Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Obama and religious diversity

Oh, happy New Years.  (And that concludes this blog's coverage of the holidays.)

A few days ago on Friendly Atheist, there was an article discussing the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of President Obama.

Let me say this of speculation that Obama is an atheist: besides likely being false, it also says something unflattering about atheists.  Atheists are often accused of thinking that all religious people are fundamentalists, and ignoring everyone else.  When an atheist speculates that Obama is an atheist, this tells me that the stereotype is true of that individual.  They are so unfamiliar with how a liberal Christianity looks, and so unable to imagine it, that they would prefer to adopt a conspiracy theory of sorts.

I take solace in the fact that speculation about Obama's atheism appears to be an entirely fringe activity, that most atheists reject it as both unlikely and irrelevant.  The above-linked article on Friendly Atheist takes this view, and so do most of the commenters (and think about how bad random commenters on the internet usually are).  A noted exception is Bill Maher who speculates that Obama and the Pope are both atheists, but we already knew Maher was terrible.

I grew up in a not-so-religious Catholic household, and had some degree of Jesuit education.  Liberal Christianity is easy for me to imagine.  In fact, I have the converse problem that conservative Christianity is hard for me to imagine.  It just seems so far away, and removed from my social circles.

However, with the rational part of my brain, I recognize that conservative Christianity is a real thing, and in fact constitutes a very large percentage of the US population. About half of the population believes in some sort of anti-evolution Creationism, and about 20% believe that the second coming of Jesus will occur in their lifetime. That's not something to ignore just because I don't have personal experience with it. It's worth it for the atheist movement to pay attention to these beliefs--but not while denying the existence of more liberal forms of Christianity and other religions.


Borderline said...

Speaking of stereotypes, when you brought up a Jesuit education, I immediately had all kinds of horrible, stereotypical thoughts. The only things I know about the Jesuits are what I read in Shogun. The novel about the the English guy stranded in feudal Japan and the Jesuits are the biggest Protestant haters on the planet, they persecute Franciscans, and they had their own business making tons of money importing goods to Japan. Not a good portrayal.

We all got our hangups. But I agree with you that it doesn't particularly matter if Obama is atheist.

Honestly, I'm surprised half the population even has enough knowledge of evolution to form an opinion on it. I graduated HS in 2004, which is the same year it became mandatory to teach evolution. I was in CP bio prior to that. Neither of my CP bio teachers believed in evolution. They never taught it.

One of them had a sign I still remember, "The Big Bang Theory: The idea that nothing exploded and created something"

miller said...

It doesn't surprise me that Jesuits did some horrible things in the colonial era. I'm not too familiar with the history though, and I don't think that's the role they play at present. Jesuits are known for being the intellectual part of Catholicism, which means they're more liberal than most.

In my Jesuit high school, we not only learned about evolution, we learned about Creationists and how wrong they were. I think that's more than you can say about public schools.