I recently told Jami, my loving wife, I had finally come to a decision on whom to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. “Who? Ralph Nader, again?” was her reply. Okay, my disillusionment has gotten the better of me the last three or four election cycles, and Nader has been ‘my man’ for quite some time. Yes, they were primarily protest votes. But what was my protest based upon? Oddly enough—religion.
Quite peculiarly, I am not even aware of Ralph Nader’s religious proclivities, and maybe that’s the point. All of the mainstream candidates had gone to great lengths to accommodate the religiously inclined by pandering to their interests, at least with their rhetoric. This election is no different. Or is it?
Barack Obama has given this atheist reason for hope and here’s why: The mere acceptance of non-believers into the arena of national dialog is no small feat. Not that long ago President George H. W. Bush perceived himself so immune from criticism on this subject that he openly questioned whether atheists and non-believers should be considered as citizens and patriots at all. Whereas, Barack Obama has clearly articulated the appropriateness of including non-believers in national discussions about faith and politics. That may not seem like much, but I’ll take small victories whenever and wherever I can.
Barack Obama is the first major party candidate in a long time to possess a political résumé that includes openly decrying the disproportionate influence of religious sects in our society. (In 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater confronted religious conservatives and warned them not to try to tell him how to vote on any legislation.) That is not to say Mr. Obama doesn’t succumb to talking out of both sides of his mouth on occasion. He has done his own fair share of religious pandering—no doubt for the sake of political survival. My deep-seated hunch is that he is keenly aware the road to a more secular society must be paved at a cautiously deliberate pace so as not to over agitate the tyrannical religious majority. This ocean of religiosity will need to be emptied one teaspoon at a time.
The religious right likely convulses when they hear Mr. Obama say even simple things like: “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values,” or “their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason,” a couple of things religious dogma doesn’t lend itself to.
So I can forgive Barack Obama’s pandering to the religiously inclined for the sake of political expediency, because my gut tells me he is merely working within the existing social framework to effect the change he ultimately desires: a more secular society where religion is not expelled from public life, but rather has its stranglehold on government institutions greatly diminished.