Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I stopped watching the president's speech last night

There I was, watching the president's speech in Connecticut last night. I was curious to see where he would go with it. But I got thrown off course quickly, and gave up, which is a shame because I bet he said some good things.

See, I don't believe in a god or gods. I just can't wrap my brain around it. I am not hostile to people who do. I believe in religious freedom to the nth degree. I think you should think whatever you want to think about those issues. I have friends who are devout believers in a god (mostly Christians) and friends whose personal belief system revolves, like mine, more around things like science and reason, and doesn't go near issues of the supernatural. And I have a whole lot of friends somewhere in between those polar opposites. It's all OK with me because I believe in personal autonomy. I would never tell you what to think about issues of gods, religion and the like.

So why was the president leaning so hard on the supernatural in that speech, or what I saw of it?

If you are a believer in a deity -- and most of America is, if polls are to be believed -- try and imagine for a minute how utterly shallow and preposterous it sounds for anyone to attempt to comfort someone who is *not* a believer with a statement like, "Well, at least those innocent victims are wrapped in God's loving embrace now."

It's fine for you to believe that, and I have no interest in disrupting your belief system, but there is a decent minority of this country -- and huge swaths of many other Western democracies -- that equate that kind of talk with delusion. Even worse, I am betting -- as a simple matter of numbers -- that somewhere amidst the surviving families of those 26 victims there are people who don't believe in the supernatural.

I wonder what *they* thought when told that their deceased relatives were "in a better place."

I even heard the phrase "God's plan" in that speech.


It's one thing for pastors and other official religious leaders to invoke the supernatural at times like this. It is to be expected. But I think it is ... well, the best word I can think of is "weird" ... for the president to do it as some sort of comforting and inclusive gesture. Sure, it's comforting to the majority, I suppose, but he was, quite likely, standing in front of some non-believers last night telling them that their dead family members were somehow doing better today.

And trust me, unless you are religiously-inclined, you most definitely don't think that.

Maybe "weird" doesn't cut it after all. It is something more obtuse than that, as if he never considered that some of those notions might be grossly offensive to some of his intended audience. And really, when the point of a speech is healing and comfort, you really want to avoid offending.

I basically like the president, and I don't think for a second that any of his predecessors would have been *less* inclined to invoke the supernatural last night. I also don't think he was trying to be controversial or offensive. But, really, in a speech where "inclusion" was more important than ever, I wish he had just stuck to comforting those families for their losses and said whatever else he wanted to say about gun policy and the country moving forward. Instead, he shut out some people; I hope, for their sakes, that none of those people were the surviving families.

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