Non-Believers

barackobamagrantpark_04nov2008_0096Twenty three paragraphs into President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, I heard a phrase I didn’t think I’d hear a US President say, at least not in public, for some years to come.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth…”

I know I live in a country where politicians have to belong to a church if they want to be elected to high office, but for me and many of my non-believer friends, it was an amazing moment to hear the President of the United States acknowledge that we non-believers exist. (Fun fact: Most studies show non-believers at about 1 billion, in third place of global religious beliefs behind Christianity around 2 billion and Islam at 1.5 billion.)

We are a large minority.

But it was only one of many moments yesterday that made me and many of my friends breathe a collective sign of relief.

One of my friends was less enthralled however, and said he was hoping for a more soaring speech. I disagreed, saying that was not the time for anything but telling the American people that we have a lot of work in front of us: “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

It’s true. There are a few at the top of the financial world who spent the last few years filling their own pockets, but most of us have all been living beyond our means, and we all need to readjust our lifestyles.

Elsewhere in the President’s speech, “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

And I’ve been saying for years that the way to make the world a more peaceful place is not through brute force, but through dialog and bothering to understand the many differences of our vast global cultures. This President, knows how to listen and bring divergent opinions to the table and that’s going to make a world of difference.

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

The Middle-East is and has been a very difficult region with conflicts going back hundreds of years. It’s another part of the world where the past Administration’s philosophies have only fanned those flames.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

It’s a good start.

The photograph above I took at the Obama Rally on November 4th. I’m not a flag waving kind of guy, but yesterday gave me a sense that there was finally someone in the White House who shared my philosophies on being a global citizen. I’ve done a lot of traveling and it’s been difficult to be an American abroad. Always having to explain that there were a lot of us who strongly disagreed with what my government was doing.

billyobamaphotoAnother photograph from that day is on it’s way to the White House now. One of my favorites from that evening. I’m not sure if it will end up on the wall there, but I think it might be a fine addition to the Oval Office…. or even the Lincoln Bedroom for that matter.

On that, I guess I’m a true believer.

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