Update: If the links below the jump haven’t sufficiently creeped you out, here’s another example a friend sent: the Obama Votive candle.
Teaching eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, I wonder about the “Awakenings” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Looking back, we see the passion they generated. Edwards says in a letter that
This town never was so full of love, nor so full of joy, nor so full of distress as it has lately been. Some persons have had those longing desires after Jesus Christ, that have been to that degree as to take away their strength and very much to weaken them, and make them faint. Many have been overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ, so that the home of the body has been ready to fail under it.
But, before the letter is finished, he finds his uncle, despairing, has committed suicide. The intensity of these passions are not easily restrained even by those who invoke them. Edwards is brilliant, sometimes wise and sometimes powerful. A century later, Emily Dickinson refuses, even as all her schoolmates and family “came forward”, to submit to her God; she constricted both her poetry and her allegiances within the narrowest of boundaries.
I seldom understand her, but do that uneasiness. My daughters in turn became, to some degree, estranged from an enthusiast tradition not central to their father’s church, but which occasionally became a part of services. As I’ve fallen in with friends much more religious than anyone I’d known before, I wondered if this difference came from time or geography.
But lately I keep stumbling on religious fervor of a quite different kind, one that confuses man with God. The right refers ironically to “the One” or “the Messiah.” Obama has a self-importance, we saw it as he patronized Joe the Plumber, we saw it standing with fingers interlaced before the flag; in his wife’s words, he will raise us up. I was a bit reassured when Obama drew laughs at the Smith dinner – surely he doesn’t see himself that way.
But it’s not all ironic. Remembering those children’s videos, here we see adults.
Is Obama the Messiah? collects these on its “The Blog – Propaganda” and sells “sacred relics” in “The Store.” But their examples aren’t ironic. And they’ll take your money for Messiah 2008 t-shirts (which can be worn ironically – or not).
For those whose culture frowns upon expressions of conventional religion (or who sees religion defined by men like Rev. Wright or Father Pfleger), an Obama cult, complete with interesting signing, grandiose posters, and music, seems a logical consequence. Of course, for those with memories of socialist realism and fascist architecture, these have resonance.
They worry us. Power given in a moment of passion is hard to take back as the fever abates. It’s unlikely McCain will win the election; if he does, what will happen to this confusion of mortal and transcendent? But, then, another worry is what happens to skeptics in an Obama led government? Well, the structure has lasted and we tend toward the pragmatic. Still, this is a lot of ambition, a lot of ego to contain. Eventually Edwards was exiled, preaching to the Indians he wrote of free will. He was always a thinker and never a politician. And he saw himself, his parishioners saw him, as a servant of his God. How have we come to a place where someone who asks God to help him/her understand the Lord’s bidding is seen as a self-righteous “Christianist” by those who see in a fallible politician a Messiah.
Fervor doesn’t last and often leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I hope at least can we stop complaints about “George Bush’s Theocracy.”
But the chill is our sense we may be the objects of that great old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”