Saturday, December 12, 2009

I thought it would be enough to stop reading news articles online about religion

Also about science, and the comments posted thereon. Apparently it isn't good for me to read the discussions of touchier subjects at places like, either.

I was browsing for some books as stocking stuffers for my mom and saw a couple discussion topics listed at the bottom that looked interesting. Well, I started reading one that didn't turn out to be interesting in a terribly constructive way, either. One discussion was titled "Why do we excuse God's genocide in the flood story?" and it went downhill from there.

It's an interesting question until one realizes that every death is the result of the permission or will of God, and so we cannot apply the same rules for behavior to God that apply to us out of consideration for the fact that death is not a material good that we should be participating in.

If I'd been a little more mature, I might have been amused to see comments almost as bleak as 'If God wanted to wipe out all those people, why didn't he just will them not to exist, instead of having adults, innocent children, and animals feel the water filling their lungs, and terror filling their hearts? Must be a pretty weak God.' You're willing to posit a God who can create ex nihilo but chooses not to destroy in nusquam, but think that it's a sign of weakness, like you're some competing predator? That even a God who could only destroy by natural means would be too small for you to bother worshiping or deigning to admit might really exist?

Who cares? A God who created everything, one who can control the weather, has at least shown Himself to be what He seems to be, even if you have a measure of skepticism about who He or any of us claims He is.

Or maybe it doesn't amuse me because until I can grow a thicker skin and look at people with that mindset through more charitable eyes, I'm afraid that trying to avoid angry ignoramuses will turn me into one, into the mirror image of someone who goes around wishing more people referred to him as a Bright and acting surprised that anyone still goes to church anymore.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I learn a lot about good and bad driving by observing the mistakes of others. A lot of it's about the apparent weaknesses in my new state of residence's driving laws and standards for instruction, so I have plenty of opportunities to learn as well how much humility and patience I still need to develop, but it also gives me things to watch out for in case I'm ever a lot closer to the action.

I also learn a lot by being a stupid driver myself. It's a lot easier to see what my weak areas are than to try to imagine them because my commutes are so mundane that my margins of safety are hardly touched.

I think I learn the most, though, when I see other drivers react badly to my mistakes. The funniest one was when I lost control on some black ice and slid off the road. Did some minor damage to the exhaust system. While I was inspecting it, my dad called the police. A cop came out, seemed satisfied that I'd done everything I could and should have done so he didn't give me a ticket, but then asked me to get in the back of his squad car so we could get the accident report taken care of out of the weather. He wanted to get through it quickly, he said, before some rubberneckers came by and hit something. Sure enough, while I'm looking over the form, a car drives the other way slowly with the driver just staring at me in the back seat, and another car does the same thing, only not quite as slowly...*bang* I laughed, the cop uttered a mild expletive, and asked me to wait while he got the other two cars situated. Then he came back to finish with me, call out another car to deal with the two cars that collided, and called the city to get a brine truck out. Man, I still laugh about that.

There were two other very similar ones that I didn't realize I was also guilty of but still don't quite understand why it seems natural for people to do it. On different occasions, I have been backing out of a parking space when someone drove behind me, either because I didn't check a blind spot or they came around a nearby corner and feared I wouldn't look in time to avoid hitting them. Maybe I would have, maybe not; usually I catch that kind of thing but I appreciate being honked at so I can stop immediately and reassess my surroundings.

On the two occasions I have in mind, though, the cars honked to get my attention and then stopped right behind me. When I looked around, I just saw a car there, the driver watching to see what I would do. What do you want, a contrite gesture in my rear view mirror? I'd be happy to oblige, but my windows are tinted. Waiting to see if I've noticed you yet? Either stop before you get in my way or try to scoot past, whatever it takes to avoid a collision. If you're choosing between letting me slowly back into you and running over a pedestrian on ahead of you, hey, good choice, but dinging a fender or bumper would be much less significant than crumpling a door and possibly the person sitting on the other side of it.

I can't say it's not a natural reaction. My instinct is also to try to stop to reduce the variables I have to assess in order to safely defuse a situation. But man, staying right in the path of a moving car is just bad news.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Interesting fragment of a discussion I caught think it was Moody Radio, that's the religious station that comes in most consistently when I'm driving around town, but I don't recall for sure. I wish I'd heard more.

