A Remark on Hillbilly Elegy

To my young and independent correspondent,

You and Wayne recommended that I read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance to understand Trump voters.

Another item from Vance’s book that I didn’t refer to in my earlier post was his strong denunciation of those conservatives and working class whites who persist in believing the racist lie that Obama is neither American nor Christian. Trump is merely the most influential of these racists

In Dreams From My Father, Obama, then about 30 years old and with no reason to believe he might be President in 20 years tells the story of joining a Christian church. Of course, he tells of his birth in Hawaii too.

His mother, an anthropologist and not religious, possibly an atheist (I don’t remember), believed that spirituality was an important aspect of human life, and she sought to educate her children in the range of spiritual thought. She did not advocate one school of religious thought over another to her children. As you know, her second husband was a Muslim Indonesian man, and she and her children lived in Indonesia for a time. This is where Obama attended a Muslim school. Those who darkly call this a madrassa, and remind us that Obama’s middle name is Hussein, neglect to say that he also attended a Catholic school in Indonesia.

Obama, not formally religious and not associated with any church or church tradition, took his first job after graduating from Colombia as a community organizer working in Chicago. The people he worked with, the local politically and socially active, mostly black, people were often church-going, and often worked in these social endeavors as part of their ideas of Christian service. That is, Obama saw in Chicago’s black Christian community people working to help and support one another, just as Vance urges for his hillbillies. Reflecting upon this experience, and under the influence of his respect and admiration for Michelle, a church-going woman, he and she visited various Chicago churches and choose one in which to worship.

When Obama was in office, and various political commenters and politicians were asserting that Obama was a Muslim and un-American, my darling Christian wife and I read some of his short speeches at religious events at the White House. These were gatherings such as a Passover Seder, an Easter prayer breakfast, or a dinner ending the fast of Ramadan. Of course, virtually everything a normal president says in public is prepared by a speechwriter under the president’s direction. Obama’s remarks at Christian events, however, sounded to our ears to be personal and not just reading prepared remarks. His remarks were sincere and genuine, as it seemed to us, and knowledgeable about Christian religious ideas and the Bible. My wife recognized the forms of Christian expression, such as bearing witness. Obama’s remarks at events of non-Christian religions, while appropriate, seemed to us to be more formulaic.

As in Vance’s memoir, I liked the way in which 30-year-old Obama recounts his earlier foolish ideas, and how those Chicago locals who he was supposed to be organizing taught him, and not the other way around.

By the way, Barack is the anglicized version of a word in Arabic that is the same as the Hebrew word Boruch, blessed. It’s the beginning of many Jewish prayers, as in Blessed art Thou, King of the Universe, who has given us the fruit of the vine. Indeed, that is the Hebrew word for my name, which in English is:

Bernard

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