Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Obama: Disown Wright Now

I've thus far refrained from commenting at length on the controversy surrounding the relationship between Barack Obama and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for several reasons: the attacks on Wright were fairly typical of the right wing smear machine, many of his sermons, when read in context, were not nearly as inflammatory as they've been portrayed, it's fairly obvious from everything I've read and found out about Obama that he does not share any of Wright's more outrageous views, etc.

And we must remember that Obama's father left him at an early age, leaving him without a strong, respectable male role model to identify with and Wright seemed to fill that role for him as an at least slightly eccentric uncle; as someone who can relate to that situation of lacking a father figure that I could know intimately and revere, I can see why it has been so hard to actually make the decision to disown him in light of many of his past comments.

But Wright's interview before the National Press Club yesterday was what I consider to be beyond the pale. The unrepentant way in which he defended his 9/11 comments about America's chickens coming home to roost, the way he discussed the "Zionism" of modern-day Israel and the way he's using the old Boomer generation's (the Clinton's included) tactics of pitting Whites against Blacks are now too much for me to excuse (not that I excused any of his previous statements with which I disagreed, mind you). And the obvious departure of these new comments from the tone Obama has tried so hard to set thus far with the positivity of his campaign is glaring and irredeemable.

One reason I've held off on commenting about this issue is my deep regard for Obama and his overriding message, the way he has obviously endevoured to raise the bar of political discourse in this country and carry us past the divisive atmosphere of the Boomer years; with the happy effect of having the newest generations embrace this new philosophy of hope over the old politics-as-usual. This is one of the reasons I've let slide how uncomfortable Obama's embrace of religion in the public theatre has made me feel. Just as I've known many people, black and white, whom I've respected on an intellectual level and yet I couldn't square they're seemingly superstitious thoughts with common, everyday logic. Despite our differences I found more than enough similarities between us to look past what I considered the fairly kooky nature of their religious beliefs.

Another reason is that I feel that I just can't really grasp the depth and meaning of Obama's relationship to the man who is apparently responsible for converting him to Christianity. I've never had that kind of "religious" connection to another person, much less to someone I consider a personal mentor and advisor and I respect Obama enough to take his word that this connection is real. Plus, it's hard to dispute that these feelings actually exist considering the ephemeral nature of feelings themselves and our limited knowledge of the practical inner workings of the human brain. Are these religious feelings caused by magic? I highly doubt it. But do they seem and feel as if they are to the person supposedly experiencing them? Well, considering what we do know about the power of the human mind, I wouldn't doubt that it's possible.

The level of devisiveness and animosity contained in Wright's latest comments however, is too destructive to Obama and his campaign for him to let them go unanswered. In fact, it seems very appropriate for him to now disown Wright and his new found assault on the ideals of America and Obama's chances to attain the presidency; I actually find it hard to see how he has any choice in the matter. These comments are a direct attack against his message of inclusiveness and of finding a new direction for this country, and the American people will clearly see that. To back away from confronting them now will make him look weak, prejudiced and indecisive; three qualities that he can ill afford to have attributed to himself at this crucial juncture in the race.

Wright has taken advantage of the man who stood by him and defended him in the heat of the national spotlight that is the presidential race and is now using his newfound notoriety to become the next racial demagogue at Obama's expense, and Obama must recognize this fact; his continued silence now would be a tacit endorsement of Wright's new, more odious statements. White America is willing to look past many questionable things in the 21st century but outright hatred and obvious public animosity towards the American experiment by a close friend and spiritual advisor of a serious presidential hopeful are just too much to ask of them in any age.

I'm fairly certain that he has the mental wherewithall and political savvy to recognize this moment in time for what it is: a blatant opportunity to act like a responsible leader and to do the hard but obviously right thing. He must disown and denounce Wright and his divisive statements not just because it is politically expedient but because it is what history and America now require of him. Once again, it is time for him to square his shoulders and prove that he is the leader we've been waiting for. Now we can only wait, and hope.

