Besides the double-standard in pearl-clutching, to which I have nothing to add, Amanda's post reminded me of something I wanted to mention about the whole Wright scenario; specifically, it was her opening rhetorical question: "Why the fuck do I know Obama's minister's name?!"
Why the fuck do I know Obama's minister's name?! No, really. Why? I don't know John McCain's minister's name. (But he does have a "spiritual guide".) I don't know Hillary Clinton's minister's name. I don't know John Edwards' minister's name. I don't know Mitt Romney's minister's name, and Romney was in a church that is actually out of the mainstream and "raised questions". I don't know George Bush's minister's name, but I know that whoever he is probably thinks I'm going to burn in hell for all eternity for the sin of being a feminist atheist.Now, merely contemplating for more than a few seconds the incestuous intermingling of religion and politics in America runs the real risk of my turning my office into a vomitorium; I've met that ugly Frankenstein's monster face-to-face, of course, but my own experience notwithstanding, it's a principle about which I am so unyielding that I have found myself even defending Willard Romney, despite knowing he would be very unlikely to do the same for me. The point is, I literally could not agree more that a candidate's religion shouldn't matter.
But I do have a problem with the question "Why the fuck do I know Obama's minister's name?!"—because the reason I know Jeremiah Wright's name is that Barack Obama told me.
The first time most Democrats outside of Illinois heard of Barack Obama was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he gave the keynote speech. It was there we first heard the phrase "the audacity of hope," and in interviews immediately after his much-discussed national debut, he credited his pastor with the phrase that he would also later use as the title of a book, saying his keynote speech (and his Christian awakening) was inspired by Wright's 1990 sermon of the same name. Naturally, Obama's intimacy with Wright's inspirational words has generated interest in Wright himself—especially considering the type of campaign he has run:
More than the other Democratic candidates for president, Obama has made faith a centerpiece of his campaign.Running a campaign steeped in religious rhetoric has been a successful strategy for Obama; certainly his overt appeals to religious/Christian voters is part of the reason he has drawn the support of so many moderate conservatives. But it was always a calculated risk. Obama knew Wright would be a controversial figure in the mainstream, which is why Wright was reportedly disinvited from delivering the prayer at his presidential announcement—a bit of caution that now seems quaint, given the last week's uproar.
He has warned the left against ceding the mantle of religion to the evangelical right. He speaks of the church as an abiding force in American public life, from the Boston Tea Party through the abolitionist and civil rights movements. He suffuses his speeches with biblical allusions—"I am my brother's keeper" is a favorite phrase. And he has cast his generation of black leaders as modern-day Joshuas, after Moses' successor, who led the Israelites to the Promised Land.
Many of Obama's political views are "an outgrowth of his reading of some of the seminal parts of the Bible about doing unto the 'least of these' just as we would have done unto Christ," says Joshua DuBois, the campaign's director of religious affairs, paraphrasing verses in the book of Matthew. "He takes very seriously the numerous passages in the Bible that talk not only about poverty, but of people of faith taking God's words and extending them beyond the four walls of the church."
Lest anyone jump to my conclusion and presume I'm engaging in a bit of victim-blaming here—"That's what Obama gets for playing the game!"—hold your fire. Obama has more reason to play this game than most of the Democratic candidates who have preceded him. He came to Christianity (which yet remains the only acceptable religious option for presidential candidates) late in life, and he attended a Muslim school in his childhood (never mind that it was secular, nor that he attended a Catholic school, too). Making his faith the centerpiece of his campaign was one way to dispel the inevitable hang-wringing and irrational alarmism that were going to happen about his background—and have, like clockwork. To ignore this reality of the religiously-fixated American political system and culture (and its double-standard with regard to Democratic candidates generally) would be deeply unfair. And the fact that I do know Obama's minister's name, and not the others', says something about that reality. In fact, it's the whole point.
So, no—I am not remotely saying that Obama played a game he could have avoided, nor am I suggesting that he deserves whatever he gets for playing. The problem is an institutional one. It manifests and is constantly reinforced in a thousand different ways, including Huckabee the Republican getting a pass for his not-mainstream views while Obama's religious mentor is given a public colonoscopy, and John Kerry's religious views scrutinized for perfect alignment with Catholic teachings while Bush's religiosity is never questioned even if he routinely fails to go to church, and Amanda's and my religious views being used against John Edwards, and Romney's grandfather's religious beliefs being used against him, and the shitastic press coverage of all of the above, and the inexplicable refusal of candidates to say: "Fuck you, it's none of your business"—and American voters' obstinate, ninny-brained willingness to indulge this preposterous bullshit over and over and over and bloody over again with each election, because, evidently, we are collectively too stupid to distinguish between someone who is religious and someone who is ethical, because we are too daft and ignorant to acknowledge once and for all that religion is not the singular genesis of morality.
We know Obama's minister's name because he told us. And until we all grow up and decide we're really going to have a country with a genuine separation between church and state, and no religious litmus tests, we are going to have candidates introducing us to their religious mentors, and various other ways of trying to out-god each other. This would certainly be as good a time as any to revisit the wisdom of that habit and engage in a little self-reflection on whether it's actually helping our country in any discernible way.
But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
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Update: As if designed to prove my point, in the video Petulant posted of New York Governor David Paterson's swearing-in, Paterson first thanks the judge who swore him in, then: "I would like to thank Rabbi Schmuel Lefkowitz(ph), one of my dear friends, for coming and speaking here today, and also Monsignor Wallace Harris(ph), my pastor, for delivering that invocation as well." So now I know his minister's name, too.