not of this world

Friday, March 28, 2008

Filed under: — Not of this World @
For then shall a man rule over his sin when he does not prefer it to himself and defend it, but subjects it by repentance; otherwise he that becomes protector of it shall surely become its prisoner.

-Augustine, City of God XV, 7

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Hopes

Filed under: , — Not of this World @

so here’s an op-ed that i was thinking about attempting to submit somewhere, but with all the breaking news on Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the realization that my working on this was just a glorified thesis procrastination project, i decided to drop it here on my much neglected blog and turn back to the more pressing work at hand.

Surprisingly little is known to the electorate about the man poised to become the Democratic Presidential candidate even as they turn out in record numbers to nominate him. But there are not a few indicators breaking through the “soaring rhetoric” of hope and unification which paint a troubling picture over and above his eclipsed extreme left of center legislative record. In a recent speech at the annual Saviors’ Day Celebration, Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan proclaimed Barack Obama the “hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better.” The Obama phenomenon has been marked, or marketed one might say, by references to “hope,” from the very dawning of his remarkably rapid rise to political stardom. The junior Senator’s unusually early in life memoir, Dreams From My Father, for all its prematurity and questionable biographical verisimilitude, has proven to be politically convenient indeed as an appetite-whetting forerunner to his “sonorous manifesto,” The Audacity of Hope. It is worthy of note that the title of this political preface is a borrowed phrase from his spiritual advisor, a minister whose Church-published Trumpet Newsmagazine awarded the 2007 Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to Mr. Farrakhan for being a man who “truly epitomized greatness.” I will let those readers familiar with Farrakhan’s outrageous and offensive record draw their own conclusions regarding the import of this not quite six degrees of separation from Mr. Obama.

It is not only his minister of twenty years who provides telling insight into Obama’s inner sanctum, and whose recently revealed incendiary racial animus has now only increased suspicions of the veracity of the Senator’s foremost selling point of possessing good judgment. Senator Obama’s wife in recent weeks has revealed further disquieting details concerning the nature of the influence her husband seeks to effect as Commander in Chief. In a recent speech Michelle Obama made the following rather startling remarks:

We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another, that we cannot measure our greatness in this society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure our greatness by the least of these, that we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. That is why I’m here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation… If we can’t see ourselves in one another, we will never make those sacrifices. So I am here right now, because I am married to the only person in this race who has a chance of healing this nation.

Reacting with bemusement on the balance of these and similar remarks, Jonah Goldberg trenchantly observed that Mrs. Obama is basically promising the American public that her husband will express and inaugurate an American version of the Volksgemeinschaft. One wonders what has become of the left’s adamant support of the supposed Constitutional penumbra of separation of Church and State when the presumptive leader of the Democratic Party is preached as a virtual savior in such unabashedly religious terms. An Obama administration is going to “fix our souls”? The New York Times has carried this trending messianic characterization to new heights in a recent front-page article. Apparently Obama’s supporters are increasingly concerned about the “danger” he is putting himself in by carrying such a daring message of hope and change. In a word he has attained martyr status without actually being a martyr, a very handy state of affairs for a political messiah whose would-be kingdom is decidedly of this world.

National talk show host and syndicated columnist Dennis Prager has often remarked that there is a part of the human mind designed for dedication to supra-rational beliefs and hopes, that yearns for the ideals that human history and every day life teaches are not common threads of this present fallen world’s fabric. In people with deeply held, explicitly religious beliefs, this “irrational part” – as Prager deems it, or ratio superior as Catholic theological tradition would term it – of the single mind of man finds its proper object through faith in that which is above itself and towards which it yearns and strives with the virtue of hope. It maintains this otherworldly striving even as it marshals that more common aspect or “part” of reason – the ratio inferior – towards those practical ends prudentially attainable in the here and now. For those of a more secularist mindset however, these two aspects of reason are conflated and confused, and result in their holding up as the highest object of mankind’s “hope” mere material benefits and security – a very different sort of kingdom promised as fully attainable by enlightened human effort, limitless technological progress and benevolent government expansion. Having no concept of nor belief in the traditional Christian understanding of the two simultaneous realms of the Civitas Dei and civitas hominis, there is for the secular mind no truly worthy objective or outlet for their higher reason. And so it happens that the this-worldy utopian promises for meaningful (enough) existence are set up by a closed humanist governmental sphere as subtle faith tinged replacements for true transcendent hope.

