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Obama's Small Concession to Atheists Sets off a Firestorm of Debate

The author of our recent piece calling out Obama for all the references to God at the inauguration responds to AlterNet readers.

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Thank you Obama for not breaking with tradition.

But many commenters argued that religious ceremonies are not harmless traditions. Rather, the prominent role of religion in public life has caused much suffering over the past eight years – and, for that matter, the past thousands of years.

Dustdevil writes:

We are just mad as hell because we have just gotten rid of a president who has murdered hundreds of thousands with what he thought were the blessings of God. He even indicated he thought God was encouraging him to attack Iraq. Bush "wasn't listening to his father (GHW Bush), he was listening to a higher power."

We've had enough of this bullshit.

Folkie agrees, and points out that Obama's promise of change does not mesh well with religious belief:

If there is to be hope and change, the tradition of thousands of years of religious strife resulting in millions of needless deaths needs to be broken with.

Greta Christina Responds

Thanks to AlterNet for letting me reply. I've been asked to keep it short, so here goes.

I have no problem with Obama being a Christian or talking about God. My problem is with talking about God at an official state ceremony -- the most important state ceremony we have. And I have a huge problem when speakers at a state ceremony tell us that our rights come from God; that Americans owe God our loyalty; and that not believing in God is a sin that needs forgiveness.

This isn't about wanting Obama to not believe in or talk about God. It's about separation of church and state.

I'm not advocating a legal ban on religious speech at inaugurations. Obama has the right to say what he wants in his inaugural address and to invite any inaugural speakers to say what they want. But I have the right to say that I don't like it. I am exercising my right and duty as a citizen, and telling our leaders what I want from them -- which is to remember that many Americans are non-believers, and to respect the principle of the separation of church and state.

Yes, the majority of Americans are Christians. Since when does the majority decide what's right? If inaugural speakers had said that being Jewish was a sin that needed forgiveness, would that have been OK because most Americans are Christians?

People of all religions -- including none -- are equal citizens, whether they're in the majority or not. Our state ceremonies should recognize that and respect the separation of church and state.

And yes, religion at inaugurations is a tradition. See above. Tradition doesn't make something right, any more than the majority does.

Finally: I never stop being baffled at believers who think criticizing religion is the same as insulting it, and that speaking out about anti-atheist bigotry and separation of church and state is just whining.

And I never stop being baffled at believers whose primary argument against atheists is, "Shut up."

I do wish some atheists would be better about critiquing religious ideas and behavior, instead of insulting people. But that's pretty common in the blogosphere, and I don't see why religion deserves special treatment. As commenter Lynet wrote in another blog: "People are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout."

The newly vocal atheist movement is part of a proud American tradition: a tradition of dissent, of speaking out against a powerful majority, of marginalized minorities demanding full participation in society. Would you ask any other movement for social change to shut up and stop whining? If not, please don't ask atheists to do it.

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