Barack Obama and the Habit of Hope

By Campagna-Pinto, S. T. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Barack Obama and the Habit of Hope


Campagna-Pinto, S. T., Anglican Theological Review


Books Reviewed:

The Irony of Barack Obama: Barack Obama, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Problem of Christian Statecraft. By R. Ward Holder and Peter B. Josephson. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2012. 232 pp. $119.95 (cloth).

Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition. By James T. Kloppenberg. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. 344 pp. $24.95 (cloth).

The Audacity of Faith: Christian Leaders Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama. Edited by Marvin A. McMickle. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 2009. 192 pp. $17.00 (paper).

Religion, Race, and Barack Obamas New Democratic Pluralism. Edited by Gastón Espinosa. New York: Routledge, 2013. 296 pp. $140.00 (cloth).

Fundamentalism in American Religion and Law: Obama's Challenge to Patriarchy's Threat to Democracy. By David A. J. Richards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 326 pp. $31.99 (paper).

Barack Obama's America: How New Conceptions of Race, Family, and Religion Ended the Reagan Era. By John Kenneth White. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 2009. 320 pp. $28.95 (paper).

Barack Obama burst onto the national stage with "The Audacity of Hope," his inspiring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that anticipated his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Obamas theme echoed his pastor Jeremiah Wrights 1988 sermon "The Audacity to Hope," as he sought to shed light on the spiritual dimension of Democratic politics in contrast to the religious skepticism of some on the Left and the more conservative religious stance of some on the Right.

Like all contemporary politicians, Obama has employed "the God strategy," the eponymous title of an excellent study by David Domke and Kevin Coe that tracks in detail the evolution of religio-political language from Dwight Eisenhower to the present. The concern that arises with the use of the God strategy is that of the authenticity of a candidate's faith as opposed to the politically expedient use of God language. Domke and Coe recognize that the question of a candidate's personal faith is unknowable, but emphasize that there is little doubt that the strategic use of religious sentiments is one of "the realities of modem American politics."1 Clearly, religious pluralism and secularism are challenges no politician can ignore. Obama, whose rhetoric of hope has driven his political career, has been forced to embrace a centrist position that has placed him between religion and politics. A spiritually committed leader must enter the rough-and-tumble world of secular values and legislative realities, of technological methods and gridlock that by necessity divides statecraft from faith.

One of Obama's greatest efforts has been the attempt to instill the habit of hope within an American society battered by Bush-era despair resulting from an unjust war, the governmental approval of torture, the advancement of the wealthy one-percenters, and the loss of trust, which is the fabric of society. By "habit" I do not mean a repeated behavior, but something closer to hexis, a dispositional energy that interacts with the wider environment, testing ideas and actions for their faithfulness. The habit of hope is a vague yet pragmatic reality in which hope transforms persons and communities, making it essential to deliberative democracy. The person's experience of hope dis-positions the self, creating a new center of value and a new focus of action through the experience of an expanded sense of trust, confidence, and possibility. Hope must be pragmatically tested in the world of beings and things in order to build networks of community. After all, hope is about the realization of a more fulfilling future through action necessary for the amelioration of flawed humanity. It is the fulcrum of history that counters despair, determinism, and retrospective thinking with a propulsive interaction with the wider environment in which human flourishing can grow. …

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