January 25, 2009

Obama's Acknowledgment of Nonbelievers is a Start

President Obama
President Obama's mention of nonbelievers in his inaugural address did not go without notice by the news media. Bloc Raisonneur did a great job of cataloging the initial reactions for us (update: link no longer active). Not surprisingly, the atheist blogosphere has had quite a bit to say about Obama's address.

The consensus, at least from what I have read, appears to be fairly positive. At the very least, I think we can agree that it was nice to hear President Obama acknowledge nonbelievers in his address. Where opinions diverge a bit is on whether this was merely a nice gesture or a sign of a meaningful change in the manner in which the U.S. president regards atheists.

I tend to agree with Austin Cline when he says, "Frankly, I'm not at all impressed by this for several reasons and I don't think that other atheists should make a big deal out of it either." It was nice to hear him acknowledge nonbelievers, but I do not believe that it represents a significant change in attitude.

As Austin suggested, Obama's acknowledgment says more about the pitiful status of atheists in America than it does about Obama.
The refusal of so many to even acknowledge that atheists exist, never mind acknowledge that atheists are equal citizens whose views should be taken into consideration, demonstrates just how deep and strong the animus towards atheists is in American society.
Mentioning nonbelievers was certainly a step forward, but it was a first step at the beginning of a marathon. There is another critical step that must be taken, a much larger step that would really signal a change of attitude. In order to facilitate this next step, I hope you will join me in sending a version of Atheist Ethicist's letter to President Obama.