Brother Obama's Traveling Salvation Show
By John D. Turner
11 Mar 2008

Women moan and pass out when he speaks. Chris Matthews feels “this thrill going up [his] leg”. There is even a website called “Is Barack Obama the Messiah?” which has been around for over a year now. Having talked to folks, and read numerous articles, I have to conclude that it isn’t just me; the Obama campaign really is taking on all the aspects of a religious revival.

I find this, quite frankly, both amazing and quite scary.

Back in 1988, Pat Robertson campaigned to become the Republican nominee for president. Like Mike Huckabee in the current election cycle, Pat Robertson was an ordained Southern Baptist minister. Also, like Mike Huckabee, he did quite well in Iowa, winning that caucus, but finished poorly in New Hampshire.

I remember there were quite a few people, most of whom were on the left, who were disturbed by the fact that Robertson was at the time, also a prominent televangelist; the host of the popular “700 Club”, a Christian TV program which aired on many stations throughout the United States. Many saw this as a conflict of interest, mixing religion and politics, and violating the “wall of separation”, that sacred cow of the left “separation of church and state”. They were also upset by all the “free” air time he got as host of The 700 Club. (Funny, incumbent politicians don’t seem to be bothered by all the “free” air time they get just by showing up in the news; time that they try to maximize as much as possible, particularly during election cycles.)

They were particularly disturbed by Robertson’s claim that God speaks to him personally and gives him information on what is going to happen in the future. In late 1976 for example, he predicted the end of the world in October or November 1982. This “prophesy” was repeated in a May 1980 broadcast on The 700 Club, where he stated “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” [1]

You will note, of course, that deadline passed some 26 years ago, and was six years in arrears when he ran for president, calling his stature as a prophet of God into question. There were other predictions he made, based claims that he had it first hand, personally from God, which also never came to pass. This caused many to conclude that far from having divine inspiration, he was instead a religious nut who heard voices in his head, and was therefore far too dangerous to ever allow his thumb on the nuclear trigger.

There were those who feared that, if elected, a President Robertson would attempt to set up a religious Theocracy in the United States. I am not quite sure how this would be possible; the president is not an elected dictator after all, but there was a large segment (again, particularly on the left) who found the idea of a President Robertson profoundly unsettling to say the least.

It didn’t help, of course, that he was also a conservative Republican.

At no time however, was it ever suggested, by Pat Robertson or any of his supporters, that he might actually be the Messiah, either seriously or in jest.

A quick Google search on “Obama Messiah” turns up 246,000 hits. While I obviously have not researched each and every one, a quick look at the initial few pages is instructive, as many of the hits are dealing with the actual concept that Obama is, or may be, the actual Messiah. True, they are pretty much tongue in cheek. Some deal with the obamamessiah blog site, or the article published in Slate. Similarities are noted between aspects of his campaign, (and how his campaign is reported), and religious revivals. And of course, there are the references to Chris Matthews Leg (which if you Google that, returns a whopping 494,000 hits), which was probably the biggest influence in the “is Obama the Messiah” articles to date.

To be fair, a Google search on “McCain Messiah” turns up 192,000 hits. Many of these however deal not with the possibility that McCain is the Messiah, but rather with the possibility that McCain has a “Messiah complex”; or that he doesn’t depending on which side of the issue you are on. Some are news items where McCain and Obama are juxtaposed, and the term messiah (small m, as in “secular messiah”) is used in conjunction with the Obama campaign.

Heck, Googling “Hillary Messiah” turns up 254,000 hits, more than either of them. Again however, for the most part these are not dealing with the possibility, even tongue-in-cheek, that Hillary may be the divine one, but rather her mocking of the Obama as Messiah point of view, and in particular, even more so than McCain, the proposition that Hillary Clinton has a “Messiah complex”. Any suggestion, even tongue-in-cheek, that Hillary could possibly be the Messiah is met with various responses from complete derision to ultimate disgust.

When it comes to Obama however, the articles that turn up are much more respectful. While none seem to take it seriously that he might be the Son of God returning, many refer to him as “our new liberal messiah”. And while the derisive term “Messiah complex” is occasionally thrown, the more common term encountered is “Messiah image”, which is the exact polar opposite. It is significant that neither McCain nor Hillary have hits that use the term “Messiah” with them in a similar context. Indeed, any sort of picture depicting McCain as having a Messiah image would be ridiculous, while the same depiction of Hillary would have me ROTFL.

But with Obama? Witness this picture which seems to deliberately build on that concept.

It kind of reminds me of the commercial Mike Huckabee ran against Mitt Romney in Iowa just prior to the caucuses there, where a cross appeared to be hovering behind him as he spoke. The cross was an effect of lighting caused by a bookshelf in the background, and the campaign claimed it was quite accidental and that no subliminal message was intended (and if you believe that one, I have a very nice piece of beach front property here in San Antonio that I am willing to sell you for a very good price). Of course, at the time he was talking about Christ, and he had pretty much painted himself as the Christian candidate in the race (as opposed to the Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney, who was at the time the front runner), and this was after all, Iowa, where evangelicals had turned out in such numbers for Pat Robertson back in ’88.

Just saying, you know.

The point is that Huckabee’s commercial was pretty low key compared to the Obama poster above which is hardly “subliminal”, and it caught plenty of attention from the media, mostly negative. Obama? Not so much. How can one argue against Hope or Dreams after all?

