Political Tales for Ovid, Religion for World Leaders

Obama’s and Zapatero’s Relations With Faith

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, OCT. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Two thousand years ago, Ovid wrote one of Rome’s greatest literary masterpieces, «The Metamorphosis.» In it, tales of transformations entwine amid the inexorable history of the Roman Empire. Some of his changes are wondrous as men become gods; others tend to the grotesque as humans transform into unnatural beings.

What would Ovid make, I wonder, of the autumn transformations in the Western political landscape as two of its most secular leaders, U.S. President Barack Obama and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero morph into churchgoers or Pope-seekers?

On Sept. 19, the Obama family made headline news by attending St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., making it the third time he has attended a religious service since taking office in 2009. One week later, he discussed his own faith, explaining to Americans that he is «a Christian by choice.»

Speaking of his religious choices in a backyard meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Obama claimed that because «the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead — being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper and treating others as they would treat me,» he had chosen the Christian faith.

This week, Rome was abuzz with the news that during a meeting with the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega confirmed that Zapatero would be present to greet Benedict XVI during his two-day pilgrimage to Spain.

Ovid likes a good lead to his story, so he would probably open with the appearance that the seemingly odd couple of Obama and Zapatero made at the National Prayer Breakfast last Feb. 2. This yearly event, hosted by members of the U.S. Congress, is organized by a Christian group called the Fellowship Foundation. Zapatero, who is an agnostic, gave his speech in Spanish, «the language used in the first prayer to the God of the Gospels in this land,» he explained. How that jibes with his proposed legislation to remove the symbols of that Gospel from public life and undermine its message is something only Ovid would be able to recount.

Zapatero’s «date» to the National Prayer Breakfast was President Obama, who in the wake of his election, stopped attending Sunday services because of «potential disruptions» his presence would cause a congregation. It was not the first time Obama had relinquished his devotions, however. Obama stopped attending Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago when his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, made several controversial racial statements. Although Obama frequented the church for many years, once Wright’s comments were made public he resigned his membership. Since then, President Obama is seen spending Sunday mornings in the gym or on the golf course, although he has said that he prays and reads the Bible regularly.

President Obama took office in 2009 and opened his term with repealing the «Mexico City law» so as to allow the U.S. to fund abortion overseas. Afterward, he tabled the possibility of repealing the conscience clause that protects medical personnel from having to perform or facilitate abortions. Since then he has federally funded embryonic stem cell testing, passed a health care bill that allows for taxpayer funded abortion and has endangered the Catholic school system by revoking vouchers that would subsidize tuitions for poor children. His two Supreme Court picks, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan will continue his pro-abortion, anti-religious freedom legacy. Although President Obama says he relies on a team of «spiritual advisors» in his government, he has surrounded himself with pseudo-Catholics like pro-abortion Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden.

When President Obama met with Benedict XVI in June of 2010, the Pope gave the Harvard grad a bit of summer reading, «Dignitatis Personae,» the recent Vatican document regarding bioethics. But after Obama’s aggressive actions to fund to-date fruitless and destructive embryonic stem cell research, despite a court injunction, it appears he didn’t do his Sunday school homework.

How one is supposed to keep and treat one’s brother and sister seems to be open to interpretation.

One can hope for a true change of heart of course, but with November elections on the horizon where pro-abortion Democrats stand to lose 11 seats to pro-life candidates, and the Catholic base Obama so effectively wooed in 2008 seems very disenchanted with their self-styled messiah, there is room for doubt. One thinks of Ovid’s gods who come to earth in different guises to mislead mortals.

On the other hand, for Ovid, Zapatero would not be a deity from the heavens, but a very worldly creature. Elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, Zapatero has worked aggressively to secularize Spain, particularly aiming to remove the Catholic traditions in the country.

In his first term, Zapatero introduced homosexual marriage and fast-track divorce. His proposed religious reform legislation that seeks to prohibit crucifixes and other religious symbols in public spaces also attempts to impose an «education for citizenship» in schools, meant to instill a secular socialist-inspired ideology in young people.

Last July, less than a month after visiting Benedict XVI in the Vatican, Zapatero’s government liberalized abortion up to 14 weeks and up to the 22nd week if there is a risk to the mother’s health or if the fetus has serious «anomalies.»

Spain decriminalized abortion in 1985 but the new law renders abortion a right. Last year, 110,000 abortions were performed in Spain in a population of 46 million. At this rate, we can expect Spain to follow Great Britain, whose extremely liberal abortion laws result in 189,000 deaths by abortion a year among a population of 60 million. They will have to work very hard however, to match the United States’ staggering number of 850,000 abortions each year.

In this light, it makes for an odd plot twist that Zapatero, agnostic secularist, is seeking to meet Pope Benedict for a third time. Benedict’s journey to Spain is a pilgrimage; he will visit the shrine of Santiago de Compostela and consecrate Antonio Gaudí’s last church, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. With this encounter, after June 2010 and Valencia in 2006, Zapatero will have seen Benedict more than any other European leader, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a professed Catholic and next door neighbor, who met Benedict in 2008 and then «bumped into» the Pope at the airport in 2009. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who at least has a language and a World Cup soccer team in common with the Pope, has only seen him once in 2006. What is the irresistible attraction?

With many bishops and Catholics up in arms over his laws, a 20% unemployment rate and the European Union tut-tutting over his finances, could it be, irony of ironies, that Zapatero is turning to Benedict to look for some good press? Benedict triumphed in Great Britain, where the secular media did everything in their power to stir up storms and scuttle the barque of Peter. The Holy Father sailed across the Channel and around Britain claiming more spiritual victories than the long-lost Spanish armada.

Would Ovid perhaps liken this strange politician to the Minotaur, part human and part bull? Seeking out Benedict while stamping out religious liberty, standing at the Church of the Holy Family, while advocating abortion and legalizing gay marriage — makes for quite the Chimera.

Ovid’s charming tales of change are rooted in the desires and weaknesses of man. Centuries later, Christians will also delight in his stories; they are even incorporated into the bronze portals of St. Peter’s Basilica. But Christians have always been open to change, to being transformed through the love of Jesus Christ. Leaving behind myths and legends, Christians search for the true meaning of metamorphosis in Truth.

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eth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and University of St. Thomas’ Catholic studies program. She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org

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