Virtual Voices

Gimme that old-time "Yes, We Can!"

Campaign 2008

Supporters are fainting away at Obama rallies. Scoffers say it's exhaustion or a ploy to hype the power of Obama's rhetoric, but the far more entertaining spin is that an almost spiritual ecstasy sweeps Obamaniacs away and they are slain in the spirit of hope and change.

The fervency of Obamania makes it easy for cynics to compare its emotionalism to that of an old-time revival. Contrary to the assumptions of those who suppose they are swaying and singing for "change," however, old-time revival politics are nothing new.

Charles Krauthammer says, "The Obama campaign has the feel of a religious revival." One Obama convert echoes him: "It was like a religious experience. It was inspiring." World Net Daily calls it "the Barack Obama traveling salvation show - campaign rallies and speeches that seem like the secular counterpart of tent-meeting revivals and evangelistic sermons common in the U.S. a century ago."

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The similarities are eerie. The Washington Post describes an Obama gospel concert:

People rise to their feet, mothers hug daughters, old friends reach out to one another and then embrace strangers. Couples hold each other tight. Some close their eyes and sway in their seats.

Joel Stein, an embarrassed Obama supporter, mocked a friend for weeping during an Obama speech. Sounds a little like the people Jonathan Edwards described during the Great Awakening:

The congregation was alive … every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister … in tears while the word was preached … weeping with sorrow and distress … with joy and love.

If this is a political Great Awakening, however, it's not the first. Several political movements - most recently the Religious Right - have channeled a religious fervor into politics. Mark Noll, evangelical author and professor of history at University of Notre Dame, told WoW, "In general, a lot of Americans --- too many Americans --- take their politics as if it were a religion."

It happens when movements use rhetoric that "treats an election like the kingdom of God is at stake," Noll said. Anti-communists used this rhetoric, along with the Civil Rights movement and the Religious Right, treating "political events almost as if everything depended on them."

Obamaniacs, then, are just the next to succumb to a perennial American temptation: confusing politicians with saints.

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