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Hoping for Obama

There is only one God and He has not been doing terribly well in the opinion polls lately. On a day like this, when more Americans than ever are going to the polls, that matters, though I recognize the difference between an election poll and an opinion poll.

Much has been made of the use of religion in the Europe of the last 500 years to justify wars and oppression. It would be pretty if the problem were so simple that we could each take a side and argue it out with ad hominems. A steadier look at reality is required though if we want to attain something like a practical understanding of the relationship between church/religion and state.

The last 150 years have presented a new picture: a world in which the state is increasingly secular, in which decisions are made with less and less regard for religious principles or implications. Of course, politicians have continued to “use” religion, as Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama have steadily done. I put use in quotes because the word can apply to each of these men differently. Hitler was notorious for his use of religion.

But other forces are unleashed in a secular society, and that’s what raises concerns for me when I consider today’s elections. Those forces are anxiety and sports.

When a people cannot look to God or the gods to protect them and to guide them, they literally cannot have any transcendent source of wisdom. The one possible qualification is something like Matthew Arnold’s use of the literary tradition. For some intellectuals, like Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, and for some gentlemen, that might not be a concern. But I’ve spent my life among people who have never had a moment’s luxury to not work for tomorrow’s meals. I can’t look at life with the same sanquinary indifference that many intellectuals and gentlemen can.

So I understand completely the inclination of people like me to find great solace in religion. I don’t consider it an opiate. I think of it as accepting our limits and understanding that, given our limits, if there is no God to care for us, there is no hope and no hope for any change we can believe in.

But when a national consciousness is secular, then anxiety is unleashed on the nation. No longer trusting in God, that nation cannot appeal to Him for grace. Nor can they appeal to any other form of grace. Yet, they want the world to improve.

In that situation, some fall back on money. Some rely on sexual indulgence and other forms of excessive selfishness. Some turn to intellectual theories (the plague of the 19th century). And when they all come together to work on the logic of their beliefs, they all turn to the government.

The government is power. It is the means by which people can bring about change according to their theories. It is the perpetual locus of our addiction to anxiety. But it only makes us more anxious, because it CAN NOT EVER bear the burden we have placed on it.

Government is a good thing. It is the means by which civilized people gather in assembly to make decisions.

But it can’t educate children, though it can determine what sort of resources the local community will devote to education. It can’t pure poverty, though it can alleviate its devastation by preventing worshippers of natural selection (read: self) from sucking the life out of the workers and the soil.

The role of government is noble and just and good. But it requires great wisdom, gained only in the context of personal relationships, endless negotiations, loyalty, and firm and unwavering acceptance of reality. Very few people can participate in governance without the traces of their corruption becoming vivid.

When those people – rulers – do not believe, in their souls, that they will give an account to a higher power, God help those under their authority. Little children, wives, students, employees, and citizens.

But I repeat: when grace is not an option for letting God do His world-transforming work in His time and way, then law and force are used. I do not know how a Godless people can, practically speaking, be free.

At some point, this fantasy of a safe and prosperous world always seems to find its focus in one representative person. Fouad Ajami describes this reality in the Egypt of his childhood in a very sobering article published in the Wall Street Journal: Obama and the Politics of Crowds.

More than anything else, that is why I have a great sense of unease about today’s election. I take it for granted that Obama will win today, though I have not looked at any news reports that report one way or the other. I don’t know if McCain would have been a good president. I know that the left wing has become rather livid over the idea of Obama losing. The only possible explanation, whined one headline, would be racism.

And that is precisely what worries me. I believe that we will never stop paying for the cruelty of buying and selling human beings into slavery in this country. Complain all you like about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright. If there had been no cruelty, there could be no moral high ground, no serious case, for anything they have ever said.

Now, if Obama wins today, he will be our president. Because of our guilt for slavery what I just wrote will be read by many people as necessarily a racist statement. But Obama’s race doesn’t worry me. It’s the use he or others may make of it. Race is a very powerful force in American politics. It is right that it should be. I don’t back down from my assertion that kidnapping, murdering, and enslaving a multitude of people was as close to an unpardonable sin as a Christian society can get. But what use will Obama make of it?

