Skidmore College Professor Mary Zeiss Stange takes a refreshing and insightful look at Obamamania — and the “Obamabots” who frequent Barack Obama’s rallies in record numbers. The Obamabots do not sit comfortably with the MSM:
New York Times columnist David Brooks has likened them to Hare-Krishna people and to Moonies — “Soon they’ll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings.” Joe Klein of Time has dubbed their “mass messianism” to be “just a wee bit creepy.” And William Lowther, Washington correspondent for the Telegraph (United Kingdom), reported something “unnervingly akin to the hysteria of a cult, or the fervour of a religious revival” at Obama events.
Picking up on the hysteria theme, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has dismissed their “New Age glossolalia” as spiritual hunger gone terribly wrong, seduced by Obama’s rhetoric, which “drips with hints of resurrection, redemption, second comings.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, going Parker one better, was quoted in Australia’s The Age as saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. Obama comes along and he seems to have the answers. This is New Testament.”
Zeiss agrees with what Parker and Matthews allude to, if not what they might have meant:
It has to do with two concepts that are deeply embedded in the Protestant theology that derives from the New Testament. And these concepts go a long way toward accounting for what is going on at Obama rallies.
The first is kairos (in the biblical Greek), which refers to an “opening” in ordinary time, a historical moment when a collective sense of deeply meaningful change is in the air. The other is metanoia (another Greek term), which refers to a radical change of mind or consciousness.
Paul Tillich, the great 20th century German theologian of culture, whose thinking was shaped by the upheaval of World War I and the subsequent rise of Nazism (he emigrated to the USA in 1933), applied these concepts to politics, and to what Obama, echoing Martin Luther King Jr., would call the “fierce urgency of now.” Kairos, a transformational moment presenting an opportunity to literally turn things around, is the kind of opening that comes around, at best, only once every generation or two. The last time U.S. politics witnessed such a time was arguably in 1968, during the presidential campaign — tragically cut short — of Robert F. Kennedy.
When Bobby Kenneedy ran 40 years ago, I had been supporting Gene McCarthy. That changed after they debated before the California primary. Bobby Kennedy, it was clear, was operating on a level of lucidness, command of the facts, and vision that McCarthy — as certainly Humphrey and Nixon — didn’t touch.
1968 was an electoral kairos moment for the USA, and we blew it. 1932 and 1860 were electoral kairos moments for us also, but on those occasions we did not. In all cases the old ways of doing things have brought the nation to some kind of material or spiritual bankruptcy. The time has ripened. The fruit of our past is picked or it rots.
Just because kairos moments can be framed Biblically does not mean the change agent is blessed. When Germany responded to its kairos moment as it did on January 30th, 1933, it opened an inter-dimensional crack into hell.
Kairos times thus call for another theological construct — discernment. Who comes to divide? Who comes to unite? Who protects and lifts up the vulnerable? Who disregards or disdains them? Who is speaking truthfully, as opposed to selling convincingly?