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Dec 18 2008
Warren to give invocation at inauguration! Why?!?

Obama continues to disappoint those who thought his promise of change meant something different than he apparently thought. From this article in the Guardian:

If nothing else, Rick Warren is a miracle worker in the realm of public relations. He is a man who compares legal abortion to the Holocaust and gay marriage to incest and paedophilia. He believes that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christians are going to spend eternity burning in hell. He doesn't believe in evolution. He recently dismissed the social gospel – the late 19th- and early 20th-century Protestant movement that led a religious crusade against poverty and inequality – as "Marxism in Christian clothing". Yet thanks to his amiable attitude and jocular tone, he has managed to create a popular image for himself as a moderate, even progressive force in American life, a reasonable, compassionate alternative to the punitive, sex-obsessed inquisitors of the religious right. And Barack Obama, who should know better, has helped him do it.

Yesterday brought the news that Warren would be giving the invocation at Obama's inauguration.


One doesn't expect Obama to surround himself only with spiritual advisers that meet some liberal litmus test. It is savvy to try and co-opt Warren, who seems to love proximity to power and who might otherwise be a strong critic. Nevertheless, further elevating this terribly powerful man necessarily comes at the expense of gay people, secularists, religious minorities and feminists. Rick Warren is a deeply polarising figure, and has said things far more offensive than anything that ever passed the lips of Jeremiah Wright. He has every right to preach as he pleases and to build his fortune, but he does not belong at the centre of American civic life, and Obama shouldn't put him there.

Remember those people who thought Obama was a secret Muslim? I'm beginning to think he's a secret fundamentalist Christian!

Dec 18 2008
Re: Warren to give invocation at inauguration! Why?!?

While I don't like Rick Warren, I don't think Obama can please all of the people all of the time.

Google the issue and you'll find the "leaked" talking points memo where his staff reiterates:

The President-elect disagrees with Pastor Warren on issues that affect the LGBT community. They disagree on other issues as well. But what's important is that they agree on many issues vital to the pursuit of social justice, including poverty relief and moving toward a sustainable planet; and they share a commitment to renewing America's promise by expanding opportunity at home and restoring our moral leadership abroad.

Besides, as humanists, isn't the idea of invocation anathema?

It's part of the ceremony. He will swear in on the Bible yet I believe that he knows how to balance progressive/liberal issues vs. practicality. The last thing that we need is a Clintonian waste of political capital like promoting gays in the military.

Dec 19 2008
Re: Warren to give invocation at inauguration! Why?!?

Stupid me. I was hoping the Obama team would not have an invocation. But if they have to, Rick Warren sure seems like a polarizing choice. I was bordering on very disillusioned last night, when I happened to get to a part of a book I'm reading that put it in a better perspective.

The book is America's Freethinkers" by Susan Jacoby, and I happened to get to the chapter about the woman's suffrage movement. The big names that started the ball rolling of course were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Both were freethinkers and thought that womens' right to vote derived from their inherent equality with men. Cady Stanton saw (and persuasively argued) that the reason why women had put up with inequality for so long was that every major religion taught women that they were inferior to men, and this was God's order, a fact of nature as it were. Stanton and Anthony really wanted to see sweeping equality for women, and saw suffrage as the means to achieve it. However, Anthony saw from the first dismal congressional vote on the woman's suffrage amendment that the freethought, feminist platform was never going to succeed. Almost a third of congress abstained, rather than face the wrath of their religious constituents. Instead, she saw that the christian woman's temperance movement was huge and they also wanted woman's suffrage, but for a different reason - to reduce vice. The woman's temperance societies thought women were morally superior to men, and that if woman gained political power it would lead to a more virtuous America. So Anthony swallowed her religious opinions and joined forces with the religious right of her day. In the end, it worked although she didn't live to see it personally. Stanton in contrast was unable to put aside her antipathy for religion. Brilliant and determined, she also worked tirelessly for 50 years for the vote. But in the end, because of her outspokenness, she actually probably hurt the movement, and was ostracized from the cause she dedicated her life to. At her death, Anthony was beloved by the whole movement, while her best friend Stanton was all but erased from the history (by the other women!) for decades for publishing her "Woman's Bible" critique of religion's role in the subjugation of women.

Anyway, that's what I got out of Susan Jacoby's chapter on that. Perhaps Obama sees it the way Susan B. Anthony did, not that there is any sign that Obama is a non-believer like Anthony.

Of course I think it reeks that atheists still have to be the ones to shut up about their religious opinions in 2008 America. Christians are always claiming that they aren't able to express their beliefs in the "public square." But can you think of any Christians temporarily erased from American history because they were too religious?

Dec 20 2008
Re: Warren to give invocation at inauguration! Why?!?

Ahoy Laura,

Excellent points.

“Of course I think it reeks that atheists still have to be the ones to shut up about their religious opinions in 2008 America.”

Yes, we have to.

Obama professes to be a Christian, but what does that mean?

Does he believe in the “Books” definition of abortion, of evolution, of divine provenance?

To succeed in American politics, one must toe the line – no gays even though many thumpers are gay, no pedophiles even though the C-church is riddled with them, no adultery even though it is rampant, no ?

Our job is to expose the hypocrisy.

Dec 21 2008
Re: Warren to give invocation at inauguration! Why?!?

Yes, the "fact" in politics now is that politicians must kow-tow to the religious right and can ignore atheists. But why is that and how did it get to be that way?

One part of the answer is that the religious right made a big stink whenever some politician they voted for seemed to dis them afterwards. That makes me think that we might do well to stop viewing our silence as an unchangeable fact of American politics and express dissatisfaction.

I think we need to be realistic. I would not complain that there IS going to be an invocation at the inauguration. But, there are ministers who have not made public statements about their belief that atheists are evil, and who are able to combine their faith with a belief in evolution. I really do want to complain about that...and I plan to.

As the Secular Coalition point out, the Obama website provides this form for recording "your vision" and so I'll be writing a short something just to let him know that I expected a shift -- if not towards less religion in politics then at least towards a more inclusive flavor of religion.

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