A secular inaugural speech?

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, praises Barack Obama for delivering an inaugral address “notably lacking in religious rhetoric”:

Yes, he mentioned God, but as an atheist, I have no objection to a president who believes in God making such a reference. What he did not do was invoke a Higher Power as a source of and a justification for public policy.

Jacoby also expresses satisfaction that Obama specifically mentioned “nonbelievers” along with various religions as a part of America’s diversity.  On that, I completely agree.  But on religious rhetoric and religion as a “justification for public policy,” was Obama’s inaugural address that different from George W. Bush’s in 2001?

Here are the faith-based passages from Bush’s address:

And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.

I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image.

And later, in speaking of “our nation’s grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity”:

We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.

Obama, meanwhile, spoke of “the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”   He also said this:

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.


Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

I would say that Bush’s religious rhetoric was a bit more flowery, but in terms of actual religious content and mentions of God as the source of inspiration of political ideals, the two inaugural addresses are roughly equal.


Filed under Barack Obama, religion

3 responses to “A secular inaugural speech?

  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III

    I fail to see how any mention of God is considered religious. But then, the secular God haters are offended by any mention of God. Funny, some people will believe in an empty theory like global warming without any real evidence yet they refuse to ackknowledge God inspite of the evidence.

  2. Revenant

    I fail to see how any mention of God is considered religious.

    An argument could be made that simply saying “I believe a God exists” is not a religious statement. It is a non-secular statement, of course, since it has spiritual overtones, but it isn’t necessarily religious.

    But the idea that the god in question created us, guides us, and has a plan for us, and that we in turn have a duty to him? That’s lifted straight out of the theology of the Abrahamic religions, as I’m sure you were well aware.

  3. There’s nothing God given about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a secular promise. The founders of the United States were protecting religious diversity by preventing any religion from imposing itself upon any other. Obama, Bush, any leader can practice any religion they want, but the moment they fail to uphold the Constitution irregardless of the reason, it is time to impeach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s