Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Analyses of the religious rhetorical content of Obama's Speech

“We remain a young nation,” Obama said in his inaugural address, “but, in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”

Already, we have analyses of Obama's use of I Cor 13. Here's Cathleen Falsani in the Chicago Sun Times:

St. Paul delivered a stern, yet loving, reproach to the Corinthians, telling them, essentially, to quit their bickering, grow up and get busy with what they were called to do in the first place: Love.

Love one another. Love their neighbors. Be God’s love in the world — the light of the world and a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden, as St. Matthew says in his gospel.

Be love with arms and legs — feeding the poor, comforting the sick, visiting the prisoners, sheltering the homeless.

How interesting that the Bible passage about growing up and putting away childish things (in the name of love) was chosen by our 47-year-old president and his 27-year-old chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau — perhaps the youngest team ever to craft a U.S. presidential inaugural address.

I wonder whether they chose the passage from 1 Corinthians in part to evoke another letter written by St. Paul. In 1 Timothy, the apostle Paul writes to his young friend Timothy, an evangelist in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.

“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young,” St. Paul told Timothy, “but be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness, and purity.”

She has a point. However, the context for President Obama's use of I Cor 13 was this:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

"Setting aside childish things" like fear, conflict and discord and particularly "false promises" and "worn-out dogmas" becomes an invitation "on this day" (repeated 2x) to "choose our better history" namely, freedom, equality and the chance to pursue a "full measure of happiness."

President Obama not only proclaims these values but he and his family embody them in new ways.

Then there was the way President Obama delivered these lines: at a higher rhetorical register. They occur after he outlines the challenges we face and as a demonstration of resolve following the: "Know this..." line. He says, "The time has come (pause, right hand makes downward stroke for emphasis) to set aside childish things. The time has come (pause)...."

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