Sunday, June 28, 2015

An amazing and inspiring speech

PZ Myers puts this perfectly, as far as I'm concerned:
I watched Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney yesterday.

I absolutely despised the talk of “faith in that which cannot be seen”, and I detest the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” — that idea that we’re all wretches in need of saving is part of Christianity’s poisonous power.

But still…that was an amazing and inspiring speech. As a black president, in a black church, who was acknowledging the importance of the black church in black history, and who was delivering a eulogy for a black minister, it was appropriate and beautiful — this was a man proudly embracing the deep history of a people, and giving the best eulogy I’ve ever heard. He not only addressed the personal, but also covering the issues of Pinckney’s activist causes. While the window dressing may jar to this atheist, those causes are shared, and the substance of the speech was moving (even to me!) and important.

He may have been a bit off-key, but I was also impressed that he was moved to express himself with a traditional song, and I envy him the ability to open up like that — with the eyes of the entire world on him.

On top of all the court successes this week, this was a remarkable expression of Obama’s identity and goals. I’d vote for him again, despite the many disappointments of his presidency. This is the week that may mark Obama as one of our great presidents (noting that the events of this week were actually a culmination of many years of struggle.) I’m hoping it also marks a turning point in the history of the US.

Or not. To end on a dismal note, six black churches in the South were set on fire last night. That’s also part of an American tradition of terror.

That describes my feelings, too - just perfectly. I'm an atheist. I don't believe any of that religious stuff. But some people do. And it was a very moving speech, even for me.

I'm normally irritated by a politician injecting religion into public issues. But this was a eulogy, in a church, for a minister. If religion isn't appropriate there, where is it? Again, I don't believe that it's true, but I don't get to decide for everyone else. I don't want to decide for everyone else.

And this was definitely where religion and politics intersect. These people were killed because of the color of their skin. But the pastor was also a state senator. And the church itself has a long history of political struggle. The target of this racist attack wasn't selected at random.

Black churches like this one have been critical in the struggle for civil rights because, for centuries, black people weren't allowed to gather anywhere but in a church (and not even then, all the time). For centuries, the only leaders they were allowed were Christian preachers (and not even then, all the time).

All other leaders or potential leaders would be murdered. All other gatherings would be broken up by the white police. Black churches played a huge part in the struggle for civil rights at least in part because black people had no other options.

Even there, it was risky. Even there, brave men and women - and even children - paid a price (as they did just recently).

I disagree with Christianity, because I don't think it's true. That's why I disagree with all other religions, too. But I support freedom of religion, and I support the separation of church and state.

And I can't deny the emotional power of religion. I certainly can't deny the emotional power of this eulogy. It was an amazing and inspiring speech, even if I don't agree with all of it. I still agree with some of it, of course, but it's not necessary for me to agree to recognize it as appropriate.

This was not injecting religion into the political realm. As I can admire beautiful cathedrals or lovely church music, I can - and do - admire this eulogy. There was nothing inappropriate about it. I wish that people wouldn't believe without evidence, but there's a time and a place for such criticisms. This was neither the time nor the place.

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