WASHINGTON -- Much has been made of the religious tenor of Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Reports of women weeping and swooning -- even of an audience applauding when The One cleared his proboscis (blew his nose for you mortals) -- have become frequent events in the heavenly realm of Obi-Wan Obama.
His rhetoric, meanwhile, drips with hints of resurrection, redemption and second comings. "We are the ones we've been waiting for," he said on Super Tuesday night. And his people were glad.
Actually, they were hysterical, the word that best describes what surrounds this young savior and that may be more apt than we imagine. The word is derived from the Greek hystera, or womb. The ancient Greeks considered hysteria a psychoneurosis peculiar to women caused by disturbances of the uterus.
Well, you don't see any men fainting in Obi's presence.
Barack Obama has many appealing qualities, not least his own reluctance to be swaddled in purple. Nothing quite says, "I'm only human" like whipping out a hankie and blowing one's nose in front of 17,000 admirers. The audience's applause was reportedly awkward, as if the crowd was both approving of anything their savior did, but a little disappointed at this rather ungodly behavior.
So what is the source of this infatuation with Obama? How to explain the hysteria? The religious fervor? The devotion? The weeping and fainting and utter euphoria surrounding a candidate who had the audacity to run for leader of the free world on a platform of mere hope?
If anthropologists made predictions the way meteorologists do, they might have anticipated Obama's astronomical rise to supernova status in 2008 of the Common Era. Consider the cultural coordinates, and Obama's intersection with history becomes almost inevitable.
To play weatherman for a moment, he is a perfect storm of the culture of narcissism, the cult of celebrity, and a secular society in which fathers (both the holy and the secular) have been increasingly marginalized from the lives of a generation of young Americans.
All of these trends have been gaining momentum the past few decades. Social critic Christopher Lasch named the culture of narcissism a generation ago and cited addiction to celebrity as one of the disease's symptoms -- all tied to the decline of the family.
That culture has merely become more exaggerated as spiritual alienation and fatherlessness have collided with technology (YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) that enables the self-absorption of the narcissistic personality.