January 28th, 2007

Apollo 4 on column of fire

Barack Obama

Words of Barack Obama:

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord,” or King’s I Have a Dream speech without reference to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical. Our fear of getting “preachy” may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.


This is just infuriating to me. It’s like Howard Dean reaching out to shotgun-toting neo-Confederates, except without the clumsy cluelessness.

First, I believe that ‘God’ resides in the individual human’s brain. This, to me, is my atheism, and I am firm in it. No agnosticism for me, for I believe the conventional ‘God’ hypothesis thoroughly disproven in the empirical scientific sense, and that’s the best sense we’ve got.

So I am an atheist. What does it mean to be an atheist in the US?

NEWSWEEK: In a recent NEWSWEEK Poll, Americans said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6—only 2 percent answered "don't know"—and only 37 percent said they'd be willing to vote for an atheist for president.

Legitimate President Bush (when asked whether he would ‘recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists’): No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

There is a point to religion-neutral language, and it is basically the same point according to which we use language more gender-neutral and race-neutral than we did when I was very young—and, no, I don’t think we should take it slowly. Indeed, that atheists aren’t being lynched despite the bigotry indicates that this bigotry is feeble and can be vanquished soon if we put ourselves to the task.

There is a reason the Constitution—which is a ‘moral’ document like the bible or any other such collection of laws and formulated values—is religion-neutral.

By ‘all of God’s children’ Dr. King meant all of Humanity, including atheists, who if they are like me take no offense that a preacher would refer to us that way. But the power of Dr. King’s words does not come from the invocation of ‘God’; it comes from the invocation of Humanity in the manner of a preacher—but Barack Obama is not a preacher, he is a statesperson, and should employ rhetoric appropriate for a statesperson.

But there’s more wrong here than just rhetoric. Obama says: Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical. Our fear of getting “preachy” may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

This is a Strawman argument. Liberals actually are renowned for their ‘preachiness’, their ‘Bill of Rights’ and ‘Ms.’ and ‘statesperson’ and so forth. The ‘problem’ with religion-neutral civics is not a deficit of ‘values’ and ‘culture’, but that it is a broader and more encompassing values and culture than that which believes ‘values’ belong principally to the church. American values belong to the American people, and equally to the atheists. Let Obama explain to the American people that American values are the same for believer and non-believer, rather than chide liberals for trying to explain.