Obama Doesn’t Deserve Much Credit for his “America Is Not a Christian Nation” Remark

I suppose we’ll have to get used to this from President Obama.

One day, he’ll invite anti-gay pastors to deliver Inauguration prayers. Later that same day, he’ll say “The United States is a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

One day, he’ll overwhelmingly invite Christians to join his “Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships” — then, you hear him saying something like this:

I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is — although as I mentioned we have a very large Christian population — we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.

A lot of atheists were excited to hear this. Right-wingers went crazy.

The Secular Coalition for America even put out a press release, urging readers to thank him:

Despite the fact that that our Constitution established a secular government and has no mention of Jesus, Christianity, or any god(s), members of Congress continue to spread the false message that America was founded as a Christian nation. It is important that President Obama, our Constitutional Scholar-in-Chief, not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors or succumb to pressure by the Religious Right to continue spreading this fallacy.

While it’s nice to hear Obama say this, I don’t think we need to give him much credit here.

In context, he was referring to the current demographics of our country — we’re made up of people from many different religious and non-religious backgrounds. Even conservative Christians wouldn’t say we are now a Christian nation.

When the conservatives use that phrase, they are referring to the founding of our country — i.e. “We were founded as a Christian nation, by Christians.”

(Of course, they’re wrong about that.)

Obama didn’t correct that statement in his remarks. What he said wasn’t all that controversial — it was factual, and not even the Religious Right would dispute that. So let’s save our praise for when Obama deserves it.

  • Michelle

    My family is very seeped in the religious right. I don’t think they are capable of making a decision without first consulting with what James Dobson would have to say. They were very upset at this remark. For them, because a majority of Americans consider themselves Christians, we are a Christian nation. Atheists like myself hardly qualify as citizens in their eyes.

  • Brooks

    I think this brings up a good point that Obama never actually says that America was founded as a secular nation and not a Christian nation. He always seems to dance around the issue by saying that America is not just for the Christians to live in. And while it’s nice for Obama to say things like this, it’s not doing that much if Obama doesn’t actually do anything about it and in fact contradicts this with his expansion of faith based programs and the excessive prayers and religious language in political events that didn’t even have it before.

  • Erp

    I would be happier with more non-religious people on the council; however, the Harry Knox appointment is putting the religious right in a frenzy. Yes he is religious but he is also gay and works for the Human Rights Campaign.

  • mikespeir

    It’s funny. I grew up listening to Pentecostal preachers ranting on about how America wasn’t a Christian country. With all the “sin” going on we didn’t have a right to call ourselves a Christian country. Then came the Religious Right upsurge of the late ’70s and 80s. Suddenly, it became important to describe us as a Christian country, directly contradicting what I had heard preached earlier.

    Frankly, I don’t care if the United States was established on the Christian faith. (And, no, I don’t believe it was.) It shouldn’t rest on that foundation today.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    From the wingnut news site linked above:
    “[...]instead of going to a real Christian church[...]”

    <voice=BobPrice> Uh’boy… </voice>

  • Brian C Posey

    I think Obama just wants to make everyone happy. I figure this can be seen in two ways:

    1. He is trying to gain the most support he can from a variety of groups by make each feel as though they have a piece in the puzzle.

    2. He just doesn’t want to take a stance, if he doesn’t absolutely have to.

    Personally, I think it’s more 1 than 2. It is possible to believe that even your ideological adversaries have something to offer.

  • Larry Huffman

    Well…the founding of our nation was not what was being discussed either. So you would have Obama, while speaking to the world about current problems and issues…go off on a ‘how the U.S. was founded’ rant? Hardly…come on. Give the guy a break. He was speaking about how our nation is today because that is the issue. Our founding was not.

    I think we all need to understand that Obama still has to preside over all of us…and the majority of our nation IS christian. I think he has stepped far outside of what ANY recent president has done. And he should be given credit for that. He is christian, and yet he is behaving like a good leader of a diverse nation.

    I also think engaging chrisitan leaders and such in committees is not at all wrong. I mean, as much as we want our credibility as atheists…we cannot expect it to come at the expense of the christian’s credibility. So, rather than oppose this, we should try to get atheists on the same committees…and not be surprised if it takes a few attempts from a group organized to bring it about.

    The nation IS predominantly christian…therefore christianity is still and will for a long time…be part of our nation and it’s course. It is losing ground…rather fast. But, christianity is still the majority.

    I agree that it would be nice to have a president say that we were not founded as a christian nation…and if the opportunity arises and he wimps out, then I will be upset with him, depending on the circumstances. But, in this case…I think he deserves ample credit.

    Why not give him credit, Hemant? Really…did he not say it, publically? Did he not just officially state, as president, that our nation is not just a christian nation? Do you disagree with this? Is it bad that he said this? Is it a step forward? You bet. So…just because he did not show up on stage with an American Atheist t-shirt on…he still deserves credit for what he did say…as it was monumental compared to what the White House has been holding on to.

