Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Left and politics as religion -- Wellstone and Obama as examples

Years after the tragic death of Paul Wellstone in a plane crash, one still sees Wellstone bumper stickers on cars in the Twin Cities. And then there is the occasional one with the letters: "WWWD?" standing for "What Would Wellstone Do?" This of course is a take off of the previous trend in evangelical circles "WWJD?" or "What Would Jesus Do?" It struck me, why would anyone compare Wellstone to Jesus unless they viewed him as a messianic figure of some kind.

The same thing seems to be happening with Barak Obama.

One can almost catch a whiff of this "politics is more than politics" with the Obama campaign and some of his supporters. He's offering a hope which transcends politics. First, there's the idol worship of some of his supporters. We hear of people fainting at his rallies.

Now some in the mainstream media are picking up on this, both on the right and the left. In a recent column Charles Krauthammer quotes Obama as saying, "We are the hope of the future." We can "remake this world as it should be." And we can become "a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest." Pretty heady stuff. It almost sounds like politics as religion.

Krauthammer then quotes commentators on the liberal side.

ABC's Jake Tapper notes the "Helter-Skelter cultish qualities" of "Obama worshipers," what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls "the Cult of Obama." Obama's Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience -- to such rhetorical nonsense as "We are the ones we've been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek."

That was too much for Time's Joe Klein. "There was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism ... ," he wrote. "The message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."

I've always thought the political Left, while not big church or synagogue attendees and strongly hostile to anything which smacks of religion coming from the conservative side of the political spectrum, is not void of religious fervor. In fact, I think for the Left politics is a religion of sorts.

It makes sense. Philosophically, folks on the Left seem to drift off into one of two directions. The first is the new age spiritualities of the individual, "You choose the path to the god of your own making" or they adopt the secular, materialist view of life -- Darwinian evolution -- which says the universe and all that exists (including you and me) are merely the result of a mindless, random, chance process. Man again is the center of things, because he must supply meaning in a meaningless universe.

But if the definition of religion is that which one worships or gives first priority in one's life, I would argue everybody worships something or somebody. In the case of the political Left, if man is ultimately in charge then why not use politics, the state to usher in the ideal society, the Kingdom of God -- without God of course. It's the utopian view that man is basically good and we can create the ideal society through the vehicle of the state. Rousseau's idea. Of course, these ideas opened that door to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, e.g. Soviet Russia, Communist China and Pol Pot's Cambodia.

It seems as though Obama is tapping into the utopian sentiments of many on the Left with some of his rhetoric.

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