Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oy, Bama!

Theriomorph, a blogger I read and respect, is upset that Pastor Rick Warren is going to give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration.

It is all over the news, as well, although the media have chosen to portray it as a "gay" issue. I suppose they are referring to the fact that Pastor Warren, who recently told Beliefnet in an interview that he does not see himself as a politician, was a leader in the California Proposition 8 campaign, and he routinely equates gay marriage with incest and bestiality.

I'm not a fan or a hater of Pastor Warren. Sarah gave me a copy of his best-selling Purpose-Driven Life as a present years ago, and I read it. In an interesting way, I regard Pastor Warren with a similar feeling as when I regard Obama. It's pretty clear what they are both up to, they're clever at it, they give a good performance and a surprising number of people fail to see through it.

Pastor Warren has said some very good, sensible things about poverty and the necessity of doing more to help the underserved. He has poked conservatives about their charity, and has put his money where his mouth is by reverse-tithing, keeping 10% of the royalties from his books and giving away 90%. He done an exemplary job as the 21st Century, affable, Hawaiian shirt-wearing version of the celebrity right-wing evangelist, who happens to think, by the way, shucks, that letting people make their own moral decisions regarding abortion is equivalent to being a Holocaust denier; and, again, that ridiculous equation of gay marriage with sodomizing animals. Pastor Warren can say things like this and yet fool some people into thinking he is a moderate, or non-political. That requires careful effort and skill. He has been dubbed "America's Pastor" in the press, and his star has not risen by accident.

Senator Obama, similarly, has an astonishing number of people convinced he is something other than what he is. What is he? An exceedingly good politician. As with porn stars, we always want a pro who makes us believe they aren't a pro. Obama is a policy wonk and a Chicago machine politician who combines youthful stateliness and confidence with an eloquence we have not seen in politics in a long time, and sang a song of national unity and optimism that was always right on key. He even quoted Sam Cooke in his first address as the president-elect, from a hit pop song about social change. It was the right message for our time, and Obama made people believe it.

He and Pastor Warren are friends: best-selling authors and self-made celebrities. They have used one another to show their constituents that they are open-minded and courageous. Warren invited Obama to speak at his Saddleback Church knowing it would anger some in the pews; Obama knew his choice of Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration would anger a lot of people who vote Democratic.

Obama wants this choice to demonstrate his inclusiveness. This makes some people tear their hair because Pastor Warren takes divisive political positions and has made some insensitive statements. For you, the riddle becomes, do you send a message of unity by including the voices of prejudice?

You can work on that one if you wish, but for me there is no riddle. What's the surprise? Obama and Warren are professionals who have an opportunity to burnish certain credentials for each other. Warren solidifies his "America's Pastor" brand by doing an inaugural invocation, Obama adds to his "post-partisan" routine.

(But! But! Obama is supposed to be DIFFERENT than all those people! Algernon, you are so MEAN MEAN MEAN!)

Obama partisans, it is time for your reality check. This is politics. Choose your battles: get active and be prepared to fight on the level of policy and legislation. Don't worry about the spectacle.

Change hasn't shown up to rescue us; change has come in the form of an intelligent and talented politician who might listen to reason. That may not be what we fantasized about, but it's what we've got -- and it isn't bad.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, Algernon-

Change hasn't shown up to rescue us; change has come in the form of an intelligent and talented politician who might listen to reason.

Yeah. And the thing is, I voted for the savvy politician that is Obama based on this trait - I think that's who and what we need. But this choice smacks of straight up hypocrisy in a way that to me is not supportable as 'post partisan' pontifex crap. It's selling out to the evangelicals, on our backs.

The transparency and accountability will hopefully stand, and stand with responsiveness.

He's definitely hearing a lot of reaction.

Algernon said...

Thank you for reading and commenting!

I understand how this choice can be viewed as hypocrisy or, at the very least, a contradiction of his unifying message.

On the other hand, if you view Obama as an actor in the first place, it appears as something -- different. Not sure what to call it though. Anyway, I don't like it, either, so why split hairs?

Ji Hyang said...

Let me agree, that Warren is not my choice for this, because religious pluralism is so important.
And, at the same time, introduce another possibility, which is that, through this invocation, Obama is engaging in dialogue with exactly those people who are not originally in his tent. For religious pluralists, how can we create space at our table for even those exclusivists-- recognizing that this willingness to engage difference may begin with a generously laden olive branch...

Andrew said...

It's a fine line with this particular matter. On the one hand, this is America, and if someone wants to be bigoted, ignorant, racist, sexist, whatever, they are free to do so and we should all defend their right to be stupid.

But, on the other hand, that does not give someone the right to impose those warped views on others, or even worse, like what Warren did, actively help to strip rights from a group you don't like, simply because, well, you don't like them. That's un-American.

The problem, as I see it, is there are those in this country who are ignorant and those who are not, and Obama is President over all of them. This means, if he wants to be inclusive and try to bring the country together, he has to tip his hat to both sides. You don't bring people together by telling a group "You are wrong. Change and be like us so we're all inclusive." That's what Bush did, and it's a bad idea.

So, as repulsive as Warrens' views may be to us, and they are repulsive, you don't get him, and the million of his followers, to change without offering an olive branch first.

And that, is what Obama is doing.

Wonji Dharma said...

I think I'll just quote Jelladin Rumi here: "Did you come as a Prophet, to unite or to sever?"

Algernon said...

Very sensible commentary, everyone. Just wanted to mention, on the subject of olive branches, that some of the people we are referring to are not interested in olive branches but in conquest. We are referring to people who coined the phrase "cultural war" and believe they are waging one in earnest. They view pluralism as a kind of liberal imperialism in a tolerant disguise. They don't want your olive branch; they want your obedience.