During his inaugural address, President Barack Obama uttered a simple yet somehow controversial phrase acknowledging the mere existence of non-believers among the many social constituencies in America. Predictably, many Christians took offense at this. Fearing the dilution of their own cultural dominance, many of these Christians simply won't accede to the notion that diversity, not religiosity, is the value much more worthy of precedence and celebration.
What many among the Christian majority seem to want is to live in denial - denial that those who prefer not to practice any religion at all make up a substantial portion of society. This non-religious segment is also beginning to shows the first signs of morphing into a political entity, which may in fact be what the religious right fears most. While it will likely be a very long time before atheists command anything close to a majority faction among voters, it is certainly foreseeable that they could form a swing voting block significant enough to threaten the domination of Christian conservatives. By first cooperating with liberal evangelicals and other religious progressives, non-believers can begin the slow but inexorable march toward political viability.
It has been said that former president George H. W. Bush did not even think atheists should be considered as citizens or patriots at all. This being the case, the mere acknowledgment by President Obama of the rightful place in society of non-religious citizens is an important first step.
But what can atheists do to further their own legitimacy? First, the ones who engage in the same type of fear mongering that many right-wing conservatives do, should cease their own extremist rhetoric and moderate their tone. Intolerance is not the answer to intolerance. Getting the message out that non-believers are in no way trying to remove God from public life, but rather trying to remove overt religious influence from institutions of government should be first and foremost. Further, aligning themselves with religious constituents who understand the wisdom of separating church and state would be a symbol that cooperation between these two groups is possible. In other words, the surest way to get respect is to give respect.
When President Obama dared to include non-believers as part of the American ideological melting pot during his inaugural address, he was acting in a manner the duty of the office demanded: to be the president of all, not the cultural spokesperson of the religious majority.
2 years ago