At Inaugural, Obama includes nonbelievers,  pledges to restore science

January 20, 2009

Even if President Obama inspired millions of Americans today by talking about the “God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness,” he also — for the first time in history — explicitly acknowledged during his Inaugural Speech that this is not a nation consisting entirely of those who believe in God.

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 was also impressed that he used this platform, with the whole wide world watching, to pledge that “we will restore science to its rightful place,” a pointed dig at the last eight years of politics-driven science under George W. Bush.

His Inaugural Speech was one about values — American values — and I would argue, largely secular humanist values: his call for taking collective responsibility for the mess we’re in as a nation and a world community, his realistic and somber assessment of just how bad it is and that some of the blame falls on belief in “outmoded dogmas,” his reliance on human effort and human ideals and not on supernatural solutions to our problems, his appeal to the Muslim world to reject the religiously-motivated violence that is excused by blaming the West for the socio-economic problems in Islamic societies — all of this and more makes me feel that for the first time, we have something of a secular humanist president.

He admits that secular humanism was his upbringing. In

Dreams from My Father

, he describes his mother as the biggest influence on his life, shaping his character and his critical thinking, and admits that she was a religious skeptic, “a lonely witness for secular humanism.” His mother was concerned with social justice and doing good in this world not because God says to, but because it is right.

By mentioning in his Inaugural Speech that this is a nation that includes nonbelievers, and by calling to restore science to its rightful place, I can only imagine that if his mother could look down from the heaven she didn’t believe in, she would be proud to see the influence of her secular humanism on the 44th President of the United States of America.

Comments:

#1 Norm R. Allen Jr. on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 11:53am

These are excellent observations D.J. The fact that Obama invited a Gay clergyperson and a Gay men’s choir to his festivities must also be ackowledged and appreciated. Things are looking up!

#2 Ben Radford on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 12:04pm

Yes, good comments by DJ and Tom both. It was a wonderful, inspiring moment and I credit Obama for doing that. I’ll bet Rick Warren wasn’t so pleased—I could almost hear his mental reservations as he spoke about respect for all (“Except those damn homos and atheists!”).

#3 diogenes99 on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 12:36pm

I remember Bush Sr.‘s remark about atheists.  I am happy we have president who includes atheists among “We the people.”

#4 Richard Eno on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 12:50pm

I was really moved by Obama’s speech and I’m filled with hope for the future of America and also for Humanists worldwide. 

Well put DJ, as usual. 

We’re all celebrating here in England, too.

#5 Troy (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 4:58pm

I did not vote for Obama, nor for McCain for that matter.  Obama, however, is an incredible orator and an inspirational figure despite our differences.  However, I am greatly appreciative of his ‘non-believers’ inclusion.  Prior to now, all politicians voiced the viewpoint that it didn’t matter what you believed as long as you had some sort of faith that there is a ‘god.’  Thank you, President Obama, for realizing that there are many of us that do not believe with blind faith, and for understanding that we, too, are patriotic Americans.

#6 Brian Engler (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 6:34pm

This acknowledgment definitely was a high point of the entire day! Later on, Lucy Baines Johnson was on TV chatting with Katie Couric on ABC (as I recall—I was channel surfing) about her father’s legacy of civil rights legislation, and she specifically mentioned the inclusion of nonbelievers embodied in President Obama’s speech as part of that legacy.
A new day dawns . . .

#7 Arkaro on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 7:16pm

Beautiful atheistic concession there at the end with the image of his secular humanist mother looking down from heaven.. the power of inclusiveness is definitely at the core of Obama’s power of hope.

#8 bcfunk on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 7:46pm

Freethinkers that reject god, yet care about the words of the State. Good grief, people, wake up.  President Obama et al could care less about secular humanists, science, etc.  It’s all about one thing, the consolidation of power and the exploitation of the populace via confiscatory taxes. Give me liberty, and no State, thank you very much.  Why we put some much hope in a man who is part and parcel of a corrupt and evil system is beyond me. 

“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

#9 Barry Seidman (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 9:35pm

Yes… very nice indeed. But of course, science and non-belief is only where humanism BEGINS, not where it ends! Let’s see how much of a humanist Obama will be in the long run. This will not only mean will his ends be humanistic - I think they just might be - but that his means (to the best he can in a non-humanistic society such as ours) equals those ends.

