Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Streets Will Flow with the Blood of the Non-Believers!

Lots of people are picking up on the fact that Obama purposefully name-checked "non-believers" while listing the Religions of America during his inauguration speech:

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

It's nice to be included, and I'm glad Obama's not a Bush-style troglodyte who rejects the notion out of hand that atheists are part of the American fabric. (You'll recall that it was George HW Bush who, allegedly, does not think atheists should be considered citizens or patriots. I use 'allegedly' here because Bush has always denied making this comment, though it appeared in a newspaper which has never retracted the article, so he probably did.)

But I can't really get all that excited about having my non-adherence to a religion acknowledged by the president this way. OF COURSE I'm allowed to believe or not believe whatever the hell I want. OF COURSE I can be an American citizen and not be religious. It's completely asinine to believe anything else. Obama doesn't need to say it to me. I'd rather he not have to talk about religion at all.

I feel like only someone deeply insecure needs the President to tell them they're okay all the time. It's Obama's job to run the government, not to listen to a list of things I think and then pat me on the head and tell me I'm smart. So many Americans demand this kind of hand-holding...It's just desperation for approval.

If he had just said:

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

and left it at that, he'd still technically be correct. There are many people from all of those faiths in this country. That statement is not exclusive. He's merely describing some different religious groups in America, not listing all of them, or the degrees to which you can or can not adhere to them. Sikhs are not hurt that they didn't come up. (I'm not sure, actually? Are they? If so, they should get the fuck over themselves.)

Here's the point...I think people are too sensitive about religion, and that includes people who do not follow any religion at all. I'm not religious because I don't care about it. I think it's kind of interesting, actually, and have probably read more about it than a lot of very religious Americans. But I don't care about it. That means I don't have to hear the president discuss whether or not my take on it fits in with the larger patchwork of his plans and ideas. I don't care about it.

Anyway, I appreciate the gesture. I'm sure, in part, what Obama and his speechwriters were doing was signaling, through language, their overall intention to be a more inclusive, tolerant administration. Which is great. I just think atheists make too much of these sorts of stupid gestures. Fight the real fights, where the separation of church and state matters - science classrooms, stem cell research divisions, and so forth. Nitpicking things like "In God We Trust" on the money and mentions in high-profile speeches just makes the non-believers seem shrill and arrogant.

Plus, I think there were more interesting aspects of the Inauguration on which to focus attention. Like that thing Aretha Franklin had on her head. What was that thing? It's stretching things to refer to it as a "hat."