Given how historic a day today was, I’m hoping you’ll humour me and forgive a rare political post. Like millions of people all around the world I watched the inauguration live on the internet. Not TV, but the internet, a sign of things to come perhaps? Anyhow, that’s not really what I want to write about here. I just want to make three observations about today’s events from the perspective of an outsider. Or, to be more precise, from the point of view of a European gay agnostic.
Firstly, the day was dominated by Christianity to a level I found discomforting at best. The Christian God was all over the place, and two christian ministers were given an official government platform from which to preach and pray. Two Christians, no Jews, no Muslims, no Hindus, no agnostics, no atheists. Two Christians. To see the state elevate one religion like that, above all others, and above none, seems a long way from the ideal of a separation of church and state. The first amendment prohibits the congressional establishment of one religion over an other through laws, yet no one sees it as an issue that one religion, and only one, is given a role in what is probably the greatest government event America puts on, and which is held right on the steps of congress itself? I don’t just see it as an issue that the United States of America is actively pushing Christianity though, I see it as a problem that ANY religion gets a role like this in government activities. America is so very quick to condemn Theocracies abroad, particularly Muslim ones, yet it doesn’t see any problem mixing Christianity with government at home. Obviously you can’t directly compare Christianity in the US to Islam in, say, Iran. America doesn’t have religious officials making or applying state or federal laws, but Christianity is none-the-less given state and federal endorsement to the exclusion of all other religious views. Not Theocracy, but a lot closer to it than I’m comfortable with, and a long way from a separation of church and state.
On the plus side though, President Obama did mention many other religions in his speech. And even more surprisingly, he explicitly mentioned non-believers. As shocking as it may sound to many in Europe, that’s a huge deal in America. Atheists are even more scorned than gays in many parts of the US!
Secondly, on a very related note, the new President, and indeed the United States Government, chose to give an unrepentant hate-monger who wishes to deprive an entire swathe of the American people of their basic civil rights an implicit endorsement and a stage to preach from. A government stage. How on earth is that an appropriate action by a government that’s supposed to be serving all Americans? I certainly can’t square giving Rick Warren what amounts to a federal endorsement for hate and homophobia with the new President’s stated support for gay rights.
We should be thankful though, that the Pastor kept his actual remarks on that stage civilised. Just imagine if he’d shared his belief that he has a cure for Homosexuality with the world, or explained why homosexuality is the same as incest or child-marriage. Wouldn’t that have been embarasing! It would have been an honest representation of his views and teachings though. And the next time he does preach these and similar messages, he does so carrying the weight of the 44th President’s implicit endorsement. Of all the religious leaders in the whole of the United States of America, president Obama choose just two, and one of those was Rick Warren.
Finally, there can be no doubt that today was a historic first. America has risen above one of it’s long-standing demons. Racism in the states was not magically wiped out by inaugurating an African-American President, but it’s now on the back foot. The majority have spoken, they don’t have any problem with the child of an African immigrant holding the highest office in the land. That truly makes me very happy.
However, we mustn’t loose sight of the other first still to come. Some of which will unfortunately probably take a very long time. Just like the lack of a black president was indicative of America’s long, and continuing, struggle with racism, these other missing firsts also illuminate other American prejudices which still need to be overcome.
The most obvious is the lack of a female president. This is a no-brainer, and will probably be the next first to come. Also very obvious is the lack of a gay president. That will probably take a very long time to happen. Gays are starting to make it into elected office slowly, but America is nowhere near ready to elect a gay President. My last missing first is a lot less obvious though, but brings us nicely full circle. America has never had an openly agnostic or atheistic President. The religious beliefs of politicians are still far too important to American voters. To hell with policies, if he believes in the same God we do he must be good. Obviously I think that attitude is nothing short of retarded, and I offer as proof, the most unpopular President in the history of the United States of America, George W. Bush. I hope I live to see all these firsts, and of course, not just in the United States of America, but everywhere. It’s not a realistic hope, but why do hopes have to be realistic?