Look Back: Obama Moves in the Right Direction In Favor of Secularism at Prayer Breakfast?

May 7, 2009

Is Obama the secularist’s best friend?

In his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast a few months ago, Obama spoke out in favor of a more robust civil secularism, and in many ways foreshadowed what became a major negative message he sent to the religious right during the National Day of Prayer. (See my previous post on this


.) But at the Prayer Breakfast he said some things that merit our renewed attention, because of the contrasting implications for church-state separation. On the plus side, he said of his new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:

The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another – or even religious groups over secular groups.

With Tony Blair, who is increasingly becoming more ardent in advancing his brand of


, in attendance, Obama emphasized how one can read into various world religions and derive the civil society virtues of collective responsibility and mutual respect and civic engagement. If a religionist becomes a better citizen and wants to credit his faith, I have no objection. (But there are better reasons to be a good citizen than you can find in any holy book.)

He also talked about his atheistic father and mother who was a religious skeptic:

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

All of this is good. But is it good enough?

Because the President has such a bully pulpit—has such a megaphone that make his pronouncements echo far and wide—the above quotes can ultimately only be seen as mere lip-service. (Yes, I would favor getting lip-service over what the humanist and atheist community has received in previous administrations). But when he ends his remarks talking about being called to be a servant of God and that everyone should work hand in hand so that “we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God,” how can this be anything but the explicit governmental advancement of religious belief?

Good, Obama, you gave another nod to those people who lack your religious faith but share your secular values. But not good enough: you end by calling on every citizen to serve a God that almost certainly doesn’t actually exist.

At times like this, I pray that your faith is a facade, something you fake just to placate the more credulous in our society. If only I could really believe that.

Here is the full text of his remarks at the

National Prayer Breakfast



#1 David R. Koepsell on Friday May 08, 2009 at 12:11am

Oh DJ, ye of so little faith… this seems bold and groundbreaking to me, especially when it garners headlines like these: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-prayer8-2009may08,0,571624.story

#2 Reba Boyd Wooden on Friday May 08, 2009 at 4:51am

I think that President Obama is in a very tough spot on all of this.  I am happy he is going as far as he is on many things concerning science,separation of state and church, and gay rights.  I am afraid that he is in danger of being called out for proclaiming faith that is not genuine while trying to play the middle road.  On one hand, I think he needs to be somewhat cautious lest he go too far and jeopardize his reelection in 2012 ( and “lord” knows we need him to stay in) on the other hand something tells me that he should go all the way with this while he has so much popular approvaland the election is this far away.  Those religious right people are never going to vote for him anyway so why try to appease them.  I think it will be the state of the economy that will determine the outcome of the 2012 election anyway—not social issues.  If the economy is on the upswing and people have jobs, he will win-otherwise he loses. The religious “nut jobs” are turning off a lot of more moderate people with their antics.  However, a man who I thought was more rational than that, told me that my problem was that I was listening to the wrong news sources and that the only news source telling the real truth was FOX. 
So—it may be worse out there than we realize when we are surrounded mostly by CFI people as I usually am .  Once one steps out of that universe into the other universe out there—and I do mean other universe—which I do now and then, it is really scary.

#3 D.J. Grothe (Guest) on Friday May 08, 2009 at 5:58am

Right, David: I blogged about that a couple days ago:

#4 D.J. Grothe on Friday May 08, 2009 at 6:06am

Right, David: I blogged along those lines a couple days ago. Of course, as much of a contrast as it was from previous administrations, he doesnt go far enough.


#5 Ophelia Benson on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 10:20am

“But not good enough: you end by calling on every citizen to serve a God that almost certainly doesn’t actually exist.”

And perhaps even more to the point, a God that there is no good reason to think exists. Even if this God does exist, it hasn’t provided us any good reasons to think it exists, so it’s a kind of mental prostitution to accept that it does exist, in the absence of such reasons, and it’s a very real form of bullying for government officials to tell us or urge us to accept that it does exist and to offer it prayers.

#6 OCmom (Guest) on Wednesday May 13, 2009 at 8:45am

I’m sick to my stomach to read some of the posts here.  obama is a man who attended a “church” for 20 years whose pastor is an American-hating wack job with ties to Islam.  We have a president who is a muslim deep down and who is working his way towards seeing the palestinians get a chunk of Israel.  All of you liberals who have faith in this man should have your heads examined.  It’s only a matter of time…obama will bring America to its knees.  It will no longer be the country the founding fathers had in mind.  liberals who voted for Obama are going to follow him blindly until their votes come back and bite them in the ass. Congratulations liberals…you have your man in office.

#7 medyum (Guest) on Thursday May 21, 2009 at 6:40am

Thanks you very mach.

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