20 January 2009 was certainly a significant day, no matter your political affiliation. I was unfortunately in class during the inauguration (Evolutionary Genetics followed by Professional Practice in the Life Sciences) so didn’t get to see or hear it live. The clips I heard on NPR after class made me want to stop everything and simply revel in the moment. I’m happy to see Obama in office for many reasons, but one in particular resonates. As of now, anyone can be president. Anyone can rise up from any upbringing, and with a little work, reach for the stars.
Well, almost anyone. While our new president himself gave a shout-out to “Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers”, even inviting one each Muslim, Jew and Hindu to his prayer service, Christians definitely took center stage. Prayer after prayer, breakfasts and benedictions made it clear to me that non-believers (and non-Christians in general) are not welcome. Would Christians have noticed or minded if there had been a little less praying and a little more secular celebration? Was it really necessary to reinforce the idea that Christians are in charge and that the rest of us are little more than an afterthought?
Imagine, if you will, that an atheist was elected to high office (yes, it is impossible, I said imagine) and the election ceremonies included denouncements of a deity of your choice. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris present treatises on how removing religion from daily life will allow the elected official to preform better. Everyone who wants to watch the historic events is forced to endure these speeches regardless of whether or not they agree with them, whether or not they are offended by them. Of course, this situation sounds crazy! And yet, this is exactly what happened (if you prefer, imagine days of prayer focused on Vishnu or Allah instead of Jesus).
Why are Americans incapable of celebrating a secular event in a secular way? Throughout the history of the world, the history of the US, is there not a single non-religious quote worthy of such an event? Can we not talk about the greatness of the human spirit rather than the great spirit? Not that it would help those of us who don’t pray, you’d think the prayers could at least be phrased in such a way to be slightly less exclusive.
I am so incredibly frustrated that this is the way we usher in a new era – maybe it’s not really a new era at all. Am I just being pessimistic? What do the inauguration prayers mean to you?