The Shadowy "Other"

When I was an arrogant smart kid in college, I thought that I had developed a fascinating and insightful theory of “the Other” — the person, group, or culture not mine, not of the majority, and thus disenfranchised by those in power. Imagine my chagrin at understanding later that the sociological theory of “the other” was well-developed decades before I took my Sociology 201 class.

But the concept remains valid and is especially applicable to the hate, suspicion, innuendo and lying that surrounds the person, politics, and presidency of Barack Obama. The political Right is guilty of the maelstrom of conspiracy theories and hysteria-based rants that have escalated as Obama’s healthcare reform policies are debated, and the Religious Right especially so — especially so because, presumably, the good Christian men and women in that camp know that they are to respect and demonstrate truth and fidelity to Scripture. It really ought not be news that God still prohibits lying, gossip, bearing false witness, stirring up trouble, and fomenting disrespect of anyone, including the President of the United States. And since that’s not a news flash, not some weird liberal theology of mine, they are guilty of sin and responsible for the outcome of their Christ-defaming hatred of the man. It’s indefensible according to the Word by which we Christians live our lives.

The media notes that the level of hatred, tumult, and vehement anger surrounding the healthcare debate is, if not unprecedented, at the very least representative of a sociopolitical divide neither seen nor expected over a domestic policy issue. The spray-painting of a swastika, for example, on the sign at a Congress member’s office, the Astro-turfing (in other words, not truly “grassroots”) disruption of town hall meetings, and the sinister and utterly false warnings of “death panels,” even by Christians like Sarah Palin, bespeaks a swell of contempt and suspicion that has taken legitimate political debate to a point lower and more ugly than I can remember.

Those of us whose introduction to politics was the shameful criminality of Watergate and who protested the illegal and utterly immoral U.S. occupation of Iraq dealt in facts — there really was a President who ordered a break-in at the opposing party’s campaign offices; there really was a President who conspired to identify Iraq as an unprecedented threat that demanded its occupation by the U.S., regardless of the truth that Iraq had nothing to do with Bush’s avowed interest in “protecting” us from terrorists. Even those on the Right who spent $20 million to impeach a President who lied about his adulterous relationship with a woman did so based on the evidence of a sex act in the Oval Office. Their cause was malicious and disingenuous, but at least — I’m conceding much here — the guy really did lie about his sex life. I can’t excuse the Right’s obsession with taking Clinton down, but he did lie, and their absurd preoccupation at least was fueled by hatred conveniently adorned with a a stained blue dress.

But the current firestorm is no longer — and really hasn’t ever been — about healthcare. It’s about the concerted efforts of some on the Religious Right to paint Obama as the ultimate “other.” Some of us may laugh at the “birthers” and point out that it would be a phenomenally prescient and precocious three-day-old Obama to have arranged for a birth notice to be printed in his hometown Hawaiian newspaper. That’s a wry bit of commentary for the sane among us, but there are those wingnuts, many of whom claiming Christ as Savior, who absolutely believe that the newspaper’s birth announcement was the first step in a four-decade-long effort by shadowy, sinister and demonic Machiavellians grooming the man who is the Biblically prophesied Antichrist. Don’t believe me? Then check my file of somber, or hysterical, email pronouncements, employing a hermeneutic rivaled only by a third-grader’s game of Hangman, that identify him as the consummate Man of Evil.

Now, I believe there is an Antichrist, or will be. But it’s not Barack Obama. Promise.

Sadly, even those who have used their Christian faith and discernment to conclude that Barack Obama isn’t the Antichrist — sadly, they deserve the damnation of faint praise in this environment — are convinced that he’s some sort of Other, bent on doing wrong and able to succeed in doing it regardless of the best efforts of the Religious Right. And if he’s successfully painted as the Other, different from us, apart from us, not like us in the ways we’ve decided truly matter, then he can be taken out — taken out of the debate, taken out from under our prayer protection, and, perhaps, even just “taken out.”

The “birthers” are especially gifted, apt in their weird certainty and motivated by hate borne by fear, at painting him as a shadowy, sinister, socialist alien to all that’s good and right in life, and utterly alien to them. They see the President as a man of suspicious birth under race-mixing circumstances too many of them automatically see as sinful — an affront to some sort of “created social order” ordained by God as White Man in Chief. And pastors, Christian politicos, and leaders of the Religious Right have taken delight in the identification of Barack Obama as the ultimate — perhaps final? — Other of whom fear and suspicion is entirely appropriate. Their sudden prominence and prestige is tragic proof not only of the shallowness and gullibility of those they lead, but confirmation that their final reward will burn at Judgment like the wood, hay, and stubble it is.

Healthcare policy and the legitimate discussion surrounding it is of little concern to the screeching masses. Instead, Obama himself is the focus as the secretive manipulator of law and custom, a sinister and shadowy agent of evil. Who he is in their minds contaminates with a touch of evil anything he proposes; if the President decreed that puppy-kicking should be illegal, the tornado of lies and hate would spin dark, scary tales of his unGodly worship of animal life.

When “policy debates” are fueled by lies, hate, and the suspicion necessary to isolate and identify the President as the Other — the one “not like us” — they become arenas of sin, cesspools of malice, and Pit-worthy forums of hate that offend a Holy God. In crafting in their minds the very ontology of Barack Obama as foreigner, heretic, illegitimate and the dark One they’ve been told to hate, the opportunity to develop meaningful healthcare reform is discarded. That’s a tragedy. But the judgment of Christ, the Messiah and God of “the Other,” will fall, as He’s promised, on those who persist in his name in devoting their hearts, minds, and hands to destruction — not just destroying the opportunity for the poor to have access to healthcare, but destroying the witness of the Gospel of reconciliation, peace, and hope.

I don’t know if Barack Obama is truly my brother in Christ. The thing is, I’m beginning to wonder if those who hate him know the Christ whose name they defame with such energy and passion. I’d like to think they don’t; I want to believe that the enemies of the Gospel in this case — and they ARE enemies — aren’t the people whose destructive zeal is undertaken in the name of the true Other, the Holy God, purely truth and wholly love, eternal and omnipotent and entirely “not like us.”

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