Monday, January 5, 2009

Pastor Warren: The Best Reason for a Prayer-Free Inauguration

Even though I stand by my position that the election of Barack Obama as America's first African-American President represents a breakthrough from which atheists also may one day benefit, (see my Nov. 9 post "A Step Forward For American Atheists?") I am disappointed that he chose Pastor Rick Warren, a homophobic Christian fundamentalist preacher, to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Perhaps this is Obama's attempt to "atone" to his critics for his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright whose anti-American rhetoric upset many people and which Hillary Clinton for example described as "hate speech". Yet isn't this likewise an appropriate designation for Warren's comparison of gay marriage to incest?

It turns out that besides Warren's intolerance towards certain groups, there is another issue: the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that in his prayer he will invoke Jesus' name which would be in keeping with his religious convictions. If he does this, it will upset a lot of non-Christians (myself included). For one thing, making such an entreaty at this event would symbolically imply endorsement of Christianity as the national religion.

However, would it be rational to expect a fundie like Warren to pass up the chance at such an occasion to "strut his stuff" and NOT to call upon Jesus at such an occasion? After all, wouldn't one expect an atheist who is just as true to his /her principles to omit deistic references in delivering an invocation address?

But even if Warren were replaced with another more moderate speaker who would be willing to seek a more neutral blessing from some universal divine being, in the final analysis no matter there is really no such thing as a non-denominational prayer anyway. What deity would be the object of such a prayer, "To whom it may concern"? Prayer by its very nature implies an appeal to a "higher power" and as such is a religious act. Therefore, its inclusion at such an event as an American presidential inauguration violates the spirit (no pun intended) of the Constitutional separation of Church and State.

If ever there were an opportunity to show that America can truly become a nonsectarian society, elimination of the Presidential Inaugural prayer would be a great symbolic step in that direction.

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