There are some atheists who despise Barack Obama’s faith and think he will use his Christianity to override good judgment.
I’m not proud of everything he says, either, but I recognize the need to pander to a religious audience to gain their goodwill and votes. Obama is a Christian; there’s no denying that. But his actions have shown us that he is not about to become a puppet to the Religious Right — or even the Religious Left. In fact, I have yet to hear how his faith was ever used as the sole reason for making a particular policy decision.
I just finished reading The Audacity of Hope (awesome book, by the way) and wanted to offer these excerpts from it. When you read them, consider how many other candidates you’ve ever seen be this inclusive of non-religious people in their remarks and how Obama’s views are in line with those of most atheists:
“I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody’s religious beliefs — including my own — on nonbelievers.”
“… separation of church and state protects the church as well as the state…” (p. 37)
“There’s the religious absolutism of the Christian right, a movement that gained traction on the undeniably difficult issue of abortion, but which soon flowered into something much broader; a movement that insists not only that Christianity is America’s dominant faith, but that a particular, fundamentalist brand of that faith should drive public policy, overriding any alternative source of understanding, whether the writings of liberal theologians, the findings of the National Academy of Sciences, or the words of Thomas Jefferson.” (p. 37-38)
“We [Americans] value a faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that something expresses itself in formal religion or ethical precepts.” (p. 55)
“The first and most difficult step for some evangelical Christians is to acknowledge the critical role that the establishment clause has played not only in the development of our democracy but also in the robustness of our religious practice. Contrary to the claims of many on the Christian right who rail against the separation of church and state, their argument is not with a handful of liberal sixties judges. It is with the drafters of the Bill of Rights and the forebears of today’s evangelical church.” (p. 217)
“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.” (p. 218)
To be fair, I don’t agree with everything he says:
Of course, scientific knowledge is far superior to religious insight, even though that’s not what Obama is talking about (Science has often overturned religious “truths,” but you’d be hardpressed to find an example of religion proving science wrong). But again, he’s trying to not to lose the religious vote.
“Reason — and science — involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding — the “belief in things not seen.” When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.” (p. 219)
In this passage, Obama gets the non-religious perspective completely wrong:
“If a sense of proportion should guide Christian activism, then it must also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach in the wall of separation; as the Supreme Court has properly recognized, context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed as a consequence of muttering the phrase “under God”; I didn’t. Allowing the use of school property for meetings by voluntary student prayer groups should not be a threat, any more than its use by the high school Republican Club should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs — targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers — that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems and hence merit carefully tailored support.” (p. 221)
Saying the Pledge isn’t so much about being oppressed as it is being forced to speak against your beliefs. No child should have to do that. And I’ve never heard of an atheist (individual or organization) that said voluntary student prayer groups were a threat. Nor have I heard any atheist saying Christian groups should not be allowed to meet at a school — as long as that same privilege is extended to all faith/no-faith groups. Also, faith-based programs can be provided to those who wish to use them, as long as our tax money is not being used to fund them. The government must stick to funding religion-free programs; leave the faith to private groups with their own money. There are always secular alternatives that work just as well.
Let’s see one more example of Obama’s pandering compared to his actual beliefs.
The first comes from his speech at the Call to Renewal’s Building a Covenant for a New America conference:
… we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.
He doesn’t say he agrees; he just says that’s the way it is.
At the American Magazine Conference in 2006, however, he was more adamant about what he believed:
“It’s not ‘faith’ if you are absolutely certain,” Obama said, noting that he didn’t believe his lack of “faith” would hurt him a national election. “Evolution is more grounded in my experience than angels.”
You can find examples everywhere of Obama both defending his faith and defending church/state separation. He can have it both ways. We can’t expect him to brush off what he believes, but we can hope he doesn’t let his religion get in the way of his policies.
He’s given no indication that they will.