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Yes, He can!
As we enter the Advent season we are reminded once again that mankind was made for a Messiah. We have an innate longing for redemption—for someone to rescue us from the human condition. That longing was given to us by God so that he could fill it.
The past century has taught us repeatedly that it is both wrong and dangerous to place our messianic hopes in a secular leader. The best thing that can come from that is disappointment. The worst is a populace that is ready to do anything for its leader.
No matter how historic an election is or how good a candidate’s policies are, a president is just a human being. Citizens need to pray for him and support him, but cautiously. The press needs to scrutinize him and politicians need to maintain a professional relationship with him. Yet, it seems that there has been far more “devotion”—and even swooning—than any of the above when it comes to president-elect Barack Obama.
Obama devotion is all over cyberspace. A group of high school students at a public charter school in Kansas was caught on video, then later YouTubed (is that a real verb?) doing what looked like a military drill. They wore camo pants and marched in line chanting the words, “Alpha! Omega!” Then they recited Obama campaign slogans and policies with military vigor. Also on YouTube you can catch a group of children in what looks like a home prayer group singing sweet songs, not to Jesus, but for Obama: “We’re gonna spread happiness. We’re gonna spread freedom. Obama’s gonna change it. Obama’s gonna lead ‘em”—their parents looking on, smiling, on the verge of tears.
This borderline fanaticism isn’t limited to a few disturbing YouTube clips. Political leaders, members of the press and Hollywood stars are all falling at Obama’s feet. Talk show host Chris Matthews said of the Obama campaign: “This is bigger than Kennedy. … This is New Testament.” And after hearing Obama speak, he declared: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often. No, seriously. It’s a dramatic event.” Something tells me Matthews won’t be playing much “Hardball” with our new president.
Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson asserted: “What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history. …The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance.” And Obama hasn’t even taken office yet!
Doctor-author Deepak Chopra declared an Obama election would represent, “A quantum leap in American consciousness.”
And our Hollywood elite are at his service. Actress Halle Berry reportedly said: “I’ll do whatever he says to do. I’ll collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear.” Rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs chanted, “Obama or die,” and wore a shirt reiterating his disturbing rhetoric.
Of course, this devotion is entirely justified, because in the words of Oprah: “We’re here to evolve to a higher plane … he is an evolved leader,” and “[he] has an ear for eloquence and a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth.” More than simply speaking the truth, said Oprah, “We need politicians who know how to be the truth.”
This “Obama evolution” will represent a fundamental change in the space-time continuum. In the words of director Spike Lee: “When it happens, it will change everything. …You’ll have to measure time by ‘Before Obama’ and ‘After Obama.’ …It’s an exciting time to be alive now. …Everything’s going to be affected by this seismic change in the universe.”
A disturbing number of Americans have crossed the not-so-subtle line from supporting to messianizing our new president elect.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a major milestone that America has moved in less than 50 years from segregation to electing a black president, and in that regard, Obama is a symbol of hope. He is also a symbol of the American dream: his father was a goat herder in Kenya and he is about to occupy the most powerful political office on earth. Aspects of his life make him an inspiration—and even a hero—but he is not a messiah. He is not—in his person—hope, peace or truth. We can give him our support, prayers, admiration, and as our elected leader, our scrutiny, but we must never give a president a religious level of devotion.
While I don’t think we’re in danger of Obama using America’s devotion to start something like a Nazi youth brigade (of course, if you’re a fetus you might disagree with me on that, though that’s for another column), as soon as young people learn to treat presidents like saviors, we’ve started paving the way for a future dictator.
At Advent we prepare to celebrate a baby who redeemed the world. He didn’t do it as we had hoped—by crushing injustice and overthrowing kings. It was far more glorious and humble than we could have expected. In his person, Jesus didn’t just rescue us from the human condition; he rescued the human condition itself. Without removing flesh, pain, suffering or death, he changed it all from within—taking what is human and fusing it with what is God. His birth, death and resurrection give new meaning to life and to every human experience, turning it into a point of union with the God of love. That is total redemption, and that is something no president can ever do; but yes, JESUS can!
Christopher Stefanick is director of the Denver Archdiocese’s Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office.