President Obama mentioned nontheists during his eighth and final White House Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. In his speech, the president reflected on the golden rule and how it is shared by people of many faiths and people of no faith.
“… Along with celebrations like these, the holidays also offer us a time for reflection and perspective… A message that says we have to be our brothers’ keepers, our sisters’ keepers, that we have to reach out to each other, to forgive each other, to let the light of our good deeds shine for all, to care for the sick and the hungry and the downtrodden. And, of course, to love one another, even our enemies, and treat one another the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
It’s a message that grounds not just my family’s Christian faith but that of Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, non-believers, Americans of all backgrounds. It’s a message of unity, and a message of decency, and a message of hope that never goes out of style, and it’s one that we all need very much today.”
What’s significant about President Obama’s statement is not only that he mentioned nontheists but that he acknowledged the values we share with people of faith. A crucial component of the religious right’s narrative is asserting that people of faith have a monopoly on values and, therefore, are the only ones capable of shaping our public policy. The damage done by this myth is far reaching, from a widespread distrust of atheists to an unofficial religious test placed on politicians seeking office, this misconception remains a significant hurdle that the secular community needs to overcome. That is why we thank President Obama for his remarks and hope that his successor will take notes.