Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's time to start thinking.

The Political "Brief"
The Religion Question

Barack Obama is not an Evangelical Christian. Nor is he Mormon. He does go to church, is good friends with his pastor and even counts him as a close adviser. He belongs to the Trinity United Church of Christ in our fair city of Chicago. The United Church of Christ is, on the whole, an institution of moderate leanings, not as conservative or fundamental as some (they are one of the branches of Protestantism ordaining gay ministers) but also not as ground-breakingly liberal. In other words, the United Church of Christ, again overall, is not extreme.

Let's make an exception.

With Geraldine Ferraro's comments still fresh, some reporters have been looking to Obama for any controversial aspects of his campaign. Wouldn't you know it, one's been staring them in the face since before Michelle became Mrs. Obama. The man who married Michelle to Barack, who baptised their children, who has been preaching to the Obamas for nigh on two decades, is now coming under scrutiny. And rightly so.

In a political time when our personal religious choices drastically impact the coverage and quality of campaign reporting, it's no surprise we're where we are with Barack Obama and his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. A sampling from Rev. Wright's sermons:

*"Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run."
*"America is still the number one killer in the world...We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers...."
*We started the AIDS virus...We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty...."

Cherry-picked quotes, as Obama claims, or indicative of further scrutiny? Both, really. Wright was formerly of the African American Religious Leadership Committee, a group under the umbrella of Obama's campaign (he resigned last week, amid the growing firestorm). His influence was less political and more social and personal with Obama, helping shape the crusader he is striving to become. Fight the ills of poverty, racism, inequality, war, intolerance, hegemonistic & capitalist interests seeking to trod all over the man on the street. The reverend is Barack's spiritual go-to man, his main counselor in that arena, and since we've scrutinized Falwell and his ilk, we'd damn well better look at Jeremiah Wright.

We must also consider the policy impact and personal viewpoint resulting from their relationship. I have listened to many speeches by Barack Obama, read a number of his sound bites and quips, the quotes that get people revved up for his campaign. But between the lines of all those words is space and void, an absence of committed ideology. What we have is the facade of a house: it looks great, can't wait to move in...but when's it gonna get finished? Does Wright help furnish those ideological trappings?

Wright has led a distinctive life, and hopefully, when the clamour has died down and he is allowed a more graceful entrance into retirement, people will remember his outstanding military and academic service, his religious and community leadership. Right now, though, he doesn't have the luxury of being out of the limelight, as ideas of his are now being spoken through another who may one day lead the free world.

Take away the yelling. Remove the FOX News sound clipping and YouTube videos from your senses. Read the sermons, see what's there. Really, a lot of what we're getting up in arms about is the outrage and hurt of black man who aches for the country he's been promised. I'd argue that his life is an example of the American dream, of the great leaps individuals can take when motivated (The US helps those who help themselves...). He's a conspiracy theorist, placing the ills of the ghetto squarely at the feet of the government, which could be construed as the white man. This is a long-standing argument, that to keep blacks and minorities down, the government has been funneling drugs into poor neighborhoods for decades, creating the current climate. To me, that smacks of victimhood, of not taking responsibility for yourself. This is the first thing that we should take from the sermons of Jeremiah Wright. It leads to a welfare state, to a possibility of reparations (but all the slave owners are dead, you say. So what!, some yell back) and to taking the blames for a group's ills away from the group.

Let's be cynical and agree with Wright - the government distributed crack in large quantities to the ghettos as cultural oppression, a form of chemical slavery. Did the poor or downtrodden have to light up a crack pipe? I guess I'm a sucker for believing in personal choice, in the free will to do what you want. Shouldn't Wright be instead denigrating his own house, his own community for inculcating the culture of drugs and violence and single-parent homes and petty crime, like Bill Cosby has done? But no, Cosby says "We have to order our own house, because it's our fault," and he's an Uncle Tom, supporting white oppression of blacks. I see a terrible line of reasoning here, and Obama's been listening to it for twenty years.

The only other thing I take away from this is the heat of Wright's words. He is a black man, and welcome to his anger at the horrendous treatment of his ancestors, of his parents and no doubt himself (to a lesser degree). I am a white man, and cannot know the hurt, shame and rage at being called a nigger, without any recourse, or being refused seating or service. Let's all understand my logic, my reasoning, is drawn purely from the experiences of others and observation. Hatred doesn't lead to victory. Hatred leads to division, to segregation and strife.

Wright's rhetoric, and the ideological trappings he's been using to help Obama build his house of ideas is supported by hatred. Winning the civil rights war again, solving the broken homes and streets of our inner cities and ghettos won't come by yelling at them. He's stirring up the pot, some say, getting middle- and upper-class blacks engaged in the dialogue again by igniting their passions. But do we want this leading our country? I'm not saying I know the right way to erase poverty and the crushing life of a black kid in any of Chicago's poor black neighborhoods, but I do know that making people angry just leads to an aggressive stance.

And good for him for speaking out, but bad for Barack for listening and not leaving. Hillary Clinton recently said you can't choose your family, but you can choose your church. Why stay to have such invective woven in and out of the religious dialogue? Not every Sunday can be Jesus knocking over the money changers' tables in the temple. The question we ask of Obama is simple: why stay? The answer is also easy - he connected with Wright. The two must share many of the same thoughts, if their relationship is as close as we are led to believe. Drawing this out to a logical conclusion, one can say the same passion (anger/hostility/rage) that permeates Wright's outward statements also resides within Barack Obama.

So what does this matter, you ask me. Why did I read all of this nonsense? This in an election where you have to think. You have to rub those grey cells together, spark some ideas, test some others, discover sound reasoning and ultimately make an informed decision. This is just to inform. Even if you don't agree, at least you've started thinking.


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