Election commentary—Not out of the woods yet

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Election commentary—Not out of the woods yet

So Palin was not elected VP after all! That is reassuring on a number of fronts, but especially as religion goes. She very well may have been the most openly religious VP ever had she been elected. And I truly believe she thinks the end of days is upon us and God is calling the shots to get us closer to Judgment Day. Scary that someone with religious views that extreme could get so close to being elected VP.

This presidential election was, as far as I can tell, the most religious in American history. McCain and Obama had a religious debate *before* the official debates, and the candidates’ religions came up frequently during the primary and general election campaigns. This is very dangerous. Our founders got a lot wrong (slavery most notably), but their decision to keep religion separate from government was a milestone in human history after millennia of bloodshed in countries around the world over whose god is better.

While I think Obama has the potential to do a good job as president, his change on a number of positions (most notably campaign finance) worries me. What else will he change his mind on? He seemed, according to a number of observers, to be mostly pandering when he would talk about the importance of faith in his life, the continuation of faith-based initiatives, and other religious matters. He may have been exaggerating or fibbing about his religion because he thought it would help him get elected. But this worries me, because I wonder: will he become "more" religious if it becomes politically expedient for him?

He seemed to be trying to please everyone. He has openly said his father was an atheist, and he claims his stepfather wasn’t very religious. But he claims his faith is very powerful for him. This would appeal to the religious: despite the faithlessness of his parents, he "saw the light" and become Christian. This would also appeal to atheists and the mildly religious, who would see him as being open-minded and exposed to ideas his father or stepdad may have exposed him to.

Some people, both religious and non-religious, say Obama used churches more as a way to get things done than actually representing his beliefs. Some freethinkers might find this to be a relief after 8 years of Bush in office and the risk that Palin would have been a heartbeat away from being president.

But I almost think it would be worse if it turns out Obama truly is not very religious or is areligious. What does that say about him that he would lie about his faith to get elected? A "necessary" compromise of his values? I certainly would understand on some level, being a rather secret atheist myself, but I’m not running for public office and do not lie to hundreds of millions of people about my beliefs. He either should not have commented on his religion (reminding people of the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution) or should have been upfront with the American people. If he’s a true believer, then I guess we’re getting what was advertised.

Whether he is a true believer or not, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet regarding the increasing intrusion of religion in the public sphere. Religion is still likely to play a big role in the foreseeable future here in the US, and there is nothing in what I read or heard in Obama’s speeches that gives any indication that he would do anything to start working towards fighting the increasing presence of religion in our political system. The fact that more and more atheists and agnostics are coming out does give me some hope though.

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