In Obama We Trust?
By Robin of Berkeley
I grew up in a home where God was MIA. I don’t remember religion being mentioned except occasional references to some sort of God and a heaven. While my family was proud of their ethnicity, they didn’t practice the religion. Aside from the requisite Bar Mitvahs, they never set foot in a synagogue.
My parents did worship at the altar of pleasure. They loved to party; they lived for the times they’d go out with their large, rowdy group, and dance and drink the night away.
I’m not sure why my parents were such party animals. It was probably a way to escape the past, the memories of which were permanently etched on the mournful faces of my grandparents.
The past: Atrocities in Tsarist Russia. Poverty in the U.S. Tiny, noisy tenements in New York City; ghettos of immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe huddled together.
My father’s dad, desperate for money during the Great Depression, accepted a dollar to name my father after another man’s deceased loved one.
Brazen anti Semitism; recurrent chants of “dirty Jew.” WWII; the enormity of the death camps and the guilt of being safely sheltered.
My father, with a little money saved from working 12 hour days, reinvented himself. He changed his Yiddish sounding name to something WASP’y, and moved the family to a look alike, tract house in the ‘burbs. While the lifestyle was modest compared to middle America today, my parents were euphoric, a state that continued even into old age.
Escapees from the ghetto, no longer targets, my parents finally felt like true Americans. They were happy as clams in their perfect, sanitized life of black and white TVs, a washer and dryer, frozen vegetables, and luxuries like bottled salad dressing.
When I think about my dad, I remember how he ate. Every morsel, whether formerly boxed or canned, was exquisitely delicious, and he savored each bite, murmuring “Mmm, mmm,” like a man just rescued from starvation.
My parents worked hard during the week, and then weekends traveled the cocktail party circuit, dancing the night away. They were in perpetual adolescence, recreating their lost childhood.
Meanwhile, I was a latchkey kid before the phrase was coined. With my only hobby being shopping, I occupied myself with my friends, the Addams Family, the Brady Bunch, Ed Sullivan, and Patty Duke. When I was a teen, it became mind numbing sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Weekends there was so little to do that I slept in until 1 pm. Occasionally I would tag along on a Sunday with my best friend and her family who went on outings. I was astonished that an entire family went out in the car for activities like picnics and museums.
It was a flat, colorless childhood with no strong arms to guide me. I drifted along the best I could, like a lone, unguarded leaf.
College was a blur of hook ups, hard drugs, and parties as I was speeding headfirst into disaster. Mercifully, in my early 20’s, I found my way to a few decent boyfriends who had brains and I gained some myself, giving up my untamed habits along the way.
I settled down with my husband, Jon, a bookish type, who came from a family the polar opposite of mine. Jon still jokes (?) that he helped raise me.
Often Jon would drag me to talks by other brainiacs, where I would summarily nod off. But I like to think I absorbed something in between snoozes.
Eventually my life took shape: around my career as a psychotherapist and my leftist crusades to change the world. I found religion, or perhaps it found me.
I had just turned 30, an event that had given me the willies. Perusing a book by Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa in a bookstore, I was entranced by the novel idea that happiness is not the goal of existence, but the byproduct of a life well lived; that the purpose of life was truth not pleasure.
I started studying Eastern religion with a fervor, especially books by Trungpa and Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh), and even called myself a Buddhist until I shed most of my old identities a few years ago. I became more of a heavyweight, able to look at the big ticket items of life — mortality, illness, and suffering — because I was safely nestled in the world of the Spirit.
I remember the moment I discovered God, in my 30’s, when Jon and I were on vacation. I was reading a light novel, and he, of course, was studying some heavy tome. When I perused it and saw it was a religious book, I asked him, “Do you believe in God?” (Yes I know it’s bizarre that it took l0 years for the subject to come up.)
I was bowled over when Jon said, “Yes.” (He was also raised secular, and had never previously mentioned the G word.) My eyes welled up with tears. I realized that I did too.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the factors in my life that lured me far Left for so long; what captivated me and held me there even with mounting evidence that the ideology was bankrupt. And why are millions still following the Pied Piper of Chicago, even though he’s looking increasingly more corrupt and vacuous?
And I’ve come to this: the Left is filled to the brim with people like me, who grew up in homes with God in permanent exile and various adults floating in and out in hot pursuit of self fulfillment. With no way to understand life, this realm starts looking like an unmanageable House of Horrors. The result: people turn to someone like Obama to engineer a whole new world.
So we have a situation today with the Left in charge, preaching their religion which is anti-religion. Their dogmas are so harsh that they make the Torah look like a light summer read. The Left’s missionaries are trying to tame the savages (stupid white people) just as the missionaries of old traveled abroad to tame the savages.
But, as survivors of Jonestown learned, a religion without a beneficent God firmly in place, is a cult, and can destroy lives. Those spiritual teachers I admired when I was young, Osho and Trungpa? They turned out to be major pervs. They slept with their students, even encouraged violence against them. Both died as a result of their depravity.
Without some type of faith, people can remain in a state of ravenous hunger, as needy and frightened as a little lost child. They’re looking for something, but all the roads are blocked off. The only door leading to safety has been shut in their faces by a society that rejects the Sacred.
So the masses flock to Obama because he offers them meaning and a way to organize a chaotic universe. People believe he’s some kind of Messiah because they’re frantic for a Prophet to create a heaven on earth.
I saw a blog where a young person posts, “I have pictures of Obama on my wall. He gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” There are no rational arguments about bailouts and taxes that will counteract this desperation for purpose.
Our culture offers youth nothing of substance to carve out a dignified life. In the place of spiritual and intellectual richness, we pump them up with noxious television shows and films, texting and sexting, addiction to Facebook, and lots of drugs. We may have created a Generation N, for Nihilism.
And it’s not just the young. Baby boomers are being dragged kicking and screaming into old age, without any spiritual guideposts and within a culture that fears and despises anything old. In ancient times, elders were revered as the cultural wellspring of wisdom and tradition.
But in most of the First World, older people are as disposable as yesterday’s trash. How unacceptable to grow old in a culture that finds no grace, only disgrace, in wrinkles, and wants to hustle you out the door as soon as possible.
Baby boomers are also dancing to Obama’s beat, enveloped in feelings of hope and change, holding on for dear life to their long lost youth. But it’s not the real 60’s with its hard drugs, violence, and exploitation of women, but a fantasy, frozen in time, of peace and flower power.
I understand the draw of Obama and liberalism and changing the world because I know what it is like when life has no other meaning. I understand how unbearable it is when not only one’s parents but God is MIA and school is a forbidding place, and drugs only temporarily blunt the pain.
And I know the feeling of being so depressed that you grab onto anything — whether it’s a bottle or a relationship or a guru — anything that eases the despair, and you won’t let go, even when the consequences keep mounting. You won’t let go until you find your way to the truth.
And I know what it’s like to wake up from the fog, to shake off the dread, and to find that I’m strong enough to walk on my own two feet and that a Higher Power lifts and carries me when I’m too weak to stand.
If we as a culture don’t find our way back to those young and old who are lost in space, adrift and unanchored, they will embrace false idols. For as long as Obama is the only game in town, the only way people can feel alive and hopeful, they’ll ignore every red flag and defend Obama until their last dying breath. They must believe in him. The alternative is just too unbearable.
A frequent AT contributor, Robin is a recovering liberal and a psychotherapist in Berkeley.
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