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Sunday, February 24, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Is Barak Obama the Antichrist?

Some think so! See

Here's what an article in the New York Sun had to say:

Let us start by saying that hope is good, political involvement is to be applauded, and young people are not all shallow sheep, flocking to the latest hip thing, be it a tattoo, tongue stud, iPod, or, ahem, presidential candidate.

Okay, so now I can ask: Is the Obama campaign becoming a cult?

It's hard not to sense something a little strange going on, considering the nearly unprecedented swell of love and fervor the man is inspiring. Contributions are pouring in. Endorsements are raining down. Even people are falling down: At six of Mr. Obama's rallies, people have fainted.

That's just not what happens with most campaigns.

"I would not say that Obama fits the pattern of a cult leader," a religious studies professor at the University of Denver, Carl Raschke, said. "But there is a very cult-like situation: a population longing for absolute certainty and truth [that] is incapable of taking control of their own lives and wants someone to do that for them — a Magic Man." An unscrupulous leader would take advantage of his Magic Man status, the professor noted. Mr. Obama isn't doing that — but he sure is riding the wave.

Over at the International Cultic Studies Association, executive director Michael Langone said he agrees that attracting this kind of ardor was never Mr. Obama's intent. Nonetheless, the rookie senator is providing the perfect Petri dish for cult cultivation: a feel-good message of hope and change that never gets too specific.

"A certain amount of ambiguity is needed because then people can project their idiosyncratic visions onto that" figure, Mr. Langone said. When that happens, the candidate becomes a Rorschach Test — people see in him what they want to see, "and they may think they share the same specifics, but they don't. What they're really sharing is an emotional experience, like a revival meeting," Mr. Langone said.

You don't hear a lot of policy details at a revival meeting, which is one reason Senator Clinton's campaign seems so hopelessly earthbound. It's tough to be charismatic when you're talking insurance rates per thousand. On the other hand, it's tough to be disliked when you're telling people, "We are the change that we seek" — self-help language strikingly similar to the language used in large group awareness training sessions, according to Mr. Langone. "She's perspiration, he's inspiration" is how the past chairwoman of the Public Relations Society of America, Rhoda Weiss, summed up the candidates' differences.

Lately that inspiration is reaching ever weirder heights. People at Obama rallies have been saying things like, "He changed my life." On CNBC, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews told viewers that when he heard Obama speak, "I felt this thrill going up my leg."

Better than something going down his leg, I guess. "Barack makes people feel good," Lisa Giassa, a 30-something in New Jersey, said. "He's inspiring."

Feel good inspiration. No wonder he's got so many groupies ... er ... fans. And yet, the other characteristic shared by every cult?

Elitism. Cult members think they've seen the light and everyone else is sadly unevolved.

Those of us out here in not-yet-swept-off-our-feet land are feeling that force against us. It's gotten to the point where, if the earth doesn't move when you watch that "Yes We Can" video — the one watched by more than 5 million people in three weeks, the one in gorgeous black and white, making Mr. Obama look like he's already a part of history — you're missing the human decency gene. "People look at him and say, 'Oh, he's our savior,' so I hesitate to say in front of other people that I don't get that great, warm feeling when I look at him," my friend Marla confessed the other night in her kitchen.

It was such a relief to find another cult member. The cult of the "He's smart, he's nice, but I'm not convinced he's the Messiah" voter.

So at least there are two of us.

What do you think?