Of Obama And Jesus (Or Paglia)
He says it's only custom: “I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does.” Barack Obama said that he will take the oath of office as "Barack Hussein Obama," which would be consistent with the choice of the gentlemen F. Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the last three presidents, each of whom used his middle name. However, as Mike Allen of Politico has noted, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, and Harry S. Truman (who famously had no middle name other than "S") took the oath using their middle name; James Earl Carter as "Jimmy Carter;" Ronald Wilson Reagan as "Ronald Reagan." (Lyndon Johnson, aboard Air Force One, went nameless.)
Whatever Mr. Obama's real motive, it is courageous. MSNBC liked citing the statistic that 13% of the American electorate, wary of someone named "Hussein," thought that Barack Obama is a Muslim, which at least one right-wing pundit tried to exploit. Fleeing from use of his middle name at such an extremely high-profile occasion as the inauguration would have been slightly cowardly; invoking it is decidedly bold.
But there is something else, in another (though still peripherally political) vein, that bears no resemblance to boldness, courage, or intellectual honesty. Camille Paglia in Salon expressed this comforting but factually unsupportable belief when she wrote:
Furthermore, as a literary critic, I hear a very distinct speaking voice in the sayings attributed to Jesus. This was a brilliant poet who was able to find simple, universal metaphors (a coin, a tree, a mustard seed) to convey spiritual truths to the masses. He was also a performing artist with startling improvisational gifts. Whether or not he himself thought he was the Messiah is unclear.
Here is the guy whom Ms. Paglia is not willing to concede believed he was the Messiah, maintaining even his divinity (all quotations from the John's Gospel, English Standard Version):
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I wil give for the life of the world is my flesh." (6:51)
"Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me....I am the one who bears witness aoout myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me." (8:16,18)
So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." (8:28)
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." (8:58)
"I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he wil be saved and will go in and out and find pasture...." (10:9)
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (14:6)
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." (15:1)
Now, it's possible to claim that the Bible is malarkey- but how then would Ms. Paglia conclude Jesus "was a brilliant poet who was able to find simple, universal metaphors" and "a performing artist with startling improvisational gifts" (meaning, presumably, several miracles, a neat trick for a mere mortal)? No, as lovely a thought it is that Jesus Christ was a great person like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa, the valid options are far more discomfiting, as C.S. Lewis explained in 1952's "Mere Christianity":
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.
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