#10 Barry Seidman (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 9:42pm

PS: BCFunk is right, and as a libertarian-socialist, I am gonna watch Obama closely. But in these times, when a stateless, non-capitalist society (the only true humanistic means to humanistic ends in my opinion) are still long-term goals, we will certainly be better served by a rational, liberal president (particularly one who has inspired all Americans and not just white America) than what we’ve had at least Carter… if not Kennedy.

#11 Paul Fidalgo (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 10:10pm

Did you notice that Roberts asked the “so help me/you God” portion in the form of a question? I wonder how common that is—I think it may have been an acknowledgment of its “unofficialness” and the inherent conflict. Maybe! More here:

#12 TeevieAlan (Guest) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 at 6:17am

George W. Bush also made token references to non-believers.  While I agree Obama’s attitude is probably more tolerant, you clearly ignore the Biblical references dropped into the speech as well that far outnumbered this single word choice.

#13 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 at 8:00am

“Why we put some much hope in a man who is part and parcel of a corrupt and evil system is beyond me. “

Good question.  The system tends toward corruption and evil because those who operate within it tend to be corrupted (power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely) and the result of a corrupt system tends toward evil.  Do those in power understand that they are corrupt?  No.  Do they understand that they would not have been let into the realm of power unless they aligned themselves ideologically and politically with the corrupt already in power? No.  People like George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, the Clintons….. and of course Barrack Obama think they are the good guys because they believe the things they are supposed to believe and they say the things they are supposed to say.  I remember people like these from my school days.  They were the bright smart teacher pleasers.  They got elected to student councils and were chosen for teacher student committees to improve the school.  They went to city hall and pretended to be mayor for a day.  They were chosen to interview the presidential candidate for the school paper when he visited.  They were mainstream.  The most popular people because they never made rogue waves and only rocked the boat in approved ways.  If they didn’t they never would have been “let into” the running for power.  So the hope is (vainly I think) that a truly uncorrupted individual has somehow slipped passed the sensors of the corrupted system operators and will, through charismatic leadership, short circuit the corruption of the system and bring about peaceful productive needed change.  Sometimes it sort of works, Like F.D.R. and the new deal and Lincoln and the end of slavery but getting it to work always seems to take violent social upheaval and many deaths, (FDR- a serious hypothesis is that the depression ended and capitalism was saved only because of World War II —Lincoln- a serious hypothesis is that only the Civil War could have ended slavery in the U.S.) before true change is possible and in the end the seeds of unintended consequences and future problems are sown.  So all you atheists and secularists inspired by rhetoric to see a ray of hope should remember that it is not enough for Obama to talk the talk.  Obama, and all the power brokers in politics and on Wall Street, must also walk the walk.  I say let us not get lost in the euphoria of the moment because while the U.S. has a new president it still has its same old problems.  As far as I can see the walk is long and still very much uphill.  For all his “inclusive” rhetoric Obama still chose to very publicly go to church before his inauguration ceremony, he still chose to have a religious invocation delivered by an anti gay minister, he still chose to have his oath administered with his had on a bible and he requested that the words “so help me god be added to the oath even though not required by the constitution (supposedly in response to a First Amendment court challenge).  Seems like a lot of talking the talk but not much walking the walk in this inauguration.

#14 bcfunk on Wednesday January 21, 2009 at 4:14pm

For the record, Lincoln (aka the original Bush) did NOT free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was a pathetic political move to free the slaves of the Confederacy in the hopes that they might revolt and therefore give Lincoln victory in his illegal war (yes, folks, the South had every right to secede from the Union).  It was the 13th amendment that constitutionally freed the slaves.  And don’t even get me started on FDR.  He proved the fact that State intrusion into the economy only makes things worse.  We have to remember our economy is a mixed economy that is more mercantilism (corporate welfare, cronyism) in nature than capitalistic (free markets).  Anyway, good post r strle.  Just wanted to clarify some myths out there.

#15 diogenes99 on Wednesday January 21, 2009 at 7:59pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/opinion/22kristof.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

NYTimes: “President Obama’s inclusiveness started with his celebration of America as a patchwork of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.” If you know of any other sitting president who has dared to embrace atheists (Thomas Jefferson did, but not while in office), post the information on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground).”

#16 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 9:34am

“For the record, Lincoln (aka the original Bush) did NOT free the slaves.”