[Update: My satellite television is out again, so I just heard the news that Obama has indeed repudiated Wright and his comments at a press conference earlier today; it was finally the right time for him to disavow Wright the man and not just his more inflammatory ravings. It must have been a difficult thing to do considering their long friendship and the ugly, public way in which it was forced to come to an end. Money quote:

"Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I’ve known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate..."
I know that it will take some more time for this story to play itself out but I really hope that soon we can start to get past this as a nation and move on to the more substantive issues in this campaign: the lack of universal healthcare, a seemingly endless war in Iraq, our gasping, flailing economy, etc. These are the matters that should be concerning all Americans right now and we've spent way too much time already focusing on the divisive and superficial distractions of the past.]


Anonymous said...

You whimsically attach words like "superstitious" and "kooky" to spiritual beliefs, but the "intellectual" and "logical" thoughts on the universe's origins still - and will always - require an equal leap of faith to believe. For a guy in favor of unity and inclusiveness, I'd think you wouldn't so flippantly disregard 85-97.5% of the world's population's beliefs.

JBW said...

There was actually nothing whimsical about it; in fact, I consciously placed qualifiers before those words like "seemingly" and "what I considered", denoting that those were my personal opinions and that I wasn't making statements of fact, because nobody has the evidence or knowledge to say whether those are facts or not.

But the truth is that there is no more empirical, provable, scientific evidence for those types of beliefs now than there has ever been. To ascribe the origins and ongoing processes of the universe to the machinations of an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster would make just as much scientific sense as citing the work of a bearded god on a throne or someone with an elephant head or six arms.

And I disagree that intellectual and logical thoughts on the origins of the universe will always require a "leap of faith"; we learn more about the natural world with every day of research and exploration in which we document phenomena and better understand the universe's laws. Myriad things that past generations ascribed to magic or gods have subsequently been proven to have observable causes rooted in the laws of the natural universe.

And yes, I am a big fan of unity and inclusiveness but achieving that certainly doesn't require me to believe in ideas and concepts completely lacking in any kind of proof or scientific merit. As I said, I can look past those beliefs in others if I learn enough about a person to respect them on other levels; my beliefs don't require them to believe as I do.

On the flip side, it is many of the devoutly religious that seem to make statements of their own opinion as if they are facts and many would undoubtedly condemn me because I participate in actions that they consider wrong or because I don't believe or even because I don't believe the "right" things.

In fact, just yesterday two Jehovah's Witnesses shoved a scrap of paper through the slot in my front door. I didn't ask to be "saved" by them but they have taken it upon themselves to save me whether my beliefs require it or not, and it's because their beliefs do require it. Now I have one more piece of trash to pick up off the floor of my own home because of someone else's beliefs.

Make no mistake, I don't disregard the majority of the world's beliefs "flippantly"; in fact, I consider the opinion that if I don't believe in the supernatural or at least have some doubts as to what I believe that I'm "flippantly disregard"ing the beliefs of others to be a bit insulting. The idea being that someone who believes in some type of god or supernatural process has come to that belief through some long and introspective process of "soul" searching but someone who doesn't believe in such things is just being petulant and dismissive, as if I disregard religious beliefs because it's easier than thinking.

I can assure you that this is most definitely not the case. In fact, I consider those who "know" that there "must" be a god controlling the universe to be much more close-minded; whether it be out of doubt or fear or whatever, they seem to be incapable of fathoming even the possibility that someone like myself might be correct. Even when you're clearly in the majority, disregarding even the possibility that the minority could be right is still arrogance.

And as you well know, I've stated many times, whether in the incarnation of being an atheist or agnostic, that I personally can't disprove the existence of a god, thus I can't say with absolute certainty that there is no god. I freely and happily admit that there are things in the universe that can't be fully explained by my belief system; that's what makes the learning and discovery process of science so interesting and worth pursuing.

But try getting the same open-minded admission out of your fellow 85-97.5%ers; I'd wager big money that a majority of them would not only adamantly and with complete certainly dismiss my beliefs as wrong but also yours as well. The majority of the world is still killing each other and even blowing themselves up because they're oh so sure that their beliefs are the right ones; I'm just typing mine out on some pissant little blog. Who would you say has more respect for the right of other people to believe whatever they want?

