Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Obama and Saint Paul

Or, Why I think it’s unlikely that the President will be knocked off his golf-cart by Christ in all His Glory.

Note to readers. The following is NOT about Kidlit, so if you don't want to here me rambling about religion and politics, skip this entry. It's basically something I've WANTED to post in several comment boxes over the last few month. But such a long post would be a violation of blog-etiquette, so I'm posting it here instead.

I hear a lot of my friends talking about how we should pray that Obama has a “Road to Damascus” moment, where he’ll suddenly see the light on things like abortion, conscious clauses, gay marriage, freedom of religion, torture (since he’s now for it), human rights in developing nations, etc. While we should pray for our leaders, and we can hope that eventually they’ll decide to conform to God’s laws, I don’t think the Obama/ Saint Paul comparison is a valid one.

“But wait!” I hear you saying. “Obama is a persecutor of the Church! Paul was a persecutor of the Church! What’s the difference?” Well, frankly, to compare Obama’s position to Paul’s is really unfair to Paul.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Paul this last year, since it was the year of Saint Paul and we named our lost baby Paul. We first meet Paul at the martyrdom of St. Stephen, where he’s been looking on with approval. He clearly detests the first Christians. In fact, he wants to follow them from city to city, so he can root them out and destroy them.

But the important thing to the story, I think, is WHY Paul wants to destroy the Christians. It’s not because of power, it’s not because he wants to sin with impunity or because he thinks everyone should agree with him. Rather, he’s a Pharisee, and filled with Zeal for the Law. Paul’s not persecuting the Christians out of hate. He’s persecuting them because as far as he knows, they’re heretics, blasphemers, and idol-worshippers. And what’s worse, to his mind, is that they’re trying to lead others into the same sin.

So we can assume that Saul spent a lot of time in prayer and study, intent on knowing the will of God for his life. And when he decides to go to Damascus, it’s because he thinks he’s doing what God wants: destroying a dangerous heresy before it can lead more people astray.

I’d argue that, even though it turned out Saul was actually doing the opposite of God’s will, he was still extraordinarily open to cooperating with Grace. So, at the moment when Christ appeared and knocked him off his horse in a blaze of Glory, Paul realized that he’d been working AGAINST God’s will all along. And since he wanted to do God’s will, he accepted the moment of Grace and cooperated with it.

(A random aside—I think the way in which Paul, who excelled in Greek, went blind when he realized his sin is an AWESOME echo of Oedipus Rex. Of course, Oedipus blinded himself, and God blinded Paul, but still –I love the echo of Greekness in the event.)

Now, what does this have to do with Obama? Well, to put it mildly, the president doesn’t seem to have quite the same level of zeal that the Pharisee did. I mean, he attended a church for years, but never really noticed the sermons. And then, he happily tossed the pastor, his spiritual mentor, aside when he became a political liability instead of a political aid. He skips prayer breakfasts and works out instead of going to church. He inserted himself into what was essentially an intra-Catholic dispute at Notre Dame, and tried to declare one side the ‘winner.’ He goes back on his promises, he insults and attacks his opponents, he changes his beliefs depending on what crowd he’s speaking to.

In short, while it’s true that God can do anything, in my opinion Obama is no Saint Paul. In fact, if I had to choose a biblical leader to parallel him, I’d probably pick Ramses, or maybe Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar.


Anonymous said...

For an interesting take on Paul and early Christianity, read the article in April's Atlantic monthly entitled "One World, Under God"

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ooh... sounds interesting! I'll have to check it out! Thanks for the recommendation! =)