Obama throws us a bone

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I’m A Believer (and other hits) : Flashback Vol. 49
By Monkees
I’m A Believer (not!)
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Obama throws us a bone

I really wish I had more time!! I wanted to post about Obama’s inauguration when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.

I was frankly shocked when Obama said "non-believers" during the inaugural address. Here is the passage in context, from the Associate Press (via Yahoo News )

We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

When Obama started "we are a nation of Christians and Muslims…", I thought, oh great, he we go again with the religion bit. When he said "non-believers", my initial reaction was one of shock, then disbelief (no pun intended), then I got this huge smile on my face. I was watching the inauguration with a colleague at work, and I don’t know if he saw my reaction or not. I’m still not "out" in real life, but I couldn’t help my facial expression at such a surprising event. A president of the United States not only mentioning non-believers, but not immediately saying something nasty about them à la George H. W. Bush.

There was a lot of God during the inaugural events, not to mention the word "God" showing up 5 times during the speech itself. I won’t rehash the whole debate over whether or not there should be benedictions or inuagural prayers, and Obama’s disappointing picks for these (in particular Rick Warren , who hilariously thinks being open-minded means being able to say Jesus in several languages). There was too much God for a secular occasion.

But Obama did not have to mention non-believers. In fact, he has many reasons not to in the current climate of hyper-religiosity in the country. But he reportedly wrote the speech himself, and decided to include it. Not only include it, but put it in a section of the speech that says "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." This would seem to be a reference to his own mixed heritage. So I don’t think he would have chosen the words in the next sentence lightly.

There have been rumors that, like his dad, Obama may have agnostic or even atheistic leanings. We’ll probably never know, but what this speech proves I think is that he accepts it as a valid viewpoint. For Obama to include nonbelievers in a paragraph about our diversity being our strength puts nonbelievers in a positive light. We’re a long way from being seen as equals by most Americans, but with Obama’s address I feel that we are one step closer.