Voices

Messiah complex

Campaign 2008 | Obama and the danger of a divinized ruler

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Critics accuse Barack Obama of presenting himself as some kind of Messiah (see "Hurry Up and Wait," WORLD, March 22/29, 2008). His speech upon clinching the Democratic nomination claimed for the event a cosmic significance that future generations would look back upon: "This was the moment," he said, "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." His campaign slogans exhort us to "Believe." One of his posters gives biblical concepts a new object: "Faith. Hope. Change. Barack Obama for President."

But Obama's messianic image is more than just over-the-top political rhetoric. Many Americans are actually giving him religious veneration. Some are even hailing him as savior.

Conservative Catholic blogger Christopher Blosser started an entire website, Is Barack Obama the Messiah? (obamamessiah.blogspot.com), to track the spiritual devotion to the presidential nominee. The site shows how media photographs portrays the candidate bathed in heavenly light or adorned with halos. More telling are the testimonies of Obama's disciples.

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Says U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., the son of the civil-rights activist, of Obama's pending nomination: "The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance." Movie director Spike Lee goes further. After the presidential election, "You'll have to measure time by 'Before Obama' and 'After Obama.'" Lee added, "Everything's going to be affected by this seismic change in the universe."

"A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," proclaimed Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. He "could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."

Established journalists have embraced the new religion. "Barack Obama isn't really one of us," reports Mark Mortford of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is, in fact, "a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve."

At Obama rallies, such is the religious fervor that people often pass out, like being slain in the spirit at a Pentecostal revival.

Democrats have been warning against the danger of mixing religion and politics. They fear the influence of conservative Christians on a secular state. But influence and mixing is far less of a danger to a free republic than the union of religion and politics in the form of a divinized ruler. Human beings have a tendency to revert to that kind of ruler, as we see in the god-kings of ancient Egypt, the divine emperors of Rome, the divine-right absolute monarchies of early modern Europe, and the cult of the Leader in today's totalitarian states.

The real Messiah, though, was despised, rejected, and crucified. He gives salvation from sin, death, and the devil and opens the way to the kingdom of heaven. And He allows for no other Messiahs.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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