Barack Obama’s comments this week about American values reveal not just elitism and a lack of understanding about the values most Americans hold dear, but they also expose him as using religion for political gain.
As a reminder, here is what he said. There was a question from some of his donors who asked what they could expect in Pennsylvania when they traveled there to campaign for him. They had to work to do, Obama responded, because voters in a lot of the communities feel beaten down by job losses and betrayed by their government. “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said.
Let’s start with the easy part: It’s human nature to project our experiences on to other people–to assume that they have traveled a similar road and that our experiences and conclusions are somewhat universal. Perhaps this is how HE views these issues—that religion is placebo for the problems of the world or that guns make people feel powerful when they have no power. But Obama’s comments not only show that he believes the way he lives his life to be better than the way many Americans choose to live their lives, but they also show that he isn’t aware of this tendency towards projection. Which means that if he is given the chance to lead this great nation, he will do so only guided by his own personal view of the American Experience and without even a limited understanding of what the majority of Americans truly believe. He doesn’t understand the underlying conservative (not Republican–conservative) values that most Americans hold dear. I’m not saying he has to be able to bowl a 160, or hit a soup can with a 9mm from 50 feet, or even raise his hands in worship. He just needs to know that a significant number of Americans do–and it’s a choice we freely make; if for no other reason than it lets us spend time with our friends and neighbors who like the same things.
His inclusion of religion in his remarks, however, also tells us something about the Illinois Senator. The inference from his recent comments is that, as Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Religion isn’t something real in our lives. It isn’t a relationship with the Creator. Religion, Marx and Obama tell us, is a painkiller for what really ails us—economic hardship brought on by others, victimization at the hands of “the man,” powerlessness. Furthermore, he implies that this phenomenon is unique to the weak members of society who cannot otherwise cope with their predicament. This is from a man who wrote in his memoirs, “Inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories — of survival, and freedom, and hope — became our story, my story.” Are we to assume that he feels the thousands of black church members are simply looking for a way to deal with their frustrations? Because I didn’t hear him say any of that last month when speaking about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Was David clinging to religion when he found the courage to take on Goliath? Were the members of Trinity United Church of Christ clinging to religion as they dealt with the frustrations Reverend Wright prattled on about from the pulpit?
Campaigning in South Carolina last fall, Obama trumpeted the power and salvation of faith and asked a church audience to help him become “an instrument of God” and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth.” Would that be the Kingdom of Bitterland, Senator?
After his highly regarded speech on race in America, he was discussing his grandmother. He allowed as how she didn’t believe when she was alive, as he does, that Jesus was God and died for our sins. And yet he asserted his confidence that she is in heaven. I’m sorry, Senator. You can’t have it both ways. You cannot speak of the power of salvation through Jesus Christ and then say Grammy’s in heaven even though she didn’t believe. There are many who might agree that a life well lived is sufficient and God will judge accordingly. But they do not also speak of salvation through Jesus. I would be happy to overlook religious views different than my own—I do it every election. What I can’t do is ignore the hypocrisy of a man whose core values seem to change depending on his audience. Either, Senator Obama, you believe Jesus saves or you don’t.
Either, Senator Obama, you believe religion provides freedom, survival and hope or you believe religion is a bad drug.
Make up your mind, Senator. Make a decision. Take a stand.
Senator Obama believes in the power of his own palaver. He has created a platform of hope that many Americans are desperate to hear and believe. He has sought to tempt conservative Americans with talk of personal responsibility and with stories of his life of faith. He sketched out a plan for the presidency and it looked like genius. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a helicopter in 1483. When a prototype was built from the diagrams a few years ago, it never flew. Like Barack Obama’s oratory, it all looks good on paper, but it will never fly.
Elitism? Absolutely. But we can live with elitism. I don’t believe Senators Clinton or McCain to be any less elitist. But we must begin to see Obama for who he is. We must look beyond our own desire for a message of hope and seek real leadership from a candidate with a plan for America’s continued preeminence that consists of something more than just an artist’s rendering of the future.