Barack Obama: Liberal Theologian? (3)

Diana Butler Bass discerns a contemporary liberal theology in Obama's second Inaugural address.  I am less impressed by her argument that he spoke from a less explicitly Christian perspective than his predecessors and that is what made him liberal.  Pluralist expression is only part of Liberalism in theology.

She points out that Obama's central metaphor was 'the journey'.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.
 Life as a journey is a common metaphor among Unitarian Universalists.  I think it is weak and imprecise.  A journey is moving through space, it's process defined as travel.  Our spiritual process, though, is more a process of evolution and self-definition.  We grow into ourselves.  My "journey" is only superficially Lexington, to Providence, to Youngstown, to Washington, to Minneapolis, to Chicago, to Dallas, to Worcester, to Ann Arbor.  But all along, I tried on different understandings of myself and my role, and have become more clear about who I am.  It has been more a process of sedimentation that travel.  Like a glass of muddy water, the gunk is slowly settling to the bottom.

The journey metaphor also avoids the conflict in development. Our country is being defined by the often bloody conflict between those who saw this North American continent as the place where a new elite could amass great wealth and those who saw in this North American continent a place where ordinary people could live in peace and freedom. The nation develops through a process of moving toward or rejecting those conceptions as the contend.  And it is often violent and bloody.  What we don't often realize is that our individual spiritual development is tied more closely to that historical unfolding than we think, especially if we are more privileged.


  1. Elz Curtiss12:18 PM

    Thanks for calling out the romantics who refuse the step in Darwin's natural selection in which local competitors for space, mates and food fight it out in close conflict.


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