Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I didn't get a chance to see any of the inauguration events as they were happening, because I was at work, but I did read President Obama's speech and a few other speeches.

Among those other speeches that I read, I was particularly curious to read the invocation by Rick Warren.  A lot of people who voted for Obama were particularly upset by the choice of Warren for the invocation.  Of particular offense were his words comparing loving, committed same-sex relationships to incest and bestiality.  It seemed somewhat inappropriate for a man who ostensibly supports the rights of gays to invite a man with such hateful views to headline his inauguration, but I chalked it up to Obama's political savvy, which is far superior to mine.  Warren supports Obama on several issues that other conservatives do not, so I can see that this is a political move.

Mostly I was interested to see after all the uproar what sort of thing he would have to say.  It ended up being rather bland and mostly innocuous.  (Here's a transcript in case you're interested.)  What follows is my critique.

I liked some of the things he had to say.  Metaphorically speaking, I would agree that "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven."  (Of course I don't agree literally, since I don't believe in God.)  Like Warren, I hope that Obama will have the wisdom to lead us in humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, and the compassion to lead us with generosity.

The last part of the prayer is where it fails.  From here on out, it follows the pattern of "[God] forgive us when we do X" (where X represents a Bad Thing).  I find this a very weak message, and a morally and intellectually lazy demand on God.

It would have been a much more powerful message if he'd said "Help us learn to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect they deserve," rather than "Forgive us when we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect they deserve," for example.

Supposing for a minute that the Christian god exists, surely He would want to help us to become better people, rather than simply forgiving our mistakes.  Surely He would want us to seek the forgiveness of those we have wronged; to right the wrongs we have committed; to prevent those transgressions from ever occurring again.  This is a lot more work than just feeling badly or saying that you're sorry, but it's the only way to show both God and those you have wronged that you truly understand.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

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