To be fair once again, the poster was not put out by the Obama campaign. (At least as far as I can tell). And one really has little control over what one’s zealous admirers may do.

Still, I find the whole thing disturbing. We seem to be on the brink of electing someone to the highest office in the land, head of the most powerful country on the face of the planet simply because he looks good and speaks well. And he apparently makes some folks legs tingle. What’s up with that anyway? I don’t think I have ever felt anything go up my leg, except when I stepped down from a curb wrong or rolled my ankle while running. As for anything going down my leg, well, let’s not go there, shall we?

And while he doesn’t directly acknowledge the “Messiah image” theme, his speeches clearly play up to a religious dynamic, such as this quote from his speech at Dartmouth College on 7 Jan.

“…a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote”. For Obama of course.

Much of his appeal seems to hinge on image and symbolism, not substance. If you ask the typical Obama supporter what accomplishments he has had while in public office, few can give a coherent response. Usually about all you can summon up is “I like him” or “he’s for hope”, or “I believe in him”; a response more often heard when referring to God or Jesus Christ. There is a reason why it is hard to put a finger on what he has accomplished; he has only held office as a U.S. Senator for two years, and for a large chunk of that he has been running for president. He really doesn’t have much in the way of accomplishments, or experience for that matter.

This at a time in our nation’s history when we are at war, when one would think that experience would be a critical factor in electing our next leader. But then again, the Democrats don’t really believe that we are at war, do they? According to many on the left, the war is really “George Bush’s war”, one we can dispense with once he is safely removed from office. The events of 9-11 are safely in the past now; we can go back to treating terrorists like a police issue. And then again, there are those who, 7 years after the fact, aren’t absolutely sure that 9-11 really was a terrorist attack. Perhaps instead it was really a government conspiracy staged by George Bush and Dick Cheney to allow us to attack Saddam Hussain (that paragon of virtue) and make money for Haliburton.

And maybe if I believe enough and say my prayers, the Tooth Fairy will bring me a shiny new Prius when my last baby tooth finally decides to fall out (I still have one), then we can all join hands in the street and sing Kum By Ya and live happily ever after.

When Mitt Romney was still in the race, he spent much of his time answering questions about his religion. Frequently he would answer with “I am running for Commander-in-Chief, not Theologian-in-Chief”. He gave a particularly good speech regarding the role of faith and religion in the public arena, and yet for him the issue never quite went away. In large part, as with Pat Robertson, but for different reasons, the issue of his faith and religion had a great deal to do with his failure to secure the Republican nomination.

When you listen to the comments made about Barak Obama you begin to wonder if what you are hearing is really about a political campaign or the establishment of a new religion. Is Barak running for Commander-in-Chief, or, at least in the eyes of some of his followers, is it really some kind of mystical Theologian-in-Chief? Or a combination of the two? Here are some examples:

"He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh." – Ezra Klein

"Barack Obama is our collective representation of our purest hopes, our highest visions and our deepest knowings… He’s our product out of the all-knowing quantum field of intelligence." – Eve Konstatine

“This is bigger than Kennedy…This is the New Testament.” “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often. No, seriously. It’s a dramatic event.” -- Chris Matthews

“[Obama is] creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom…[He is] the man for this time, -- Toni Morrison

“He is not operating on the same plane as ordinary politicians…[He is] the agent of transformation in an age of revolution, as a figure uniquely qualified to open the door to the 21st century.” – Gary Hart

“Obama has the capacity to summon heroic forces from the spiritual depths of ordinary citizens and to unleash therefrom a symphonic chorus of unique creative acts whose common purpose is to tame the soul and alleviate the great challenges facing mankind.” – Gerald Campbell

“We’re here to evolve to a higher plane…He is an evolved leader…[He] has an ear for eloquence and a Tongue dipped in the Unvarnished Truth.” – Oprah Winfrey

“I would characterize the Senate race as being a race where Obama was, let’s say, blessed and highly favored. That’s not routine. There’s something else going on. I think Obama, his election to the Senate, was divinely ordered…I know that was God’s plan.” – Bill Rush

You kind of get the idea that were Barak to abandon his candidacy and decide to found a religion instead, millions would follow his banner. Can you imagine conservatives speaking this way about a Republican candidate for President? Can you imagine what the media would say if they did? And yet, some of the ones quoted above are in the media! Conservatives don’t even wax this poetic about Ronald Reagan!

And that is one of the reasons why to me, this is so frightening. Charismatic leaders are always problematical. They can be a force for good or ill. Examples abound throughout history. Perhaps the two most recent that come to mind are Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini; both charismatic leaders, both of whom were elected to power by cheering crowds of their fellow countrymen. Neither however had the religious element attached to them. For the religious side, we can point to such as David Koresh and Jim Jones as some of the more recent charismatic religious figures that turned out horribly wrong.

I am not saying that Barak Obama is akin to any of these. I am just trying to illustrate how things can come off the tracks when one waxes euphoric on a charismatic high and fails to look at the substance that lies beneath the pretty words and high-sounding phrases. And I really don’t want to be in the position of someday being able to look back at current events with historical hindsight and wonder “what were all those people thinking anyway?”, as I see the big smoking crater where my country once stood, and the graveyard where my children and those I held dear are buried.

[1] Pat Robertson, Wikipedia