While both the traditionally religious and progressively secular share some common “small h” hopes for peace and prosperity, there is a not so fine line between the transcendent supernatural virtue of Hope and the this worldly naïveté of the secularist hope in historicist progressivism. The battle of our time in such secular eyes is not restoring a virtuous culture of life in order to regain the moral strength capable of (among other challenges) confronting Islamicist enemies who pledge either to bring a weakened West into submission or purify the world with its blood. It is rather a mere humanistic contest with man alone setting himself as the autonomous and ultimate measure of all things – a hyper-rationalist battle to foster ever more nuanced dialogue and diplomatic negotiations with those who bear grievances against us; or a materialist battle to secure universal healthcare for every citizen; or an environmentalist battle to curb carbon emissions and so “save the world” from cataclysmic destruction of the planet.

This last substitute battle holds particular irony, as Al Gore has now told us the debate on human caused global warming is “closed,” even as many prominent scientists beg to differ (despite vicious disparagement and grant droughts), and especially as scientism is supposed to be the one truly enlightened sphere free from the crushing constraints and finality of dogma. One wonders how closed the debate was when devastating global cooling was forecasted back in the 1970’s. But I digress. This is all to point out that without being guided towards the proper object of humanity’s exalted capacity for higher aspirations, it is not surprising that the considerable energy and idealism of postmodern young adults is being so easily trained upon a substitute hope promised by a charismatic figure such as Barack Obama. As the oft-quoted line attributed to Chesterton has it, “When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”

In addressing a crowd in New Hampshire, Obama, in an early response to critiques of his hope filled, substance obscured rhetoric decried such cynicism. “False hopes? There’s no such thing.” As a writer from The New Republic Journal Leon Wieseltier put it, “How dare he? There is almost no more commonplace trait of human existence…than false hopes.” Quite right. As repeated “man on the street” polls have revealed, there is scarcely to be found any fervent supporters overflowing these stadium rallies who can begin to put their finger on what precisely is the content offered in the change and hope Obama promises to usher in with his “new” politics. There is a childlike, chick opening its beak quality in the instant trust that Obama has gained apart from any actual knowledge either of the salience of his political philosophy or the history of his legislative priorities. Actress Halle Berry recently told the Philadelphia Daily News that she will “do whatever he says to do,” and Susan Sarandon gave her endorsement with the additional revealing comment that she thinks, “that he, as a symbol, has really excited people… I think he definitely has convinced people that he stands for change and for hope, and I can’t wait to see what he stands for.” (emphasis added)

Though all thoughtful observers of the current political scene, left, right and center, have our own hopes that a majority of the American consumer electorate is at least a bit more perspicacious than the above quoted Hollywood actresses, such hopes are tenuous indeed. The rapid rise to power of charismatic leaders on the dual wings of national yearnings for unity and public benefits on the one hand, and the earnest aid of elite useful idiots such as these on the other, is an all too familiar story in the history books no longer read by those generations now rushing to cast their votes for “change”.

It is into the murky thick of such “soaring” rhetoric heralding change and messianic promises of hope that the successor of Saint Peter has released his latest encyclical letter Spe Salvi. The timing, as usual, is impeccable, though it is tragically unlikely that any of those who are fainting at the Obama mega rallies, or working to convert their family and friends to the cause, will ever read a word of such timely wisdom and shepherding. It is to just such misplaced hopes that Pope Benedict speaks and urges us not to fall prey to, and it is precisely such false hopes of technological and political progressivism, with its secular messianic leadership, that postmodern liberalism seems poised to dive into head first here in America. Our nation, which still counts among its citizens a Christian faith-professing majority, would do well to heed in its present political deliberations the prudent and timely counsel of Benedict:

Again, we find ourselves facing the question: what may we hope? A self-critique of modernity is needed in dialogue with Christianity and its concept of hope. In this dialogue Christians too, in the context of their knowledge and experience, must learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer.

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