It is exactly the sickening and dangerous views and attitudes of the current Republican candidates, pandering to (and obviously enmeshed with) the religious right, that make me appreciate that Obama can take a stand for values that protect all Americans. Perhaps we should be glad that Obama can frame his personal reflections in the language of “prayer” that will at least not offend and may attract to his benefit some religious folks who might feel unable to support the issues that he has been making some progress on—health care, economic policies, international relations—were he to take an actively atheist stand. The habit of prayer as a practice of reflection (I suppose a more Buddhist understanding of “prayer” than that of most religions, and certainly the form of progressive Christian practice that Obama seems to follow), is not something to oppose. It is the imposition of any particular religious perspective (or claim of “divine knowledge”) which is a threat to a free society. Obama is most effective, in our current political climate of inflamed extremist religion, in holding those extremists at bay for all of us by affirming attachment to the core ethical values of the Abrahamic traditions. The bottom line is love of neighbor—I think atheists and freethinkers can get behind that value, and there are a lot of people from all the major faith traditions who stand there as well. Many people of faith have struggled from within their own traditions to uphold values such as reproductive choice, equal humanity (and civil rights) for LGBT people, immigrant rights, even separation of church and state.
I guess my greatest regret about leaving church is the sense that we need “insiders” to continue to speak out against those who corrupt religion, even as we need freethinkers to continue to advocate for the use of human ethics to wrestle with decisions about social goods, not “rules” created and promulgated by some powerful men who claim to be speaking for god as a cover for their own agendas of power and control. And, I do think freethinkers need to keep speaking out and educating the public about the fact that, for example, “prayer” or any other conversation “with god” is more likely a conversation with one’s inner voice and ability to think and feel and reason, and does not need to be projected onto an external “god.” But first, I’d rather point out how Obama’s values have the bottom line that’s important to me, and how the religious right’s values do NOT reflect love of neighbor, than quibble about whether the president should be going to church or engaging in daily prayer.