Monday, March 01, 2010

Primary Concern Regarding Atheism and Public Policy

Members of the Obama Administration met with representatives of atheist organizations in the White House yesterday in what some have called a historic event. It is the first time that a President has given any type of official recognition to those woh do not believe in a God and offered to listen to their (our) concerns.

It seems that my primary concern was not addressed in this meeting.

At least, the press release I received in the email did not list my primary concern.

I'm concerned about a pledge of allegiance that states and teaches young children - people who learn things at an emotional level and not simply as propositions being true or false - that the only good American is one that supports a nation under God, and that those who do not trust in God are not to be counted as good Americans.

I know the counter to this. It is not politically viable for a President to agree with atheists on either of these two issues. It would be as politically suicidal as speaking out against slavery in Georgia in 1850, or as speaking against segregation in Alabama in 1940. The political culture at those times was so steeped in bigotry and prejudice that a politician had to support bigotry and prejudice to get elected.

It is one of the nature of a democracy is that the government can never be better than the people who elected it. Democracies do not put its best people in power. It puts in power those who will enact the will of the people - without respect as to whether the people will that which is good and just or that which is evil and unjust.

However, it is still possible to express an objection to these policies in a context that respects the political facts. There is nothing wrong with saying, "We are opposed to the teaching of anti-atheist bigotry to children in the public schools and to the posting of bigoted signs in public buildings and on the currency.

"Yet, Mr. President, we recognize that in a democracy where such bigotry is so widespread we recognize that you must make a choice. You must choose between being a President who supports policies you know to be be evil and unjust, or you must choose not to be President.

"We recognize your predicament, Mr. President. And yet the political facts of the matter and the position that you must take to preserve your Presidency does not change the fact that the Pledge and the Motto as they exist were put in place for the purpose of teaching prejudice to young children. That is a fact - regardless of whether you are in a position to do something to correct that injustice or not."

1 comment:

Burt Likko said...

Although the secular groups met with Presidential minions and not the President himself, let's assume for the sake of argument that you were among the representatives of the group who was there, and that Obama stepped in to the room and said "Hi." You would, I assume, deliver the remarks you put at the close of the post.

Ideally, he'd respond by agreeing with you. Realistically, though, he won't do that -- as you point out, it would be politically suicidal for him to do so. What would you realistically hope for by way of a response?