They were going on about how Christ alone saves, not our works, not our works alongside Christ's completed atoning work on the cross, and how all we have to do is believe in Him.

I presume they meant "believe in" in the sense of "have faith in," not "think is factually true," because everyone on the other side of the veil knows the truth of that and they're not all in heaven.

So they were quoting and paraphrasing Paul a lot, making some good points about how if we had to rely on our own works we could never be assured of our salvation, which is true enough--actually, it's half true. If we're honest and have a little spiritual maturity, we should have a pretty good idea that our own works don't suffice. But they were making a good point: we can't save ourselves.

I felt they started leaning off the rails a bit when they mentioned good works coming along after we're justified barely as an afterthought. While someone living a grace-infused life can reasonably be expected to do more to bring grace into the world for others, I think it really does a disservice to James to say "'faith without works is dead' just means 'if I don't do good works, I probably don't have faith, but I have no obligation per se.'" They didn't explicitly go that far, but they thoroughly conflated sola fide with sola gratia. Christ wants more than intellectual assent or resignation to the fact of His saving work.

Jesus did not say to the sheep "You believed in me. Enter into the Kingdom," nor to the goats, "You did not put your trust in me, begone from My sight."

The segment I heard on the radio came shortly after a Catholic had called or e-mailed, quoted a few passages that were not identified after I tuned in, and then encouraged them to come to Mass. The host of the show said the Mass wasn't something he couldn't abide by, because each celebration of the Eucharist, he said, was a resacrifice of Christ, and His one crucifixion was done and finished and He is now resurrected. "Am I right?" he asked his guest.

The guest (A Doctor...I forget his last name, but I imagine his doctorate was in something like theology or scripture rather than medicine) went on about how we was an altar boy at daily mass every morning at 6:15 from grades 5 to 8, or thereabouts, and how he used to stare at that crucifix every day, that Catholics had to remind us of the sacrifice, but that's in the past and constantly being reminded of the Passion is a horrible thing to live under.

Well, no it isn't. It prevents one from developing a theology of cheap grace. How many stories of Easter have you seen where the Crucifixion is portrayed as little more than mildly inconvenient? If I had to scrimp and save and work time and a half to get nice Christmas presents for my children, let alone keep them housed and clothed and fed, I'd know they'd have some measure of gratitude if they really like the gifts that they got and the time I spent playing with them, but I'd know they wouldn't possess a mature gratitude if they didn't understand or care much about the labor I endured and the sacrifices I made to bring them those things. Not that I would expect it, necessarily; such things are often only appreciated in retrospect, from the perspective of their own adulthood. That they are children with childlike perspectives is no slight, but childlike is what they are and immature is what they should not remain.

Further, the good guest doctor didn't answer the question. He should have known well enough; even if he left the faith right after that eighth grade year, if he'd been paying attention to the rest of the Mass, like the homilies, instead of staring at the crucifix and nurturing an aesthetic rationalization against it, he would have been able to say "Actually, sir, you are mistaken; the Mass is a representation of the one sacrifice, the making of us present at the Last Supper and at Calvary." But then he wouldn't have had time to come up with a new excuse for not looking at how Scripture-laden the Mass is.

He did talk briefly about discussions he had with a priest friend of his, how the priest would push the Bible aside (which sounds scarier to sola scripturists, I would expect, than to Catholics) and say he can't trust the Bible on his own interpretation and so he needed the Magisterium. I would have put it differently, that he can't trust his own interpretation; "Can't trust the Bible" followed by anything else just sounds a little pat. Then he would pull the Bible back in front of the priest and ask how he can rely on the Magisterium to interpret a book that predates it by four thousand years.

I would have liked to hear the priest's answer. Mine might have gone something like the following.

The Bible does not, in its entirety, predate the Magisterium. It is this selfsame Magisterium that decided what would constitute the Bible everyone would be using. It included the Septuagint, for which I can understand your disapproval, and it also included the epistles of Paul and James. You seem content to believe the Church knew what she was doing then; why would the Holy Spirit guide the formalization of the canon but not its interpretation? Why would He leave Christians to flounder over the meaning and means of sanctification and justification for over a thousand years? What were they supposed to do until the printing press and mercantilism made viable a literate middle class that had the means to learn without being watched by a teacher? Can you explain why we have Mark and Luke but not the gospels of Thomas or Peter, why we have Acts and Revelation but not the Shepherd of Hermas or the Didache, why we have James as well as Paul but not Clement's letter to the Corinthians?

