Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama and the non-religious

I feel moved to make further comments about politics.

In atheist circles, there is a lot of talk about how Obama acknowledged non-religious Americans in his inaugural address. Here's the quote:
For 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.
Sweet. I'm pleasantly surprised to learn that I'm an American (The Buddhists and Sikhists will be so jealous). No, but seriously, this is great. You might notice that not only did Obama mention us, but he referred to us as part of a patchwork heritage, part of our strength. To contrast, only three presidencies ago, George Bush Sr. once said:
No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.
I mean, what kind of country is it where the president can say things like that? It's the kind of country where the people in it agree that atheists should not be considered citizens. That's just sad.

Reality check: George W Bush (that guy who was president yesterday) has also acknowledged and said nice things about the non-religious. Here are two quotes from Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations:
I'm mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You're equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.

We know that men and women can be good without faith. We know that.
I don't mean to assert equivalency between Bush and Obama. I merely mean to demonstrate that context is important too, that words alone aren't enough.

In somewhat related news, the American Humanist Association (this is the same organization, by the way, which had that bus campaign which I discussed earlier) is putting up a full page ad in the Washington Post. (story via Friendly Atheist)

(Click for a bigger image)

I think my comment on the Friendly Atheist is a pretty good summary of what I think.

The ad makes a great point, though I’m not sure that people will quite get it. The ad does not say that Obama is non-religious (something I consider to be baseless speculation). What the ad does claim, is that he was brought up in a non-religious household. AFAIK, this is factually correct. And he turned out fine. Better than fine!

The obvious counterpoint is that, currently, he is apparently religious. Which is funny, because when anyone else goes through an atheist-to-Christian conversion, the dominant atheist reaction is “He wasn’t ever a real atheist” or “He wasn’t the rational, secular humanistic kind of atheist.”

Perhaps it is a good time to rethink attitudes towards converts.

I wonder how religious people would react to the ad. I imagine that they'd first be somewhat bewildered. And then what?


Hugo said...

I miss having had "non-religious values". When you come from a religious background, and then deconvert, you're left hanging. Well, the important basic values certainly do stick, but there's always some of those "classics" that remain uncertain. E.g. "what's my attitude towards sexuality going to be now? When yes, when no?" Without the typical teenager experiences where you develop your idea of where you want your boundaries to be w.r.t. which relationships.

And I've come across other people that also fear a moral decline in themselves, when they deconvert, actively seeking a new foundation to find some anchor on what they perceive to be an otherwise scarily slippery slope.


Hugo said...

(I think my previous comment might misrepresent me a little. It's not like my values are religious really. I'd argue I've been a humanist at heart all my life: just a religious one.)

miller said...

Hugo, your comment is confusing me. What are you talking about?

Hugo said...

I'm just babbling/moaning. Never mind me... ;)

Anonymous said...

" Well, the important basic values certainly do stick, but there's always some of those "classics" that remain uncertain. E.g. "what's my attitude towards sexuality going to be now? When yes, when no?" "

Surely this gives you freedom to come to conclusions yourself without having them dictated to you.

Religion cherry picks their morals from their texts so it suits the current moral zeitgiest.

Hugo said...

Anonymous (who probably won't come back to read this), yes... freedom to come to your own conclusions, I was mostly referring to the challenges of such freedom though, and how a late entrance into such "freedom" sometimes feels like you're a bit "behind" on developing your conclusions. Don't most go through figuring out their boundaries and weighing the considerations throughout e.g. teenage years? By your mid-twenties many usually have a good idea of what works and what doesn't? Maybe I'm naive. ;)

What's interesting then, is the interaction between those that have already figured these things out for themselves, and those that haven't and are busy exploring the things to consider. Could lead to a bit of a clash. In the end, good communication is the most important thing, like in any social situation: understand the context of those around you, communicate your context, set expectations, etc etc.

Anyway, maybe this clarifies something for whoever reads it.