I have many reasons for not wanting him to be president, including the protection the media afforded him against any serious inquiry into his past, marginalizing every serious and stupid question together, the brutality of his position on abortion (is this the freedom King marched for?), and the uncertainty over his economic policies.

But I also believe he has the potential to be a truly great American leader if he can bring racial healing. More than anything, I think that is why the American people want to vote for him. They know he has an opportunity nobody else could have had in this election. Yes, Hillary would have been the first woman president, but say what you will, the suffering of women as a specified people in law does not compare with the sufferings of black folk. Hillary could not have been a uniter. There really is a possibility that Obama could bring racial healing.

To do that, he would have to do a number of things. First, he would have to take a page out of Bill Cosby’s book and call the black family to the table. And he seems to be doing that. He clearly appreciates what his mother and grand-mother, may she rest in peace, did for him. If he can convince “them” that they should not be counting on the federal government to meet their needs, he will accomplish a social victory of epic proportions.

I put “them” in quotes because it bothers me a great deal when people talk about black people as though they are one brain-dead monolithic culture. Only a small proportion of them yearn for the days when Jesse Jackson was their primary representative. My neighborhood is full of black families living in middle class homes, driving middle class cars, living quiet, peacable lives. When I was a boy, I remember the first black family that moved into my neighborhood. I remember being a racist brat myself, though I had plenty of black friends through middle and high school. I learned enough about them to discover that they were as fully human as I figured I was. They had the same virtues and the same vices as white folk.

How utterly embarrassing to have to learn a lesson like that.

And yet, for reasons that absolutely include slavery, racism, “savage inequalities”, the black family has suffered a grievous moral meltdown. And so has the white, for, I believe, the same reasons. Too many children are born without fathers at home. Too many people are angry, bitter, and broken. Too many men turn to crimes and gangs for identity and security.

I want these problems to be solved. Let me say it: I want Obama to solve these problems.

But I know he can’t.

Yet, what if…

What if Obama can exercise the leadership both blacks and whites need to reach the next level of racial healing? Dare I say it: it may be that the race crisis in America is worse than the other moral breakdowns that we whites, and especially we conservative whites, get our kidneys all plugged up over.

Look, African-Americans are much more religious than white folks. They are much more community oriented. They are funnier, tell better jokes, no how to enjoy the little things in life. White folks are, perhaps, better at focusing every second of their lives on making money or getting things done. Maybe we need some spirit, some soul. Maybe that’s why God blessed America with an astonishingly forgiving African-American population in spite of the evil white people intended for them.

So the second thing I think Obama needs to do is to call us all to realism about what distant agencies can accomplish for people. And there is something they can accomplish. But it’s those middle infielders that make the difference. It’s the mediators between the government and the family that make life livable: the charities, the churches, the neighborhood community events, the parents who represent their families at PTA’s and PTF’s, the schools that cultivate wisdom and virtue in children rather than just promoting a socialist agenda.

Obama makes me nervous. He’s inexperienced. He seems to have what I have seen bitingly described as a sophomoric confidence in government. He’s a democrat who may well be given a democratic congress.

But he seems thoughtful and maybe he’s genuine, though some people on the right argue fiercely that he’s not.

I’m like a lot of people. I want to believe in this man.

But I’m going to be realistic. I’m going to watch him carefully.

And if he wants to bring healing, he’ll have to do one more thing (and this is the canary in the coal shaft): he’ll have to endure criticism without ascribing racism to it. If even once he or his surrogates silence opposition by calling it racist, even, God forbid, if it is, then not only will he not bring healing; we will be in for a period of demagoguery and power grabbing such as we have not seen in over 150 years.

Because of his inexperience, his apparently excessive trust in government to do things it cannot do well, his uncaring attitude toward the suffering of unborn children whose lives are taken from them, and his apparent appetite for a redistributivist tax code, I cannot vote for Obama.

But I can and do hope for him. That’s what he has offered us. Let’s see what he gives us.

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