President Obama Mentioned Secular Americans at the National Prayer Breakfast… but Did It Matter?

Earlier this morning, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. He made two separate references to Secular Americans, but they were no more than lip service to me:

President Obama speaks at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast

You can read my response at the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Art_Vandelay

    and yes, those of no faith that they can name, are nevertheless joined
    together in common purpose, believing in something that is bigger than

    Oh man, I hate that. This idea that even if you’re not religious, you HAVE to believe in something greater than yourself. Well, no I don’t Mr. President and believe it or not it’s real easy to do that while remaining humble because I don’t believe in anything less than myself either.

  • Ryan Jean

    [...] and yes, those of no faith that they can name, [...]

    I come away from lines like this feeling embittered. It’s not really a bone to non-believers, it’s a rejection of the truth that we are non-believers. Saying that I have no faith “that I can name” is no better than the countless fools who say that I “know God in my heart” but choose to reject that knowledge, when the reality is that I can’t reject something (in that sense) which I do not believe exists in the first place to face rejection. It is simply telling all atheists that as far as he’s concerned we’re really just deists and agnostics, not atheists, because no such thing exists in his mind…

  • Ryan Jean

    The part about “believing in something that is bigger than ourselves” doesn’t actually bother me as much as one would think. I do believe in things bigger than myself; I just don’t extend that “belief” to the supernatural. What’s really happening in this phrase is the muddying of the word “believe” so that the religious can claim whichever meaning is most advantageous for the moment.

  • NewDawn2006

    Nope. Doesn’t matter at all. It is a PRAYER breakfast. That about says it all.

  • Art_Vandelay

    It’s always bothered me because it’s never been said to me where it wasn’t meant to be condescending. “Surely, you MUST believe in something greater than yourself.” As if this is a necessary requirement of being a decent human being.

    I guess I just look at it in terms of 13.5 years of cosmic and biological evolution and the connectedness I have with the universe as well as every thing that’s ever lived on the planet. Of course I realize there are thing that are actually physically bigger than myself but I think he’s talking about things “greater” than yourself…whatever that means.

    Out of curiosity, what’s an example of something you mean when you say you believe in things bigger than yourself?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I agree with you Ryan. Though I don’t think I would call it, personally at least, a belief in things larger than myself. I know that compared to the universe I am microscopic and insignificant, but there are such wonders out there. I do not have to have belief or faith in them because there is evidence that they exist. I know that black holes, supernovas, and other magnificent macro-cosmic events occur.

    Belief and faith don’t need evidence and that is why I don’t accept them.

  • busterggi

    I stopped believing in god years ago and have rapidly begun the same procedure towards Obama.

  • Bob Becker

    Agree. I didn’t like the “no faith they can name” crack either. Just a version of the oft heard claim that even atheists really believe, they just won’t admit it. The President’s second reference was better.

  • Qu Quine

    I think we should get as many non-believers as possible to sign up to write letters, email, tweets, etc. against the idea of the National Prayer Breakfast, to be sent every year on this date. The politicians need to see that they are going to get flooded with protest over this, and that, that protest is just going to get bigger each year it goes on.

  • Bob Becker

    Well,H, think of it this way: it was more of a public recognition from a sitting President that non- believers are a part of the American people than we normally get. And however faint a recognition, that he did it at a prayer breakfast counts as some progress. Baby step, maybe, but a step ahead nonetheless.

    Anyone really expecting an elected official, or someone who hopes to be, to actively alienate believers to “reach out” to non-believers is out of touch with poliicak reality.

  • Alexandra

    Well said. It doesn’t bother me at all. I believe in, and value, a lot of things that are bigger than myself, that are both literal and metaphorical, but all things that exist inside the natural realm.

  • Art_Vandelay


  • Alexandra

    Sappy things, and boarding on New Age-y kind of things. Love, knowledge, justice, science, the power of human cooperation and goodness. Being a geologist, the earth and it’s power through plate tectonics and climate.

