Obama’s oratory and American civil religion
There’s been so much emphasis on Barack Obama’s “pastor problems” and his quitting his church that a key religion element in his campaign gets overshadowed. Obama isn’t just a polished speaker. He’s shown he’s fluent in the language of American civil religion, the non- denominational set of beliefs that has been a source of inspiration for great U.S. orators like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.
Andrea Useem has posted an interesting analysis of Obama’s oratory on her Religion Writer blog. Taking his speech in St. Paul at the end of the primaries as an example, she noted that he didn’t make any direct references to God. “But in speaking about hopes and aspirations as a defining political force, he somehow tapped that vein of civil religion, implying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the greatest campaigns are those based on the inner human spirit.”
By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s “message of grit and sweat and labor obviously resonates with the ‘hard work’ ideal of America, but at the same time, that message may be too leaded, too rooted, to soar into the realm of inspiring political rhetoric.”
This raises an interesting question about American political culture. Do U.S. orators have to tap into this civil religion to be inspiring?