UPDATE ON THE LIMBAUGH "I HOPE OBAMA FAILS" POST BELOW.
Yes. For the first time in an inaugural speech, President Obama acknowledged that nonbelievers exist!
Fox News then used that innocuous inclusion to stir up a noncontroversy--and Mike Huckabee implied that nonbelievers are narcissists.
How can the recognition that a group of Americans exists be offensive? Why are believers troubled when nonbelievers are given a chance to express their reasons for nonbelief? If one's faith is strong, then there should be no danger to believers when a contrary point of view is presented.
IMHO, when some believers want to shut down an alternative view or even demonize nonbelievers, that indicates to me that they are not so sure of their own faith, and the idea that nontheism could be a viable point of view, frightens them.
Watch it here:
This article from a newspaper in New York's lower Hudson Valley covers the story:
"But no one doubted that there would be a lot of prayers for America's well-being and references to the nation's undeniable religious roots.
Obama delivered right away, citing Scripture - "the time has come to set aside childish things (1 Corinthians)" - and describing our basic civil rights as "God-given." That's a more direct way of saying "inalienable."
Then, out of the blue, he threw in a mention of one of the few groups that officeholders like to pretend does not exist. You knew right then that George W. Bush had become an ex-president.
I think it's fair to say that it has long been acceptable - even encouraged - for public servants in this country to look down their noses at those who do not profess a belief in God. Even in recent decades, as most Americans have embraced the idea of interreligious tolerance, if not cooperation, how many have given a moment's thought to whether nonbelievers should be tolerated, too?
Believe it or not, several states still have provisions in their constitutions that say that nonbelievers cannot hold public office.
Consider Article 37 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution: "That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God."
In the months after 9/11, when everyone was singing "God Bless America" or talking about the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage, I wrote an article about nonbelievers who felt that they were being left out of the national mourning. I heard from a few readers who, let's just say, had little interest in what the heathen were feeling.
That's why Obama's use of one mere word may signal some kind of a break with the past.
"Religionists tend to define atheism as a disbelief in God, but that's not true," said Stone, a psychiatry professor at New York University. "Atheism has nothing to do with beliefs or nonbeliefs. It's about reaching a conclusion by applying reason and evidence. There is insufficient evidence for God. We want to define ourselves."
Berger, whose group welcomes anyone, even believers, who want to explore the potential of humanism, said that he hopes that Obama's introduction will lead to more talk between people of faith and people of ... something else.
"We can still relate to one another through relationships and through nature," he said. "That's one of the tenets of ethical culture, how we relate to each other as people and how we relate to the natural world."
In recent years, provocateurs like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who like to belittle people of faith, have become the unofficial spokesmen for nonbelievers. Hitchens enjoys saying, "Religion poisons everything."
This past Christmas, the American Humanist Association put ads in Washington buses proclaiming, "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." Weeks later, the British Humanist Association unveiled bus ads offering this advice: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Neither Hitchens nor the bus ads are likely to change many minds - although they do stoke a lot of anger toward nonbelievers.
Here's the interesting thing: There are a lot of people out there who may not be hard-core atheists - itching to rebut Scripture line-by-line - but who do not identify with any religious tradition and aren't quite sure what they believe.
The Pew Forum's Religious Landscape Survey found last year that 16.1 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. That's almost as many "None of the Abovers" as there are mainline Protestants (18.1 percent).
Some of them must have smiled when their new president included nonbelievers in the American fabric."
UPDATE: 1/26/09 Bill Bennett disagreed with fellow conservative talking head Rush Limbaugh, who said that he wants President Obama "to fail." On CNN's "State of the Union," Bennett said, "The locution 'I want him to fail' is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated ... the rhetoric could be improved."