Obama's Inaugural Cavalcade Continues

Following up on my earlier post about Obama’s choice of the disgraceful bigot Rick Warren to preside at the inauguration, this news: In a response to progressive anger, the transition team has announced that V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop, has agreed to appear as well. (Obama’s spokespeople said this was not a new decision but had been in the works all along. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.)

On one level, this is a good thing. It shows that progressives had an impact, that our outrage was heard. For the past eight years and more, too many Democrats were willing to offend their own allies by blatantly pandering to the religious right – ultimately a counterproductive and futile gesture, since it infuriates the Democrats’ natural political allies and Christian fundamentalists inevitably vote for the Republican anyway.

Obama’s selection of Warren shows he was not above trying to play this game, but the addition of Robinson shows that the progressive pushback was intense enough to make them realize their miscalculation. Whether this means that liberals have regained a measure of political influence, or Obama’s team will be more responsive to our concerns, or both, it’s a hopeful sign. That said, regardless of whether Robinson or another gay Christian is present, Warren’s inclusion is still a mistake. It still conveys the view that his viciously anti-gay views occupy a legitimate place on the spectrum of respectability, and adding an opposing view does nothing to change that. However, I do confess to feeling some schadenfreude at the wailing and teeth-gnashing of the bigots:

When someone who confesses to be a christian and allows an openly gay minister to be part of this event, one must wonder about the his/her faith. No doubt God loves people but He hates sin. One must repent and turn away from sin including homosexuality. As others wrote previously, God hates homosexuality. Bible is very clear on this.

This is sick. How can he be a man of God if he contradicts what God teaches. It clearly speaks out in the bible against homosexualality…. Stop saying that being gay is fine because it is not.

It seems Rick Warren prays to the God of the Holy Bible who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and Robinson prays to a god who approves of any kind of lifestyle as long as we are “loving”.

in Leviticus chapter 20, verse 13, GOD CALLS THIS LIFE STYLE AN ABOMINATION, God will be your judge just like he will all of us. God Bless America.

But I do have to register a further objection. Progressive though Robinson may be, he’s still a Christian – and between him, Warren, and Joseph Lowery, it seems that only Christian voices are to play any significant role at the inaugural ceremony. If this is a message of inclusion, it’s an insensitive and poorly tailored one. Obama can certainly claim he’s covered every flavor of Christianity, but millions of Americans are non-Christians, including the 15% of the populace that identifies as nonreligious. What recognition will there be for us and for the role we played in electing Obama? Or are inaugural invocations a job for which only members of the majority faith need apply?

I realize the day when a humanist will give a secular invocation at the inauguration is still far off. But the more we push for it, the more we can bring that day nearer. It is never too early to seek after social progress, and the effect of the larger population’s knowing that we exist can only be a beneficial one.

On one further note, I have some additional thoughts on Michael Newdow’s lawsuit against the use of “so help me God” in the inaugural oath. Having listened to an interview with Newdow on Freethought Radio, I understand his position better now. It’s not a lawsuit against religious language at the inauguration in general. The presidential oath as given in the Constitution has no religious language. Newdow’s lawsuit seeks to enjoin Chief Justice John Roberts from adding that phrase when he administers the oath. And this, I have to admit, makes a great deal of sense. Newdow’s position is not that Obama is forbidden to say it himself if he wants to, but that Roberts, acting as an agent of the government to swear him in, may not officially make a religious affirmation part of the secular oath of office. I still think it will be swiftly thrown out by the courts using their all-purpose “standing” excuse, but now that I see the reasoning behind it, this suit looks more meritorious to me than it did before.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I realize the day when a humanist will give a secular invocation at the inauguration is still far off.

    Isn’t “Secular invocation” an oxymoron? How about no invocation? That would be best IMO.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com/ Cannonball Jones

    I found it hard to muster any joy at Robinson’s selection for exactly the same reason. Why should we be celebrating the addition of yet another religious voice, gay or otherwise, to the farce that this inauguration is becoming? If Obama had any real balls he would have brought in a secular speaker. I’d love to see James Randi or Daniel Dennett up on that stage…

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Let’s hope after the razamataz has died down Obama will let the religious agenda drop. On the encouraging side he is making some very savvy picks for his science and energy team.

  • http://failingtheinsidertest.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    I rejoice at the selection of Robinson because I know that fundamentalists are more offended by him than I am by Warren. That’s easy to do, but I still welcome the outcome.

  • Tom

    Apparently, “love the sinner but hate the sin” still allows you to ostracise and discriminate against alleged sinners, demand they be barred from public expression or positions of authority, and basically act exactly the way you would if you did, in fact, hate them directly as people.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Newdow’s lawsuit seeks to enjoin Chief Justice John Roberts from adding that phrase when he administers the oath. And this, I have to admit, makes a great deal of sense. Newdow’s position is not that Obama is forbidden to say it himself if he wants to, but that Roberts, acting as an agent of the government to swear him in, may not officially make a religious affirmation part of the secular oath of office. I still think it will be swiftly thrown out by the courts using their all-purpose “standing” excuse, but now that I see the reasoning behind it, this suit looks more meritorious to me than it did before.

