Saturday, January 24, 2009

In an imperfect union

Like perhaps more than a few Obama supporters, I was not exactly thrilled by the prominence of God-talk in and around the inauguration.

Still, as an American, I'm not only familiar with this kind of thing but also aware that anyone openly hostile to religion wouldn't get anywhere near occupying White House.

And Obama is not, as is quite clear, such a person in any case.

Ophelia tries to put some of these issues in perspective. Helpfully, as I see it:

I wish we could ditch all the God-talk. I'm very glad he included non-believers, but I still wish we could ditch the God talk. But...(this is where things get really sinister) I don't mind it as much as I would from someone else, or as much as I did from Bush or Clinton. Have I lost my mind? Partly, maybe - that is, the euphoria of the whole thing motivates me to bury my normal reaction so that I can go on being euphoric. That's not what you'd call sound intellectual practice - so that's a fair cop. I'm giving Obama a break that I wouldn't give other people. (Fortunately, it makes no difference to him or to them - I don't want to come over all self-important here! I'm just exploring how this stuff works, from the inside; I'm not saying What I Think Matters.) But some of that is because the God talk trails with it the old civil rightsy rhetoric. I wouldn't want to be without The Promised Land or All God's Children or (perhaps least of all) 'Thank God almighty, we're free at last.' That's in spite of the fact that in any other context that line would irritate the hell out of me, because stricly speaking it's absurd - thanking god for freedom and just politely ignoring the previous four centuries. In any other context I would rudely ask why god gets the credit for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad stuff; I would ask why, if god could free the slaves, god didn't just prevent them from being enslaved in the first place. But - in the civil rights context, I don't. If I had the choice, I would keep all the presidential language secular, but since I don't...I feel inclined to turn a blind eye. That's a double standard. Nolo contendere.

The rest is worth reading.

As is a somewhat older post from Dale (and even somewhat older one), responding to a challenge from Norm directed at atheist supporters of the (sometimes demonstratively) theistic Obama.

Dale quotes Obama himself, who expresses the crucial issue very well:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

And Dale comments:

I do not want to see any candidate presume to be god's proxy (cf. this and this) -- such talk is, by my lights, deluded and dangerous, and must be subject to sharp criticism in all cases. But here on earth, political engagement requires choices between concrete and imperfect alternatives.

These constitute, I think, a couple of useful guidelines on this topic for the next four (and, with any luck, eight) years.

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