I watched Obama's oath of office and inaugural address on the TV in the conference room with a dozen of my co-workers, who run the political gamut. There was a diverse collection of snorts (at Rick Warren's frankly odd and creepy intonation of the Obama girls' names, for instance), good-natured snickers (at Obama, who seemed nervous and unlike himself during the oath, and Chief Judge Roberts, who looked poleaxed and seemed to sprint off of the stage), and approving nods (at many of the performances, and at the the delivery — if not, universally, the content — of Obama's speech).
I wanted to call attention to one line:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.
I'm not a non-believer. I'm a Presbyterian — a deacon, in fact. But I was happy and proud to arrive at a time when the President of the United States would make such a clear statement of inclusion in such an important speech. I know, and respect, many atheists and agnostics — among them my father and close friends. I abhor any suggestion that they are less than full and equal participants in American society. That's a suggestion delivered by, for instance, polls suggesting that a majority of Americans say they would not vote for an atheist, and by a large component of modern political rhetoric. For better or worse, with or without scriptural basis, I feel that my relationship with God requires tolerance of the private beliefs of others. And I'm quite certain that in the long term the security of my freedom to worship as I will depends upon vigilant defense of other people's right not to worship. A civic culture that officially denigrates people for lack of faith is a civic culture that will, sooner or later, intrude into the private sphere of belief in other ways.
Arguably the message of inclusion was watered down by the omnipresent invocation of "civic religion" during the proceedings. But that's an argument for another day.
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