Yesterday's inauguration speech
was, in many ways, big. Again, Obama spoke to the nation like the adults we are, which is a refreshing change from having to revert one's mind to that of a child, just to be able to figure out what your leader is saying.
The speech was big in another way:
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers.
This was unexpected. First, that he included Muslims and Hindus, and second, because he included us
. It was just one little word, and for some it may have gone unnoticed, but for non-believers like myself, it was stunning. And I imagine for the ardent believers, it was infuriating. It was a big word, and it's enunciation and context is important.
Obama listed the big religions, and ones emerging, in our country, and then, after the briefest of pauses, he added us. I prefer not to read that pause as a hesitation. That pause seemed added so as to prepare the nation for what he was about to add--that he knew it was the first time, that it meant a lot. To my ear, it read like poety--not in some deep, sentimental way, but in it's construct. We were at the end, and maybe some cynics would prefer we were at the start, or mixed in the middle. But that pause, and that final word--"non-believers"--acted as punctuation
. To my ear, that word became bigger
than the others. Maybe Muslims and Hindus feel the same way, but, as polls
show, America hates us most.
Some might view this as a token gesture, like the assigning of Bishop Robinson to say a prayer on Sunday. For me, though, the context counted. We were not assigned some empty representative to stand up in some segment before the swearing in, where people could tune out and not really listen. We were deliberately inserted into Obama's speech--the main event--the words the nation all shut up to listen to. This ensured that everyone would hear it. HBO would not pull us off the air. People would not be looking at each other, talking about what to have for lunch after the inauguration, or just starring ahead unhearing, waiting for the real words to be spoken. We were included among the real words, and everyone heard.
For whatever smalls gains we've made in the last few years, this is a big deal. It is a huge acknowledgement. For the first time, throughout the primaries, throughout the campaigning, the conventions, and the election, I felt like a part of the process. Yes, I voted; everyone votes and we're all "part of the process." But it is one thing to cast your vote and know that no one cares about your concerns, and something else to cast it and feel like your voice might actually be heard.
Apparently, Obama heard our voice, and that he took the time and made the effort to acknowledge us--during this historical moment, where African Americans are finally getting what is theirs--to say to us that, finally
, we exist.
This is a big deal. What happens in policy and what happens legislatively, among people who despise us and wish we'd do nothing more than disappear back into the woodwork of society, is another matter. But, for us, we now know that someone is listening, and not just someone--our President, and this time it's in a way that previous presidents haven't tried. We all remember Bush 41
"I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."
What we heard yesterday is a far, far cry from that.
Yes, this is
a big deal, and, to me, I think this should enable us to think differently, and more strongly, about our activism. We are continually told we should shut up, even amongst our own. It's been easy for people to tell us this, because they had power and popular opinion on their side. They knew no one was listening to us. Now someone is, and this should be viewed not as finally reaching our destination--as much of a milestone as that word at that moment was--but as a moment into which we can read encouragement
Speak loudly, godless folk. Someone is finally listening.
One of the first blogs I check while I'm having my coffee in the morning is vjack's Atheist Revolution
, and many times, his posts are the inspiration for my own. Today, that is the case.
Today, he's got a post
up about atheists' exclusion from the inauguration. There was a lot of uproar about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to lead the apparent National Delusional Prayer. The LGBT community was quite up in arms, given Warren's anti-gay bigotry and following on the stinging heels of the Prop 8 fiasco in California. And rightfully so. Absoultely.
Both the gay community and the atheist community have been a bit on the irate side regarding Warren, but the reaction to the complaints has been very, very different. See, when Warren compares homosexuality to incest and bestiality
, that means he's a bigot. Response: Bishop Robinson, the openly gay bishop who delivered Sunday's invocation. There you go, Gay Community--your indignation has been recognized and rewarded with a token nod.
However, when Warren goes on about how he could never vote for an atheist
(because, apparently, we are arrogant for not needing magic to run the country), he's not an anti-atheist bigot--he's just another American citizen (one of the infamous "48%
"). We get no representation at this historical inauguration. We get no token nod. What we get is deliberately trod upon.
