Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Realistic Response

In response to my complaint that secular organizations did not use the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Obama organization to point out the bigotry in national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance, Transplanted Lawyer made the following comment:

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?

I do not see any particular reason to explore this hypothetical because this is not what I objected to. Let's stick with the fact that the representatives of atheist organizations met with representatives of the Obama administration.

The fact is, the President has decided to let atheists in the door, but he knows and we know that he cannot allow himself to be caught in the same room with us. If I were to imagine that the President had come into the room I would either have to imagine that he is politically inept, or begin with the assumption that there is more political tolerance of atheists in this country than there is in fact. Either assumption would have to taint my response.

But, think about it . . . we still live in a country where the President does not dare enter a room which contains a group of atheists. He can invite religious leaders to his hotel room and have a special conference of religious leaders at the opening of the Democratic Party convention, but he cannot enter a room containing politically active atheists.

That says something.

But it says something that even the atheist organizations who went to the Whtie House decided not to acknowledge.

So, let's stick to the real world in which walking into a room with a group of atheists itself is political suicide. The best one can do is to send political representatives. It's a step in the right direction, but let's not ignore how far in the wrong direction we must have gone for this step to count as a step in the right direction.

Now, given that this is the world we live in, what would I have said to these representatives of the Obama Administration if I had been invited to be in the audience.

First, I would point out the fact that we live in a country in which a President can invite religious leaders by the score to sit at the table with him but does not dare enter a room where politically active atheists are convened. To drive the point home I may ask if there are cleaners and fumigators ready to remove all trace of atheist cooties from the room before the President will be permitted to use it again.

Second, I would ask why (rhetorically) why this is the case.

Third, I would then make the case against the Pledge and the Motto that I made in my previous post.

"The Obama Administration is in the same position with respect to atheists that Franklin Roosevelt was with respect to blacks in the 1920s. He did not dare take a stand against racism, because that would have host him too much southern support, which would have hampered his political agenda. And it is an important political agenda. I recognize your need to throw atheists under the bus for the sake of health insurance and climate change legislation.

"However, the fact that it would be political suicide for the President to walk through that door, when it would be political suicide for him NOT to walk through that door if we were religious leaders, oes not mean that we are wrong. It means that you must reject our claims no matter how much merit they have, but it does not mean our claims have no merit.

"So, I will take advantage of this opportunity to point out to you that one of the reasons atheists are political lepers - one of the reasons that the President cannot walk through that door and speak to us in person unless he did so to condemn us - is because the public school system and the federal government are involved in a massive campaign to teach its citizens - and particularly its young children - that atheism is anti-American.

"They print this lesson on the money - that to be a good American one has to trust in God. They post it in public buildings in, in many places in public classrooms. They require a ceremony built around a pledge to keep atheists out of public office and out of public influence because being a good American requires supporting a nation 'under God'.

"The government does such a good job of teaching its citizens to hate atheists that the President does not dare walk through that door to speak to us, while, at the same time, he could not refuse to walk through that door to talk to a similar group of religious leaders.

"And if Obama thinks that it does not matter that the Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to one nation under God - and that this does not denigrate atheists, ask him if he would also hold the view that a pledge to 'one white nation, individual' would not denigrate blacks.

"Atheists will have political and social equality in this country when the President is as willing or as reluctant to come to this room full of atheists as he would be to come to this room when it is full of religious leaders."

I would not expect any official reaction to this from the Obama administration. I would not expect the representatives present to do anything but nod and say, "We will take your comments into consideration."

But, in the lower-level discussions far from the President, this argument may make its rounds and affect a few mines. And, given the fact that this meeting is newsworthy, I would get these words into the press even if I could not get them into the President's ear. It might even help the President for me to do so - for people to hear an atheist complain that the President does not dare enter a room with atheists in it, when he would not dare refuse to enter a room with a like group of religious leaders.

It does not matter what response the Obama Administration gives to this argument. What matters is that it has been made in such a way that people heard it.

This is the gift that Obama provided in arranging this meeting. It was not the gift of allowing atheists into the White House. It was the gift of allowing atheists into the press. That is the gift that was squandered by people who went to the White House thinking that they were talking to the Obama Administration and ignoring the fact that they were being given an opportunity to talk to the American people themselves.

That is how you begin to change minds. You do not do so by refusing to talk about what others do not want to hear.

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