"There was a reason for the Reformation!" Yes, and the legitimate abuses that Luther pointed out have been corrected. Everything that has developed outside of Rome since then? I'm not so sure.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A few delinquent comments added to the comboxes below, if you're following.

So now and then someone says that the death of Jesus wasn't enough of a sacrifice because it wasn't permanent. I'm not sure what would constitute "enough," but the idea is that all that suffering and actual death isn't very meaningful because it didn't take.

Well, guess what: no one's physical death is permanent. We're all getting our bodies back someday. People alive at the end of time won't die at all. So, who cares if or how long somebody stays dead? Life and the loss of it, having soul torn from flesh, has some meaning in and of itself. Get used to it. If you have a better example of suffering than Christ's crucifixion, I'm willing to entertain it. Anyone?

Reminds me of some other "arguments" I've heard that I can only describe as satanic apologetics--not in the sense of making the case for Satan specifically, but making a case against Christ and His Church, usually without the benefit of honest logic. They're so twisted I can't see any goal besides possibly satisfying twin urges of Schadenfreude and sadism.

One of the more troubling ones I've seen goes along the lines of "Why would you want to go to heaven? In heaven there is no time, so you will be unable to laugh, unable to smile, to interact with anyone. You'll be in this frozen state." First, let's pretend that's true. If we're not supposed to want to go to heaven, what's the alternative? Hell? They don't make the argument that heaven isn't real, just that it's distasteful; as if ending up in some pagan afterlife or hell is just a matter of preference. But hell is outside of time, as well. There, you won't smile or laugh or enjoy anyone's company, either. From what the apologist has put forward, hell is just like heaven, except it hurts a lot. Why is that supposed to be better?

Another is "The only things that aren't improving are the completely dead, because death doesn't change, and the perfect, which isn't stable and must soon lapse into decay, from everything I've seen." Boy, the afterlife is unlike anything you've seen. There's no entropy in the afterlife because the next world is in eternity, and someone with a less parochial view of time and change in this world would recognize that entropy is the sign that tells us the direction in which time moves--and that real perfection does not include the potential for decay.

Another interesting one: You think "Pope Joan" was the only female contender to the See of Rome? Think again: "Mary Magdalene was almost pope." In this one, since Mary got to the tomb before Peter or John, she would have been entitled to become pope, but she didn't enter, and neither did John, so Peter went home with that honor. Of course, who showed up at the tomb first has nothing to do with who had been named Rock. I could expect this muddling of the truth to perhaps confuse someone completely ignorant of the story of Jesus, but instead I saw it directed to a room full of Christians and well-educated pagans and agnostics. If I had been there at the time, I would have been insulted no matter which of the groups I belonged to. Mary showed up there first? Really? Just looking to get a rise out of people, now?

Friday, October 09, 2009

How's this for timely posting?

So the president won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nominations had to be in scant days after his election, so I can't help but think he really got the award for becoming president. From the official press release:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics....

Has he? I see some shift in attitudes, but not anything substantial. At least Clinton got the Israelis and the Palestinians to talk--not that it lasted longer than anybody had that "Wow, he did it" feeling. I suppose having people feel optimistic when they see or hear you is a decent passive superpower, though.

Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.

Yeah, because in the past we had leaders who gleefully bathed in the blood of innocent soldiers, and now we're enlightened enough to realize we can talk and listen to each other and resolve things. Or give ourselves a nice civilized feeling while slowing the fuse on historical conflicts that would take more than a week-long summit to assuage. Or something.

The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations

What is this, 1985?

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future

He's captured the world's attention, all right, or at least that of Europe and a few major American metropoli. I'm skeptical that the hope everyone in the world seems to be feeling about times to come was derived from any particular positive action on the part of our president.

You know how the routine goes. Democrat gets elected, the talking heads breathe a sigh of relief about getting back to their agenda of Progress and Getting Alongness. At least, that's how it was this time and last time. I don't have a meaningful recollection of Carter's election, so maybe this is one of those new traditions people keep starting.

