In spite of multiple requests from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that he respect the Constitution he once taught in law school, President Obama participated in another National Prayer Breakfast. And the 2,562-word speech he gave suggests that he was not there as a passive observer but a full participant. One possibility is that we have a president who is blatantly pandering to evangelical fundamentalist Christians because he believes it is necessary for his re-election. Regardless of his personal beliefs, he may be doing what he sees as necessary for the sake of his political viability. Another possibility is that he sincerely believes what he said at this event and that he is afflicted with the same religious delusion that appears to grip much of the United States. Even if we think that one of these possibilities is more desirable than the other, I'd like to suggest that both are problematic.
We all know that a U.S. president must at least pretend to be religious in order to maintain office. That is not the issue here. By participating in an event hosted by the infamously secretive Christian extremist group known as "The Family," President Obama has gone well beyond the sort of pretending that would be necessary.
Perhaps Obama doesn't believe much of what he said and is pandering. Of course, he's attended these prayer breakfasts before, pushed faith-based initiatives, and proclaimed his religion throughout his presidency, so it wouldn't be fair to say he's only doing this because of the 2012 election. But for the sake of argument, let's tell ourselves that he's been doing most of this primarily to hold onto office. Is that really a desirable state of affairs?
Even if we pretend that Obama is an atheist (and I don't believe this for a second), I'm not sure how his actions here can be construed as anything other than harmful. Pandering or not, his participation lends credibility to this event. As a former law professor, he should know better. His involvement communicates that this sort of event, with its Christian extremist agenda, is not just legal but worth promoting.
My point is this: even if Obama is pandering by attending this event, this sort of pandering is far from harmless.
I have encountered surprisingly few atheists who think that President Obama might actually believe most of what he says in speeches like this. Had I never heard of cognitive dissonance, this might surprise me. I happen to think that the atheists who insist Obama is really one of us are wrong, but I understand the appeal of believing this, especially for those on the political left.
The possibility that Obama really believes this stuff suggests that he might be delusional, and that upsets many atheists. However, it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've had a delusional president. In my opinion, it is more likely that President Obama is another delusional president than it is that he's the first modern atheist president.
Is it a problem if Obama actually believes much of this stuff? Absolutely! If he is being sincere when he claims that his Christian faith guides his policies, then this is cause for concern. We want reality-based policies, and all this faith-based stuff is going to make us nervous.
Neither Option is Desirable
If the question is whether we want to be led by a pandering liar or a delusional Christian, my answer would have to be "neither." We cannot trust either one to represent our interests. While I am perfectly fine with having a Christian president, I am not okay with having one who allows his or her faith to influence policy decisions.
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