Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Personal Faith Reflections: Barack Obama is not the Messiah

Say it with me: Barack Obama is not the Messiah.

(Neither is he, for our ardent Republican readers, the Antichrist.)

There is a tremendous amount of excitement around the election of our 44th President in this country and around the world - for what I think are a number of good reasons. Who could have imagined 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, that we would have an African American President of the United States? For years, we've told our children that anyone can grow up to become President - with this historical election, that statement moves a little closer to actually being true, and that in my mind is a good thing.

You can't just say that a racial barrier has been broken - you have to break it and watch the pieces fall away in the light of day.

There is more I could say about this election, but this blog post is not actually about politics - it is about idolatry.

I've been disturbed for some time now about the messianic language used to describe Obama. I think that being a firm member of a "third party" might give me a slight outsider's view, since it is not in my interest to buy into Obama-messianism, nor am I really encouraged to believe that he "pals around with terrorists", or whatever other garbage the partisans of the other side come up with.

To me, Barack Obama seems like a human being, just like John McCain - a human being that I agree with on a few more issues than McCain, but just a human being. He has his limitations, his failings, his hypocrisies and self-deceptions just like everyone else. Sometimes these show, but he is as savvy as any national politician in allowing us to project upon him our hopes and dreams and highest aspirations. We can't possibly vote a human being into national office, so we vote a projection, we vote for the lies we tell ourselves about them, or the lies we allow others to tell us, believing they are somehow different from the everyday humanity that surrounds us.

They are not different. They are just like you and me. And that thought should terrify you around election time, just as it terrifies me.

This whole time, when I've had the chance, I've tried to talk about Barack Obama the man, the politician, because I already have a Messiah who I am comfortable naming as such.

Likely many who read this blog know that being Messiah has to do with being anointed - being the anointed one. I like to think of anointing as a catalyst, like a conductor which enables a charge to pass from one thing to another. There is no question that Barack Obama is the anointed one of the Democratic party and of what seem to be most of the liberals in America, as well as tens of millions of others - Evangelicals, moderates, etc. He is also, in a sense, the anointed one of the electoral college, and they will transfer power and authority to him by the authority of our Constitution.

In the Messiah's case, the anointing comes from God - it does not come from here. It does not have to do with our moral decisions, or our value judgements, or the ways we make meaning. It has to do with something happening that is for our highest good, for the salvation of the whole world, but which conducts its power from outside the world we live in. The Messiah is an invader from the un-fallen world, anointed by God for the purpose of making God's person and God's purpose known.

This Messiah has a lot to do with how we behave politically, with how we treat each other in every situation. This Messiah makes claims on our lives that limit what we can do, how we can act. This Messiah does not arise from any political machinery, and if we were all to vote "no" this Messiah would remain. This Messiah is not a referendum nor a proposition on a ballot; this Messiah is God's Messiah. This Messiah shows us who God is and who we are.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, like every national politician, arises out of political machinery composed of greed and fear and vice, of occlusion and deception and fabrication, of half-truths and messy logic and compromises. Barack Obama is not the Messiah of God - is not a Messiah at all. Barack Obama is a politician - an exciting one for some people some of the time, but that is all he is.

He will not save us. He will not make us whole. He will not restore us. He will not redeem us. He will not reconcile us to God and to each other. He will not bring us Shalom. He will not remake the world.

I urge everyone to think about this in their own way. Remember who the Messiah is, what the claims on you are, and remember the limits of any human being, even a President, even a historic President of which we can be very proud in many ways.

One more time: Barack Obama is not the Messiah.


John Shuck said...

OK. Good warning. Although, I am not sure if I know of anyone who has called him the Messiah except those who criticize others who voted for him.

Reyes-Chow said...

Yeah, I agree with John on this one. Good warning, wise words for our lives in general.

