25 January 2009

Christians and Muslims and non-believers, oh my!

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers."

The above is from President Obama's inaugural address, and while listening to the whole thing, the last word of that sentence is the only part that surprised me. I cannot believe:

1. That in this day and age, a United States president would acknowledge the fact that some people do not believe in God.

2. That bus loads of people from the deep south have not converged on Washington since then and demanded Obama's head.

3. That James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and what remains of Jerry Falwell have not choked to death (well, I guess that would be hard on Falwell's part) on their outrage, mostly because I haven't heard of any.

It's about damn time that someone said it publicly, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with not having a religious influence in one's life. For the last twenty years there has been a cavalcade of of judgement towards those who do not share the same religious values as the rest of the population. Religion is a choice, and the nation was founded on the ideal (among many) that all people should have the freedom to religion. I think I was six when I first learned that the primary reason the pilgrims left England and came to America was to escape being forced to worship in the Church of England. Bravo to them for dedicating themselves so much that they sailed across an ocean to a unforeseen place. However, freedom of religion most definitely includes the option of freedom
from religion.

Not everyone is happy over Obama's inclusion of non-believers:

With that one line, the president "seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian," said’ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. "The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’"

I have no idea who Bishop E.W. Jackson is. He might be one heck of a guy, but he also talks out of his ass. The only truth in his statement is the fact that a majority of people in this nation identify as Christians. By saying that Obama "is trying the redefine who we are" Jackson is parlaying the rhetoric of exclusion into a card of oppression.

So let me get this straight: most Americans, but not all, are Christians, and by acknowledging the fact that not everyone is religious Obama is trying to change society's view about religion? Jackson makes no sense. What he wants to do is scream "How dare he! How dare the president insinuate that God does not control everything we do and everything we are!"

(Hysteric interpretation all mine, of course)

Recent surveys suggest that 16% of people in this country do not believe in God (personally I waver, changing my mind more than a sewer worker changes their shoes, but that's a post for another time); that is almost one in five, yet of the 536 people who represent the nation in the elected government, not a single one would claim to belong in that 16%. A lack of willingness to embrace religion is probably the most potent forms of political suicide. Think about it: we have officials who are caught taking bribes and getting involved in sex scandals, yet you never hear of one disavow the presence of God. Not even a politician is that dumb, I guess.

The more I think about this, the more that I am amazed that this is not a bigger story. Perhaps one of the changes to come to political discourse is a less of an emphasis on God (go ask Elizabeth Dole how that ad she put out trying to label her opponent an atheist in the NC senate race went), or maybe everyone was so hung over from the historical significance of this inauguration that they didn't care.

Whatever the cause, I thought it was a bold move by the president, and it tells me that he is trying to be all-inclusive as he settles in. We'll see if this stays true.

Here's another quote about Obama's inclusion of "non-believers":

The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president's reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. "It's important to understand the heritage of our country, and it's a Judeo-Christian tradition,"’ period. But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of "black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that's a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue."

Stepping away from religion, Blye's last comments on abortion forces me to wonder a little about him. Of course, it is perfectly fine for him to express his opinion on the matter, and I am not surprised that he is pro-life, but it seems odd that he mentions abortion as a civil rights issue. I don't know if I've ever heard it described as that.

Given his comments, I assume that Reverend Blye is African-American, though I cannot verify this through anything on the church website. There also isn't much on the website pertaining to the philosophy of his church, as I tried to find as much information about him as I could.

My questions are these: does Blye feel as strongly about the scourge of AIDS in the African-American community? Has he spoken out against the disproportionate levels of gun violence? Does he have any ideas on how to stop people from dying? I'm just wondering if he is as staunchly concerned about other civil rights issues pertaining to death as he is about abortion.

I raise these as legitimate questions, not to point the finger of hypocrisy. As I said, I couldn't find any information regarding the preachings of Rev. Blye nor the philosophies of his church.

I'm sure his church brings comfort to a great many people in his community, but given his somewhat inflammatory comments over what was a stunningly honest moment by President Obama, I wonder if he is as concerned with the rest of the population, or if he is just taking this moment to make a political statement.


Beth said...

Would it be inappropriate for me to shout "AMEN!"?

I'm not sure when it became a requirement that in order to be a true and good American, you had to believe in God or believe in a certain concept of God.


Anonymous said...

Well, as a mostly Republican voting, but Libertarian-hearted, Atheist, I'm down with it. I've heard he got some flack from the religious(Christian) black community leaders for it too, but look, HE JUST CAME INTO OFFICE- we do have to give him a little breathing room.

I think he is a decent man, doesn't mean I agree with all of his policies or ideas, but I am willing to give him a chance and treat him with the respect I believe a President deserves.~Mary