Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Michael envisions the Christian prayer and oath-taking at the Inauguration as an exercise in American pluralism, and I find that vision to be very attractive. But I'm not sure if we're far enough along in our national sense of religious pluralism for that vision to be accurate today. I don't have sound empirical data on this question, but at least judging from my conversations with many friends and relatives, a lot of Americans cherish the Christian prayer and oath-taking at the Inauguration not as an expression of the President's personal faith, but as a collective expression of our nation's faith. The majority's view of these ceremonial exercises directly informs the minority's view. Witness the storm caused a couple of years ago when my congressman, Keith Ellison, decided to take the (ceremonial) oath on the Qur'an. Many non-Christians respond to the Christian prayer at the Inauguration as a message of exclusion because many Americans view the prayer as the nation's prayer, not Barack Obama's prayer.
I'm not quite ready to offer a coherent or compelling framework for resolving this issue, though. I would be troubled if prayer was banished from the Inauguration completely, even though I admit that any prayer is bound to alienate the agnostic/atheist citizen. Perhaps our diversifying religious landscape will make Michael's vision (and mine) a reality sooner than we think.