Looking back at ‘Dreams of My Father’ and ‘Audacity of Hope’
Having recently flipped some hundreds of pages of ‘Dreams of My Father’ and ‘Audacity of Hope’—with the backing of a few speeches here and there—from my right hand into my left, a certain few passages were remarkable in that they give way to a certain thought that continues to reinforce itself: Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is probably an atheist.
It is easy to figure out what the counter arguments on this issue would be. One of them, probably, “He says he is a Christian. Is that not proof enough?”
No, it is not. He is also a politician; and if we are not still undergoing our hero worship of the president (as the left wont to do) we can remember politicians are well-to-do in the career of fabricating for gains.
It is no hidden fact that to win the presidency, or any political office, one must profess a faith. Why this has to happen is an annoyance to begin with, since faith gives no credibility to the morals or capabilities of a person, or a person in general.
But if we conduct a hermeneutic reading of the president’s past texts, as in ‘Dreams of My Father’– which is incredibly secular, since it was written before he ran for president and before he had a thought to do so — we are exposed to a more cerebral man who understands the political arena, and the universe.
During Obama’s time in Chicago, as a community activist, a clergyman was speaking about how God drew him into a specific religion.
Obama exercised an old memory, written in ‘Dreams of My Father,’ “In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school, two years at a Catholic school … In the Catholic school, when it came time to pray, I would pretend to close my eyes, then peek around the room. Nothing happened. No angels descended. Just a parched old nun and thirty brown children, muttering words. Sometimes the nun would catch me, and her stern look would force my lids back shut. But that didn’t change how I felt inside. I felt that way now, listening to Will; my silence was like closing my eyes.”
It is never hard to expose the mystical for its racket and facade than to subject it to the questioning or perspective of a child. Not to tout children as a mentality one should harbor—they are easily persuaded and indoctrinated—but their natural sense of wonder and want of explanation is a good mental strategy to follow well into adulthood. It is good practice to look askance at our commonly held beliefs and subject those telling us that they ‘know it all’ to a vigorous scrutinizing, considering they are just fellow primates.
The president’s upbringing was not religious; if anything it was middle bohemian, as he claims himself. In the 60’s, his grandfather enrolled the family into the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. His grandmother, fiercely opposed to selecting religion as if one was buying “breakfast cereal,” was “skeptical by nature” in the matters of superstition. And the president himself has made it abundantly clear whom his personal growth can claim a stake in: Toot (his grandmother).
However, anyone who wants to explain away Obama’s childhood, his early development was almost without God (his childhood church, if he even went to it, hardly mention God in the monotheistic way), and if children are not had by the perverse hands of religion early, it is unlikely they will be persuaded by it later on—there are exceptions; no one is denying that.
It is throughout his later life, the time spent in Chicago, when the president was transitioning from community activist to politician, he was well aware of the need, and this is especially so in Chicago, to find a church and claim to be a member.
The Trinity Church was a curious choice, but understandable if viewed in the way he describes his “conversion.”
As he speaks about Trinity Church it is all hardly in a timbre akin to a proclamation of faith or submission to a specific theology, it is quite the opposite, it is more a sumptuous discussion of community, communal needs of the individual (to be awarded, to be loved, to be remembered), a togetherness for shared experience; he is speaking of your common black congregation—though his specific ecumenical choice was one that was highly strategic and political, Trinity church being the sum of some well connected middle-class professionals.
In his own words, “But not all of what these people sought was strictly religious, I thought; it wasn’t just Jesus they were coming home to. It occurred to me that Trinity, with its African themes, its emphasis on black history, continued the role that Reverend Philips had described earlier as a redistributor of values and circulator of ideas.”
And as the president well knew at the time, to get into Chicago politics one must have a church. This becomes hardly a revelation of faith and more so the understanding of how to succeed.
The commander in chief is hardly averse to criticizing religion, and most of his criticisms are drawn strongly from a secularist’s quiver. His understanding of the semblance—and difference—of politics and religion is written in Audacity of Hope, and is worth quoting at length:
“Politics, like science, depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. Moreover, politics (unlike science) involves compromises, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences.” (emphasis added)
“The Audacity of Hope” was first published in 2006.
During this same time he gave a speech, “Call to Renewal”, where he critiqued both the religious and secularists. But the speech is orated in a forked tongue way, on two points.
One is his insistence and understanding that there are non-believers in this country, which is something most presidents never said.
The second is that his critique on the religious invasion into public life is fucking spot on:
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.”
Then we have January, 2009. Standing on the steps of the Capitol, the president had this to say, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” And this was a first ever in presidential inaugural speeches, the usage of the term “nonbelievers.”
Matched by Jefferson’s secularist inauguration speech, where there is no mention of “God” or “Almighty”; and “Religious” and “Religion,” mentioned a combined total of four times, gives no credence to a specific religion.
He also quotes Thomas Paine at the end of his inaugural address (though not citing him specifically, since the religious go into, historically, a fervor over the mention of Paine) is a tell as well.
Thomas Paine was the author of ‘Age of Reason’, a stalwart book that rejected the strict teachings of the church and argued for deism (modern day agnosticism) and flatly rejected and mocked theism (modern day monotheism), and won him poverty and derision and the label “Atheist” from believers all over.
It is a shame that the president can not admit to being a nonbeliever because of the political fallout. It is doubly a shame that religion has to be so pervasive in our politics. Since nonbelievers in this country are the fastest growing group, I await the day we do away with the religious nonsense altogether.
by Gary E. Rotter