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Secular Messianism, Cont’d.



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Over the last few days, the whole world has been mocking Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment. A lot of the mockery has been along the Ayn Randian lines of like-hell-I-didn’t-build-that-how-dare-you-diss-me. And that mockery is not unjustified: It does indeed ill become a president whose term has been a rather stark economic failure to appear to minimize the efforts and achievements of people out there who are building things and creating jobs. But a Methodist minister of my e-mail acquaintance has put her finger on a more fundamental problem with Obama’s rhetoric, one that this instance illustrates quite strikingly:

I am struggling with an odd thing — our president is beginning to preach my sermons, albeit with a secular leftist twist! I realized this when I heard his now-infamous “you didn’t build that company” line . . . how many times I have preached on a text like the Pharisee and the tax collector and said something like that! Something along the lines of: “Whatever you have, it’s the result of the gifts God gave you” or some such comment. Obviously, that’s not original — one of my favorite Augustine prayers from Confessions:

 

“But how could these materials have come to be unless you had given them their being?

It was you who made the craftsman’s body and the mind which controls his arms and legs.

It was you who made the materials from which he makes his goods.

It was you who made the intelligence of the architect — you who made his physical senses, which are the channels through which he transmits his mental picture of the thing to be made.

You created our senses so that we can behold what has been made,

And you created our minds that we can judge whether the thing has been made well or badly.”

(XI,5)

 

Anyway, listening to Obama, I realized that time after time he is usurping the language of the Christian church for rhetoric about government. I can’t use the term “social justice” anymore without a political disclaimer. Now here’s another perfectly wonderful concept about God’s grace that has been tainted by applying it to the state.

 

 

Well said. Contra the terror expressed by so many people about the damage Obama’s presidency is doing to America, I suspect that his time in office, whether it turns out to be four years or eight, will be historically significant chiefly for having dealt a death blow to socialism in the U.S. generally, and specifically to socialism’s attempt to sacralize government. It’s one thing to get people to accept an overweening, self-worshipping superstate by seducing them with shiny baubles of material prosperity. It’s something else entirely to give them basically nothing — stagnation and unemployment — and tell them that they have government to thank for the nothing that you have given them. I view the latter as a rather tough sell — and that’s what socialists will have to offer for the foreseeable future. There’s been a bit of discussion recently as to whether Romney should distance himself from George W. Bush; I think we’ll be hearing similar discussions on the left about Obama, once the Obama years come to a close (whether it’s this year or four years from now). 



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