Like his predecessor George W. Bush, President Barack H. Obama spoke of our nation’s religions in his inaugural address on Tuesday. Unlike Bush, who referenced the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, and the words of the Koran, Obama stated: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”
My quibble is not with the first-time reference in a presidential inaugural speech to “non-believers,” although it would not be to my liking to have acknowledged the category. Atheists and agnostics, and all those that identify themselves as having “no religion,” actually make up the second most checked-off category of those asked to specify a religious affiliation.
It is with the third category of religious affiliation where there is much disagreement. Some argue that Buddhism makes up about 0.5% to 0.9% of the population of the United States whereas other demographers believe Islam to be 0.6% of the total population.
Here is my point. Obama should have stated: “We are a nation of Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists ….” The order in which he categorized America’s religious groups does matter. It matters to those of us who understand our heritage. We are a nation deeply routine in Judeo/Christian beliefs. Moreover, most every survey taken has Judaism, not Islam, as the second most identified religion in the United States next to Christianity.
In mentioning Muslims before Jews, Obama can only add fuel to the fire for those who believe he is soft on Islam or even a secret adherent. It is unfathomable to think that he or his speech writer weren’t aware of this ever-present issue. Of course they were. Why didn’t he reverse the order?
It is plausible to argue that Mr. Obama might have been countering an earlier statement in his address. After all, he just warned those that would “seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents … we will defeat you.” This was clearly a remark addressed at Islamic terrorists of all stripes poised at killing Americans.
Was Mr. Obama’s placement of Islam meant to say to the Islamic world that we see the importance of your religion? And, in effect, an effort to reach out to Muslims who he might have offended with his discussion of how he would deal with terrorists? After all, his words caused George W. Bush to leap to his feet and applaud.
Let’s hope and pray that Mr. Obama doesn’t have some other intention. Only time will tell.