Obama, Patriotism, and Enlightenment

Why was Obama waxing patriotic during his foreign trip instead of touting a universal spirituality that removes the need to make cultural and political distinctions?

Isn't American pride a regressive notion that encourages divisiveness rather than global harmony? Isn't patriotism the root cause of most wars?

Obama's spirituality is empowered by his nationality. Which is why he reminded his audience in Berlin that not only was he speaking as a spiritual citizen of the world, but also as a political representative of America.

Obama has seen how a country's primitive political consciousness can hinder the expansion of a higher spiritual consciousness. In Indonesia, where he spent his early childhood, a Muslim preacher was once sentenced to two years in prison just for leading prayers in Indonesian and Arabic instead of using only Arabic.

In North Korea, the exchange of spiritual ideas that are not specifically endorsed by the regime is not only nearly impossible, it is illegal.

In China, authorities have banned the Dalai Lama's teachings in Tibet. Even the possession of any pictures or photographs of him is illegal.

In Iran, the parliament is now debating a law that would mandate the death penalty for any Muslim who converts to another religion.

In the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that gave Osama bin-Laden sanctuary, Islamic prayer was mandatory, Those caught not praying were often beaten by the religious police.

In a world dominated by bin Laden's theocratic thuggery, even practicing yoga and meditation would be a crime. This is one reason why Obama is relentless about defeating a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Achieving spiritual enlightenment is treacherous when the national consciousness is oppressive.

Obama is proud of America's national consciousness. He boasts of the political consciousness of our European allies. It is a collective consciousness that enables each of us to pursue our own path to self-realization. And it is one which has protected me during my own spiritual journey.

Churches are among my favorite places to meditate. Even in the middle of a bustling city, whether it be morning or evening, in the American midwest or northern Italy or southern Spain, I can always find a quiet place inside a church where I may sit comfortably and freely meditate in silence. I have never once been asked about my religion by any priest or minister, or asked whether the meditation I was practicing used the mantras of India or the prayers of the Vatican.

Whether I am praying, meditating, or reading the Bible, the Vedas, the Koran, or the scriptures of any other religion, it does not matter to any of the priests or ministers. All they expect from me is that I respect the church's quiet space. Such is the national consciousness of the West, one which allows us to seek self-realization in the manner and place of our own choosing. This is why Obama's spirituality is patriotic.

In Israel, when a friend surprised me by sprinkling some drops on my head as I waded into the Jordan River, though I was a Jew in the Jewish State of Israel, neither a rabbi nor soldier nor any other official bothered to watch or care that I seemed to be undergoing a Christian baptism. No moral police, no accusations of apostasy. This is why Obama, the born-again Christian, was welcomed at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, and why he praised the Israeli version of a patriotic spirituality.

To many spiritual seekers, a vigorous defense of our culture's values reflects a primitive nationalistic mindset that divides people instead of uniting them. But as his overseas trip revealed, Obama does not run from his nationalism.

Obama's bold American patriotism might have startled some in Europe, where religious and national differences led to centuries of bloodshed -- and as we saw in Bosnia and Kosovo, still do. Why, they might ask, should we emphasize the differences between one form of government or one spiritual practice and another when it is political and religious differences that take so many countries to war?

Trying to transcend politics is foolhardy. Obama recognizes the linkage between individual spiritual evolution and national consciousness. It is a dangerous road to self-realization when the political culture narrows the path to enlightenment.

Our American politics allows all paths to flourish, and everyone is free to choose any or none of them. Honoring this freedom is not misguided patriotism or crude flag-waving fanaticism.

"Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom," Obama told the crowd of 200,000 in Germany. "What has always united us -- what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores -- is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please."

Obama's patriotism is both prideful and humble, filled with the nuanced truth that self-awareness reveals. "We've made our share of mistakes, "Obama told his Berlin audience. "But I also know how much I love America."

America's enlightened patriots celebrate the national consciousness of our country, a land where we can all take our own unique journeys toward self-realization. And through our spiritual enlightenment, we can spread the universal values of love and compassion that will, as Obama hopes, help us "remake the world."

Steve Posner's latest book is "Spiritual Delights and Delusions: How to Bridge the Gap between Spiritual Fulfillment and Emotional Realities." Visit his website at steveposner.com