With his unerring eye for trouble, Christopher Hitchens was already writing about Obama’s relationship with the Rev Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago 2 1/2 months ago (“Identity Crisis”, Slate, 7.1.08 — see Hitchens’ own website, http://www.hitchensweb.com/).
The American media took a little longer. Now they’ve found Wright they are not going to let go. He is straight from Fox TV’s central casting. Christmas has come early for the American Right. Obama did a good piece of damage limitation (turning Jon Stewart and other liberal well-wishers to soppy goo) . He did the only thing he could: turn the debate into one about whuite guilt and race in America and he did it with considerable seriousness and eloquence, high on five dollar words and low on specifics as is his wont. But this will only work for those who are backing him. For others, the speech was not a turning point. The Rev Wright and his Afrocentric theology will follow Obama to Denver and all the way through the presidential campaign (if he gets that far). The Republican columnists and TV pundits are all set.
Why did Hitchens get there first? Because he has no time for religion. He could sense trouble a mile off:
“Much or most of what Trinity United says is harmless and boring, rather like Gov. Mike Huckabee’s idiotic belief that his own success in Iowa is comparable to the “miracle” of the loaves and fishes, and the site offers a volume called Bad Girls of the Bible: Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue, which I have added to my cart, but nobody who wants to be taken seriously can possibly be associated with such a substandard and shade-oriented place.
All this easy talk about being a “uniter” and not a “divider” is piffle if people are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I have been droning on for months about how Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about the flat-out racist background of his own church, and about how Huckabee has shown in public that he does not even understand the first thing about a theory—the crucial theory of evolution by natural selection—in which he claims not to believe. Many Democrats are with me on this, but they go completely quiet when Sen. Obama chooses to give his allegiance to a crackpot church with a decidedly ethnic character.”
This is the point which John Gray completely missed in his long diatribe against Hitchens and fellow atheist writers like Dennett and Dawkins (The Guardian Review, March 15). The real problem with religion is that so many religious figures are drawn to hate and intolerance and division instead of understanding and compassion. They say things like ‘God damn America’. Obama can’t distance himself enough from this because he knows how much he depends on ministers like Wright, who have built up hugely popular congregations, to champion him come election time. So instead he talks about how Wright ‘spoke to me about our obligations to love another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor, ‘ ‘who helped introduce me to my Christian faith’. McCain’s team, as you read this, are lining up the video clips of these words to run against Wright’s choicest quotes.
The tragedy is that Wright and the American Right are made for each other. Both will use God and religion to justify words of hate and intolerance. What was wise and brave in Obama’s speech will be forgotten and the fear is that this will leave a legacy of bitterness and resentment across much of Black America for years to come, long after the media herd have moved on and Jeremiah Wright is forgotten by everyone outside south Chicago.