    …in my opinion.

  • Vincent

    We should give him credit for speaking the truth.
    America IS NOT a Christian nation.
    And this upsets many religious right. Sure, they claim it was founded as a Christian nation, but they just as readily will say it IS a Christian nation. The pres should point out that it’s not and should get kudos for doing so.

  • http://friendlyatheist@friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Why not give him credit, Hemant? Really…did he not say it, publically? Did he not just officially state, as president, that our nation is not just a christian nation? Do you disagree with this? Is it bad that he said this? Is it a step forward? You bet. So…just because he did not show up on stage with an American Atheist t-shirt on…he still deserves credit for what he did say…as it was monumental compared to what the White House has been holding on to.

    …in my opinion.

    I’m saying let’s not give him credit for stating the obvious — our nation is diverse and we’re not just a Christian nation. Bush would’ve said that, too.

    I don’t disagree with his statement. I just think some people are giving him credit for something he didn’t say.

    It’s not a step forward or backward.

    And the AA shirt line is uncalled for.

  • Dave Huntsman

    I’m more and more willing to give him some slack on this stuff. He’s making it ‘ok’ to say certain things that millions have wanted to say.

    There’s a joke in the Philippines about it’s history, ie centuries under the Spanish, then suddenly the U.S. “Three hundred years in a Spanish convent; then fifty years in Disneyland. What nation wouldn’t be screwed up?”

    He’s saying things that don’t go as far as we’d like – but to tens of millions of Americans is a shock, having been (and still are) propagandized as they are. And even on things that seem a clear step backward; ie, expanding faith-based office – he’s doing it in a way that’s broader and more inclusive than under Bush, and as has been noted, is already causing waves. Even his steps backward seem to have positive aspects to it.

  • Brooks

    I agree that it would be nice to have a president say that we were not founded as a christian nation…and if the opportunity arises and he wimps out, then I will be upset with him, depending on the circumstances. But, in this case…I think he deserves ample credit.

    But the opportunity has arised in the past and he wimped out. Well, he didn’t exactly “wimp out” but he tap danced around the issue. In this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvKX16Eygs0 he’s clearly discussing separation of church and state but notice that he never actually says America is a secular nation. At one point he starts to say that America is not a Christian nation but then he backtracks and says at least it’s not just for Christians, as if America is a Christian nation but everyone else is welcomed too, but he never explicitly says America was founded as a secular nation. He’s not actually saying America is not a Christian nation. It’s more like Obama is saying America is a religious pluralistic nation yet that’s still not what America was founded as.

  • Pseudonym

    At one point he starts to say that America is not a Christian nation but then he backtracks and says at least it’s not just for Christians, as if America is a Christian nation but everyone else is welcomed too, but he never explicitly says America was founded as a secular nation.

    That speech was delivered at a place called Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio which, according to their web site, is a local charity organisation run by the Presbyterian Church. In other words, it was a speech given to those working in and connected to a Christian “faith-based” charity.

    No, I don’t think it was a backtrack. I think he was just addressing his audience.

  • Chakolate

    When the conservatives use that phrase, they are referring to the founding of our country — i.e. “We were founded as a Christian nation, by Christians.”

    Sorry, but that’s just not so. I can’t tell you how many fundies/conservatives in online discussions have said to me that the US *is* a Christian nation, and have used that to say things like
    -everyone should be forced to go to church on Sunday

    -creationism should be taught in schools

    -it should be illegal to use either ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ in a sacrilegious manner
    -atheists should be denied citizenship (and throw in the Jews and Muslims, too)

    People *do* believe that this is a Christian country, claiming that they’re in the majority, so things should go their way.

    It’s amazing Jefferson’s grave hasn’t caught fire, with him spinning in it like that.

  • DeafAtheist

    I have to say that he still deserves a little credit after someone like Bush Sr says that atheists shouldn’t be considered to be patriots because this is a “Christian Nation”.

    The fact that we have a President that acknowledges us as American citizens is a nice step in the right direction even if it’s not a huge step.

  • Larry Huffman

    I am not sure why you think the aa t-shirt remark is uncalled for…lol. (it was not meant to be mean)

    I just disagree with you in that I do see it as a step forward. Yes, it may be stating the obvious…to us. It is not the obvious to everyone. In fact, the last 8 years, the White House has been behaving as if we ARE a christian nation…founded and currently in principle and action.

    So, I think it a huge step forward for our president to state this…not just in passing, but in a very important address to the entire world.

  • Larry Huffman

    In fact…

    If we want to talk about stating the obvious…the fact that we were not founded as a christian nation is far more obvious than what we are presently.

    One can read the constitution and the federalist and anti-federalist papers…and the writings of our founders…all very available stuff…and easily see that we were not founded as a christian nation.

    But…with Bush calling his attack on the middle east a crusade and his over-riding rhetoric that we ARE a christian nation…what we are now is far less obvious than our founding. Especially to the rest of the world.


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