President Obama’s Shout-out to "Non-believers" | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Eight Forty-Eight

President Obama's Shout-out to "Non-believers"

Writer Ellie Badesch considers President Obama's inclusion of "non-believers" in his inaugural speech, and what this statement means for the future of our country.

The American political system has never cared too much about atheists.

In recent years, we've seen copious footage of the whitest politicians speaking Spanish, the richest politicians drinking whisky and riding tractors, and the oldest politicians going on MTV to “rock the vote” with the cast of “the Hills.” And then there was Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney…

(CLIP)

At the time, he was actually huddled with a group of African American teenagers.

Now that's some top notch pandering. But what about the atheists? Why is no one vying for our attention?

Now I understand that, for generations, reaching out to atheists in American politics has been nothing less than a death wish – political suicide. But in the days leading up to the inauguration of Barack Obama, I felt like the political establishment was really sticking it to us. I mean, is it just me, or did every event for the entire weekend start with a prayer? Obama couldn't brush his teeth without a “moment of silence.”

But, for me, the religious undertones (or overtones) were not going to sap the joy and power of the day. As Barack Obama took the oath of office, I was reminded that I am an American, first and foremost. I didn't care if President Obama never mentioned atheism or agnosticism once during his entire term. It didn't matter to me – America was a country in trouble, and there were more important things to address, more important wrongs to right.

And then it happened.

While addressing the topic of American diversity, President Obama proclaimed, “For we know that our patchwork heritage is strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”

Now, to be clear, atheists believe in lots of things, just not a supreme being. We believe in science – in knowledge and education. We believe in compassion and equality. We believe in truth and responsibility and accountability. We believe in serving our fellow country-men, and in protecting our environment. We don't believe in god, but we are not “non-believers.”

But, as years of American history have taught us, we have to walk before we can run. So if President Obama had to say “non-believers,” I'll take it. I guess, “Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Heathens” would have been worse.

With every passing generation, numbers of so-called “non-believers” increase. According to a study last year about 5 million American adults identify as atheists.

As time goes on, and these trends continue, American atheists and agnostics will increasingly become an active part of the mainstream political fabric. Now, I am not unrealistic, I know we are still a long way from electing our first atheist President.

But Obama's speech gave me hope that, in our current President, we have someone who, despite his own religious nature, understands that any level of division in this country, whether based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender or religion, is a recipe for disaster. And, as long as I know that those are the priorities of this new administration, on occasion I will happily bite my tongue and sing out – loud and proud – ??God Bless America – my home sweet home.”

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X