His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

I can't tell if this is about who has the largest intellectual market share or if it's really an attempt to cultivate a sort of republican milieu. Fine, if the values of the majority are what you want to perpetuate.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman.

When most businesses and sweepstakes organizations list the prizes for their contests, they exclude their own employees and their family members from participating because it's a conflict of interest. Organizations with mascots usually pay them hourly.

I was disinclined to comment on international politics after Yasser Arafat won back in the 90s, but when I see something like this, I have to ask if anyone else notices the emperor's absence of clothing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Remember when they started doing away with pop-up ads because everyone hated how their desktops got so cluttered?

I do.

Yet, somehow, they're back. Now they're worse, though.

They're embedded in the page you're reading. They pop up when you hover over or move across a link. Often, they don't go away when you move your mouse. It seems that, sometimes, they're not supposed to.

Please, web designers: knock it off.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Since I don't have to talk exclusively about religion and politics here...

I found some blog a while ago, just long enough I don't remember whose it was, that was talking about Macs and PCs. The thing I recall was a comment that went something like "Macs are okay, once you get past the self-important posing and puffery, but when you really want to get down to computing, you'll buy or build a PC."


No, I'm sorry, but "reinstalling drivers" is not the same thing as "getting down to computing." I hope that $300 you're saving by getting an Inspiron at Best Buy is worth the downtime.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Isn't one abortion as good as another?

Apparently not.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed opposition to the incidence of sex-selective abortion: namely, aborting girls more often than boys because of a perception that boys are more valuable.

This perception is not groundless. Boys grow up to be men, and even in places where selective abortions are commonplace, men tend to make more money than women, and so are generally more able to provide financial support to their aging parents.

I wonder, then: if there's nothing wrong with abortion, especially if a mother or couple can't afford to have a child, then what's wrong with making your choice to have one or not contingent on financial concerns that are more remote but no less real?

Well, it's sexist, see.

Maybe what the good custodians of the culture of death should consider is a sort of affirmative action: establish abortion quotas so mothers carrying boys will be encourage more strongly or required to abort, in order to keep things equal. If nothing else, they could start sending unwanted females over to China and India for the boys who grew up without having girlfriends or knowing sisters can get an even chance at getting married.

Of course, the truly unbiased thing to do would be not to look at sex at all when making the "Choice." What I've mockingly proposed is just reverse discrimination, which is still discrimination.

Only way to ensure impartiality is not to find out the sex of the baby at all. So maybe there actually is a reason to keep would-be abortive mothers in the dark and not provide a sonagram at all. Yes, the added risks of an abortionist going in blind are well outweighed by whatever niggling progress is made towards, uh, Progress.

Let me know if you need me to spell out the sarcasm here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm not paranoid...

I generally find conspiracy theories to be amusing. The (what I hope is a) coincidence I discovered in my mailbox this evening, though, was less than amusing.

I opened the box and saw that one envelope, with no return address but "nonprofit" stamped in the postage mark, had already been opened. I took a peek inside and saw these words:

"Emergency campaign: Stop Obama from passing an abortion bill"

Yeah, just a little unsettling. Probably just a neighbor got it by accident and opened it without looking first at the addressee's name, but the thought "aw man, is it going to come to this?" flickered briefly through my head.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Insipid liturgy

Some time ago, the Curt Jester derided the tendency to treat the mass as if it were little more than a late night talk show. I wrote a comment but must have forgotten to hit Post or something because it didn't show up and I had to try posting my comment again a day later, when people had pretty much moved on to more current blog entries from the Jester. Or maybe mine wasn't worth commenting on, but probably also almost everyone had moved on, either way. Since this is my blog, well...

On what I hope is a related topic, does anyone else feel this way about being prodded to stand during communion? I don't mean remaining standing for the whole prayer, but proceeding normally, kneeling for the centurion's prayer, and then getting right back on your feet until everyone has received as a sign of "standing with and showing your support for fellow parishoners."
Standing is a perfectly adequate posture and an ancient practice, I realize, but when I see a reminder in the bulletin or hear in before/during mass about a "longstanding tradition" I hardly saw in any church more than five or ten years ago, I picture some committee of aesthetically minded but modern and ignorant laymen going over the rubrics and muttering "stand together...yeah...or, or hang separately. That's good, that's good; let's get that in somewhere."
Anyway, this isn't like clapping for the choir or after the finance committee makes its report instead of having a homily, so I still follow the practice of whatever parish I'm in, but I'm always put off by this "moral support" verbiage. Maybe it's just me, but I'm distracted every time with the thought that I do or don't need an extra gesture of solidarity from people in other pews when I'm walking up to receive.

