Rant Number 326 6 November 2008
Obama as JC
‘Jesus Christ is my favourite philosopher.’ Once, when President Bush said that, he drew ridicule. But now America has gone one better, stunning us all: she has chosen Jesus Christ as her President. Huh! O brave new world, that has such people in it! Verily, only in that happy land are such wonders possible.
OK, it’s banal but consider first Obama’s physical appearance. No one knows what JC looked like, alas. Jewish, some assume. But not all Jews are the same. The Messiah may have looked like Everyman. Certainly the pale, white-skinned Jesus of traditional Western iconography today would never do. Too ethnocentric, as they say. Even in the US people of white stock are now less than a quarter of the population. A Jesus for our time has to look suitably interracial. Hence Obama’s tall, slim, hybrid physique seems designed for the part. A dream messiah, indeed.
Then there is the ‘Husain’. This JC bears an Islamic middle-name. The same borne by the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Never mind that Husain, the third Imam of the Shia, perished at Karbala, slaughtered along with his followers – hardly a good omen. Never mind that Obama is actually a card-carrying, baptised Christian. Never mind that he promises to bomb plenty of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan - the allusion is there for fantasists to revel in. A Jesus with an overt Islamic component! The dream expands, it intoxicates, it transforms into a heady vision of paradise - maybe with doe-eyed virgins in it, who knows?
Obama went to school in Indonesia, a Muslim country, they enthuse. So what? The priest went to school in Italy – he can’t stand Italians. Dig it?
Third, a messiah has to be of course awaited. Shia Muslims look forward to the return of the Hidden Imam any time but not a lot of Anglican Christians yearn for the Second Coming to eventuate the day after tomorrow. (The very thought must make the bishops shake in their boots: judgment! How fervently must they pray that JC never returns!) Conversely, the delirious crowds yelling ‘change!’ at Obama’s rallies evince both deep expectation and belief in the Awaited One. In Crowds and Power writer Elias Canetti makes some sobering observations about the psychology of crowds, their ‘oceanic’ feelings and their delusions of equality. Still, few read Canetti, whilst millions adore JC Obama.
He is a suitably secular JC, of course. Another pleasing feature of the President-elect is – ritual ‘God bless you’ apart – his distance from Bush-like religious rhetoric, or indeed substantial Christian positions or legislation reflecting any of that. That would never do in a postmodern, ‘successful’ Jesus. Instead, he has to be the embodiment of PC thought. For instance, Barack supports full LGBT rights (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender/Transsexual – phew! Bless the existence of acronyms!), the whole shoot. Nor does he care for – horribile dictu – pro-life views. Abortion is the great American moral divide and this JC has made very clear which side he is on. Quite a few of the unborn will have to stay that way. Mind you, not that this JC is wholly non-judgmental. When it comes to the environment, the message gets sterner, it almost acquires apocalyptic overtones. That figures, too.
Next, miracles. Jesus’ supernatural status was buttressed by his working miracles, as St Thomas Aquinas contends in the Summa Contra Gentiles. Look, Obama has already scored on that one. By becoming President-elect. Considering his relatively modest origins…marvellous indeed. Thing is, the multitudes that have exploded into ecstasy at his success will now demand more. Fixing the worldwide economic crisis? Solving the Israel-Palestine mess? Thrashing the Taleban? Killing Bin Laden? Persuading Ahmadinejad to love the Great Satan? Walking on water? Resurrecting Elvis? We shall see.
In fact, another minor but truly outstanding miracle Obama accomplished even before his victory. As reported in Esquire several US Nazi and Aryan, white-supremacist leaders actually prefer him to poor McCain. They even express admiration for Obama’s intelligence, excellent speaking and charisma. The only regret one gentleman had was that Obama ‘is not black enough’. Hmmm...I perceive the logic of that, I think. Anyway, getting Nazis to like a black President is a feat few would have imagined possible. All messianic expectations seem fulfilled in him. You’ve got to bow to Obama’s superior powers.
Please, do not get the poor priest wrong. He is no vulgar Obamaphobe. The man Barack seems a genuinely likeable bloke. (Too likeable, perhaps…) After 8 painful years of George Bush’s constipated use of the English language, it is a relief to listen to a leader who has a gift for Shakespeare’s idiom. In my book his election has positive aspects. It will put a few myths to rest. Take the vexed matter of the so-called, oxymoronic Christian Zionists. The right-wing lobby that was supposed to exert a huge influence on the Bush administration in favour of the state of Israel and against Palestinian aspirations. Whenever I expressed scepticism at the real influence of that lobby, I got shot down in flames by indignant adversaries. At last, the moment of truth. To the US Christian Right Obama and his lot are like the plague. They can aspire to as much influence on his policies as my Arkadash Network can over those of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar Obama’s support for Israel will be as granite-like as ever. Like McCain before the elections, he stood before AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and pledged eternal support for the Zionist state. Unless Obama has a death wish, he will stick to that – my little vindication, folks.
I am less content about Afghanistan. President Obama has pledged pouring in more troops and bombs to defeat the Taleban. (Saudi Arabia is already at work dividing the resistance there – typical!) But no one has managed to subjugate the Pashtun warriors before, as the Brits themselves learnt in the days of the mighty Raj. More and more Afghans are treating NATO as a foreign, infidel occupying force. Even many Afghani women feel under the previous Taleban rule they had security and some kind of peace, I happen to know. The West should leave the people of Afghanistan alone.
‘For many will come in my name saying “I am the Christ” and will deceive many’ Jesus says in St Matthew’s Gospel (24:5). May good people take heed and be not deceived.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli