The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Did Obama get something correct?

There's an excellent Forum piece in yesterday's USA Today. Read it here. It's written by Stephen Prothero, chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University and author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know – And Doesn't.

Prothero quotes Obama from his inaugural when he describes the United States as a "nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers." He later cites an Obama speech made in Turkey: The United States "does not consider itself a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation" but "a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

These are the wisest words to have left Obama's mouth that I can recall.

Prothero's piece is an excellent analysis of the conclusions drawn by Newsweek from the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. And he makes the point that the discussion of whether or not this is a Christian country is more complicated than simply counting the number of people who identify themselves as Christians.

Of course, that's what the First Amendment is about. There are times when majority rule is not the best idea, and the framers knew this. And, the freedom to worship – or not worship – as we choose is among our most important freedoms. Obama has it right. We must be a nation bound by ideals and a set of values and not by a specific religion. The fact that many of those values have their roots in Christianity, is not a bad thing either.

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