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Atheists Get A Shout-Out January 24, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Christian Right, National Politics, Religion.
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January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009

As I watched President Obama’s inaugural address on Tuesday, my ears perked up a bit when he said, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.”  I actually looked around the room to see if anyone else in my group noticed.  If they did, nobody seemed to have a problem with it.  I thought that maybe, once and for all, this “America is a Christian nation” baloney was done with.

I was wrong.

This morning AOL News is reporting that many Christians and Christian groups are disturbed by Obama’s remark and offer it as “evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.”  According to AOL, Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va.  “The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he (Obama) seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’”

But who are we, really?  Approximately 16% of Americans identify themselves as not affiliated with any religion when asked.  Among people 18-29 years old, more than one in four are not affiliated.  Of the people that are not affiliated, about 4% identify themselves as agnostic or atheist – a figure that has doubled in the last ten years.  About 5% of Americans are Jewish or other faiths, including Islam.  Taken together, non-Christians and non-believers make up about 21% of Americans.  And while about 79% of Americans identify as Christian, the statistics show that Christianity is fragmented into 7 or 8 groups or sects, none larger than 26% of the American population. 

This is what is basically wrong with the “America as a Christian nation” doctrine.  Though they are all Christian, the applications and needs of each represented faith are quite diverse – nobody would ever confuse an Evangelical Protestant with a Catholic or a Mormon with a Jehovah’s Witness.  Placing an emphasis on Christianity in the public discourse ignores ALL diversity of faith, especially those differences among Christians themselves.  The establishment clause of the constitution acknowledges our freedom to believe – or not believe – and confers upon us the responsibility to not raise one religious belief above another.

I am married to a self-identified atheist and I consider myself to be a Catholic agnostic (believe me, it makes sense when I can explain myself).  Both my husband and I have felt tyrranized by the Christian right over the last few years because while we both respect people of faith, we do not want to be ruled by their faith.  We both have a deep and abiding belief that a secular nation is the greatest nation.

In 1797, the fledgling United States of America signed a peace treaty with the Barbary Pirates.   Known as “The Treaty of Tripoli”, and signed by George Washington, the treaty states that, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Take that, James Dobson.

 

 

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