Obama’s Spirituality & the Imperative Depth of Narrative

In a 2006 speech, Obama departed from the moral & religious neutrality of the liberal platform to deliver a speech on the necessary relationship between faith & politics. In doing so, he affirmed the idea that human beings are narrative creatures, where the degree of purpose and fulfillment we may experience is linked with the depth & scope of our narratives. This sentiment echoes that of David Foster Wallace:

And it’s so true it’s trite that human beings are narrative animals: every culture countenances itself as a culture via a story, whether mythopoeic or politico-economic; every whole person understands his life-time as an organized, recountable series of events and changes with at least a beginning and a middle. We need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing.” 

– David Foster Wallace, Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young

By cleaving any talk of morality or spirituality from public discourse, as well as from shaping the policies that directly affect our everyday lives, we impede our stories from transcending trivialities. Our lives lose their vitalizing sense of telos. In Obama’s words:

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds – dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets – and they’re coming to realize that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives….If we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at – to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own – then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.”

Find the full speech here.

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