Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

1/20/2009—Among the other firsts for President Barack Obama is that he may be the first President to have been raised in a non-religious household. [I’m not sure this is so since Americans in the early 19th century were not as clear about these things as we are today. Religion was a fact of social life and so the formally non-religious were probably rare. The actually non-religious may have been common.]

This is the tack the American Humanist Association is taking with regard to Obama. He is said to be “living proof that family values without religion build character.” This is all in support of the rather touching slogan of the Association: “being good without a god since 1941”.

The Association even reproduces texts from The Audacity of Hope to make its point. But the text really illustrates the problem, rather than celebrating irreligion: “Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, [my mother] worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. …Most of all, she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, transitory nature… .”

Obama understands this was harder without organized religion, a point the Humanist Association doesn’t seem to get. On the other hand, few Sunday schools instill a sense of wonder.

What you also see here is that Obama’s Christianity may not go very deep, or may be a kind of secular Christianity. Life is transitory, but there is no sense in this quote of what might come after--a key question, of course.

The Humanists also trumpet another portion of Obama’s book—his reference to pluralism. Obama clearly fears “the dangers of sectarianism”. “[W]e are no longer just a Christian nation” but a nation of many religions and nonbelievers.

In many ways, President Obama is a figure for a new America. I think of him as the first Hallowed Secularist. He is really not a humanist, for he is too close to religion for that. But he is no more a follower of organized religion than was Lincoln. I’m glad he is our new President and I wish him luck.

1 comment:

  1. Prof. Ledewitz,

    the fact that Barack Obama's mother struggled to instill certain values in him at a young age "without resort to religious texts" does not mean that it is necessarily harder to instill these values without resort to religious texts. Trying to instill these values in a child based only on religious texts would be a very trying endeavor as, I'm sure you would agree, religious texts tend to be full of contradictory messages. Support for slavery, misogyny, child murder, genocide, to name only a few, are included in religious tests along with the very few nice stories of a loving and forgiving god, who will, by the way, punish you in this life or in the next in a lake of fire if you do not obey his word. It is always hard to instill humanistic values in a child. But it might be easier to do without resort to religious texts or the appeal to a god authority because if you leave the holy texts out of the equasion, then the parent does not have to engage in the mental gymnastics required to explain the contradictions in the values set forth in the holy texts.