Thursday 1 January 2009

Rick Warren? Secularists should be thankful

There's a lot of fuss in the US at present, concerning the inauguration of President Barack Obama and his invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. Secularists are understandably annoyed, saying it's a breach of the separation of church and state.

Secularists may also have wondered about Obama's motives in this selection, feeling perhaps that it's an immediate betrayal of the hopes that he embodied - pre-election - for a more rational administration.

But look at it this way: if a presidential candidate had a serious agenda to drastically reduce the influence of religion in government, the one thing that would scupper his or her campaign would be to come out as an atheist. By paying lip service to cosy and comfortable moderate religious values, a candidate is more likely to catch the votes of the religious majority, whatever beliefs (or non-beliefs) may lie in his or her heart. Once elected, that lip service would need to be maintained, to avoid charges of betrayal.

If Obama had not included a religious element to the inauguration, there might have been comments from fundamentalists, but I think the religious moderates would have let it pass. It's because of Pastor Warren's inclusion that the secularists have a legitimate grievance with which to raise their profile and promote their side of the argument. Secularism in America has become a hotly disputed issue, giving all sides the chance to air their views, and those of us on the side of rationality should be thankful.