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How Barack Obama Can Move Beyond "Cult" & "Messiah" Charges

By       Message Stephen C. Rose     Permalink
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If you don't think rock-star adulation at a Barack Obama event is cause for concern, read this copious account: Barack Obama criticised over 'cult-like' rallies. In the article, a senior Obama advisor, speaking anonymously, expresses fear that some of the cult-like charges against Obama will stick during the campaign.

There are some important answers to this concern and I hope that some of Barack's advisors like David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs will find their way to this page. The first antidote to this charge is to face it head on.
And I mean head on. And sooner than later.

The article mentions Joe Klein's reference to "mass messianism" and the dangers of going beyond hope.
Dr Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and stern critic of the current administration of George W.Bush, said: “What’s troubling about the campaign is that it’s gone beyond hope and change to redemption.”

I am qualified to speak on this matter. My books Jesus and Jim Jones and Beyond Creed: From Religion to Spirituality carefully examine the deleterious aspects of messianism. So please read on.

In a nutshell, under the guise of promising massive social and personal change, messianism seeks the allegiance, loyalty and self-abnegation of the follower. The messiah figure literally devours his or her adherents.

Now I do not think Obama wishes to devour his followers and as I read between the lines of the Samantha Powers video with Charlie Rose, I suspect Obama himself is privately dismissive of the adulation he receives. (Her passing Iowa-heads reference.)

But anyone who has ever plied the waters of prominence and frequent public speaking is aware of the the tendency of some to become inappropriately worshipful.
A Simple Set of Ways Obama Can Address Inappropriate AdulationHumor. I would hope that very soon Obama will address the cult of personality issue with humor.

Self-deprecation is evidently part of Barack's personal discourse.

He needs to apply this to himself in his public speeches.
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To wit: "I am not a messiah wannabe. I don't want disciples. I don't seek worship. I am not asking people to lose themselves in an amorphous sea of feel good excitement. I ask people to stand on their own two feet, to start taking responsibility, to work hand and hand with their neighbors to renew our life and our politics."

Here are some useful principles:

No single person can set things right.

We are not talking about miracles.

We have pulled together before in our history.
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Some specific caveats that help defuse the messianic aura:

Say something against "wishful thinking". Such as: I am not in the wishful thinking business. I am in the let's get the job done business.

Say, it's not us against them. We are the establishment. We are all meant to be part of it.

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Born in NYC, attended Oberlin & Trinity Schools, then Exeter and Williams (Phi Beta Kappa 1958). Worked with the Reverend James Robinson, finished Union Theological Seminary in NYC (1961). Joined Student Interracial Ministry in Nashville. Founded (more...)

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