Hillary Clinton may have caused a stir in the early 90’s by embracing Michael Lerner’s “Politics of Meaning,” but it is the Barack Obama campaign that has been carrying the flag for this pernicious idea in 2008.
Millions of Obama supporters have been swept away by the promise of a political transformation that would follow in the wake of an Obama victory in November. His campaign promises to restore hope and bring change to the lives of Americans. According to Obama “We are the hope of the future. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Obama’s message is messianic. His support derives from his promise of transformation, not just of the country, but of people’s lives. Michele Obama promised UCLA students that “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation and that you move out of your comfort zone. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual…”
In another speech Michelle Obama insisted that her husband should be President because he understood that our souls were broken and needed fixing.
Well, Michelle Obama may be right: our souls may be broken and maybe they do need fixing. But politics is not the venue in which human souls are healed.
We have seen before movements that spiritualize politics. In fact, Jonah Goldberg has written an outstanding book about the phenomenon: Liberal Fascism. Such movements derive from a deep human desire to find meaning in our lives—a meaning that has been traditionally found in religion and not politics.
While not unique to the modern world, there is something especially modern about these movements to imbue politics with a spiritual dimension. At no time in Western history has there been so little religion to address our spiritual needs, and as a consequence there has been an abnormal amount of spiritual seeking in the otherwise mundane world of politics.
Traditionally politics has been understood to be concerned with the body, while religion concerned with the soul. The idea of the separation of Church and State was built upon the insight that each served a deep need in human beings, but that the needs were quite distinct. In some ways, this was the perfection of the Christian insight that the soul and the body are distinct as are their realms. Jesus himself pointed to separation of the temporal from the spiritual in the Gospel of Matthew: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
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