Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama and religion

At this point, famous words from the would-be presumed nominee of the Democratic Party:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years...and it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

I want to highlight the phrase "'s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion..."

This surprised me, because my number one problem with Senator Obama has been his willingness to accept Republican framing on religion. He's enthusiastically embraced the idea of Democrats shoving religion into the public sphere for while now. The only line I remember from his 2004 speech at the convention -- during which I was in attendance in the convention hall -- was his remark that "we worship an 'awesome God' in the Blue states." I remember that it gave me the willies: had Obama never met a Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist in his lifetime in these blue states? What was this code for Christian triumphalism doing in the keynote address of the Democratic National Convention? Obama pretty much lost me at that moment, and hasn't done much to win me back on this score.

So I'm oddly relieved by his assertion about people's motives for religion -- not even faith, but religion. It certainly reads to me that Obama sees many as holding onto religion to provide assurance through rough economic times -- it's not heartfelt, but insurance. The statement is a much gentler phrasing of Jesse Ventura's rumination that "organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

From a general election perspective, Obama's statement is a groaner. The Democratic Party has poured millions into counteracting this perception of elitism, and Obama just pissed a lot of it away -- while also whizzing on rising Democratic stars such as Heath Shuler, Rocky Anderson, and Jon Tester. This idea that he (and maybe most Democrats) has embraced religion as a naked electoral ploy to coutneract Republican sincerity is not one that Democrats want sustained by anyone on their side.

However, as an American atheist, I find that concept to be a relief. Did I mention that we atheists are not considered that electable? This is why.

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