‘Godding’ going on, but humanism prevails

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked every president since FFRF was founded, starting with Jimmy Carter, to eschew the use of a bible and the "So help you God" phrase at presidential inaugurations. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel made a great case for this in a letter to President Barack Obama last November and on Seidel's "nonbaptism by fire" Jan. 19 on "The O'Reilly Factor." (Watch Andrew's appearance.)



But even contrasting today's inauguration with Obama's first inauguration, we can see improvements.  Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, initially invoked "America," not God. Although made in the context of "asking blessings," civil rights was Evers-Williams' primary message, not Jesus. (Wasn't it grand to hear her drop "God" when she recited "One Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All"—  the way she would have learned it, the way it was originally written?)

Mercifully, we were spared a repeat performance by Rick Warren, the homophobe and evangelical minister who dominated the last inaugural ceremony and was part of Michael Newdow's and FFRF's lawsuit four years ago.

Thanks to outrage over Obama's original invitation to the homophobic Louie Giglio, Obama instead invited Rev. Luis Leon, who explicitly included "gay or straight" in his roster of those receiving his god's "blessing." I took a call from a Lifetime Member in Ohio complaining about this line in Leon's invocation: "We pray that you will bless us with your continued presence, because without it, hatred and arrogance will infect our hearts."

This of course was a slap at "godlessness." We freethinkers tend to believe the opposite. Anyone who's cracked open a bible has to know this particular "holy book" is infected with hatred and arrogance, not just for gays, but for women, for that heretic who putters around and innocently makes a "graven image" of some rival god, even for "disobedient" children.

In Ruth Hurmence Green's book, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible, still one of FFRF's bestsellers, it takes many typeset pages just to list the mass murders and other atrocities ordered, committed and approved by the biblical god.

U.S. patriot Thomas Paine, author of classic bible critique, The Age of Reason, wrote: "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the world of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize [hu]mankind."

FFRF's first Emperor Has No Clothes awardee, physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, put it this way: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion."

Nevertheless, we freethinkers can take as a "blessing" that Leon's benediction was ultimately more human than god-centered, which is largely true today in U.S. Episcopalianism and other liberal Christian denominations. They are evolving to the point where eventually they may find, like my husband Dan Barker, a former minister, that when they throw out the bath water, there is no "baby" there.

Turning to Obama's optimistic Second Inaugural Address, clearly it too was far more humanistic than religious. But, as a distressed member emailed us, there was a lot of  "godding" going on.

Like President George W. Bush, his predecessor, Obama made the mistake of saying "Freedom is a gift from God." What an oxymoron. If some Hot Shot in the Sky has to "give" humanity freedom, then humanity ain't really free. But Obama followed up that cliché by adding, "While freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth."

In examining the meat of the address, humanism prevails. Obama urged "that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortunes." He called for action on climate change and jobs. He spoke of the tarnish that rampant childhood poverty and our nation's indifference to it create. He invoked not Jesus but "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall," elevating women's rights, as well as civil rights and gay rights.

"You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course" is in fact a statement that 250 years ago was a cry of insurrection. Obama repeatedly invoked "We the People," as our Constitution does, not a monarch, or even a Monarch in the Sky, as the power that sets our course.

Yes, we freethinkers do get weary of the "God Bless America" bromides, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that secularism and humanism have really almost won the battle already when we talk of humans and citizens setting our own course and "acting in our own time."

Let's hear it for progress!

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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