Even in Satire, Joshua DuBois Misses the Point

On last week’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” guest Richard Dawkins made a few headlines when he said that he’s “sure Obama is an atheist.”

Even though he didn’t elaborate on that, we know what he’s implying: President Obama, intelligent man that he is, says he’s Christian only because it’d be political suicide for him to say otherwise.

For what it’s worth, I think Dawkins went too far. He’s supposed to be the evidence-based thinker and there’s just no proof for what he’s saying. Only his own biases. It’s all wishful thinking — the exact thing Dawkins tries to fight again.

Creationist Ken Ham used Dawkins’ words as an opportunity to berate Obama:

If such an avid atheist believes a professing Christian is actually an atheist in disguise, perhaps President Obama needs to examine the fruits of his self-proclaimed faith. I urge you to pray for President Obama and his family.

And Joshua DuBois, the President’s former head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, sarcastically wrote an article about how Dawkins must secretly be a Christian:

I can’t prove it. I have no solid evidence to support it. But just like Dawkins said about the proof for evolution itself: “it is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene … the detective hasn’t actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue …”

I see massive clues that Dawkins, deep down, just might be a believer. And every time I think about it, I can’t help but smile.

Hilarious. (Even funnier is how none of the commenters seem to understand it’s satire.)

But the piece, even as a joke, makes no sense. Even if DuBois has insider knowledge that Obama is a Christian, he of all people — a faith expert — should understand how Obama has no choice but to speak in the language of Christianity in all that he does. If he doesn’t say “God bless America” at the end of a speech, it’s another reason to rip him apart. If he doesn’t suggest praying after a national tragedy, people will say he’s insensitive and indifferent to what the American public wants. As a former community organizer, isn’t it possible that Obama might believe more in the power of religion to transform people and get ideas through to people who might otherwise go after him than he does in a personal God himself?

Meanwhile, Dawkins has nothing to gain by pretending to be an atheist.

If President Obama came out as an atheist, his future in politics would likely be over. Forget ObamaCare; the Religious Right would used his atheism as the main reason not to trust him. Or vote for any Democrat in upcoming elections.

If Richard Dawkins came out as a Christian, he’d become a rich(er) man, write and sell even more books in the future, and become a staple in sermons for decades.

Hell, if damn near any prominent atheists came out as Christians, their social standing would improve.

If Obama said he didn’t believe in God, his approval ratings would only go down.

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.

  • Rationalist1

    If President Obama came out as an atheist, it would be terrible. People would accuse atheists of lying, manipulating the truth and this would confirm their belief that we can’t be trusted. The religious right would use it as an excuse to warn people not to vote for atheists as they would believe one thing and say another.

    If President Obama is an atheist I hope he keeps it to himself. t would be better to have a politician who is open about his or her disbelief or at least not claiming to be a believer. He or she might not be electable now but times are changing.

    • Mario Strada

      Well, what if he loses his “faith” then? Can he be accused of the same lying and cheating? I would think not.

      • Rationalist1

        If he were to lose faith, especially after he left office, it would probably be better, but then the cry would go up that he was never a real Christian. (That’s one even I get when I tell people I was once a believer nut now am an atheist. They smugly say then you were never a real believer. How I hate that.)

        In my opinion, it’s better for the atheist movement that if he is an atheist or becomes an atheists he keeps it to himself. Bob Kerry, the former senator and governor from Nebraska was able to announce after his retirement that he was an agnostic, but President is too polarizing a figure for some to do that.

  • Erp

    Dawkins coming out as a Christian would diminish his standing among his scientific peers especially in Britain.

    • Lagerbaer

      Yes. But he would just buy new peers with all his moneyz.

  • lovesalot

    Later in the interview Dawkins says he was “kind of joking” about Obama being an atheist:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qO0bXCiVg2A

    • Mackinz

      Curse you! Once I watch one Bill Maher video, I’m led down the rabbit hole and struggle to break free!

  • velveteenRabbit

    I used to think that he was an atheist, but his behavior … increasing faith based initiatives, etc. has lead me to believe otherwise.

  • Gideon

    Ham’s example is informative: the Religious Right already doesn’t accept Obama’s faith as genuine Christianity. Consider their litmus tests. They didn’t accept his “above my pay grade” response to the theology of abortion. Nor do they accept his “evolution” on gay marriage. And of course there’s the Jeremiah Wright connection.

    My guess is that even for those who care about Obama’s level of religiosity, atheism wouldn’t be enough at this point to cause them to switch political parties. It’s not as if either party would suddenly stop offering outwardly religious candidates (no matter how “genuine” they turn out to be), in most of the country at least.

    • islandbrewer

      And of course there’s the Jeremiah Wright connection.

      In other words, he’s a triple threat: Atheist, Muslim, AND the wrong kind of Christian.

      • Artor

        Don’t forget commiefascistantichrist.

      • Mario Strada

        And a socialist/communist Nazi.

  • Rain

    I urge you to pray for President Obama and his family.

