Obama’s Entry

I just spent a lot of time writing about how incredible I think Barack Obama is. And then I deleted it. You’ve already heard the hype; why bother restating it.

The point of it all was this: I am thrilled that he’s in the race.

PZ Myers thinks otherwise, though. He says Obama is “too pious and too unaccomplished.”

Too unaccomplished? There are plenty of “accomplished” people that have led the country down the wrong path. Democrats included. Even if Obama hasn’t had enough Washington experience, he’s smart enough to surround himself by people who can balance out his weaknesses.

Forget that. It’s the “too pious” remark that bothers me.

Here’s what PZ wrote back in June:

If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote. I won’t even get into the rest of his paean to the silly goblins of faith.

He based that off of a speech Obama gave.

Yes, Obama did say that. He also said the following:

“…secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

However, the meaning was that religion was a way in which people view their lives and we can’t ignore that. He wasn’t endorsing the religion or claiming that it was the Truth.

I wrote about this after he made these statements. I noted that it was important to remember what else he had said in the same speech. Those quotations are worth repeating here:

“[Conservative leaders of the Religious Right] need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.”

“Given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” (Boldface is mine)

“And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?”

“If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.”

pious? Doubtful. Pious? Yes, Obama is religious. But he’s also someone who is an expert in constitutional law. He’s not encouraging anyone to use faith to guide politics. And he’ll be first in line to support church-state separation.

Don’t hate the guy for having a semblance of faith, especially when that faith won’t be relevant in his potential administration. We’re still ways away from a world when people no longer believe in religious faith. This is as good as it’s going to get for a long, long time.

[tags]Barack Obama, Pharyngula, PZ Myers, Washington, atheist, atheism, religion, liberal, Democrat, politician, Christians, Religious Right, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, James Dobson, Al Sharpton, Leviticus, Bible, Deuteronomy, Sermon on the Mount, God, Chicago[/tags]

  • Logos

    I hate to say it , but I don’t think we will have an atheist president any time soon. Therefore it is best to go with the candidate who’s faith is most tolerable.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    I think PZ is being unrealistic if he thinks anyone who antagonises theists has a hope of being elected President anytime in the near future.

    I wonder if Obama’s participation in Rick Warren’s World AIDS day conference was one thing that contributed to PZ calling him ‘too pious’.

  • stogoe

    Obama talks a good moderate line. And that’s the problem. I’ve never seen him take a stand on anything except to stand with Joe Lieberman. His ‘bipartisanship’ announcement makes me think he’s too willing to ‘forgive and get backstabbed’ by the fascist authoritarians. Plus he fell ass-backwards into the senate because his opponent forced his actress wife to go to sex clubs against her will.

    Obama is meaningless, feel-good mush.

  • Susan

    In response to Logos, above, I don’t think it would be a good idea to vote for someone just because he was an atheist any more than I think one should avoid voting for an atheist. As it is, Obama appears to be the kind of tolerant Christian I would admire, and as such exactly the kind of faith I would accept in the White House–as good as a tolerant atheist!

  • Logos

    Yes, I second that!

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    Stogoe said: “Obama is meaningless, feel-good mush.”

    And why is that bad? The Republicans have been pushing a strong religious meaningless mush on the mushy-headed American population and doing quite well. Voters tend to vote for the guy they like better, they guy who they could picture themselves sharing a beer with. The average voter doesn’t give a turd about credentials, experience, etc. You’ve got W as a president, and he’s about as useless as they get. Fluff is ok.

    I have to agree with Logos here. Everyone in American politics is religious, so the best bet is one who doesn’t let religious doctrines run his life.

  • http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com/ Tom Foss

    I had the pleasure of seeing Obama speak at my college a couple of years back. He’s a fantastic public speaker, he’s charismatic, and he’s intelligent. And he had me down as a supporter as soon as he said (not verbatim, but close) “Anti-intellectualism has become a value in this country, and it trickles all the way down from the White House.”

    I love PZ, but I think he’s being a little unrealistic here. Obama may be religious, but he’s also very liberal, very intelligent, and very pro-intellectual. And I can’t see how that’s anything but good.