For the record bcfunk I did not say, or even imply, that Lincoln freed the slaves.  What I actually wrote was:

“Sometimes it sort of works… Lincoln and the end of slavery… a serious hypothesis is that only the Civil War could have ended slavery in the U.S.).... before true change is possible”

That the Civil War was started and fought to preserve the Union and NOT to end slavery in the U.S. I think is historically unarguable.  That the Civil War was illegal I think is arguable.  That said I have never heard anyone, historian or otherwise, argue with the fact that one of the significant results of the Civil War was an end to legalized slavery in the U.S..  I also think that a careful analysis of the written historical record clearly indicates slavery to be an issue and an institution ducked by the framers of the Constitution with the resultant negative consequence of a Civil War that almost destroyed a single “United States” of America.  The fact that “the South had every right to secede from the Union” is irrelevant to my point (that to make real (and I think needed) change and end slavery in the U.S. it “always seems to take violent social upheaval and many deaths.”

As for FDR

“He proved the fact that State intrusion into the economy only makes things worse.”

For the record again I will point out what I actually said:

“Sometimes it “sort of” works, Like F.D.R. and the new deal”….” a serious hypothesis is that the depression ended and capitalism was saved only because of World War II”….” and in the end the seeds of unintended consequences and future problems are sown”.


The New Deal debate that has raged on for 70+ years and still rages on today with good logical supportable arguments on both sides and no clear sustainable conclusion as to the truth.  It’s the old woulda, coulda, shoulda problem of how to assess what would have happened as a result of the interplay of solutions and circumstances played out over time.  I for one think FDR made good choices given the problems and information available to him at the time.  I also think that without New Deal social safety nets (one example: Social Security) middle class worker prosperity and share in the U.S. economy would have been much reduced over the last 70+ years, much to our detriment and our strength as an international global super power.  You may not agree.  Today Mr. Obama and Congress face similar problems faced by FDR and Congress in 1932.  Whatever decisions are made and however they end up playing out in changing circumstances I am sure that 70+ years from now the woulda, coulda, shoulda, debate will rage on.  It seems the choices are endless debate or doing something.  Like FDR before him I hope BHO chooses doing something guardedly confident that what appears to me to be a very intelligent well educated man advised by the best economic minds the U.S. has available will choose to promote and do things that will have limited negative or even positive unintended consequences.  In the mean time you, I and our children and grand children, (unlike BHO and congress) have the luxury to carry on the endless woulda, coulda, shoulda, debate.

#17 bcfunk on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 12:46pm

r strle,

Appreciate your response.  I by no means meant to incorrectly characterize your points.  For that I apologize.  I responded more to the myths that are perputated to the public about Lincoln and FDR.  They are held up as heroes for the American people, a position I cannot stomach.  The sad truth, im my opinion, is that the State (of which all politicians are a part of and support vehemently) is the problem.  Political power does not lend itself to making the right decisions. It’s always about political expediency and doing whatever it takes to remain in power and control.  I have no doubt, as you pointed out, that many politicians feel they are doing the right thing (I myself try to think that people have good intentions for the most part).  However, history continues to support the old adage, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  My only point in posting is to remind people not to place all their trust in the State, just as they don’t place their faith in some deity.  The perpurtation of the State (here and abroad) is an evil that plagues humanity.  Yes, I’m a anarchist/pananarchist who simply wants off this crazy ride.  I’m frustrated because nobody wants to talk about the systemic problems.  We get excited over the periphial issues as though that means a whole hill of beans in the long run.  Sorry for being jaded, but I am.

PS - I have no doubt Obama believes he has the best minds working on matters related to the economy.  Sadly, though, they all continue to advocate mercantilism and keynsian and his destructive economic policies (think about it, spend more to save the economy…debt = prosperity…hmmm…).  In the end, however, time will catch up with our country.  The right and left (State) will hopefully come crumbling down with the current economic mess.  Hopefully we have enough sense to rebuild wisely and responsibly thereafter…

Again, no ill feelings….

#18 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 5:29pm

Bcfunk,

First let me say that I try very hard to never take anyone’s point of view personal.  I also try very hard to keep track of my emotional responses so that they do not interfere with my understanding of or my response in rational discussion.  I therefore hold no ill feelings toward you for anything you wrote and I hope you hold none towards me.