    It’s a magic of reality kind of thing. I believe in the natural world and humanity, and they are things that are much bigger than the individual.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Yeah, I guess it’s a semantics thing with me. I’m a huge fan of all of those things as well but I just can’t view any various things produced by nature as being anything but completely equal. So while I think plate tectonics is really cool, the idea of thinking “I believe that plate tectonics is bigger than me” is just awkward. That type of thinking doesn’t really resonate with me. It’s probably what the poster below says…I have a hard time separating the word “belief” from the supernatural only because I don’t think the natural requires it. Gun to my head though…I’m going with mantis shrimp.

  • Alexandra

    It really is just semantics, because it is still belief. It’s not necessarily faith, but it’s belief. I believe these things to be true, based on evidence, and I know that they are bigger than me. Thinking about them humbles me and makes me feel the same stuff that people call feeling God’s presence.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging that we all experience the same same wonder and awe whether we call it God or just recognize that we are small but connected to a large system. Indeed, I think it’s a good point to be made and I think it was valid of the President to mention it.

  • C Peterson

    I can name the “no faith” that I have. It’s called “no faith”.

    And to me, nothing is bigger or more important than me.

  • chicago dyke

    the ironic part is that i’m pretty sure he doesn’t really “believe.”

    he went to columbia and harvard, and taught at chicago. these aren’t heavily “religious” schools. they are filled with ethnic jews, people from other cultures and religions, and flat out atheists. students and faculty.

    but he pretends to be a christian. because, you know, they’re the “most important” demographic. and he “speaks their language” whatever crap that is.

  • chicago dyke

    that’s fair.

    but i’m telling you: these “prayer” events are horrible. just awful.

    i went to the african american prayer ceremony on the MI capitol hill once, as a journalist. omg just shoot me now.

    it was Horrifying. this woman (cause that’s “progressive!”) was up there, speaking in tongues and weaving and bobbing and the whole caucus was all like “amen! preach it!”

    my blood turned cold, and i was worried someone would find me out and kill me.

    it has to stop. they never have muslims, or wiccans, or atheists, leading this crap. i am tired of my taxdollars paying for all these annual, and rather lavish, “breakfasts.” on every capitol hill, state and federal, in the nation.

  • Bob Becker

    Never been to one. I can belive they’re pretty cringe-worthy events.
    Query: was the NPB the President appeared at a public (I..e. taxpayer-funded) event)? I didn’t think it was, but I don’t know.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Yeah, I hear what you’re saying and maybe I’m coming off as not being very deep but I just have a hard time applying any level of spirituality to the natural world. “Awe” is a good word but I’m just not sure that the development of plate tectonics, or knowledge, or supernovas are any less awesome than the development of homo sapiens. Or cuttlefish…or tomatoes…or the Grand Canyon.

  • roberthughmclean

    Why do those afflicted with “belief” insist that it is anyway something desirable? Belief is as about as empty and useless as it gets. It’s not an emotion or something of any significance it’s a time waster. Belief? Who needs it.

  • Just Say No

    Obama does not believe in anything greater than Himself.
    The man makes use of the Patriot Act, targets Americans, targets civilians, continues the wars, and cowtows to the corporate rulers of this country.
    He bypassess the Consitution when he can, and stives toward his goal of more control.
    Who does he think he is kidding?

  • Just Say No

    Obama does not think he is small.
    He comes as close to having a god complex as anyone.

  • Guest

    I think your first statement is true of most politicians.

  • christian

    Why does it bother you that the President is a christian and voices it. You are voicing your religion. Yes, atheism IS a religion just like any other set of beliefs and values.

  • SeekerLancer

    Damned if he does mention us, damned if he doesn’t. I think his wording was poor but beyond that I’d rather have some “lip service” than nothing at all.

  • John of Indiana

    Anybody else besides me get tired of telling these clowns how we’re a religion in the same way “bald” is a hair colour?
    Go away, simpleton, and tell Pastor I say you get no cookie.
    Hemant is the “friendly” Atheist, not me.

  • John of Indiana

    No, it doesn’t matter. He mentioned us at his first inaugural, then introduced Rick Warren to give the magic spell. Right then I knew it was going to be SSDD.