At Inaugural, Obama includes nonbelievers,  pledges to restore science

January 20, 2009

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Even if President Obama inspired millions of Americans today by talking about the “God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness,” he also — for the first time in history — explicitly acknowledged during his Inaugural Speech that this is not a nation consisting entirely of those who believe in God.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.

I was also impressed that he used this platform, with the whole wide world watching, to pledge that “we will restore science to its rightful place,” a pointed dig at the last eight years of politics-driven science under George W. Bush.

His Inaugural Speech was one about values — American values — and I would argue, largely secular humanist values: his call for taking collective responsibility for the mess we’re in as a nation and a world community, his realistic and somber assessment of just how bad it is and that some of the blame falls on belief in “outmoded dogmas,” his reliance on human effort and human ideals and not on supernatural solutions to our problems, his appeal to the Muslim world to reject the religiously-motivated violence that is excused by blaming the West for the socio-economic problems in Islamic societies — all of this and more makes me feel that for the first time, we have something of a secular humanist president.

He admits that secular humanism was his upbringing. In

Dreams from My Father

, he describes his mother as the biggest influence on his life, shaping his character and his critical thinking, and admits that she was a religious skeptic, “a lonely witness for secular humanism.” His mother was concerned with social justice and doing good in this world not because God says to, but because it is right.

By mentioning in his Inaugural Speech that this is a nation that includes nonbelievers, and by calling to restore science to its rightful place, I can only imagine that if his mother could look down from the heaven she didn’t believe in, she would be proud to see the influence of her secular humanism on the 44th President of the United States of America.