Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Obama and Religion
What delighted me about the President's inauguration speech apparently rifled a few feathers. Obama started out strong mentioning Constitutional principles with this mention of founding documents: "America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents." He knows the constitution and the freedoms it seeks to guarantee. He knows the false traps that those less savvy in the issues will seek to pull us into. When he got to one of the meatier statements, " . . . we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth . . . " he was reinforcing the importance of freedom of religion and diversity of thought to our nation and its strength. Every religion seeks embetterment. Every religion seeks to improve the tribe by improving the individual. Each religion bases their methods on different myths and stories and some are based more on verifiable history than others, but all are seeking a better way. To work with others and examine their ways and ideals and prescriptions and values can only improve ones own lot. Each culture and religion and language brings with it some new and interesting color to the tapestry. Look at a Scrabble dictionary sometime. This is the most basic essence of each word boiled down for the purposes of deciding what is and is not a word for the playing of the game. While there, you will be stuck, if you allow yourself, by the quantity of words that have a 'foreign' origin. The basic language is English, from England. Remember that it replaced maybe a thousand native languages that were on this continent prior to several hundred years ago! But what is English about English? There are Irish words and Indian words and Spanish words and if you try to form the simplest of sentences without some word attributed to some other language, you would be hard pressed. To say anything in an interesting and colorful way, you include a stew of words from languages around the world. Our values are the same way. Can anyone really define 'Christian' values? The entire religion was wholly based on the Jewish religion and included many Pagan symbols and celebrations and ideas. Christianity is an add-on to Judaism, and Islam is an add-on to Christianity. So each has more in common with the others than differences. Yet we allow the minor differences to divide us, to drive a wedge between us an that is wrong. It is not good for us, not as individuals and not as a nation. There is talk of our heritage and where our constitution came from. There are claims that we were founded as a Christian nation, and this is patently untrue. The Constitution comes from the Magna Carta. It was influenced by Native American ideas and by many other cultures. The core values are instinctive values shares by all religions and by non-religious peoples. And just as each religion is based on myths and stories that are not based on verifiable history or corroborating evidence, and because the country was formed on setting ourselves apart from the various places our ancestors left, the skeptic is left without a religion that can be called as absolute truth and there is a growing body of scientifically minded questioning wondering non-believers in this free country. To impose any sort on national religion or to even continue to say things like 'in god we trust' on our money or 'under god' in our pledge steps on the feet of the skeptic, the freethinker, the questioner, and those principles are in themselves very very much American. Thank you, President Obama, for giving a nod to those out there unencumbered by the trappings of religion and religious dogma and the divisiveness of focusing too much on the tiny differences rather on the common principles and ideals we all share. Among the thousands of religious denominations and sects in our fine nation, the non-believer has just as much right to their non-belief as any single type of believer has in their belief.