I mean, we're all the Body of Christ, and if we're in communion with Him, then we can be in no greater communion with each other. While this instance of the communion of saints is not false or a bad thing to meditate on, it seems like one more distraction from focusing on the Sacrament itself.

It's better than turning worship into a simple community-celebrating event with spiritual overtones, but the foremost thing in your mind when you receive should be "Jesus," followed by perhaps something like "How great a Savior who deigned to come to a pitiful creature like me!" If your primary attitude and posture are "Solidarity!" then you're putting the Eucharist behind a much smaller good.

Maybe there's a less modernistic rationale behind it, like a disjointed attempt to capture some of the reverence seen in Eastern liturgies, but no one's ever said anything to me except "solidarity!"

Yeah. It's all about us while we share in the life of God, right?

Put it to God first. Whatever we see or feel connecting us to one another is derivative. Not bad, just derivative.

Monday, April 13, 2009

My mother e-mailed me a few days ago about Obama's no-longer-hypothetical intent to rescind the shield of conscience from medical professionals who object to abortion. I tried calling a dozen times Thursday but never got through, so I e-mailed the following:

I would like to ask the President not to rescind the conscience protections for medical professionals, particularly with regard to performing abortions.
One thing that makes America great is that with few exceptions we may judge for ourselves what we should do and how we should live. By removing the shield of conscience, I believe that the harm done by requiring doctors and nurses to act in what they believe is an immoral manner would outweigh any good brought about by facilitating some debatably inalienable entitlement to a particular kind of medical service.
The debate over the legitimacy of entitlement to abortion services is often compared, sometimes implicitly, to the civil rights movement, but I submit that the comparison is faulty. Making it illegal for people to exercise bigotry systematically in public does ring of justice, but positively forcing someone to betray his values is another thing entirely; freedom is not necessarily abridged when someone is prevented from doing something, especially if it could bring harm to others, but requiring someone to do what they cannot condone does not promote freedom, either, no matter how lofty the reasons.
Draft boards didn't allow conscientious objectors off with a smile and a handshake during wartime, but they did allow them to serve their country in other ways that did not cause a moral conflict. Can we not afford a similar latitude to physicians today? Are there so few abortion providers that their ranks must be filled by people who aren't trying to women back, but actually believe that abortion harms mother and society as well as child? If not, why would requiring medical professionals to provide abortions be necessary?

It is this last point that makes me think abortion is not just being promoted as a social good in itself but as part of an agenda I'm struggling to describe with happier words than "diabolical." If the Civil Rights Act were an apt parallel, then abortion would be a mandatory service at every hospital, whose administrators would have the responsibility of complying to the law. The CRA did not require every bigot to start giving up their bus seats and holding open front doors of businesses for customers of color.

You can't outlaw racist attitudes, and I don't think we should try. No, I'm not saying it's a good thing; I'm saying that, basic civil protections aside, bigotry and racism are better fought in the streets, so to speak, than by the federal government trying to nuke society's attitudes from orbit.

You can legislate morality, but you can't police thoughts. All you accomplish with the latter is putting a deluding veneer over the top of a decaying system and underground resistance.

This is the kind of problem we run into when we start inventing rights, especially when it comes to things that don't fit in the "I shouldn't interfere with someone's decision over a private matter" category (for the record, life issues are not private matters, which is why murder is a crime against the state and not just against the victim and his loved ones)...or for that matter, so-called rights that do not derive from or even contradict natural and divine law. You end up someplace where your "right" to something requires other people to accommodate your wishes, even if it infringes other rights guaranteed to them elsewhere.

So much for consent being the arbiter of rightness that can hold us back from the precipice.

The same question was raised when universal health care was described as a basic human right. If it were so, how can a basic human right not exist until the advent of a medical profession, and not be discovered until the invention of socialism? Were billions of peasants denied a basic right to cheap and easy medicine in millennia past? By whom? To whom can we address our grievances as descendants of victims of anti-medicalists?