    Thanks for your “urge”. Duly and promptly filed in the round file thingy. We’ll get back to you on that. Have my secretary call your secretary’s secretary.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

    i find these media discussions quite fascinating and relevant. it’s the media bubble, trying to burst out with the atheism that exists there, and Bill is leading the way.

    i think Bill is kinda an asshole, but when it comes to atheism, he and a few entertainers are my heroes. atheist is the new gay, and this is where, (sadly) the battle is fought- the court of public opinion and popularity.

    the truth is, and anyone who has spend any time in the media or politics knows this, most of them are atheists. you know what you don’t see in DC every sunday morning? hoards of true believes getting up at 8am to praise jeebus. i take that back; the working class there can be very faith oriented. but the power and money? give me a break… those people go to church when there is a camera in front of them, and hardly ever else.

    try bringing up your True Faith at most DC parties. heh. you’ll be standing alone in a corner real soon, unless it’s one of those whackjob closet case lizard people loon gigs that some quarters of the republican party are hosting. and who the fuck wants to go to those except luggage lifters and gold diggers?

    the first rule of the game is that you don’t ever show, in front of the camera, your contempt and disregard for the theater that you use to control the masses. religion is one of those things. but hopefully, that’s changing.

  • Lina Baker

    If we’re outraged that Oprah just *cannot* believe Diana Nyad is an Atheist despite her assertions otherwise, we need to be just as outraged by Richard Dawkins asserting that President Obama is an Atheist, despite his assertions otherwise. I’m getting really tired of Dawkins making these cringe-worthy statements.

    • Ton_Chrysoprase

      But the two are not at all similar. The Oprah thing wasn’t about Diana Nyad being a closet Christian but about redefining a lack of believe in the presence of an ability to be amazed at life as belief. That’s both insulting to atheists as well as well as a simple misuse of a term. The Dawkins thing seems to be a clumsy jab at a hypothetical large number of pols who profess (an often childish) faith that clearly sits odd with the way they otherwise approach life.

      But granted, Darwkins doesn’t translate well from the European original where much of the subtext would be taken for granted.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I don’t think he’s an atheist. I haven’t heard anything or seen anything that would lead me to believe that he’s anything other than a modern liberal Christian who likes the idea of belief and doesn’t think about the rest of it all that hard or all that often. That probably doesn’t fit the religious right’s narrow definition of “Christian” but if folks like that are all atheists, then the numbers in the polls are way off by a huge factor.

  • Janet Holmes

    There is some evidence to support Obama being an atheist. His mother was an atheist and that’s how he was raised, he is also highly educated. These two together would make the probability of his being an atheist quite high. That he spent time in an Islamic country as a child, and now lives in a Christian one has given him a broader view of the world, which I suspect is more likely to make him doubt religion as well. But only he really knows what he believes.

  • JET

    The latest polls say that some 20% of the population are “nones” and some 6% of the population are atheists. (I may not have the numbers exactly right, but I don’t feel like looking them up.) The polls also indicate that the higher your level of education and the lower your age, the higher your probability is of fitting into one of these categories. Given that politicians are (arguably) normal members of the population, their age is known, and that they tend to have higher educations under their belt, there are probably many politicians who are “nones” or atheists. Unfortunately, it would be political suicide to admit it in public.
    I wish that Dawkins had said something like this, but with more accurate numbers and perhaps some “mathy” stuff – like there is an X probability of President Obama actually being an atheist. C’mon, Hemant, run the numbers for us. I don’t even own a TI calculator, let alone know how to use one.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I have to disagree with Dawkins on this. Obama is not an atheist. There really is no reason to think that Obama is an atheist. None of his actions public or private suggest that he is anything except a Christian. He isn’t a secret Muslim and he isn’t a secret atheist either. It is silly to suggest that he is.

  • dsmith

    The latest revelation concerning Obama’s boast…. “I’m good at killing!” only goes to prove Obama is a Christian in the same vein of born again mass murderer GW Bush.

  • Gus

    I think the problem with the satire is with comparing it to the evidence for evolution. It makes it sound like he’s supporting creationism, and there’s nothing about it being satire that prevents it being satire in support of creationism. A better focused satire would probably be more effective.

    Of course, we should recognize that foreign as it is to us, there are very smart people who otherwise think rationally who really do believe in God. Most of them aren’t the fervent fundamentalist sort of Christians, but you can be smart and generally rational and still be religious. It usually means you just aren’t all that interested in thinking deeply on the subject. You’ve arrived at an apologetic that allows you to evade cognitive dissonance, and you feel no need to go any further.

    Frankly, I think it more likely that the highest level Catholic theologians, including the Pope (maybe not this one, but probably the last two) are atheists than that Obama is. They are not only intelligent but highly educated with a strong focus on religion. They think about it all the time. Even at that I’m sure some still believe, but it’s hard to believe that there isn’t a significant number of those people who are atheists.

  • Gerry Mooney

    I haven’t watched this segment, though I do like Bill Maher lots. However, I’ve never quite understood Dawkins’ reputation and following. I’ve heard him speak and debate several times and I don’t think I’ve yet heard him make a cogent argument about anything, so I’m not in a hurry to hear his opinions in this matter.

  • Infidel Poetry

    Dawkins wouldn’t become more popular if he admitted he were Christian.

    Don’t you know how horribly Christians are persecuted and marginalized in our society!

    (Just to be crystal clear, I’m not being serious.)


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