Still, I don't think most folks actually do see him as any kind of savior. But . . . what he is a great motivator and have his finger on the pulse of a generation yearning to break out of a posture of fear. Like any great leader he inspires each of US to be great citizens. At least that is what he has done for me. Okay. Election over, but I do think that we cannot underestimate the power of a people motivated my hope. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Sarahlynn said...

A couple of things:

1) The President-Elect is Barack Obama.

2) Like John, I haven't actually heard any Obama supporters referring to him with messianic language. Perhaps I'm reading different papers, but I've mostly heard that talk in the form of insults (he's uppity!) from Obama's detractors.

3) And, of course, from Obama himself:

Contrary to popular belief, I was not born in a manger. I was born on Krypton, sent by my father Jor El, to save the people of Earth.

Sara said...

It is dangerous to put to much hope in one man. However, we do need hope and it's been missing for some time. The only messianic talk I heard was from people telling me he wasn't the Messiah, I never heard from anyone that he was. We are just so hungry for a leader to pull us together. I haven't been this hopeful since...oh yeah, Bruce was elected Moderator! I guess he's not the Messiah either? ;-)

Douglas Underhill said...

Thanks for the spelling fix.

I'm actually really surprised none of you have heard messianic language around Barack Obama. I'll have to take your word for it, but I've heard a huge amount of it from his supporters, and even more of it implied in things like campaign ads set to religious music and so on.

It might be that the hope so many people are putting in him is justified - that remains to be seen. I hope so, since the alternative is a massive collapse of a lot of emotional 'inflation'.

Maybe I'm totally off here. I agree that only a couple people have said to me directly something like "maybe Obama is the Messiah"; what I'm talking about here are what I see as powerful implications, not a literal claim - idolatry is never that easy to identify, or else it wouldn't happen so much...

John Shuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Shuck said...

Doug, you must hang out with interesting folks. I can't imagine anyone (except a crazed religious fanatic--and we have plenty of those) calling anybody a "messiah!"

Is this the Life of Brian?

This messiah business was a right wing invention to discredit Obama and his supporters. I am surprised you got caught up in it.

On the other hand, there are many people quite enthusiastic about Obama for various reasons.

That is not such a bad thing, except, that as I think you are pointing out, it can lead us to put expectations on an individual rather than on ourselves for change.

I have heard that we need to all get behind him and support him. I am not sure what that means. I am going to do my little part to put his feet to the fire so he will use his influence on important issues: Iraq, alternative energy, ecology, glbt justice (he owes them that), healthcare, cooperation with the world community, and rethinking our economy in regards to global sustainability.

Perhaps his presidency will encourage individuals to work on these issues.

If he can't do any of that I hope at least he'll keep us from blowing up the planet with nukes. After Bush, my bar is pretty low.

Mark Baker-Wright said...

For what it's worth, I'm not getting the impression that Doug is hear people "call Obama the Messiah" in so many words. This seems especially clear from his follow-up comment. Rather, he is concerned that the music use, the emotional tone set, and other kinds of language all combine to evoke this "Messianic impression."

That said, I've seen his general concern brought up by LOTS of people, so although I really think it's a lot of fuss over something that I actually agree with most of you isn't happening to the degree these people seem to think it is, I have to concede that there's a really phenomenon there to be concerned about.

(It should also be noted, that I HAVE actually heard some folks on the other side refer to Obama as "the Antichrist." Explicitly. Those kinds of comments terrify me.)

Mark Baker-Wright said...

Point of clarification. When I say this concern has been "brought up by LOTS of people," I'm actually referring to people more on the left than on the right, so I'm not sure I can go with the idea that it's strictly a right-wing formulation, either.

Douglas Underhill said...

I dunno, the Mother Jones blog has a post about this exact issue, and I don't think they're right-wing fanatics - and that's just one I've seen recently. I'm sorry - I'm not making this up, and I honestly don't run in 'interesting circles'. I'm a *Presbyterian*, remember ;)

I guess its also possible that I, Mother Jones, the London Telegraph, World Net Daily, Newsweek, The Washington Post, etc. are all caught up in the same conservative deception.

