Yesterday, my senator Barack Obama made a speech about how Democrats need to embrace faith. The speech is here.
Already, I’ve received a couple emails from Atheist organizations opposing the comments he made. For them, any expression of faith in the public square is anathema to their own agenda.
What did Obama say? Definitely not that we should merge church and state. Instead, he said:
“Liberals dismiss religion… thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”
“If we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.”
“Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.””Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize the overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country.”
For anyone who thinks he was soft on fundamentalists, he added:
“[Conservative leaders of the Religious Right] need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.”
“Given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. 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.” (Boldface is mine)
“And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?”
“If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.”
To clarify, Obama is not suggesting that religion be the sole guide in public policy decisions. The government should primarily use reason and evidence, with religion giving their decisions a context.
Now, what is wrong with any of that? Why have Obama’s comments caused any uproar at all in the secular community? We should be proud of him.
I returned from Iceland where I presented at an international Atheist conference. While the whole experience was great, two things from the conference itself stood out to me.
First, after I spoke about the eBay auction and being a “Friendly Atheist,” a man came up to me and told me he had been an Angry Atheist for a long time–it hadn’t gotten him anywhere, but he enjoyed the demeanor. After hearing what I said, though, he was going to make an effort to be more friendly when talking to his religious friends and family. What a beautiful comment to hear.
On a different note, I also learned that while the overwhelming majority of Icelanders (about 90%) were Lutheran, it didn’t play as major a role in politics as it does in America. It seemed to be a cultural issue more than theological.
The whole concept of “secular Europe” is still a shocking one to me… One of the Icelandic speakers presented a comparison between the natives’ views on religion versus Americans’ views. The discrepancy was embarrassing. While over 40% of Americans believed in a 10,000 year old world and nearly 70% believed in the devil and Hell, the numbers for Icelanders was near 0% for the young-earth idea and less than 10% for the devil and Hell. It was a distinction about letting religion guide your life while still using evidence and common sense when it came to scientific issues. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to separate the two in America.
Karen from Parkview Christian Church addressed the “Creationism for My Child’s Teacher” controversy:
Just wanted to weigh in and let you all know that Pastor Tim has been out of town and just hasn’t had a minute to address some of the questions posted here about his paper “Creationism for My Child’s Teacher” beyond his earlier post. We did do some tweaking, however, to address concerns about the use of the NG cover. We still like the cover…it asks the question that we want to ask ~ “Was Darwin Wrong?” But we added a caption making it clear that NG’s answer to the question was “No.” We also removed reference to the NG cover in Tim’s “Dear Teacher” letter on page 3. We felt there were legimate objections to our previous use of the cover and we wanted to rectify that. See Creationism For My Child’s Teacher.
That’s a wonderful start! Good for Karen, Tim, and the Parkview staff for correcting that mistake. There are still many other errors in the document, however, that were brought up in earlier discussions. I’m curious if they plan to correct anything else or if they’re hoping that this alteration appeases us enough.
This weekend, I’m off to Alabama for an Atheist retreat at Lake Hypatia (or as they like to call it, the “Lake Hypatia Advance”… nice). I’ll be back next week!