What Barack Obama Didn’t Say

In an article for the Huffington Post, Sam Harris writes about what Barack Obama “Could Not (and Should Not) Say” during his speech about race.

He did not say that the mess he is in has as much to do with religion as with racism–and, indeed, religion is the reason why our political discourse in this country is so scandalously stupid.

The problem of religious fatalism, ignorance, and false hope, while plain to see in most religious contexts, is now especially obvious in the black community. The popularity of “prosperity gospel” is perhaps the most galling example: where unctuous crooks like T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar persuade undereducated and underprivileged men and women to pray for wealth, while tithing what little wealth they have to their corrupt and swollen ministries. Men like Jakes and Dollar, whatever occasional good they may do, are unconscionable predators and curators of human ignorance. Is it too soon to say this in American politics? Yes it is.

Despite all that he does not and cannot say, Obama’s candidacy is genuinely thrilling: his heart is clearly in the right place; he is an order of magnitude more intelligent than the current occupant of the Oval Office; and he still stands a decent chance of becoming the next President of the United States. His election in November really would be a triumph of hope.

But Obama’s candidacy is also depressing, for it demonstrates that even a person of the greatest candor and eloquence must still claim to believe the unbelievable in order to have a political career in this country. We may be ready for the audacity of hope. Will we ever be ready for the audacity of reason?

Say what you will about Reverend Wright’s sermon excerpts. I like some of them; I dislike a lot of them. But his social commentary — as distorted as his views may be — is just as ignorant as preaching that people will go to hell for not believing that Jesus Christ is the path to God. Or that we should believe in superstition over reality.

I’m glad he’s no longer affiliated with Obama’s campaign, but it’s still hard for me to understand how someone with Obama’s intelligence could have been influenced into Christianity by someone like Wright.

I wish I could believe that Obama has just been going to church for political reasons (instead of going because he believes their theology), but even if that were true, we’d never find out about it.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Harris’ comparison is completely inaccurate and totally unfair. Wright is not a “prosperity gospel” preacher, and his message is light years away from what people like Creflo Dollar teach.

    I think Tribune columnist John Kass hit it closer to the truth when he said the real thing Wright was “guilty” of was “blasphemy”, not against God but against America. He dared to point out that America is not always the great shining hope it’s politicians (including Obama) like to paint it as, that it is sometimes just as evil and oppressive as any other empire.

    I think what’s depressing about Obama (and all other candidates for that matter), is not that they can’t get by without at least nodding towards the altar of the Christian religion, but that they can’t get by without wholeheartedly worshiping at the altar of American civil religion, which makes this nation state the object of all hope and devotion. A less than totally devout Christian may still get elected (there have been plenty of merely nominally Christian presidents in history), but a candidate who is brutally honest about America’s own acts of oppression, and who suggests that we aren’t always (or even usually) the great nation we claim to be… well that person is utterly unelectable.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    Actually, I can see why BHO would go to Wright’s church. First of all, the UCC is about as liberal a Christian denomination as there is; in fact, “UCC” is often jokingly referred to as “Unitarians Considering Christianity”.

    Next, Wright’s sermons, despite the delivery style, had quite a bit of substance to them. You might see longer clips (about 10 minutes each) of his sermons in context:

    In the first clip, he is not referring to anything supernatural but rather saying that the humans going from sorrow to having a blood lust for revenge is a very old trait (he quotes a psalm where a lust for a brutal revenge is expressed). In the second clip, he talks about human governments failing to stay moral; his expression “god doesn’t change” can be thought of as “basic human decency doesn’t change (e. g., murder, slavery are evils, then and now).

    Sure, BHO had some political reason to want to join at first, but I can see why an intellectual theist would like this church.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Say what you will about Reverend Wright’s sermon excerpts. I like some of them; I dislike a lot of them.

    The key word here is “excerpts.” We’ve seen some snippets of Wright at his worst and/or most offensive, but we are probably not getting a representative sample of his work.

  • Aj

    I’ve read a bit of what Wright claims he believes, something called “black liberation theology”. I too didn’t think the parts Fox News and ABC were going ape shit over “God Damn America” were too interesting. What concerned me, was the importance of stating the “race” of people Wright seems to give. Jesus was “black”, the romans were Italians, European, therefore “white”, “we’re living in the United States of KKK A”, we’re ruled by rich “white” men, and they’re giving “black” people drugs and HIV.

    The Religious Right are just as bad, and I would like the media to go after them as well. McCain has reached out a hand to a lot of the worst of them. I’m far more certain McCain is pandering than Obama, and I was impressed with the “agents of intolerance” comment, until he went back on it. McCain goes back on a lot of things it seems, he went from zero-tolerance on torture to “when the president says it’s OK”.

