Obama’s weary civil religion

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The Edumund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

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The Edumund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

The Edumund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

Barack Obama gave a fine speech in Selma on Sunday, but to me there was something sad about it. It sounded a clarion that’s rarely heard these days: “When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.”

Quoting Isaiah as Martin Luther King, Jr. once quoted Isaiah, the president wound up with: “We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”

This spiritual inclusivity perfectly exemplifies what the distinguished Italian scholar of totalitarianism Emilio Gentile defines as civil religion: the “sacralization of a political system” that guarantees “a plurality of ideas, free competition in the exercise of power, and the ability of the governed to dismiss their governments through peaceful and constitutional methods.” Gentile contrasts this with political religion, an “intolerant, invasive, and fundamentalist” faith employed as a weapon in partisan combat.

Truth to tell, it’s the latter that dominates American public discourse today — directed often enough at President Obama himself. His enemies portray him as unpatriotic, question his identity as an American and as a Christian, demand that he swear allegiance to their own brand of “American Exceptionalism.” As for his friends, they aren’t running, aren’t expecting their children to soar. They seem weary.

They may still believe in an awesome God, but this country’s sacred promise has grown hollow since that famous march 50 years ago.

  • Glenn Harrell

    I am not sure that it is as much about “Exceptional-ism” as it is about core definition and identity.

    Religion, for the most part, is true weaponry of the non-spiritual variety. It is more of the slick stuff used by both parties and more Americans than would be allowed were it left up to those who indeed have faith in God deeper than ankle.

    The first thing a politician does upon entering the halls of Washington DC is to receive their inoculation for any spiritual connection to truth and integrity. They get just enough of it to keep from getting it. Now the pretension begins.
    Their quoting of bible verses, dining with the priest, hob-hobnobbing with the preacher–all to garner votes and support… It is hollow and we know it.

    President Obama, along with most politicians, stinks at theology. Better said, his speech writers stink.They miss ISIS, Christianity and the gamut of belief systems as they attempt to educate the populace of America. In so doing, Obama is creating his own brand of Christianity and Islam, demanding that we swear allegiance by “exercising his rights”. He, by many definitions, is portraying us as unpatriotic.

    Politicians fake their faith when it fits their agenda. They revise the law book, and even the good book as it suits their need. They create their own brand of Religious Idealism and American Exceptional ism that is unrecognizable for too many, creating mistrust, fear and uncertainty. No wonder they have so many enemies.

    Come on Mark, the intolerance is on both sides today. They are feeding one another.

    When the President of the Oklahoma Fraternity says, “Martin Luther King is my hero.”, we know that something is off.

    When our politicians quote Martin Luther the bible for personal gain…

    “intolerant, invasive, and fundamentalist” Yep, that’s the Obama Administration alright, and they do seem weary. Hopefully, the truly spiritual pray for them and all of our politicians voted in to lead us.

  • cken

    I agree with you Mark. I would only add the intolerance and divisiveness is not only exacerbated by the more conservative Christians but also by the President and some of the liberal left radicals. We probably shouldn’t forget the atheists some of them can be as bad as the other two groups.
    At times it feels like there is a battle going on for which group is going to win and thereby gain control. It is very sad, but from an historical prospective probably nothing new. Much as we would like to think mankind has evolved and become more civilized, maybe we haven’t.