Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama and the Semiotics of Christianity

For a candidate rumored to be Muslim, there sure are a lot of images of Obama and Christian iconography.

Perhaps we are unaccustomed to seeing black men in positions of power foreground religious symbolism, or perhaps we are uncomfortable with a Democratic politician advancing his own Christian faith, but either way, it seems no one really knows what to do with Obama's dogged insistence that he is 1) Christian and 2) allowed to be both Christian and liberal.

And yet, his faith is one of his more endearing qualities and one that not even his strongest detractors are able to affect. Even the parodies seem to work (as noted by the funky image on the right).

What's fascinating is how fascinated the media, the right wing, and the church going community are with Obama's belief system. Oddly enough, most regular American believers remain relatively quiet and unusually respectful, even when prominent figures, like the creepy James Dobson (with his creepier pray for rain video) set poor examples of Christian leadership. Americans don't always exhibit the most dignity when it comes to church and state, but despite the minority of folks who think he is the anti-christ, most have given Obama and his family a good deal of spiritual latitude.

What messages these images send largely depends on the reader's personal associations with crosses, churches, and African Americans. For decades, the image of a black man and a cross carried a truly horrific semiotic signification. Regardless of what you think about Obama's political (or spiritual) beliefs, you have to admit that it's absolutely redemptive the way he has reclaimed and recast that pairing.


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