December 21, 2008

Obama's Warren Pick: Not a Big Deal?

LAKE FOREST, CA - DECEMBER 1:  Sen. Barack Oba...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeIt turns out that the atheist blogosphere is not of one mind on Obama's selection of Christian extremist pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. While few are defending the choice as a good idea, Friendly Atheist went so far as to say that those of us who object should "Chill. The. Fuck. Out." Like many who commented on my initial post on the subject, he does not regard the Warren pick as a big deal. I disagree. I acknowledge that there may be other battles worth fighting, but I think this is important.

I think I finally found the perfect summary of how I feel about the Warren pick in a recent post at Homosecular Gaytheist:
Mr. President, an advocate for Jewish rights would not allow Heinrich Himmler to speak at an event in which they control the speakers list. Why would you allow a man who 1) hates gays, 2) hates Muslims, 3) hates liberals and 4) hates “moderate Christians (i.e. the ones that voted for you) to speak at your inauguration? That is not the act of a “fierce advocate for equality”. It’s the act of a cowardly advocate for the same old shit.
Brilliant! Couldn't have said it better myself.

Now, I am happy that Obama wants to be perceived as a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays, but I do not see how Warren will help this perception. As Bligbi puts it, "Fierce advocates of equality do not give a seat of honour to the fierce advocates of inequality!"

Am I just over-reacting here? After all, invoking some imaginary being in a ceremony is a far cry from advising Obama on policy. I find it useful to turn to Daylight Atheism at this point, as there is no way I could possibly improve upon the following:
...I think this invitation will be viewed as a slap in the face by liberal and progressive Americans - the very people who supported Obama's bid for the presidency and worked to put him into office. And while it may generate some fleeting goodwill among evangelical voters, I have no doubt that the vast majority of them will vote Republican in the next election anyway. Meanwhile, the lost goodwill among Obama's supporters may not be as easy to win back as he apparently thinks. It's very likely that he'll need us again to pressure Congress to support his proposals. Will we be willing to work again for him, having been denigrated in this way?

Insulting your allies for the sake of a futile gesture to your sworn enemies is a bad idea and bad politics. And I suspect the blowback has been far more intense and sustained than Obama's team anticipated, causing controversy and embarrassment where they had hoped to avoid both. Although I still consider Obama's election a tremendous net positive for America, this shameful pick may be a sign of how much work we'll have to do in the next eight years to prod our leaders toward implementing a truly progressive agenda.
I am happy that we in the atheist community can disagree with one another without things devolving into personal attacks. Christians could learn a great deal from us in that regard. I agree with Hemant (Friendly Atheist) far more than I disagree with him, and I have great respect for him. This just happens to be one of those times when I disagree.

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