Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Religion (maybe later Ruth Ann) ...

It’s hard not to think a bit about the election. There is a sense of the “everything’s different” vibe that followed 9/11, but at the same time there is that sense that we are headed into a recession. Chris Briem keeps mentioning that things here have already been much worse, and aren’t bad right now (and may not get worse). Never the less, it is difficult to know how to balance the competing feelings; something is likely to happen, but it is impossible to say what.

One of the things I think about, which is not one of the things we are likely to address any time soon, is religion. Colin Powell put it well when he talked about the Republican attack on Obama that insinuated Obama follows the religion of Islam. He doesn’t, of course, but so what if he did? Are we saying there is a religious test for the American President? Of course there is, just like the test that says that Barney Frank is not going to be President any time soon.

I have always had some difficulty with religion. The whole you must take the existence of God on faith thing is bad enough. I have to take the efficacy of penicillin on faith too, but there is this whole written record of the history of penicillin, and most every doctor will say similar things about it. But even among Christians there is disagreement about how to worship and what God wants us to do (or what is ok with him). Even what I think of as the big commandments, like not killing, have a questionable history (religious wars?).

But then I think, who am I even to say that my religion is the right one, to say the Jews, Muslims and Buddhists are wrong? If not me, then who is the Pope, or a Rabbi or an Imam to say other religions are wrong? The fact that other people experience God differently makes me wonder if religion is reduced to just being a social club. Although plenty of people take it deadly serious.

Obama is interesting in that, based on my reading of his wikipedia biography and other things he’s said, he didn’t really have a religion growing up. Most of us have our religions picked for us by our parents; even if you convert, you are always at least a former Catholic, Presbyterian or Jew. Our political views and affiliations seem to work in a similar way. But Obama appeared to grow up with out a strong religious or political view. When he joined the whatis church in Chicago, after undergraduate if not law school, I gather that was when he made a religious commitment. It’s interesting to me that he chose a church with relatively radical ideology, although one where the minister was relatively established and well known, even considered an intellectual.

I don’t know if Barack Obama heard Jeremiah Wright preach some fiery note about the injustice of racism. I don’t know if Obama heard Wright reject America at some point, besides the famous sermon we have all heard ad nauseum. I will say that I think no less of Obama for not walking out if he did hear such things (I am 99% sure he did). I can not reconcile the conflicting notions for myself of past slavery and segregation and current racism, and the idea that we should be blindly reverent of the United States. White intellectuals (of all stripes) criticize political figures all the time, but African Americans should never say God Damn the United States? No double standard there.

I think Obama handled the Jeremiah Wright issue very well. He didn’t reject the church where he had embraced religion (in a thoughtful or cold manner, depending on your viewpoint), when those tapes from the past were circulated. But when Wright came out and spoke disparagingly of Obama, then Obama rejected the man. I think that certain crucial parts of Obama’s audience, some who take religion very seriously, understood the distinction.

Obama is not a post-racial President, but he is not very black, having grown up away from the black experience. But he may be a post-religious President, though; at least not as thoughtlessly religious as George Bush. He is not our first Muslim President. But because of him, we may have one during his lifetime.

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