Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Barack Obama As Mystic

Now that the election is over I can say this without anyone accusing me of trying to influence the election! About a year ago, while reading "The Audacity of Hope," I got the notion that Barack Obama may be at the Mystic level of spiritual development - that is at the fourth of four stages we have enough data to address.* That of course was not reason enough to vote for him as president and I really did not think too much about it after that. It was only today, while I was recalling some aspects of some of his speeches, that it hit me: I am pretty sure: Barack Obama is a Mystic!

So tonight I dug up my copy of "The Audacity of Hope" and re-read the thirty-two page chapter entitled "Faith." Sure enough, though he uses couched terms, parts of it read just like any one of the "Mystic" stories I am developing for my book!

Obama describes being brought up in a non-religious household under the influence of a Rational level grandmother "...too rational and too stubborn to accept anything she couldn't see, feel, touch, or count." and a grandfather who could have been in the Lawless group! "...restless soul that might have found refuge in religious belief had it not been for...an innate rebelliousness, a complete inability to discipline his appetites..." (rules of a strict religion might have helped here!) Then while he was growing up, Barack's mother would tell him about the frailties of the (Stage Two or Faithful level) "...Christians who populated her youth....sanctimonious preachers who would dismiss three-quarters of the world's people as ignorant heathens doomed to spend the atfterlife in eternal damnation - and those who would insist that the earth and heavens had been created in seven days....She remembered the respectable church ladies who were always so quick to shun those unable to meet their own standards of propriety, even as they desperately concealed their own dirty little secrets; the church fathers who uttered racial epithets and chiseled their workers out of any nickel that they could." "For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness." (p. 203)

Moreover it seems his mother may have been a Mystic herself in that she made sure he was equally exposed to all the world's great religions - as part of his education, not in the expectation that he adopt one. "Religion was an expression of human culture, she would explain, not its wellspring, just one of the many ways - and not necessarily the best way - that man attempted to control the unknowable and understand the deeper truths about our lives." (p. 204)

Barack then goes on to ascribe further Mystic-sounding tendencies to his mother, saying she was "...the most spiritually awakened person that I've ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity and love....she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both. Most of all she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, transitory nature that could properly be described as devotional....she saw mysteries everywhere and took joy in the sheer strangeness of life." (p. 205)

Through all this chapter on faith, Obama does not disclose himself making his own way through the earlier spiritual stages himself but in the pages that follow phrases show up exposing personal values he holds that accord with those of the Mystic. He makes these statements as though all his readers would be in agreement that these values are of the highest order - where in fact, those at stages other than Mystic probably have little appreciation for their value. He speaks of the need to build community and make justice real, the value of a type of "faith that doesn't mean you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on the world." (p. 207) While I do not have the background to know why this would be so, he claims the "black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation." Certainly concern with collective salvation (or let us say, the collective good) IS the territory of the Mystic and in almost direct opposition to the goals of many an ethnocentric, "we are the only ones who will be saved!" form of organized religion.

When Barack chose to join a particular church** "It came about as a choice and not an epiphany" (p. 208) This is typical of a Mystic. If they choose to participate in an organized religion it tends to be in full knowledge that any given church or religion represents only a part of the real truth and not the whole; that they are chosing this church or religion as a means to a greater end - in Barack's case, the greater end he was seeking was a community "in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs." (p. 206) A statement like this implies that there were many other choices he could have made that could have met that end just as well; it is not that he believed this church held any final absolute answers for him, assured his salvation, or promised him a perfect God.

Going on to further explain himself in relation to his faith, he speaks of the need to "engage all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal... and to think in terms of 'thou' and not just 'I.' (p. 216)

The best summary statement found in this chapter puts Obama somewhere between Rational and Mystic - which parenthetically is where I myself reside personally - "This is not to say that I am unanchored in my faith. There are some things that I'm absolutely sure about (Mystics almost never say they are 'absolutely sure' about any matters of faith) the Golden Rule, (nearly all Mystics in the stories in my book mention this) the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, (this sounds more like the Rational level again) the value of love and charity, humility and grace." (p. 224) Love, humility and grace are concepts Mystics seem to understand in a way totally different from the way others use them. And just since yesterday I have come to believe Barack Obama'uses those words in the Mystical sense, though he never comes out and says this.

Now a higher level of spiritual development does not imply a higher worth as a person and is not a criterion by which we are accustomed to selecting a president. I have not studied enough history to know if we have ever had a Mystic level person in the White House before. I do believe most of the presidents in my lifetime have been either at the Lawless level (yes! these people disguise themselves very well in many cases and often rise to prominent positions) or the Faithful level (the current administration!)

So over the months of the campaign, for various reasons it took me a while to come around in my decision to vote for this man but in the end I did vote for Obama myself. Only time will tell if a Mystic leading this country will be a good thing or not.

But somehow once the results were in last night, I felt a deep sense of joy. I suddenly felt 'certain' (as my Rational level self is often prone to do) that for once we were going to have a leader not prone to serving the selfish and egocentric goals of a small few over that of the greater good. Perhaps we can even dare to hope today's headline in a French newspaper was correct: "Obama's victory marks America's reconciliation with the world!" ***

*To recap for those who are not regular readers of my blog, Stage One is what we are calling the Lawless stage. Folks at this stage have never submitted their being to anything other than their own will. They have never truly embraced religion at any level and generally pursue their own aims with no regard for how that might affect others. Stage Two then we call the Faithful stage. This group includes most people who are traditionally religious. These are people who have chosen to accept the rules and explanations offered in a pre-set way by an organized religion. They tend toward a literal interpretation of everything their church teaches and most likely insist that their religion is somehow more true than all the others. Though they may believe very fervently, they are ones who have never really questioned their faith and thus there is something superficial - or less mature - about their faith. At Stage Three or the Rational level the person has allowed some questioning into his faith system. Either he has realized that some things his religion teaches cannot be literally true, or he at least begins to take some level of personal responsibility for owning his beliefs in a personal, individual way. He may either wind up rejecting religion altogether for a time, or he may find a new way to incorporate his faith with the questions he has run into. If this person who has survived the questioning stage then returns to his religion or perhaps instead chooses some more universal way of living out his faith, understands elements of faith in a more metaphorical way and maybe allows some creative elements into it, then he has probably moved on to Stage Four or the Mystic level. Some say there may be many stages above the Mystic level but there are not enough people at those stages to study them.

** which we now know he later renounced, largely because the pastor was sounding too ethnocentric - which would never do for a Mystic - and of course made statements that would threaten Obama's political career!

*** "La victoire d'Obama marque la reconciliation de l'Amerique avec le monde." L'Express, as quoted at french-word-a-day.typepad.com/motdujour, accessed 11/5/08.


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