Unknown said...

Thomas Jefferson once said that he had never attempted to convert anyone to his set of (religious) beliefs and expected the same courtesy from others.

For myself, I tend to believe in something, though I'm not sure what. This is probably remants from things I was taught. However, even entropy, where things tend to disorder (I think) is too regular and predictable. By that I mean that there is too much basic structure in the universe for things to have just happened.

A priest told me once that when we try to define god, we lose god. It seems to me that in "the west" we vainly look everywhere for god. When, as I understand "the oriental" view, god is everywhere: I am god, you are god, etc. If I could see god in everything, "within you and without you", I'd be a much better person. I'd also probably be alot happier and less pissed off. The 'Great Spirit' moves in mysterious ways.

"I like your Jesus. I don't like your Christians. They are so unlike your Jesus."

Fianlly, I believe in the two commandments as set forth by George Carlin, especially the second; "Keep thy religion to thyself".

There are many paths to enlightenment....

Anonymous said...

I'm well aware of your intentional use of those words, I was commenting on freely you throw those condescending terms out.

I didn't say that there WAS any more provable, scientific evidence for God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. On a side note, I think Dawkins use of that term is hilarious, but I bet a lot of people would find that one condescending as well.

We'll have to disagree about leaps of faith in regards to the origins, but if you can explain how science will ever rule out the existence of God, please let me know. We've been through this before, you know I've stated that God and evolution from oxygen can conceivably coexist.

I did not ask you to believe anything that others do about God or otherwise. All I said was that I wondered why you don't speak in more civil terms about them. In the same post where you spoke to Obama's unifying message, you made derogatory comments that would only drive a bigger wedge in mixed company.

I am not a big fan of the cold-calling evangelist, but they have their place in this world too. You and I both feel the same emotions when they approach us in our homes though.

The terms you used to describe religion were certainly very flippant. Please explain how they could have been taken respectfully.

People of faith, or none, or no more "open" minded than the other. Who's to say that it takes a more open mind to believe that we came from a god or from nothing or even both?

I completely agree that there are tons of things in our universe that cannot be explained, and agree that scientists should strive hard to do that.

It's not your opposing beliefs that I have any problem with. I would think you don't have a problem with mine or Reed's either. The thing that I found to be funny, actually, was the inclusiveness of Obama and the divisiveness of these little throw-away adjectives. My comment on this post was meant to open your eyes to this dichotomy.

I don't think you're mad or anything, but if you are, I do apologize. I certainly was/am not offended or angry. I'm a pretty jovial guy about this sort of thing.

Reed: You have a very interesting and worthwhile post. I don't want you to feel overlooked in my item-by-item response to James... but I know that the debate team captain requires these sorts of things, and you don't require as much. ;)

JBW said...

As evidenced by the dirth of posts over the last several days, I've been pretty busy with all manner of non-blog related people and things and have regrettably not had adequate time to respond fully to your response to my response to your comment about my post...and I still don't, but I didn't want to seem neglectful or rude for any longer than I already have, so here it is very quickly.

I was neither mad nor offended and I'm glad to see that you were neither as well. I just assumed that my views on what I consider the silliness of pretty much all organized religion were well known to most regular readers here and that while I'm a big fan of inclusiveness and bringing people together that doesn't preclude me from being honest about my beliefs on all subjects, sometimes brutally. My occasional lack of decorum in this area is definitely one of the factors at this point keeping me from seriously considering ever successfully running for public office.

I take your point about the seeming inconsistency of my views and can only admit to the aforementioned fault as an adequate explanation for my apparent flippancy. I hold the folks reading this blog that are close friends and family in the highest regard and if I ever come across as deliberately combative or disrespectful everyone should know that it is entirely unintentional on my part.

And Reed, ditto Sterling's praise for your comments as well; kudos for invoking the words of my favorite founding father. Perhaps if you and I were less eye to eye on so many subjects our back and forth would be more spirited.

"Debate team captain", huh? A flattering description, as far as I'm concerned; if everyone wants to start calling me "Captain" now that's perfectly fine by me.