Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obama's America includes atheists

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said of America, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."

In my 2003 novel, Hybrids, I had the next president of the United States (the one coming to office in 2009) refer to nonbelievers, too:
So, yes, indeed, now is the time to take longer strides. But it's not just time for a great new American enterprise. Rather, it's time, if I may echo another speech, for black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists, and men and women of all faiths, and men and women of none -- for individuals from every one of our 191 united nations, for members of every race and religion that make up our unique, varied brand of humanity -- to go forward together, in peace and harmony, with mutual respect and friendship ... [Chapter 25]
For me, it was key that the first post-Bush president acknowledge the large numbers of atheists and nonbelievers, and I'm delighted to see Obama do just that.

The only appearance by my president in Hybrids is through a series of excerpts from his first major speech, which appear in chunks at the beginnings of each chapter; I didn't explicitly say he was black, but I certainly implied it:
Four decades ago, my predecessor in the Oval Office, John F. Kennedy, said, `Now is the time to take longer strides -- time for a great new American enterprise.' I was just a kid in a Montgomery ghetto then, but I remember vividly how those words made my spine tingle ... [Chapter 5]
I'm very proud of the speech I wrote for the fictitious president (the full text of which is here), but am even prouder, as an often-conflicted American-Canadian dual citizen, that my real president had the courage to acknowledge us nonbelievers in his inaugural address.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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At February 07, 2009 6:06 PM , Blogger Edward Willett said...

To be fair to Bush, Rob, although he didn't acknowledge non-believers in either inaugural address, he certainly did in other speeches: USA Today has a couple of examples.

I think you could be just as pleased with what Bush said after the 2004 election: "I will be your President regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion. As a matter of fact, no President should ever try to impose religion on our society. A great -- the great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, they're just as patriotic as your neighbor ..."

At February 07, 2009 6:33 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

There wasn't a lot of evidence that Bush practiced what he (very occasionally) preached, Ed (two examples in eight years -- if there are more than those two, Ed, bring 'em on).

Bush did much to erode the constitutional separation of Church and State, and under his watch that the teaching of evolution was most eroded in schools, stem-cell research was curtailed, counseling that included abortion and birth control were downplayed in favor of religiously motivated abstinence, the courts were stacked with religious ideologues, etc. etc. etc. Oh, yes, he may have been not much worse than Ronald Reagan -- but that would be damning with faint praise.

What was all of that if not a direct contradiction of him saying, "no President should ever try to impose religion on our society"? You can't give with one breath and take away with the next.

Also, "Choosing not to workship" (which is all he said in the first of the two quotes) is not the same thing as being a "nonbeliever." Bush himself chose not to worship during most of his time in office; that is, he eschewed weekly church services.

At February 07, 2009 6:37 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

And let us not so quickly glide over the importance of an inaugural address, Ed. As the original USA TODAY story noted in the reference to nonbelievers:

"This inclusiveness is a signature moment in American inaugural history," says David Domke, professor of communications at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has analyzed religious language in seven decades of inaugural and State of the Union addresses.

At February 07, 2009 9:00 PM , OpenID rvitelli said...

It seems like Obama left out a LOT of smaller religions in that speech of his. No Buddhists, Hindus, Sikh, Jains etc. Not to mention less traditional religions.

Are pagans not voters, too?

At February 07, 2009 11:58 PM , Blogger Larry Hodges said...

I long for the day in the distant future when a U.S. president will go out on a limb and defend the rights of that finally small minority of people who still believe in supernatural beings.

At February 08, 2009 1:25 AM , Blogger Edward Willett said...

I'm not denying the importance of Obama including non-believers in the inaugural speech. And I confess it didn't strike me as at all unusual when he said it; I just thought, "Well, of course," because that's always been my understanding of what religious freedom means in America: freedom to worship and believe as you please, or freedom not to worship (and not to believe) at all. That's what I was brought up to believe (and my Dad was what you'd call a fundamentalist preacher).

So, yeah, good on Obama, and I'm glad he said what he did. But since you asked, I did find another quote for you from Bush. (I can't resist a Google challenge.) It's on this page, from a lengthy interview with Christianity Today:

"My job is to make sure that, as President, people understand that in this country you can worship any way you choose. And I'll take that a step further. You can be a patriot if you don't believe in the Almighty. You can honor your country and be as patriotic as your neighbor."


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