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September 15, 2014

How the Left Got Religion, and The Rest of Us Got Obama

If, like me, you're very interested (and concerned) by the fusion of mysticism and politics to form a full-spectrum tribal identity platform which satisfies its adherents desire for political goods, personal affirmation, and religious meaning in a largely secular world, you'll enjoy this long article on the deification of Barack Hussein Obama, by Benjamin Plotinsky in the City Journal.

Update: This article is actually from Spring 2010. I forget where I got it from -- probably either Hot Air, or Instapundit, or maybe someone's mention on Twitter.

The article speaks in the beginning about "Obama's plunging poll numbers."

Hey, you can't blame me for taking that as a reference to current events!

Even if Old, it remains True.

The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm

The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience.


It all seems so long ago now, as one contemplates President Obama’s plummeting approval ratings and a suddenly resurgent Republican Party. Yet it’s worth looking closely and seriously at the election-year enthusiasm of media elites and other Obamaphiles, much of which was indeed, as the wags recognized, quasi-religious. The surprising fact is that the American Left, for all its claims to being "reality-based" and secular, is often animated by the passions, motivations, and imagery that one normally associates with religion. The better we understand this religious impulse, the better we will understand liberal America’s likely trajectory in the years to come.


Consider... what Samantha Fennell, formerly an associate publisher of Elle, wrote on the magazine’s website[:]

Barack Obama must be elected President of the United States. . . . I have thrown myself into a new world--one in which fluffy chatter and frivolous praise are replaced by a get-to-the-point directness and disciple-like devotion. It’s intense and intoxicating. . . . When I attended my second "Obama Live" fund-raiser last week at New York City’s Grand Hyatt, . . . I was on my feet as Senator Obama entered the room. Fate had blessed me in this moment. . . . In a moment of divine intervention, he saw me, . . . grabbed my hand, and gave that brilliant smile of his. I literally said out loud to the woman next to me who witnessed my good fate, "I'll never wash this hand again."

How can we explain this sudden, brief eruption of messianic fervor into our politics? Perhaps by looking at the religious climate of the country and the world, which have been witnessing a religious revival over the past 30 years. Whether you call this phenomenon the "revenge of God," as the French scholar Gilles Kepel does, or "resacralization," as the sociologists do...

The worship of a charismatic leader was just one reason that twentieth-century intellectuals regarded the great totalitarianisms as inherently religious. Another was their immense scope, which included not just matters traditionally considered public--war, taxes, even the offices of the welfare state--but also the private lives and practices of individuals. "The totalitarian movements which have arisen since World War I are fundamentally religious movements," wrote the political scientist Waldemar Gurian in 1952, in part because they "cannot conceive of realms of life outside and beyond their control." Sixteen years earlier, the legal scholar Marcel Prélot had commented that "the totalitarian state, naturally extending its field of action far beyond the recognized domain of the conventional state, claims to constitute both a political entity and an ethical and spiritual community, . . . the state itself being a church."

Obamaism is far narrower, and far more benign, than that. But another strand of modern liberal politics encroaches so far on the private sphere that it begins to resemble the political religions.

Potinsky's piece does a good enough job of presenting the evidence that Obamaism is essentially a religious/mystical movement (as were Fascism, Naziism, and Lennism/Stalinism, though he explicitly disclaims any attempt to claim that Obama has the twisted ambitions of those regimes).

But I have a question: Why? Or, more specifically: Why now?

Even if one postulates (as I would) that mankind has a basic hunger for connectedness and making connections between the stars (that is, a general tendency towards curiosity about large questions, and a tendency to supply metaphysical answers to those questions when other answers aren't coming), and even if one says, along with GK Chesterton, that a disbelief in God often leads to an affirmative belief in a great many silly substitute religions and religious dogmas, why now? Why this particular moment?

Was it just that Obama was especially well-positioned to play the Cult Card, being handsome and young and a member of a persecuted race? (That latter credential being especially resonant in religion and myth -- Redeemers tend to come from persecuted groups, not the class in current power.)

Or perhaps it's merely that he was the only politician in recent memory narcissistic and cynical enough to play the Cult Card?

Could it be played again? Are the legions who were so willing to Believe so deeply in the fundamental metaphysical Perfection (capital intended) of Obama ready to Believe again in the next politician to position herself as High Priestess of a Grand Church of Providing Meaning to the Spiritually Empty?

Or is there something in particular about this moment -- perhaps the traumas of 9/11 combined with the special trauma experienced by the left in seeing Bush elected president, and then their doctrines widely repudiated after the attack of 9/11 -- has left the American people (and the left especially) spiritually, socially, and intellectually disoriented and therefore in an Apocalyptic frame of mind?

Could it be then that this is really little different than someone finding himself open to conversion to a religion after an especially traumatic personal setback? Except that it is a mass example of this effect?

I don't know.

All I know is that I find it troubling and ominous when the people who keep telling me they're strict rationalists and empiricists begin chanting prayers to strange new gods.

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posted by Ace at 04:48 PM

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