The Long Goodbye for an Atheist-Positive President

The Long Goodbye for an Atheist-Positive President February 18, 2016

President Obama's inauguration speech 2

I have long harbored a fantasy that President Barack Obama is not a Christian. No, I never believed the unfounded and revoltingly racist birther nonsense. They’re still waiting for him to lead that Islamic takeover of the US.

Any day now…

Not only isn’t President Obama a Muslim, neither was his father (not that there’s anything wrong with that, other than the whole religion thing). Barack Obama Sr. was raised a Muslim, but had become an atheist by the time of his marriage to Stanley Ann Dunham, Barack Jr ’s secular humanist mother, who has been labeled agnostic by Barack’s half-sister.

Yes, that’s right, my fantasy is that our president is a closet nonbeliever.

But just as Dan Linford argued in his post, Bernie Sanders, not yet an a/theist, we can only take President Obama at his words and deeds: He is, as he repeatedly says, a Christian.

Yet it’s undeniable that Barack Obama remains the only national political leader to regularly speak of nonbelievers in the same breath as people of faith. Indeed, his inaugural speech was the first to give a shout out to the faithless.


It was a far cry from the what the Bush family dynasty paterfamilias famously said on the campaign trail for the presidency in 1987 in response to questions from Robert I. Sherman, a reporter for American Atheist:

No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.


Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I’m just not very high on atheists.”

Well, I wasn’t that high on him, either, thank you very much. Though compared to his son, George W. Bush, he was practically Lincoln.

That was then; this is now. While Barack Obama looks like a Christian and acts like a Christian, he quacks like someone who was raised by a nonbeliever. His anthropologist mother instilled in him the values of humanism and taught him to respect all religious beliefs, including those of the godless.

That’s something we will lose when Barack Obama leaves office.

Unfortunately, soon after Dan Linford’s post came out in SecSpec, Bernie Sanders undermined the comments he made in his interview with the Washington Post, dashing atheist hopes that he was secretly one of us.

In a CNN town hall in preparation for the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Sanders said that faith, “is a guiding principle. Absolutely, it is.” He went on to say, “Everybody practices religion in a different way. I would not be here tonight; I would not be running for president, if I didn’t have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.”

As Lauren Nelson of the Friendly Atheist pointed out, his comments ignored the existence of the growing portion of the population with no religious beliefs at all. That means you and I aren’t in the equation.

It was probably an unintentional oversight, though one he’s made before.

Now, I believe I may have some insight into Sanders’ way of thinking, as a fellow cultural Jew. Actually, that’s not quite true, because I didn’t grow up with enough Jewish culture for that label. But I am a secular Jew, which is a step or two further from the religious heritage of our people. Cultural Judaism is what my mother grew up with before she raised me as a secular Jew.

Bernie Sander’s vague religious beliefs seem like a sundae of liberal, Deistic Judaism, with a humanistic cherry on top. Basically, we’re all in it together, so we have a responsibility to not turn our backs on our fellow human beings and their suffering. Though he may not be religious, his views about compassion are very Jewish.

Hillary Clinton is a Methodist who only rarely speaks of her sincere, but private faith.

Expect secular policies, but occasional rhetorical sops to religion from both candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates are clambering over each other to claim the official endorsement of Jesus.

So while Barack Obama is almost certainly a Christian, he’s one who respects and acknowledges the nonbelieving community.

Though the level of venom unleashed on Barack Obama is unfathomable to progressives, I challenge atheists who oppose him to find a candidate in either party more sympathetic to their religious views.

I for one will miss him.

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