I also must apologize to you and others on this blog for sort of straying off the subject.  It, along with my tendency toward wordiness, is something I have struggled with all my life,  I set out in my first response to your comment, #8, to say basically that I agreed with you (If you reread my post#13) and I think for the most part I still do.  It seems almost tragic that here we have humanists so longingly wishing for inclusion that they will take heart at even a nuanced recoginition of the legitimacy of their status as U.S. Citizens from a politician who, I think with the best intentions, is only saying what he thinks is the right thing to say to accomplish his personal political goals.  As my old mother would say “they’re just empty words” or as you have said “President Obama et al could care less about secular humanists, science, etc.”

So in the theme starting the thread of this blog you and I very much agree I think.  But as is my tendency to stray and because I feel that certain of your conclusions do not follow logically from the facts I just could not resist pursuing them because, for me, only fidelity to the facts and truth will lead to realistic appraisal, understanding and good decisions.  I think history shows that ideology (belief) of any kind is bad and always gets in the way.
With the above in mind and with no ill will and with apology to others on this blog I would like to make the following observations.

“Lincoln and FDR.  They are held up as heroes for the American people, a position I cannot stomach.”

They are also often held up as goats.  I say the truth is somewhere in between but have had very little success getting right or left wing ideolog’s (most everyone I find argument with) to agree.

“Political power does not lend itself to making the right decisions. It’s always about political expediency and doing whatever it takes to remain in power and control.”

Sad but true!

“My only point in posting is to remind people not to place all their trust in the State, just as they don’t place their faith in some deity.”

Good advice!  Faith in anything is totally unnecessary and history shows it inevitably leads to social disaster.

“I’m frustrated because nobody wants to talk about the systemic problems.  We get excited over the periphial issues as though that means a whole hill of beans in the long run.”

You are singing my tune!

“The perpurtation of the State (here and abroad) is an evil that plagues humanity. “

The science of Biology with its grounding in evolution has revealed clear evidence that humans are social animals and history shows that the “State” in its current and varied forms is the result of human social interaction.  Throwing away the “State” and substituting a sort of anarchistic laissez faire individualism, which seems to work for bears, just will not work for humans. 

“I’m a anarchist/pananarchist who simply wants off this crazy ride.

Given the history of the human race and the environment (both social and physical) we humans have to deal with today what would you or could you substitute for “this crazy ride?”  It seems to me that like it or not Biology and Anthropology show that humans have evolved as riders of “crazy rides” (social animals) today commonly known as the “State” and which ride (State) you ride is basically an accident of birth.  It also seems to me that as crazy as it is the U.S. ride is one of the better rides in the park.


“I have no doubt Obama believes he has the best minds working on matters related to the economy.  Sadly, though, they all continue to advocate mercantilism and keynsian and his destructive economic policies (think about it, spend more to save the economy…debt = prosperity…hmmm…).”

One would think that in the interaction of talent, education and competition those individuals that have some measure of economic, social and political success would be the “best minds” to work on matters of the economy.  It has been my experience that this just isn’t the way it usually works so I like you have my doubts about some of the proposed solutions to the current economic crisis.  If the right and left (State) comes crumbling down (hopefully?) with the current economic mess then I fear, as I have said in a previous post, “getting it to work will take violent social upheaval and many deaths.”  This is not something I see as a benefit to me or the country so I will support doing something rather than nothing and hope that BHO, who seems to be a very intelligent, thoughtful and well educated politician, will pick the best minds available to form a plan that at least avoids the worst case scenario for the economy and the country.  Basically the choice was McCain or Obama.  I never vote (I won’t go into my reasons) but I supported Obama because it was obvious to me that he was by far the the best of those there was to choose from.
If you read the writings of the founders of the U.S. it becomes obvious that it was their view that a government by the people and for the people would only work with an informed citizenry lead and represented by honest critical thinkers.  I think the problems we have today are the result of having very watered down versions of informed citizens and honest critical thinking leaders and representatives.  Today’s U.S. citizens tend to be ill informed, ignorant believers and our leaders tend to be self-deceived idealog’s who mistakenly think that leadership requires believing the things they are supposed to believe and saying the things they are supposed to say.  So it is no mystery to me that we enjoy(?) an inefficient oftentimes counterproductive government while we lurch from crisis to crisis.

