Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The New President

I listened to the Kenyan coverage of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States yesterday. This event is of course of particular interest to Kenyans as President Obama's father was a Kenyan national and his paternal grandmother is still alive and well - quite close to where we are.

It's a historic and inspiring moment; the most powerful nation in the world is presided over by a man partially of African descent; indeed whose gran is still living a traditional African village life. As the president himself said, it is something remarkable that a man who only a generation or two ago would have been refused service in local restaurants, has now been chosen to the highest office in the land.

Having been thus inspired, though, here in no particular logical arrangement are a few thoughts on the speech I heard on my radio:

  • President Obama seems to be a follower of what Doug Wilson calls the "American Civic Religion", which is not a positive thing. It's that Christ-less, non-Trinitarian, salvation-less generic tipping of the hat to some generic "God" most frequently invoked in "God bless America" or being spoken of as creator or giver of rights, but who's very much otherwise kept in his place. He's not got any particular thoughts or agenda concerning the present, or long-range plans for history that are intended to interfere with the normal flow of politics... he conveniently leaves that all to present fashion and culture.

  • For all the talk of a new non-partisan politics, I couldn't help notice the many partisan digs at the "previous lot"... seemed very much "business as usual" to me. And talk of a politics not driven by ideology makes me roll my eyeballs... it might make for good soundbites but it'll get you a fail in sophomore philosophy.

  • Whilst the President may believe in a counterfeit God, he very much believes in man and in the unlimited power of his politics to bring in the millennial kingdom. I realise that we're so used to politicians promising the earth in a new era of cooperation and freedom, but it's still idolatrous folly none the less.

  • Put another way, the new President clearly didn't believe in the doctrine of original sin. Our problems are apparently caused by bad politics (that means - the guy before me) and the solution will be found in a wonderful display of self-generated will-power bringing in a new era of good politics. People must do good things, and we'll all pull together being inspired by our common values and there it'll be. We'll get back all the good old American values (though, as we now follow the American Civic Religion instead of Christianity, we delude ourselves into forgetting that it was the latter brought with divine grace and power that made such things American values in the first place, and not just a humanistic display of will-power).

The President is an inspiring orator. We hope that God will give him wisdom to translate this into being a wise governor who rules in God's fear. Amidst all the hype it's worth remembering that as yet President Obama has never ruled anything, and whether he'll be a genius or a total dud is something we as yet have no evidence of past experience to judge by. The occasion and style of his speech were electrifying. I'm sad to say, though, that this shouldn't delude anyone into ignoring the fact that it's content was vacuous and from a Christian point of view, heretical. Original sin is real and can't be successfully ignored, whether you choose to articulate the doctrine in self-consciously Christian form or not. For that reason you don't need to be a prophet to foresee that in a few years the new President will either be explaining why he wasn't able to bring in the golden age he promised (the "previous lot" will have bodged it more extensively that he can fix in a few years; or the world situation made it too hard; or the goal-posts get shifted to explain why he did fix it and we're just being too negative... the usual political excuses...). "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool". It's vain to trust in man; and the programme that the President set out was one explicitly and unambiguously based on the wisdom and self-saving efforts of man. Hasn't worked before... won't work this time either, because it can't work. Original sin exists; will-power alone won't fix it. America needs the gospel, and when sinners are brought to repentance, that's when real change will come. And in that sense indeed may "God Bless America".

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