician. He really knows how to speak the talk of the right while not actually buying into anything that it stands for. It is very clear that he is trying to please both sides, saying that our duty is to the progressive ideal while saying it is not fundamentally opposed to having been informed by religion. I will have to say, I can see how easy it is to be carried by his sway, but his colours showed deep down through his clever use of language in an attempt to appease all sides. In fact, I believe the following paragraph illustrates this perfectly:
Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal
What do you think of it?

As I write this I am still finishing the talk. It is quite intriguing because he puts in many attractive statements, only to follow them with subtle arguments that, if one is not careful, will fall into the razzle dazzle of his smoke and light show.

What was eerie for me was that all I could think about was Fr. Elijah by Michael O'Brien. The politician who was able to convince people of all faiths that they were all right, yet in a subtle way so as they could think that they could still be who they claimed to be. It eerie how similar it was to that book as I was reading this to be completely honest. The man who would bring world peace by bringing an end to division, a division which, at its root (according to the world) is in religion. Religion is what divides, but according to Obama, it is our reason that unites.

It is weird because I read a paragraph and think to myself "right on!" only to follow it up with a "oh, I see where he's going" and quickly see the error of the original excitement. I hope to address the rest of the observations in the remainder of the questions.

Is it a hijack of religious language?

I am of the firm opinion that this speech is a definite hijack of religious language. He is using it all over the place, but that is precisely the point, he is using it. It is funny how at one point he is talking about the universality of morality, while at another point saying that some basic moral precepts are only right for some cultures and not for all.

I really am just amazed about the subtle contradictions. What I am even more amazed about is that I think he is fully aware of the contradictions, but says them because he knows that the average joe will not see these contradictions and see that progressivism and faith are actually the best of buddies and are not mutually exclusive.

One spot I noticed the hijacking to be at its height was at the following:

Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality.

First I thought to myself "wow, he knows Rick Warren!" After regaining my senses, I looked at this and thought "he is using religious convictions to promote ideals that are not necessarily religious." I can't remember the last time we have talked about the role of budget cuts in our attaining salvation. But that just might be my lack of exposure. He says at one point that we can't have our religious convictions influence our political decisions in matters like abortion and homosexual marriage, while at other points, such as the above quoted paragraph, he is saying we need to exercise our religious faith in the public square. This is ok, of course, because it is in line with the progressive agenda. It seems, in the end, Obama is saying that faith is ok in the public square only when it is in according with the progressive agenda, which to Obama, seems to be the true revealer of all that is true.

Is it a Trojan horse into Christian mindset?

I will be brief here. I will simply say that yes, it is a Trojan horse. He is talking about things that every religious person has a deep concern about and says to them "yes, you are right for having a deep conviction of faith". That is his way in, and he talks the language they talk, but it is through that language that he subtly moves his progressive agenda in. For example, he says "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values." He is using a language that many Christians are accustomed to, the idea of universals. But he seems to think that if it is universal, it is in conflict with religiously based morals, as if religion cannot attain an understanding of morality, unless it is the version he is touting with the progressive flag. 'Nuff said there.

Or maybe Obama has right to formulate his opinions using religious language?

Well, Obama does have the right to formulate his opinions using religious language. However, the question needs to be asked if this formulation is in accordance with truth. I think the Catholics who read my blog would say no, it is not a proper religious infusion into language. The inherent contradictions alone make it contrary to "religious-speak"! The idea that things can be universal, but also relative, and so forth. Yes, he has the right, but is he forming it right? I think he is not.

And by using Christian language he is legitimizing it? Or maybe he is rather discrediting it or abusing it?

I think the first part of this question hits the problem dead on. He is attempting to legitimate his perspective of the issues by throwing in Christian language. By speaking the language many conservatives would use, he is speaking at their level and engaging them in a way I am sure they are not used to by a progressive. Furthermore, he is quick on his feet and subtle, so it is tough to see that he has inherently wrong positions, but he is crafty enough to cover them up with statements that conservatives would like to hear.

I think, however, the second part of the question answers the remainder of the first. In the end, he is hijacking something that is not his. If he is really a relativist, who sees religion informing your public opinion only when it is in accordance with the progressive agenda, then he is definitely discrediting and abusing such a style of talking.

I would like to make one final comment. He sure liked to throw in his Catholic jab. He notes that "a majority" of Catholics practice birth control and are not opposed to the legalization of same sex marriage. First off, I would like to know how he knows that this is what the majority of Catholics do. Secondly, just because the majority does it, doesn't mean it is right. He is saying that the Bishops have to encourage their faithful to oppose birth control and same sex marriage on a personal level, but in the public sphere it can only be the progressive truth. I wonder how the heck you can encourage people to be anti-birth control privately while saying at the same time they are right for practicing it.

I think it is unfortunate that Barack fundamentally falls into so many easy errors. I think it is even more unfortunate, however, that this man has such command of the U.S. public. This man is indeed quite smart, and he knows how to use the right words to speak to the right people. But he uses those words to his advantage so that he can lure people into voting for him, , if he pulled the usual progressive lines, would usually not.

It is interesting what he is saying. He sees the conservative movement as having a control over the majority in the US and he sees that the only way to engage is to speak their language. It is a very brilliant move, I must admit. I just hope that those on the conservative side show that he really is not speaking their language at all. If only Barack could see it.



gabriel said...

Hmmm... have to say, I largely disagree. Obama is, so far as I can tell, a genuinely convinced Christian (albeit in a very liberal denomination). He gave an intriguing speech two years ago in which he defended religious speech in the public forum.

I tend to disagree with Obama on just about everything, but I don't doubt his sincerity.

Colm said...

Heh, America's Golden Brown Boy who does not wrong and says nothing. There isn't a shred of difference between Obama and Clinton: Both great orators who claim to represent a new 'politics' but in actuality represent nothing than the sum of special interest groups of the political Left. That Obama (and every politician for that matter) is sincere I dont' doubt, but sincerity is an easy thing to feign, integrity however isn't.

For when push comes to punch, Obama has as much compassion for Americans who do not agree with his progressive agenda as Muhammad had for Arab Jews. He'll court them when necessary and slaugther them when opportune. It's good to remember that Obama initially promised to be a consensus seeker, only to come out decidely in favour of partial birth abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic destruction during research, and even threatening to invade Pakistan. Good luck building any consensus with opinions like that.

Okay, but back to the hijack. Obama is a Christian, living in a Christian society, politicking in a Christian political spectrum. He has every right to utilize Christian rhetoric whenever and not be considered a 'hijacker' by Christians who do not think his opinions and behaviour are very Christian. That's freedom of speech. Was Luther hijacking Christian rhetoric when he argued against the primacy of the Papacy?