As posted by Mike Clawson. Thanks Mike!
Andrew Sullivan had an interesting article in The Atlantic Monthly recently about Barack Obama. His premise is that Obama, by virtue of his upbringing, his racial complexity, his age, and his experiences is probably the first presidential candidate who can actually move us beyond the Left-Right, Black-White, Secular-Religious polarities of the Civil Rights/Vietnam Era which have been defining American politics ever since the 1960s (what Sullivan calls “Boomerism”). He suggests that what more and more Americans have in common these days is this sense of complexity that Obama embodies – a feeling that the old categories don’t describe us very well anymore, that we are “both/and” rather than “either/or”. In other words (my own, not Sullivan’s), Barack Obama is the first postmodern candidate.
Towards the end of the article Sullivan sums up his point like this:
To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything—this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity, with its internal tensions, contradictions, and moods, may increasingly be the main thing all Americans have in common.
Throughout the article Sullivan also details several other specific ways that Obama bridges old divides; in his approach to faith, for instance. He points out that Obama had a Muslim father, was raised by a secular humanist mother, and converted to Christianity as an adult. His faith is genuine, and yet complex. He understands and speaks (authentically) the evangelical language of conversion, and yet without embracing the absolutism of evangelical extremes. Sullivan quote a speech by Obama given last year in which he describes his religious conversion. I was thoroughly impressed. Obama said:
One Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, he would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn’t suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will, and dedicated myself to discovering his truth and carrying out his works.
That is an expression of faith that I, and I believe many others, can identify with. Elsewhere Obama has said “Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts.” That kind of “faith with humility” is something that resonates well with a postmodern generation.
Another point Sullivan makes about Obama’s bridge-building abilities is in regards to the image of America that he will project to the world. He asks us to consider the following hypothetical situation:
It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
It’s an interesting, and electrifying possibility in my opinion. In a way that no other candidate can, Obama typifies both what America really is and what it ought to be – diverse, complex, inclusive, welcoming. The article makes a number of other excellent points, and does a good job of describing many of the reasons that I do support Obama, as I’ve said before, not as my “ideal” candidate (if such a thing exists), but as one that I could nevertheless get behind. If he wins, Obama could become our first truly postmodern president.