By JavaManny | 10 December 2015
President Obama’s recent speech about terrorism was in good measure about showing understanding toward our fellow Americans who are Muslim. I’m fine with that. But toward the end of the speech he said the following…
“We were founded upon a belief in human dignity – that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.”
“Eyes of God”? Really? Was that necessary? As an atheist, why don’t politicians, including the liberal President whose parents were both atheists, give a damn about showing understanding and respect toward me and my human dignity?
There was no reason for President Obama to go there. Here’s the same sentiment without the creepy Bronze Age reference to the “eyes of God”…
“We were founded upon a belief in human dignity – that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion, if any, you practice, you are equal in the eyes of the law.”
Works just as well. Hell – it works even better. In addition to actually including me, it’s a concrete policy statement as opposed to an anachronistic turn of phrase that hands off responsibility from citizens and our representatives to unseen supernatural forces.
But this and even Obama’s obligatory closing words, “God bless the United States of America,” mindlessly tacked on to almost every political speech, raise a larger question: Why do most politicians avoid references to Jesus to avoid alienating small non-Christian religious minorities like Jews and Muslims but don’t give a damn about poking a finger in the eye of the far larger number of Americans like me who are atheist, agnostic or just plain non-religious?
The 2014 Pew poll on religious identification found that all non-Christian religious faiths together total only 5.9% of the U.S. population including Jews (1.9%), Muslims (0.9%), Hindus (0.7%), Buddhists (0.7%) and “other world religions” (0.3%).
Meanwhile, non-religious Americans total a whopping 22.8% of the population. That’s more than Catholics and within spitting distance of Evangelical Protestants, currently the largest religious group. To be fair, that large group of “Nones” includes a lot of people who describe themselves as “Nothing in particular” who may or may not believe in God. On the other hand, some percentage of those expressing affiliation with various religions don’t necessarily believe in God, particularly in a traditional sense. Many are spiritual – believe there are forces bigger than ourselves that may include nature – but not necessarily a god with eyes, to get overly literal. Many associate with religion for social, cultural or family reasons. Either way, self-described atheists and agnostics add up to over 7% – more than Jews, Muslims and Mormons (1.6%), for good measure, combined.
Beyond the sheer size of the non-religious population is the hyperspeed at which we are growing. Pew’s 2007 survey found 16.1% of Nones and only 4% self-described atheists and agnostics. The more recent poll represents a stunning increase of 42% in Nones and 78% in Atheists/Agnostics in just 7 years. As each generation is becoming significantly less religious and atheism/agnosticism/humanism is an increasingly visible option these numbers will continue to shift rapidly.
The time has come for politicians on both sides of the aisle, led by Democrats, to stop dividing out the large and growing number of non-religious Americans with references to God, however bold or bland, sincere or cynical. The ultimate example is our nation’s motto. Instead of the inclusive phrase delivered by no less than Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – e pluribus unum or “out of many, one” – we have the relatively recent (1950’s) Cold War era “In God We Trust.” Clearly, at least 1/5th of the country are not part of “We.” And the Pledge of Allegiance, which served perfectly well for the better part of a century without “under God,” now ironically divides us out right before the word “indivisible.”
The simple reality is that there are going to plenty of religious and non-religious Americans living side-by-side for the foreseeable future. I’m good with that. But recent trends suggest that within two or three decades America will join pretty much every other developed country where functional non-religiousness – whatever one calls oneself – will become a majority position.
Yes, let’s respect the fact that most Muslims are not homicidal maniacs like those that attacked in San Bernardino. And most Christians aren’t cold-blooded killers like the Colorado Springs or Charleston murderers. Yes, let’s respect Americans’ right to choose and practice their religious faith. But the time has come for religious Americans, starting with our inclusive President, to acknowledge and respect what is now an entirely mainstream choice: None of the above.
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