January 14, 2011

Too Much Religion During Memorial Service in Tucson

ObamaI watched the memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the tragic shooting that has dominated U.S. headlines since it occurred. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but after Rachel Maddow insisted that it would be the defining moment of Obama's presidency, I figured I should check it out. But mostly, I was just curious. I wanted to see how Obama would balance the interests of those on the left seeking to politicize the shooting with the demands the situation and the knowledge that it would be highly inappropriate to use such a venue to do that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my overall opinion of President Obama prior to the memorial service was about as low as it could get. I've made no secret of my disappointment with his administration, although most of my thoughts on the subject have been posted at Red State Progressive. Approaching the memorial, I suppose you could say that I wanted to see Obama shine because I want to believe he can be at least some of what I want him to be when the situation demands it.

Grading Obama

In one sense, Obama did not disappoint. I thought that portions of his brief speech were excellent and that he did a reasonable job addressing the political factors in the shooting without bashing anyone over the head with them. Not surprisingly, he's already been sharply criticized by the right for too much politicizing. None of this struck me as problematic. A few parts of his speech were downright moving. And best of all, he sounded as if he really meant what he was saying.

At the same time, Obama's performance fell far short of what Maddow set it up to be. I could see how the shooting itself may impact our political landscape, but that is not going to be because of anything President Obama said. His speech was good, but not game changing. A solid B performance perhaps.

What was somewhat surprising to me was the overall tone of the service. As some on the right have pointed out, the atmosphere seemed more pep rally than memorial service. I agree with this characterization, but I can't say that it bothered me. It was surprising, but didn't strike me as inappropriate. Had I been a grieving family member, I'm not sure how I would have felt.

This Memorial Service Was Not For Atheists

For me, everything President Obama said during the service was overshadowed by the frequent use of religious content throughout. Given that this service took place at a public university and involved government officials, I found this extremely disappointing.

Aside from the opening Native American blessing, references to the Christian bible dominated the speeches. And these references came from government officials who should know better. Again and again, I found myself wondering if these people have any awareness that a significant portion of their constituency does not share their particular superstitions.

Anyone who cares about the separation of church and state should have been alarmed by what we saw during this service. Religion has no place at official ceremonies involving government officials. The references to gods were inappropriate as was the reverence expressed toward the Christian bible. This was an atrocious example of government intruding on the domain of the churches. Unacceptable.

I have to give Friendly Atheist credit for empowering me to write this. I probably wouldn't have bothered, knowing that this was not going to be a popular opinion. But when I saw his post and realized that he was bothered by this too, I somehow felt that it was okay to share my reaction.

H/T to Library Grape

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