I disagree with Richard Dawkins that Barack Obama is assuredly an atheist. I understand why he came to that conclusion, given that Obama is extraordinarily logical and rational and this normally wouldn't jibe with an ongoing belief in bronze-age superstition, but I think Obama is so reasonable that he'll allow for any possibility, even the divine.
That said, I do think that Obama isn't at all the kind of religious that his political enemies are and demand that he be as well. They want purity from all our elected officials specifically because they believe that America is a Christian nation, which it of course isn't. They'll argue with you on this but they'll be wrong -- and admittedly trying to fight back against their claim will only give you a headache since it'll be exactly like trying to convince someone in the year 2013 that a story told thousands of years ago by people who knew almost nothing about anything is still not only valid but the word of almighty God.
Besides the fact that Barack Obama is black and vaguely "foreign"-seeming -- which, let's face it, is behind a lot of the animus toward him from the right -- it's his unwillingness to stridently proselytize in the name of Jesus that pisses Tea Party conservatives off so much. No other president has been challenged on his religious beliefs more than Obama -- which goes right along with the questioning of his birthplace, the legality of his presidency, and so on -- and no one has faced more incredulity when going through the traditionally accepted motions of the religious. Obama can't just say he's a Christian; he has to prove it. But the beautiful part about that, of course, is that it's a trap, since he can never prove it to the satisfaction of his enemies.
And so we get scandal whenever Obama doesn't drop Jesus's name every ten seconds like there's a Skinner Box treat in it for him, a twisting of what he says and lying about what he does, all in an attempt to feed red meat to the hungry fundamentalist Christian masses who think he's the anti-Christ. Shit, there's an entire Wikipedia page devoted to nothing but the religious conspiracy theories about the President of the United States.
And we can now add one more to the long list: Barack Obama obviously hates Christianity and Jesus and is a secret Muslim threat to America because he didn't include "under God" in his reading of the Gettysburg Address. The short version: a series of celebrities and political leaders was recruited to read the legendary Lincoln speech as part of the promotional effort for Ken Burns's new PBS documentary, which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the address, but Obama was the only one who read it and said, "that the nation shall have a new birth of freedom," rather than "that the nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."
Sounds ominous, right? Menacing. His mask of phony Christianity slipping. Except that there are several written versions of the original Gettysburg Address that we know of and not all of them contain the phrase "under God." Did Lincoln actually say it at Gettysburg? There's no way to be completely sure, although the written news account of the speech seems to indicate that he did. But it also looks like Obama was reading from the "Nicolay Version" anyway, which doesn't include those words.
That of course doesn't matter, because the shit-storm on the right over "Under God-gate" has already begun:
Now make no mistake: What Obama did was almost certainly either an innocent oversight -- if indeed we're willing to acknowledge as an entire nation, as a matter of fact, that Lincoln said "under God" at Gettysburg -- or he simply did read the non-"under God" version and decided not to make a stink about it. But you may as well also keep in mind that there's nothing he can do about any of this. He cops to reading the "wrong" one and goes back and records another take, the Bryan Fischers of the world will consider it a victory. He admits he was reading off a version of the speech he doesn't prefer but he's, oh I don't know, too fucking busy being president to go back and change it now he'll be a pariah on the right. But then, he's a pariah anyway. And either way, this whole thing is much ado about less-than-nothing.
There are people within our culture who consider a lack of proper public genuflection before their deity a capital offense, but those people are, to put it mildly, crazy. The idea that we're willing to turn a minor debate over a couple of words that show deference to the ancient Christian god -- words that admittedly have become their own kind of self-reinforcing articles of faith in this country -- makes me wonder how the hell we got to be the most powerful nation on earth to begin with. Certainly how we remain even somewhat tethered to that title in the new millennium.
Maybe Lincoln said "under God" during his stirring speech at Gettysburg. Maybe he didn't.
Only a historian would think it matters that much. Anyone else furiously sounding off right now is just looking for one more scandal where there isn't one.