You can make that argument against other aspects of government. In a peaceful anarchy, one cannot have a right to vote because there is no voting going on; in a pure democracy, a democrat is not denied the right to representative government because he directly participates. These rights, though, are contingent, not basic or essential to the human condition.

But I was talking about abortion.

Some time ago, I talked about how voting for Obama on pro-life grounds was, at best, imprudent. The argument given in favor of Obama was that his philosophy was more humane, so that he would reduce the demand for abortion where he wasn't reducing the supply.

So, shortly after being elected, Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy. Now he may try or pretend to take away our right to follow our consciences. Supply's sure going up. What about demand? No, the president is busy taking care of all the other things a president has to do.

How's that working out for the children?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

"Is it fair..." of the California supreme court justices asked Kenneth Starr, to nullify the 18,000 gay "marriages" that had taken place between the court's ruling that gay marriage could exist and be practiced in California, and the passage of Proposition 8. Is it fair that all these couples, having moved in together, now lack the legal status they thought they were getting?


Fair is a question you ask after you answer "Is it right?" Slaveowners 200 years ago demanded of abolitionists a justification that taking away their free labor was fair to them. The obvious answer was "No, but it's the right thing to do."

Do I sympathize with the people who had a public ceremony and pooled their resources? Sure. I hate moving to a new home; doing so with someone else, becoming a single legal entity, and then having it undone has got to be an order of magnitude worse than what I experience every few years, not even broaching the subject of it being a civil rights issue.

Am I going to say "Aww, you've put so much time and effort into it; we'll ignore valid legislation that you find inconvenient because we'd feel bad," though? No. Again, I'm not broaching the subject of civil rights, because "is it fair?" is not that kind of question in this context.

Life's not fair. Unfair things happen all the time, and we have to learn to adapt. Social security runs dry and Generation X has to work longer to get full benefits, if they end up getting them at all; retirees lose their pensions, sometimes after years of retirement, sometimes days before retiring. People wait in lines at stores for hours only to find that whatever they wanted to buy is sold out. Rapists walk free because their victims' testimony does not provide sufficient doubt against his alibi. A man's friends plan a surprise party and don't find out until the big day that he's gone out of town for the weekend. What are you supposed to do, get a court order to declare your former employer solvent, or to get an electronic tether on your friend? Become a vigilante or a thief to mete out your own brand of justice and get what you worked as hard (should I say "no harder?") as anyone else to get a chance for?

You want to know what's not fair? Telling a bunch of people that marriage is something it isn't, and assuming that the opinions or powers available to other people who disagree are simply not worth considering, so when things get rough--poof!

Kinda like promising easy mortgages to people who can't, really, afford to buy a big new home. Evicting them would be awful, but what's unfair is making a promise you can't keep.

There are arguments that can be, and are, made in favor of gay "marriage," although I don't buy them. If you have to suggest that it would be too difficult to do the right thing, though, then maybe you don't believe those arguments, either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

...And, inaugural fallout

I didn't think Obama's speech was too bad. It was pithy and focused on the high points, and even implied that motherhood was a noble struggle.

I did have a cynical epiphany on my way to lunch Tuesday, though. I don't so much believe it's simply true as think it might be a fruitful mental exercise to consider how it applies to politics.

Every politician preaches hope and change, after a fashion. Some change is an advancement toward a good, other change is a retreat from evil. Still other change is change we want to avoid, the things that the candidate you vote against stands for. Hope is the desire to see the desired changes realized and the motivation to help them along.

Why did Obama get so much milage on just speaking those two words?

The impression I have is that, in the past, politicians tended to couch their rhetoric in terms of what we could hope for and what we should change. "Hope" and "change" were vehicles to political or societal ends, or perhaps more precisely, the fuel in the vehicle.

So, we got used to politicians promising to clean up the mess they'd inherit and get us back on the right track. What it seemed like, just for a moment, was that while Obama was specific enough to keep his reputation with the Democratic Party, his rhetoric about hope and change itself felt to many people like a revelation, like an unveiling of the things they wanted to achieve all along, no longer masked or sullied by particulars. "He's right," they might have thought, "all I really want is for things to get better," and there was enough generic grist for the political mill that people could flavor it with whatever prejudices they wanted.

But I don't know that anybody thought this way in particular.