    There’s talk of Hillary and her connections to conservative religion with something called the “Fellowship” a.k.a The Family, where she goes to prayer meetings. I couldn’t find too much information on this, but The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power comes out in may, and that’s a freaking long title.

  • Karen

    Despite all that he does not and cannot say, Obama’s candidacy is genuinely thrilling: his heart is clearly in the right place; he is an order of magnitude more intelligent than the current occupant of the Oval Office; and he still stands a decent chance of becoming the next President of the United States. His election in November really would be a triumph of hope.

    Cool – I’m really glad to see Harris is a supporter. He has it so right. Can you even imagine, in your wildest dreams, W. delivering a speech like “A More Perfect Union,” let alone writing it himself? I’d say Obama’s more than an order of magnitude more intelligent than most politicians, and more than that, he’s hugely more authentic and courageous. Hearing someone running for office actually be honest about tough issues is frankly unprecedented in my adult life.

    I’m glad he’s no longer affiliated with Obama’s campaign, but it’s still hard for me to understand how someone with Obama’s intelligence could have been influenced into Christianity by someone like Wright.

    Hmmm. I’m increasingly starting to realize that you have to be a religious person, or have been a religious believer, to understand the pull of religious belief – particularly in its views about the afterlife. It doesn’t surprise me at all that intelligent people are religious, because the appeal of religion is not intellectual primarily, it’s emotional and “spiritual.”

    In his book, Obama talks about his conversion experience being tied in directly with two deep emotional struggles – coping with his mother’s very sad and early death from ovarian cancer, and establishing his identity as a black man in America. Watching his mother die without a hope for heaven (she was an atheist) was devastating to him, I think, and he found a way out of that for himself when he started attending Wright’s church.

    I’ve heard several members or former members of that church weigh in on the controversy recently, and they all said that the clips that have been shown were very small portions of what he regularly preached. It wasn’t hatred and vitriol and wild lies week in and week out – but of course those very shocking moments are the ones being emphasized now.

    I wish I could believe that Obama has just been going to church for political reasons (instead of going because he believes their theology), but even if that were true, we’d never find out about it.

    Actually, I would hate it if I found out he’d been going to church for political reasons. That would totally undercut the way he portrays himself as an authentic person who values honesty. And I admired the way he disagreed with Wright’s more inflammatory comments while not denouncing the man himself. That was rare and brave.

  • Darryl

    The trouble is, even after his speech, a lot of Americans are not going to trust Obama because of Wright. There are too many Americans that are simple-minded and uninformed about these kinds of things. Christians excuse the most absurd and bigoted and nasty things in their churches every week, but condemn it in brands that are unfamiliar to them. I think all the empty “God bless America”s deserve a counterposed “God damn America” every once in a while. I’ve been mighty angry at my country on occasion. I’m royally pissed that we’ve let a pinhead and his buddies mess up our government. Furthermore, if I was black and the Rev.’s age, I might be bitter too.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Andrew Sullivan has a full transcript of the sermon from which the phrase, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” was quote-mined. Yep, I said “quote-mined.” Wright was repeated a quote from Ambassador Peck. Interestingly enough, in that sermon, he uses the seldom cited verse Psalm 137:9, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks,” and the verses that lead up to it, to spotlight “the insanity of the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred.” Note that he does not quote that verse with approval. Far from it.

    So much for Wright being just a lunatic hater.

  • http://www.obamastraws.blogspot.com Elise in NH

    I think that Obama’s lack of a father in his life, from age 2 on, left him vulnerable, in the process of looking for a replacement “father figure”, to men like Wright.

    As he’s a scholar of the Constitution, I trust Obama orders of magnitude more than anyone else to continue to recognize (and promote!) the fact that we are a pluralistic society, not a Christian nation. He even has mentioned, in his speeches given at churches no less, that we are not only a nation of Jews and Christians and Buddhist and Muslims, but also of non-believers. In so doing, he doesn’t vilify us.

    I can’t even remember a time when non-believers were *mentioned*, much less in as honorable a way as believers, in public discourse.

    So while his faith is still a bit disappointing to me, one of the biggest reasons why I support Obama is his overarching view of faith in America — and his understanding that if freedom of religion is to have any meaning at all, it must also mean freedom FROM religion for those who so choose.

    Great Blog, Friendly!

    Elise

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    “he is an order of magnitude more intelligent than the current occupant of the Oval Office”

    That’s quite the insult to Obama. Only one order of magnitude? One order of magnitude higher that Bush is my brother’s dog from his university days that spent its time eating grass and puking on the couch.


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