No, wait, you say. No one is actively insulting you, you're just being sensitive because no one will let you play. That is partly true. We want to play "American Citizen" too and yes, we're a little upset that we no one ever lets us. But it's more than that. If you go to vjack's post today
and watch, and discuss, this interview
with Bishop Robinson, you will hear him say something that really gets at the crux of our problem.
Vjack points out:
He prefaced many of his statements with "As a religious person...," making me suspect that he must have some awareness that non-religious persons exist.
I think this is exactly right--while he says this, because he says this, it's clear he knows there are non-religious people. And he goes on to talk about Jesus' "big tent," you know, much like our political "big tents." We can argue that he is only saying these things in the context of the administration vs. the gay community. But the fact is that the godless have been quite vocal about their exclusion as well. There is not just silence on the part of those in charge--when they tout their all-inclusiveness, when Robinson says that "all voices" are being heard at this inauguration, while at the same time ignoring our concerns, they does not translate as mere silence. It is a very clear message to us that we do not exist.
Robinson says that we are all children of God and therefore "worthy of respect and concern." You know, while we don't believe we are chilrden of God, it still remains that they do, and despite that, we are still not worthy of respect or concern. I don't doubt for a moment that when they say they're including everyone, they really, truly believe it. And when atheists say 'Hey, wait a minute,' I believe they are genuinely confused. We could say that this is just how they were brought up, they've been conditioned to not really understand anything outside of their worldview, etc. I think that's a cop-out. They know we exist--when they say they include everyone but we are not included, they are saying, loudly: "You Do Not Exist." More importantly, the more pointed and most terrible message is that we don't exist because we are not real people--they do not consider us as such. We are sub-human. We don't get the same considerations as the real people. Now, how does that make you feel? Don't cry too loudly, as Judge Walton says we've brought it upon ourselves. You know, for wanting to have representation. And to not have state sponsored religion. How dare we?
This isn't the first time this has happened on such a large, public scale. Think back to this past July: Remember the big all-faith orgy the DNC decided to include in their convention? They talked about "unity" then, too. Yeah, and remember when the Secular Coalition for America wrote a letter to Rev. Daughtry asking to be included? Does anyone remember the reaction? She didn't know how to react, and so, she ignored us. We don't have to be considered because we are not real people in their worldview. How loving. We were excluded then, again, as they all patted each other on the back for their all-inclusiveness, you know, of the real people. This inauguration in the DNC convention all over again.
Am I angry? Sure. But what no one wants to admit is that this is also incredibly hurtful. Here is my problem: I have gay friends that have a stake in this. I am from an interracial family, and they have a stake in this presidency. People I care deeply about are being affected by this. Historical things are afoot. It's important. And basically, I am being told that I can't be a part of it. I am being told that I must remain on the outside of the fence. I can watch, but I can't play. Maybe I am hurt especially because these things are very close and very personal for me, but I imagine that many atheists, even those without gay or black friends or family, feel the same way. This kind of wholesale rejection, as being people, and having selfhood, and being a part of the overall community that is worthy of "respect and concern," is wearing. It wears you down. It is hurtful. And, as per usual, it is unsurprising that this sort of hurtful behavior comes from the people that claim to hurt least: Christians.
Yeah, some days, I'm just tired. And hurt. It's true. I want to be happy tomorrow. I have hated the Bush administration as much as anyone and am deeply relieved to finally see him gone. It's been an active, somewhat psychologically traumatizing part of my life for the last eight years, and as shocking as this might come to some Christians, what with my being an atheist, it's been difficult precisely because I believe all people are worthy of respect and concern, and the policies of that maniac have crapped on everything that stands for. Unfortunately, because of this very obvious snub from the new boss who promised all that hope and change, I do not get to enjoy the catharsis that this inauguration will be for many people.
I've committed myself to attending a friend's inauguration celebration on Tuesday evening--you know, snacks, champaign, that kind of thing. Because we are Democrats. I'm trying to think of a way to get out of it. My heart's just not in it.