Or, maybe there is something to this issue.

B-W is right - I want to be really clear that I'm not necessarily hearing people say "Barack Obama is the Messiah", and I tried to clarify that in my other follow-up comment.

And again, if this doesn't hit a mark for you, feel free to ignore it. All I can talk about is what I've read and observed. If I'm not being clear, I apologize.

Reyes-Chow said...

Yeah, I hear the concerns about what images and backdrops have been used, but I think that if pressed, even a little, most folks really will not think that one person can do anything in isolation. I think what we are hearing is a collective exhale in response to a deep yearning for something better. I think the bigger fight is against the idea that this election "solves" anything in itself be it race, age, etc. Give it a few weeks and I think the country will settle back into a work-like place in our daily and national lives. What I hope for is that that attitude will be tinged with hope, discipline and vision, so this event does have the impact that so many hope for. This movement would never be possible via one person, but one person who has recognized a movement and taken his place and role in it. Exit soapbox.

John Shuck said...

OK, I think I get you guys. There is an atmosphere surrounding him that anticipates some sort of Holy Spirit movement that freaks you out.

I harbor no such illusions. In fact, I am already disappointed with his selection of chief of staff.

I would say this: there is a movement that really wants peace and cooperation rather than war to solve conflicts, a higher level awareness regarding our planet, reconciliation regarding the divides among religions, ethnicities, and so forth that is much larger than Obama.

He gives voice to it. That said, he has a long way to go. If he can do anything right, in my view, it will not be that he can solve the problems (messiah) but encourage creativity and conversation, much like our messiah, Bruce R-C.

John Shuck said...

I should put a little smiley : ) after my jokes--ie. Bruce R-C as messiah. : )

Messiahs tend to get crucified. We don't need no messiahs.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among [or within] you.’ Luke 17:20-21

Just call me a Bible-thumper : )

Stushie said...

Why do you write that Republicans are calling Obama the anti-Christ? Why not specify that Democrats are treating him as the Messiah?

If you're going to mention political parties, Ryan, you have to be even handed.

John Shuck said...

Why do you write that Republicans are calling Obama the anti-Christ? Why not specify that Democrats are treating him as the Messiah?

If you're going to mention political parties, Ryan, you have to be even handed.

Doug not Ryan.

Jeez Stushie. Who do you think he was talking about, the Whigs?

That is why I was insulted by this post. It painted supporters of Obama (mostly Democrats) as starry-eyed cult groupies.

Some of us actually supported a candidate we liked and hoped might help make us make a difference, not because we worship him for crying out loud.

Viola Larson said...

Okay I know Oprah Winfrey is always over the top with what she says, but this is from a CBS article "Messianic Rhetoric Infuses Obama Rallies." And it is a quote by her:
"We're all here to come together – to appreciate our uniqueness and to treasure our diversity, and we're here to evolve to a higher plane," she said. "The reason I love Barack Obama is because he is an evolved leader who can bring evolved leadership to our country."

But I think that kind of thing happens on both sides of the political landscape. And while I did not vote for Obama because of his stand on abortion and on other things, I find it wonderful that the African American community at long last have broken through that impossible wall.

I do pray for him, and yes Doug I pray that he will be treated as another human person. He will make mistakes in some places and probably do well in others. Just think of Richard Nixon, a terrible president in most ways but he was a good foreign policy statesman and the person who opened the door to a relationship with China.

Stushie said...

I know that John, but if you mention and criticize one party by name and don't mention the other in your criticisms, then that is perceived as being biased.

John Shuck said...

Actually, he did mention Democrats by name:

There is no question that Barack Obama is the anointed one of the Democratic party and of what seem to be most of the liberals in America,

Again, this post was a criticism of Democrats anyway, not Republicans.

Stushie said...

OK John, thanks for the corrections. next time, I'll wear my glasses and really read what's written instead of what I perceive...