    Since we’re talking about a democracy here, I’ll have to agree, and say that such was my position all along.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup. What Ebon said.

    I mean, even if it weren’t for the “respecting the godless,” “isn’t our government supposed to be secular” issue… why are all the religious leaders speaking at the inaugural events Christian? Why no rabbi, no mullah, no Buddhist or Hindu monk?

    Oh, just one clarification: Robinson isn’t speaking at the inauguration. He’s speaking at the big pre-inauguration party happening on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s sort of like, “Yes, we’re having a bigot speak at your graduation… but we’ve got this really great guy you’re going to love at the pre-graduation party on Friday night.” Thanks a lot.

  • Leum

    The only thing I hate more than politicians making stupid choices is their attempts to mollify the offended without changing anything. No, Mr. Obama, having Robinson speak at your inauguration (not that you even managed that), does not make up for Warren’s presence. They don’t cancel each other out. All you’re doing is saying that bigotry and tolerance have an equal place at the table, that both are equally worthy of our respect. If anything, Robinson’s presence makes me angrier than Warren’s, because it shows how little Obama understand the reasons for our outrage.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Isn’t “Secular invocation” an oxymoron?

    No, I don’t think so. Having someone stand up at the beginning of an event and give us a quick uplifting reminder of our mutual goals, our responsibility to each other, and of the great things that human beings are capable of, would not be out of place, nor would it be likely to offend the theists present. I’d sure like to see that take the place of a theist invocation.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Ubi,

    I agree with you that it’s not an oxymoron. I think what the comment was trying to argue is that the word invocation is somehow irrevocably connected to theism. The definitions I’ve seen seem to contradict this, however. Although the term certainly can and does have theist implications, non-theist implications clearly exist as well. For example, from Merriam Webster:

    1) The act or process of petitioning for help or support, a prayer of entreaty (as at the beginning of a service of worship);

    2) Calling upon for authority or justification;

    3) A formula for conjuring, incantation;

    4) An act of legal or moral implementation.

    So it’s no oxymoron at all.

  • nfpendleton

    No matter how many times I hear it, I still love this religious parcing:
    “No doubt God loves people but He hates sin. One must repent and turn away from sin including homosexuality.”

    Just admit it xians: You want to round up gay people and get all Post-Tribulation on them.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Ubi,
    If you look at http://www.dictionary.com, all the of definitions call out religious deities and the like specifically…all save one (two really, but number 8 doesn’t fit here), which basically matches the first phrase of the first definition on Merriam Webster. Who are we asking for help, however? I would not classify an “uplifting reminder of our mutual goals…” as an invocation, although I’m not sure what word would actually fit it.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    I agree with OMGF – no invocation would be best.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    nfpendleton,

    Just admit it xians: You want to round up gay people and get all Post-Tribulation on them.

    Although your comment is tangential to the OP, while I can’t speak for others, and don’t typically call myself a Christian or xian or however you want to put it, I feel compelled to address it. Especially in a democracy, people are equally deserving of the same rights, and for believers to imply otherwise is tantamount to casting the first stone. To any so-called Christians who support such discrimination on account of the Bible’s stance on homosexuality, I must ask – do any of you sin? Maybe ‘stretch the truth’ on occasion or harbor hatred for others? Should we refuse people who lie their civil rights? Their argument breaks down to, “Your sin is more offensive than mine, so you should punished,” and such is neither Christ-like nor biblical.

    I am equally, if not more concerned about rebutting absurd dominionist theocracy than any of you, because such makes me look bad by mere association with my belief that there is a God – not you.

  • Justin

    That said, regardless of whether Robinson or another gay Christian is present, Warren’s inclusion is still a mistake. It still conveys the view that his viciously anti-gay views occupy a legitimate place on the spectrum of respectability, and adding an opposing view does nothing to change that.

    Not only that, but it doesn’t mollify Warren’s supporters, or people of similar ideological bent. No act by Obama would, so why reach out to and try to find common ground with groups that have made their opposition to mere consideration of compromise well-known?

  • Christopher

    How about no invocation?

    Why stop there? How about no celebration, pomp or ceremony of any kind and just throw the guy into the oval office and put him to work – just like what would happen at any other job? What’s so special about the political class that we must celebrate their “work” (if you can call it that) over the work of any other class out there?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Oh, just one clarification: Robinson isn’t speaking at the inauguration. He’s speaking at the big pre-inauguration party happening on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s sort of like, “Yes, we’re having a bigot speak at your graduation… but we’ve got this really great guy you’re going to love at the pre-graduation party on Friday night.” Thanks a lot.

    I didn’t know that. (I also read the other day that Warren has offered statements of support to the pro-bigotry Anglicans who’ve split with the church over its recognition of gay rights.) I guess it would have been too much to hope for for the two of them to share the stage, which might have offered some entertainment value at the very least.

    If anything, Robinson’s presence makes me angrier than Warren’s, because it shows how little Obama understand the reasons for our outrage.

