Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rick Warren and the Inaugural Invocation

Some people seem a bit perturbed recently that Obama has selected Pastor Rick Warren to give the convocation at his inauguration. Warren was a proponent of California’s Proposition 8 which took away the rights of homosexuals to marry in that state. He supports an absolute prohibition on abortion and on stem-cell research. He is not a fan of the separation of church and state.

There is some reason for this. First, Warren has sought to expand the concerns of the evangelical community beyond these issues to include aid to the poor, combating AIDS, and care for the environment. This is in contrast to other members of the evangelical community who see these issues as distractions – as wastes of time that pull resources away from the vital concerns of “traditional family values.”

Second, Obama has said that he is the President of all Americans, not just the Democratic Party. Right-wing evangelicals are Americans and, as such, it is fitting that Obama give them a role in his inauguration.

However, on this second point, we must note that white supremacists and neo-Nazis are Americans, too. There must be a line somewhere that defines some set of Americans as persona non grata in this Administration.

Wherever that line is, we need to ask on which side of that line Obama sees the atheist community. He has gone through a great deal of effort to make sure that evangelicals see a place for themselves on the table. He opened the Democratic Convention in Denver with a faith-based gathering, and he has attended “debates” that focused specifically on faith-based issues.

However, at least to my recollection so far, he has done absolutely nothing to show any sign of respect or consideration for those who do not believe in a God.

I suggest that this is further confirmation of a political strategy that will likely define the Obama administration that I have discussed in the past. Obama is focused primarily on the issues of global warming and energy independence. Even his economic stimulus package will be aimed primarily at these ends. He has already announced that will include major expenditures on making government buildings more energy efficient, thus lowering our demand for energy (and saving the government money in the long run).

He is not going to waste political capital on issues that he sees as distractions.

In order to keep the evangelical community from becoming an obstacle, he will throw them whatever bones happen to be prudent. The quality of those bones will feed the evangelical community will depend on the quality of the opposition he might stir.

On the issue of stem-cell research, there are lives at stake, and people who see their lives and the lives of those they care about hanging in the balance. These bones will be very dry.

The issues of same-sex marriage and abortion have well-organized political groups backing them, who will almost certainly protest if the bones he throws in these areas are too meaty.

However, if history is any guide, there will be little or no protests against the bones that Obama has the power to throw with respect to secular values and the equal consideration and respect of Americans who do not believe in a god. Here is an area where he can give the evangelical community exactly what they ask for, and keep them content, while he pursues his political objectives without interference.

This is merely a prediction based on observations.

It suggests that the decision to do nothing is going to come at a price. It suggests that the demand-side (desire-side) management of the religious community, promoting a social aversion to anything secular and reinforcing desires to support a nation under God and trust in God, will continue to earn political dividends for those who support (and are supported by) these rituals.

There is a price to be paid by taking one’s case only to the courts and not to the people.

Wait for it.

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