January 24, 2021

Atheists Take Biden Administration to Task on Religion Promoting Inauguration

Lincoln memorial

Although Joe Biden was far from my first choice of the Democratic candidates running for president in 2020, I was glad he won the election. Four more years of the alternative would have been rough. Like every inauguration of a newly elected president I have watched, Biden's inauguration was hard to watch because of the manner in which it promoted religiosity. This was not surprising, but it was disappointing. At a time when the country desperately needs at least a symbolic embrace of unity, using this event to promote faith seemed pointlessly divisive. This is the sort of thing many atheists living in the United States have acclimated to, but that does not mean we should stop working to change it. This sort of thing has been normalized for far too long, and I think we need to make it clear that it is unacceptable. Those of us who do not believe in gods are part of this country too, and we deserve better than frequent messages to the contrary.

On the bright side, I was encouraged to see how many atheists and atheist organizations did speak out against what they saw at Biden's inauguration. Here are just a few examples of what I mean:

As I expected, Biden is not going to get a pass from the secular left just because he's a Democrat. We understand that it is not just possible but likely that we will support some of his policies while speaking out against what looks like it may be a problematic tendency to use his elected office to push religiosity.

Unfair? Too soon? While I may not agree with all of the policies Biden says he wants to implement and have disagreed with some of those he supported during his long political career, I think he's a genuinely decent guy. He seems to be one of the few modern politicians who entered public service for the right reasons, and I think his empathy for others is genuine, even if it is limited when it comes to those who do not share his god-belief. Still, I expect more from any elected official in our secular democracy. It is fine if they want to be religious; it is not fine for them to use their government positions to promote religiosity. Public employees have no business communicating to atheists that we are "less than," and my patience with so many government events turning into church services has run out. I'm not going to ignore it.

I don't expect Biden to be perfect, but I do hope we will be willing to learn. President Obama was far from perfect when it came to religion (remember the Rick Warren fiasco?), but he got some important things right. For example, he was one of the first presidents I can remember who understood that "inclusive language" has to include those of us who don't believe in gods in order to be inclusive. When I criticize Biden, I am not "bashing him; I am encouraging those who support him to provide him with the secular guidance he seems to need. I hope it will help and that his administration will be successful. We certainly need reality-based leadership in these times.