  • Logos

    I almost hate to bring this up, but America is still a very racist country. Do you think Obama’s race will keep him from getting elected? I would hope not , but I fear that it may.

  • Karen

    I’ve never seen him take a stand on anything except to stand with Joe Lieberman.

    He’s taken a strong stand against the war in Iraq from the very beginning – something no other Democrat currently in the race can say.

  • txatheist

    I think Obama being black, a Democrat and from the north will definitely ruin his chances in states like Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi so he will have to win OH, PA and other major swing states.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    All that I had previously heard about Obama (and this was quite a while ago, around the ’04 election maybe) was something about him saying that the Democrats need to embrace religion or something along those lines, which really turned me off. But after seeing those quotes I’ll definitely check him out. Thanks for that, Hemant.

  • Pingback: Vermont Confidential » Obama - an atheist in Democrat’s robe()

  • http://bequeeththemasses.blogspot.com BqTM

    Couple of things: First off, it is necessary today for a serious candidate to embrace Christianity in one way or another. They are unelectable otherwise considering the vast number of believers in our society. As long as Obama doesn’t use his religiousity as a guideline for policy, I am ok.

    Second, being black is one of the only things keeping his candidancy alive. While racism, in its most benign way, is still alive, there are enough conservatives and liberals that want to feel good about not being racist, thus Obama is the perfect candidate. Without his heritage and his skin color, this guy would be about half as charismatic.

    I like Obama as a candidate simply because of his charisma and his supposed honesty. I like about half of his politics considering he is aligned with John Kerry about 97% of the time (see voting records). Good candidate, glad he’s running, American WOULD elect him, and probably will unless Hillary can figure out a new strategy.

    Also, saying that Hillary Clinton is MORE qualified than Barack Obama is an inane argument. She has LESS public service experience, LESS experience running for office, but MORE association with a former president. Just because Barack holds most of his experience in the State senate for Illinois doesn’t make him unqualified, just as it didn’t for Abraham Lincoln who had about the same amount of experience in the state house.


  • Aimee

    Not that it matters, but he is only half black.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com/2006/08/04/atheists-removing-crosses/ Avid Reader

    Supporting a candidate because you know – despite their pronouncements – that in their heart of hearts they’re on your side is misguided. Up to now, the public has demanded either business, military, state ability (governor) or a track record of federal service. Carter, Bush, Clinton, JFK all qualified in one or more of these categories. Besides Edwards, Obama is the first with none and these not counting his stint as a state senator (lol). Obama supporters would probably be infuriated if the GOP nominated a media celebutant. Oh he has LOTS of experience (lol) and so what if it’s nothing but mushy generalities? Until we learn more it’s hype over substance.

    As for the unpopularity of atheists today (mentioned in this forum) much of it is our own fault. Lest we forget, that great atheist, Robert Ingersoll, placed James Blaine’s name into nomination at the 1876 GOP convention. He was unashamedly pro-American, pro-businessa and pro-expansionist of liberty. He was fervent in his disbelief yet was never rude or arrogant or hateful. Nor did he try to “prove” his case with science but instead used humor and reason. We could learn from his example today.

    Avid Reader

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Thanks for this Hemant. I think atheists like PZ really play into the religious stereotypes and fears about atheists – that you guys are really anti-religious and out to “get us”. Attitudes like PZ’s undermine the kind of friendly atheism that you’re promoting here and keep us from being able to respect each other and work together in the way that Obama encourages.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    A couple more comments in response to others here:

    1) Obama was leading Jack Ryan in the polls even before the scandal, largely due to unusually high support among downstate and suburban Chicago voters. If a black Democrat from Chicago can win over white rural and suburban Illinoians, I think he has a good chance of winning over the rest of the nation as well.

    2) However I still don’t think there is any chance of him winning the Deep South States. But frankly, at this point, is there any chance of any Democrat winning down there? Even Al Gore couldn’t win his home state of Tennessee. But Obama can win without the South. I think he has a really good chance of picking up swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

    3) I really like Obama a lot, primarily because he has real-world, first-hand experience serving the urban poor on the south-side of Chicago. He was a community organizer and civil rights attorney down there – which means he doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk. I’d vote for any candidate who really understands and cares about the poor and doesn’t just pay lip service to the issue.