#19 Barry (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 11:11pm

Hey all… you are all right that the debate between Liberal (New Deal) economics and conservative (unregulated economics) has gone on for a long time… and sadly very few presidents actually practiced what they preached.  FDR himself never fully went the social democracy route as did many in Europe and Scandinavia, Clinton was a neo-liberal and more like a conservative than Liberal, Reagan and both Bush’s were big government neoliberals as well, only directed most of the monies to the richest 1% (where the Clintons gave some to the Middle Classes).  I do hope of all these options, Obama is most like FDR, but again I have to agree with bcfunk that the State is part of the problem (whether it is State Socialism, Communism or Representative “Democracy”) but we will never rid ourselves of the State and move toward an inclusive democracy until we rid ourselves of market capitalism.

#20 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 23, 2009 at 7:13am

Barry,

All, I think, accurate observations and excellent points but what would be your alternative to market capitalism?

#21 Barry (Guest) on Friday January 23, 2009 at 3:28pm

r strle:  You’ve asked the big question, of course.  I think that the critique of capitalism has been very well documented and accurate since Marx wrote, but neither Marx nor many others have been able to predict the future. It’s hard to set forth a detailed plan (most of the time) because no one knows how any such plan would proceed once it gets past the initial stages. So while folks have indeed - in a general manner and a more detailed manner - argued for various alternatives to capitalism (Robin Hahnel’s and Norm Chomsky’s Libertarian-Socialism, Joel Kovel’s Eco-Socialism, Murray Bookchin’s brand of socialism, Michael Albert’s Participatory Economics and Takis Fotopoulos’s Inclusive Democracy are just some) what real humanists and leftists need to do is to decide what humans NEED to have happen, and then work together to make that happen ON THEIR OWN.  One thing all of these persons agree on is that this can’t be done in the old communist Vanguard Party way, nor thru our “democratic” representatives (even Obama) because what we are trying to avoid is a concentration of power in the hands of the one, the few or the rich.  What will happen, if it is to succeed and last, will have to happen from the people themselves.

#22 JamesB (Guest) on Sunday January 25, 2009 at 2:25pm

Nica Lalli who I think is connected with CFI wrote about this in Newsweek, and makes some similar points. What she says is great!

#23 r strle (Guest) on Sunday January 25, 2009 at 3:43pm

JamesB.

Thank you for the link.  Nica Lalli did a great job.  It will be people like her, eloquently speaking out, that will finally break the lock the religious seem to have on our leaders and representatives.  “If” the 14% poll number is reasonably accurate there should be about 14 non-believer Senators and about 61 non-believers in the House of Representatives but the only one of these 75 or so members of congress who has come out of the closet so far is Keith Ellison.  And maybe just maybe BHO is a closet non-believer who as Ms. Lalli says “has to be religious…in a country where a large majority of the population is Christian.”

Anyway as you say “What she says is great!”  I do have just one small quibble when she said,

“he seemed to look right at me, in my living room hundreds of miles and thousands of feet of television cable away.”

This may be more wishful than real because when BHO said the words “non-believers” (very astutely diplomatic and political of him not to say atheists don’t you think?) I recall he kind of paused and in a sort of hesitant far off way looked sort of up and to his left.  But maybe my memory is faulty or if not maybe Ms. Lalli’s living room was up and off to BHO’s left.  Still it is just a quibble the important thing is that he did include non-believers.

#24 r strle (Guest) on Monday January 26, 2009 at 9:49am

JamesB,

I need to make a correction to my post #23.
The only member of Congress to openly admit he is a nonbeliever is Representative Pete Stark from California.

In my post #23 above I INCORRECTLY cited, Keith Ellison, as the only member of Congress to publicly state that he is a nonbeliever.  Keith Ellison is NOT a nonbeliever.  Keith Ellison is a Muslim who was sworn into office with his hand on the Koran.  I apologize for this error and offer, not as an excuse but an explanation, the fact that I have been in a protracted debate with someone on another CFI blog who is convinced BHO is a Muslim. As I moved back and forth responding to emails and postings I confused the two names and now I am embarrassed by my failure to check adequately for accuracy before posting.

#25 JamesB (Guest) on Monday January 26, 2009 at 10:04am

I think Bernie Sanders, or maybe it is Saunders, from Vermont, is also openly nonreligious (he is a socialist). Or am I wrong.

#26 r strle (Guest) on Monday January 26, 2009 at 5:35pm

It is very possible that Bernie Sanders is openly religious and I have not heard of it because I am not from Vermont.  I am a subscriber to the CSI publication Skeptical Inquirer and I think it was reported in the May/June 2007 issue that Pete Stark was the first Congressman to state publicly that he had no belief a supreme being.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.