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Barack Obama on Secular Atheists: Does Obama View Atheists as Equally Moral?

Barack Obama Expresses Conflicting Ideas about Secular Atheists & Morality


If Barack Obama's position on secularism and church/state separation is confused at best, what does he think about secular atheists? We've already seen him willing and able to attribute falsehoods to "secularists" — the same falsehoods that are so popular with the Christian Right — so what will stop him from attributing common misrepresentations to atheists? Perhaps nothing, because some comments do suggest acceptance of bigoted myths about atheists.

In his "Call to Renewal" Keynote Address of June 28, 2006, Barack Obama initially expressed the sentiment that secular people are no less capable of being moral than religious theists:

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

Does Barack Obama include atheists in the category of people who are "also secular"? Presumably, because atheists in America tend to be secular, but a person can be secular and a theist. If he meant to include atheists, why not actually say so — was he worried about expressing open sympathy for such a hated group? Assuming for the moment that he did mean atheists, he appears to contradict this just a little be later in the same speech:

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate. ... So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far.

We need Christians on Capitol Hill? What kind of statement is that? Almost all legislators are Christians — in fact, they are a higher percentage of legislators than they are of the general population. It makes no sense to say that "we need Christians on Capital Hill" when almost everyone on Capitol Hill is already a Christian. I would only expect such a statement from a Christian Nationalist who doesn't believe that most Christians in America are "real" Christians in the first place.

Even worse, why does he link needing Christians, Jews, and Muslims on Capitol Hill with needing an "injection of morality in our political debate"? This implies that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are needed for injecting morality into political debates — and by implication that secular believers and secular atheists are incapable of injecting morality into political debates. Why would Barack Obama imply such a thing? If he really wants to build partnerships with "secular people of good will," then he needs to display a bit more good will himself by not implying that religion is necessary for morality or that religious morality might be superior to secular morality.

Once again, though, we are faced with a Barack Obama who expresses contradictory sentiments over the course of just a few minutes in the same speech. Does he understand the positions he is taking or is he deliberately seeking to express a variety of positions in order to please different voters? Barack Obama keeps touting himself as an agent for "change," but if anything needs changing its politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouth for the sake of political advantage.

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