Barack Obama’s Speech on Race
Speech transcript found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/us/politics/18text-obama.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin
So I just watched Barack Obama's speech on race as well as his retort/apology in reference to the inflammatory comments made by his Reverend Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. Here is a quick summary of the controversy ripped from his Wiki page. ABC News publicized several controversial sound bites of Wright's sermons which were heavily critical of the United States Government inluding: saying of the events of September 11, 2001: "The stuff we have done overseas is brought right back into our homes". In other sermons, he said "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color", referring to AIDS origins theories, and "The government gives them the drugs [referring to the Iran-Contra Affair], builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people...God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme".
While I know Obama is a proud Christian, just like the two other candidates, he seems to be getting all of the flack for his religious affiliations at the moment while not too much attention has been paid to the support John McCain has received from radical Christianists Rod Parsley(calls for a war on Islam, supports dominionism, ardently opposes separation of church and state) and John Hagee(Wiki quote:In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee interprets the Bible to predict Russia, and the Islamic States will invade Israel and will be destroyed by God. This will cause the anti-christ, the head of the European Union, to create a confrontation over Israel between China and the West. A final battle between East and West at Armageddon will then precipitate the Second Coming of Christ).
I am not saying Obama shouldn't get flack for this, he definitely should have to explain whether or not he agrees with the sometimes racist, conspiracy theory laden comments of his spiritual guru. It strikes me as almost ridiculous that no one in the media, aside from Bill Maher, has really touched on the idea that these religious quacks often have a profound spiritual influence on these politicians that can manifest itself outside of the realm of "private, personal beliefs" and into political influence through the irrational dogmas and integrally linked worldviews inherent to the particular faith/sect being professed.
I have to say I found this speech to be enlightening in the sense that its essence portrays race as a subject that doesn't always have to be dealt with kid gloves while actually speaking to your audience as if they are discerning adults(a novel concept these days). He puts a human face on the race issue and relates how he has seen both sides of it while growing up in his racially and culturally diverse childhood. Obama basically breaks down the solution in terms of (1)advocating the Golden Rule as a guide to rising up out of the divide Americans experience, (2)realizing that changing the moral Zeitgeist is effectively done through reaching the minds of the next generation, and that (3)the ultimate progress will be achieved by honest discussions that transcend the "us versus them mentality" into the universal US. While I did find these hopeful and honest injections into such a divisive issue, so much of the linguistic framework for his arguments lie in biblical lessons learned through his faith, as well as the concilliation that everybody knows that their pastor, rabbi, or priest have political views with which their congregants strongly disagreed. Here are a few selected segments that deal with the aforementioned.
"I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, 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; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”
These are but a few excerpts dealing with Barack's biblical allusions as to how he centers his worldview around these stories and the messages they tell. It is not hard to poke holes in the literality of these stories, but the cherrypicking nature of taking the good and throwing out the bad in these stories is really a simplistic view of the complex messages God/Yahweh is telling us about his very nature. These passages demonstrate very clearly that GOD only has love for his chosen people, the Jews. If any manmade ruler(pharoah) opposes these people he will curse them as well as all of the people in that country. It doesn't matter that the people living in Egypt have no say in the whims of a supposedly divine ruler/dictator in whom none of them elected. The egyptians will suffer simply because of the fact that Pharoah enslaved the Jews. GOD is going to kill the first born son of every firstborn son in Egypt to show them he does not tolerate their behavior(exodus 11:4-8). I guess one could take from this story that GOD had released his people from slavery, drawing the parallel of the blacks being released from slavery in America. I am assuming that is the point Obama is making, but to overlook or even ignore the character of a GOD who (1) chooses a group of humans to hold up better than all people on the earth(both of which he supposedly created), (2) GOD's total insecurity of always having to show the chosen people that he is the boss, that the Jews and everyone else should fear and love him, that he can and will kill anyone that disagrees with him, and that he relishes in making unbelievers bow down and beg him for things. The character of this GOD from one passage alone is enough for me to see that using this story as a basis for identification with your own personal story as Obama says,"Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story" really makes me wonder if he understands the nature of his GOD at all. I guess what I am trying to say is that while I can accept the message of Obama on understanding/solving race issues, I would take the Sam Harris viewpoint that he doesn't need bad reasons to do good things when there are perfectly good reasons to do them. I think these faulty tracts of logic from progressive Christians still need to be examined and challenged just as those of the more bigoted and regressive fundamentalist Christians. Even if one leans toward our own particular political end of the spectrum doesn't mean we can give them a pass on their uninformed religious beliefs. I hope the opening created in this ideological rift of his former pastor will move the discussion from a candidate's relation to political/dogmatic zealotry in religious organizations to a discussion of the often negative role religion plays in the shaping and framing of a candidate's worldview and political beliefs concurrent with that worldview.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda