A United States for nonbelievers?

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At Monday’s moving inauguration ceremony, President Barack Obamarepeated the constitutionally prescribed oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Like most but not all presidents before him, he also placed his hand on a Bible and recited the words “So help me God,” which is not constitutionally required. This atheist was, of course, disappointed but not surprised at the addition.

To understand how many atheists feel about this, consider substituting “Zeus” or “Shiva” or “Allah” for “God.” Like the other approximately twenty million non-religious Americans, I wish President Obama had taken his oath on the Constitution under which our nation is governed, rather than on a divisive sectarian book under which we are not governed-thanks be to Thor.

Inauguration festivities often send symbolic messages to the country, and I give two cheers to President Obama because he talked about treating people equally regardless of race, creed, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation. I liked his message, but not the justification for it-which was God. What would we think if our president had said “Freedom is a gift from Odin” or we must preserve our planet because it is “commanded by Gaia, the goddess of the Earth?”

And despite the relative inclusiveness of this inaugural, Obama took a step back from his first inaugural address, during which he gave a token nod to atheists: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus-and non-believers.” At Monday’s inaugural, atheists and their millions of non-religious friends were as invisible as deities.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

22 COMMENTS

  1. Kearth,

    I wasn’t laughing. It wasn’t funny at all. In fact I became more and more angry as the day went on. (It was a very long day too!) It was no end of religious delusional statements interspersed with the occasional political pie in the sky wishful thinking and the usual, standard procedure pomp and circumstance. As I stated on a previous thread, the singing of Battle Hymn of the Republic by a choir was the choking point for me. It is an aggressively militaristic Christian song that has no place whatsoever in a SECULAR Democracy.

    All we hear about on our “news” channels is how Obama chose to take his oath on three different Bibles. THREE DIFFERENT BIBLES!! -Wow! Who the hell cares? Slap those boring Bibles in a glass case in the Smithsonian and let’s have enough of that. Silverman is right. Why isn’t the oath taken on the Constitution? This should be required as part of the ceremony.

    Kearth, I don’t know if you’re American and I don’t know if you’re an Atheist, but if you are an Atheist American like I am, please stop with the simpering apologetics and help us push these self righteous deluded fools back into the churches, mosques and synagogs where they belong. A Presidential inauguration is a political ceremony that satisfies legal procedures outlined in the Constitution. It need only be short and sweet and to the point.

    Politics should take to heart the two words that form the backbone of all the astounding science and sublime art of our world – parsimony and elegance. Neither were in evidence on inauguration day.

  2. In reply to #3 by LaurieB:
    “… the singing of Battle Hymn of the Republic by a choir was the choking point for me. It is an aggressively militaristic Christian song that has no place whatsoever in a SECULAR Democracy.”

    I can never hear that song without superimposing the lyrics I learned in third grade:

    “Glory, glory hallelujah

    Teacher hit me with the ruler

    Shot her in the seater with a thirty-five cal-a-meter

    And she ain’t gonna sit no more!”

    But I digress… I agree with the other things you said!

    Steve

  3. I agree with LaurieB, although I am not an American. I am, however, an atheist, and like you, LaurieB, I am fed up with us having to be always happy with the small mercies that governments, and in America, Obama now allots us now and then, such as, for example, the ‘generous’ mention of non-believers alongside all the others in his recent speech on the sad occasion of Sandy Hook shooting. However, if we demand any more in any vigorous way, we might be perceived ‘strident’, God forbid, so for the moment we can’t win, and have to plod on slowly and wait things out, I think.

    I was totally disgusted with the speech of the Reverend- at the end-forget-his-name. He went on and on about God’s blessings on everything we do, how we can’t proceed in life without them, how we wouldn’t know right from wrong, how we would lose our way without his blessed guidance. It was totally insulting not only to atheists and freethinkers but to human reason in general. I was appalled that that invocation was allowed, surely the administration has a say in what is being said (or rather preached) at such occasions. Mind you, if it has, God help us all the more…

  4. Well, this certainly answers the question whether Obama is a closet atheist. Some guy laughably said a few months ago,on one of these threads, and I paraphrase ‘history will show that today I helped elect the first atheist president of the united states’. How wrong you were sir!

  5. This hand-on-the-bible (now two!) tradition is appeasement on one level, private faith on another, and a ridiculous spectacle on yet another. I’m not too bothered by it but I can see how others are. I too would rather have the Constitution itself hauled out (in its beautiful climate-controlled glass container) for the swearing of the Oath but all we can do is keep pressing our points in earnest.

    The issue for me, as an American, is that these discussions take place in a lawful way with the goal of mutual understanding and tolerance amidst diversity. Most importantly, that religious bias be kept out of American law. No laws were broken, no beliefs enforced. It is in some respects a private matter too for the President and his family. While I don’t like it, I can tolerate it.

    We are winning the battle of ideas. If it must be in baby steps, so be it.

    Mike

  6. Barack Obama is a Christian; a devout one, apparently. So for this significant moment in his life he chose to acknowledge his faith by saying “So help me God”. It was a personal thing which I don’t begrudge him for a second. If he had been raised to believe in the divinity of Zeus or Shiva and felt this informed his life in a positive way and chose to express it at his inauguration, that would also have been fine. And if he’d thanked Allah, that would have made my year, for no other reason than I think it would have caused Donald Trump’s head to explode like the guy at the end of Scanners.

    Yes, the Constitution demands that America remain secular, but is that any reason for non-believers to be accommodated? Atheism has it’s own internal logic; it doesn’t need to be supported by a moldy document written by a bunch of old dead white guys (It’s for this reason that I don’t understand how swearing an oath on the Constitution is any different from doing it using the Bible; the message it sends out might be a different one – if political expediency is all you care about – but it amounts to the same thing: making a promise using something supposedly sacred as evidence that you really, really mean it).

    I’ve had my fill of this particular argument: the debate going on at the moment regarding gun ownership in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings always seems to boil down to the assertion that any restrictions would be an infringement of the Second Amendment. Well, so what? If something’s right, it’s right. The architects of the French Revolution, Robespierre and that lot, didn’t say “Oh we can’t do this, it goes against centuries of tradition!”

    Hiding behind legalese fosters resentment on both sides and serves only to create a culture in which being a lawyer is an acceptable occupation for a human being. Demanding that atheism be adopted as the official religion of America because the Constitution says so is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion: yes it got him off the street, but it was a hollow victory. Similarly, when the Pope is eventually executed for crimes against humanity, it shouldn’t be because of some technicality.

    P.S. Listen to this version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic all you naysayers and tell me it doesn’t move you even slightly. And ask yourselves why Julia Ward Howe’s abolitionist anthem might have particular significance for the first black president of the United States.

  7. I was very disappointed about the religious stuff but keep reminding myself that he is a politician who is in a particularly difficult position. He is trying to modernise against major opposition from Republicans and probably took the view that the other major issues like climate change, reducing wars, gay rights etc were contoversial enough without taking a position on religion that would alienate large blocks of supporters. I think he was courageous and nailed his colours to the mast in a big way on those issues. I think that he is far too intelligent to take religion seriously and was just doing what he had to do to try and make progress on political issues.

  8. You know that many non-religious people in the US marry in churches, wear wedding bands and swear on the Bible in the court. What do you call that?… It’s a silly meaningless tradition that no one takes seriously. No one attaches any kind of religious significance to that. There are a lot of things like that in the US. It’s a US thing. You don’t take this seriously, as many people are not taken seriously in the US anyway.

    How’s that for morning poetry?

    In reply to #3 by LaurieB:

    Kearth,

    I wasn’t laughing. It wasn’t funny at all. In fact I became more and more angry as the day went on. (It was a very long day too!) It was no end of religious delusional statements interspersed with the occasional political pie in the sky wishful thinking and the usual, standard procedure pomp and circumstance. As I stated on a previous thread, the singing of Battle Hymn of the Republic by a choir was the choking point for me. It is an aggressively militaristic Christian song that has no place whatsoever in a SECULAR Democracy.

    All we hear about on our “news” channels is how Obama chose to take his oath on three different Bibles. THREE DIFFERENT BIBLES!! -Wow! Who the hell cares? Slap those boring Bibles in a glass case in the Smithsonian and let’s have enough of that. Silverman is right. Why isn’t the oath taken on the Constitution? This should be required as part of the ceremony.

    Kearth, I don’t know if you’re American and I don’t know if you’re an Atheist, but if you are an Atheist American like I am, please stop with the simpering apologetics and help us push these self righteous deluded fools back into the churches, mosques and synagogs where they belong. A Presidential inauguration is a political ceremony that satisfies legal procedures outlined in the Constitution. It need only be short and sweet and to the point.

    Politics should take to heart the two words that form the backbone of all the astounding science and sublime art of our world – parsimony and elegance. Neither were in evidence on inauguration day.

  9. Kearth,

    Was that a poem? I didn’t recognize it as such. Whatever it was, it was a real downer.

