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.


Patrick Pfeifer said...

While I was also glad to see that "little nod", I was also disappointed to see that it was no more than a nod. I didn't understand the necessity of the (very Christian) prayer during the inauguration, nor did I see the need for ending his speech with "God bless...", if the point was an equal acknowledgment of all these diverse religious points of view.

And speaking of diversity, the citation of pre-contact North American languages as being in the neighborhood of “tens of thousands” seems a bit high... With an estimated 6-7000 languages currently spoken throughout the world today, it seems inconceivable that there could be double (or more) just a few hundred years ago (I have found estimates of the language number pre-contact to be ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand, with perhaps another 1500 in South America). And speaking of contact, exactly which contact are we speaking of? The Spanish (Columbus, 1492?), French, Portuguese and Dutch all had just as much (if not more) influence on replacing and erasing native languages, and prior to these Europeans, the Vikings “discovered” the continent. So I would not say that English solely replaced all these languages (as Spanish had already begun working on that task ~516 years ago).

But, you do bring up a good point, with the non-believer having just as much right as others.

Note: I hope this isn't taken as overly argumentative. It provided me with another opportunity to learn and think, as well as a much needed break from some reading. And if I'm argumentative, then at least some portion of those genes are yours! I love you mom.

goprairie said...

'tens of thousands' changed to 'perhaps a thousand' - and i suspect 'dialects' is more accurate than 'languages'. it was a blatant error. thanks. it is cool that you are getting to be an expert on this stuff and caught it!

people get all wound up about 'heritage' being certain things. but an idea can be a bigger part of the heritage than a certain culture or specific founding people, and in this case, the big idea of america was doing things in a new and different way. freedom and opportunity for that. for diversity and appreciation of that. tradational norwegian AND german hotdishes at the lutheran church basement dinner. and then when they sponsor a family from vietnam, vietnamese dishes. not rejecting that because norwegian and german are the 'heritage' but getting that appreciation of each culture's contribution is the heritage and welcoming it. inclusiveness. that is the what the heritage is!

Andrea said...

Question: How did you draw the conclusion that Islam is an 'add on' to Christianity?

The way I learned it Abraham's firstborn son Ishmael (with Hagaar) was, more or less, the 'beginning' of the great nation of Islam; which perhaps then even predates Judaism (which resulted from Isaac and then Jacob's offspring). Or, am I wrong in that? I am still learning, and would be interested in what you have learned about the history and heritage of the differing religions.

goprairie said...

i am far from an expert on religious history and as an atheist, do not wish to pretend to be the expert on any particular religon. you can find the basic premises of each system in a number of places on the internet and plenty of discussion blogs for that purpose. i use the term 'add-on' because islam came after and claims truth in aspects of christianity and reinterprets other aspects of christianity and judaism. I have learned most of what i know via the contributors at