    I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. I think Obama probably is somewhat backed into a corner, politically speaking. He chose Warren underestimating the depth of progressive anger that choice would evoke. Now he can’t openly retract that invitation without going against his own stated message of inclusion (Warren could have made things easier on Obama by voluntarily withdrawing, but he doesn’t seem inclined to do that). I realize that we don’t see the anti-gay evangelical vote as one worth courting, but Obama evidently does. The choice of Robinson is unlikely to fully assuage progressive anger, but I assume Obama is hoping it will at least mitigate it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Why stop there? How about no celebration, pomp or ceremony of any kind and just throw the guy into the oval office and put him to work -

    Yup! I have to cheer that one. It’s prettey much what happens with the UK Priminister;quick chat with Her Maj then nose to the grindstone.

  • Leum

    Yeah, but your PM is the head of government, not the head of state. Our president is both. And when you get a new head of state, it’s a pretty darned big event.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I don’t quite see the “no inaguration ceremony at all” thing. People like rituals, especially for major rites of passage. We have graduations, weddings, funerals, retirements parties, and so on. We like to gather together to essentially say, “This is an important occasion for all of us, and we want to mark it and give it the attention its due.” Not all of us, obviously… but it’s a very common human trait. I think it’s charming one, and I don’t see it doing any great harm. (And in an atheist context: I think atheists need to reassure believers that letting go of God doesn’t mean letting go of the basic human activity of comforting/ celebratory ritual.)

    Granted, the Obama inaugural events are getting a little… shall we say large. But this is a BIG rite of passage for a lot of people in this country. Any inauguration is: but I think this one is more than most. It’s historic for the obvious reason — our first African American President — plus an awful lot of people in this country are breathing an enormous collective sigh of relief that the disastrous W. administration is finally, finally coming to an end. Yes, the Obama inaugural celebration is getting pretty lavish… but it seems to be by popular demand.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Christopher, I’m with you an Steve. I hate ceremonies and rituals and all the pomp, for anything. When it comes from the government I especially hate it, gnecause it’s MY (and YOUR’S too) money being wasted on frivolity.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Damn! Typo and I can’t fix it! Grrr.

  • Virginia

    It’s not just democrats offending their own allies by pandering to the religous right — they are also betraying many of the values of equality, civil liberty in the process.

    In Hong Kong we are having a heated debate as to amendments of a law dealing with Domestic Violence — in the proposed amendments it is going to include extended families (uncles, aunties, cousins), non-wed couples and gay couples.
    The religious right see this as a start of a slippery slope to “legalize” gay marriage — and there are democratically elected legislators (who claim they embraces the values in a democratic society) voting against it !!! Those who wanted to vote against the amendments are Christians and they wanted to pander the religous right voters here!!!

  • http://www.dangerousintersection.org/ Erich Vieth

    Ebonmuse: I completely agree with you.

    As to why we are unlikely to see an atheist give an invocation any time soon, I would add this: in addition to the exclusion non-believers being primarily due to religious bigotry, it also has a practical explanation. People like to mark momentous occasions with rituals, but atheists aren’t exactly known for their rituals.

  • Shemhazai

    Once again, Xtians can’t read their own damned book. It might say that man on man sex is an abomination (funny, it never actually says homosexuality. . .), but it also uses the same phrase to condemn pork, rabbits, shaving, women without hats, back talking children, women on their period, disobedient slaves . . . and it goes on.

    They also tend to gloss over the whole “THOU SHALT NOT FUCKING KILL EACH OTHER, BITCHES” that G-dawg put in the Big 10 (ammended, of course, in the later sequals), whenever anyone brings up . . .oh, I don’t know, A FUCKING POINTLESS WAR THAT’S KILLED THOUSANDS OF OUR SOLDIERS AND EVEN MORE INNOCENT CIVILIANS.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Well, the inauguration has come and gone. Last night I listened to a snippet from a right wing radio personality, explaining how thrilled he was with the Rick Warren invocation. The radio host considered the Warren talk a great way to evangelize, to influence people towards Christianity. He was very happy with the mention of Jesus and the “Lord’s Prayer”. The problem – he is correct. The message went out to a huge world wide audience. It was a great platform to deliver the message, and there is a reason marketers want their products associated with celebrities – the products often sell. Having all this religious stuff associated with Obama and broadcast to the world probably did a good job of selling too. Certainly it reinforces a legitimacy of religion in the minds of many. We had the morning church service, then Warren, then the usual “god talk”, with the justices reciting the phrase “so help you god”, as if it were part of the Oath of Office. Then there was church again next morning.

    In contrast, what good public relations did non-believers get out of the event? Well, we got a brief mention by Obama that we actually exist. Thanks a lot. I wonder which product the public is going to buy?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    According to the BBC this morning Obama was sworn in again in the White House map room, due to the fluffs made at the inauguration. Interestingly they report that this second oath was not given on the bible as “one was not readily available”. If true that should give the fundies something to worry about; an American President doesn’t have a bible readily available? shocking!


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