    Americans marrying in church, wearing wedding rings and swearing on Bibles…the first two are entirely their own personal choice. Getting married in church can’t be compared with a National Presidential inauguration ceremony. And why would I care about some silly jewelry that people choose to wear? I don’t care about it. About the Bibles in court of law, I don’t know what the legalities are here. Can an Atheist refuse to swear on that book? Can we substitute another? I’m not sure.

    Sometimes even Atheists need it pointed out to them that certain traditions are based on old, tired, bad ideas and that it would be better if these traditions were retired and new traditions created to take their places. This is how the feminists handled things – with consciousness raising. I didn’t have a wedding all those years ago. We got married in the Town Hall. We don’t wear wedding rings because we don’t feel the need to communicate our legal married status to everyone around us. The people who need to know that information already do know it.

    It seems that different people have different degrees of attachment to their traditions and rituals. Some come to understand what the history is behind them and then discard what they don’t like. Some can’t bear to part with the old baggage and somehow find some meaning there even though they know these rituals have a dark past. Some people just keep up the old traditions because they don’t know that there is any option out there at all. These are the people who benefit from seeing how Atheists and Humanists deal with ceremonies and important life events. So when I have the opportunity to demonstrate more meaningful ways of grieving, pair bonding and welcoming new additions to the family, I’m happy to do so.

  10. @ LaurieB

    You would score a lot more points as an atheist trying to make change, if you weren’t a bully…
    The tradition of taking an oath on the Bible during the presidential inauguration stems from the fact that the majority of people living on the territory of the US are Bible readers. The president in a democracy, which fragments the society into majority and minority, and empowers the majority, is pretty much forced to represent the majority. Atheists and secularists are a minority, who nobody gives a damn about. Changing this tradition will require much more than bullying a fellow American atheist, unfortunately. You’ll have to convince the Biblical US population that the Bible was written by people, and that there is no such thing as God. Perhaps, even Richard Dawkins may not have such capacity. Plus, everybody in the US knows that Americans would never elect a non-Christian president. Even if Barack takes religion with a grain of salt, he still has to play along. Trust me, the power and all those millions are totally worth the effort of faking it a little.

  11. Kearth,

    I’m not interested in “scoring points” with you or anyone else. I am a strict secularist in a country that has a division of church and state. I have a Constitutional right to expect that the separation be taken seriously. If you think that I’m a “bully” for speaking up for my Constitutional rights then I guess that makes you an apologist.

    As I explained in my first comment, It is not just a matter of a hand on a Bible that aggravated me. No, it was much more than that. The entire day was infused with religiosity from early in the morning until late at night. You are definitely confused about who is bullying who in America. Good luck trying to find an Atheist in America who hasn’t grown up fending off religious bullies who devote themselves to making Atheists feel bad about themselves. American Atheists are fighting for respect in a hostile environment.

    I take it you are not American. If you are European then I understand why you have no view of our situation here. Try to learn more about what we’re up against here before you hurl insults at me. I’ve had enough of vile insults from deluded American Theists and I don’t appreciate it coming from one of my own.

    In reply to #20 by Kearth:

    @ LaurieB

    You would score a lot more points as an atheist trying to make change, if you weren’t a bully…
    The tradition of taking an oath on the Bible during the presidential inauguration stems from the fact that the majority of people living on the territory of the US are Bible readers. The president in a democracy, which fragments the society into majority and minority, and empowers the majority, is pretty much forced to represent the majority. Atheists and secularists are a minority, who nobody gives a damn about. Changing this tradition will require much more than bullying a fellow American atheist, unfortunately. You’ll have to convince the Biblical US population that the Bible was written by people, and that there is no such thing as God. Perhaps, even Richard Dawkins may not have such capacity. Plus, everybody in the US knows that Americans would never elect a non-Christian president. Even if Barack takes religion with a grain of salt, he still has to play along. Trust me, the power and all those millions are totally worth the effort of faking it a little.

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  13. This just shows that it’s not the religion or worldview that ruins everything. It’s the bad people that practice them. Thanks a lot for preserving American values, one of which is respect for the difference of opinion.

  14. What is it in the Kearth’s sentence that could trigger such an abusive reaction in LaurieB? This sentence doesn’t even suggest that Kearth wants this tradition to be preserved. May be Kearth made the US look like a bunch of idiots, and undermined and weakened that tradition in a laconic kind way, but it does not mean that Kearth does not support separation of church and state.

    LaurieB, please be a little more self-consious of your abusiveness, because I live in the US, and I don’t want people to hate and attack the US!!!

    [Slightly edited by moderator to bring within Terms of Use]

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