Sunday, June 14, 2009

This Week in God: Obama White House Meets with (Gasp!) Atheists

Posted by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly at 11:58 AM on June 13, 2009.

And other goings on from the world of faith.

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting meeting at the White House, which may have been a first.

Last week, the Secular Coalition for America, an atheist advocacy group, held its first-ever individual face-to-face with the White House. Ron Millar, the coalition's acting director, told POLITICO that he met with Paul Montero, Obama's religious liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Obama "is opening a little door to include us in, which we are very appreciative of," says Millar, who says he anticipates a number of additional such meetings with the administration.

Among the concerns Millar says he touched on was proselytizing in the U.S. military: "That is something we really want to follow up with this administration, because we have not seen much there."

There have been organizations representing atheists around for decades, but I don't recall ever hearing about one being invited to the White House for a chat.

Given that White House officials have also recently engaged plenty of religious groups and communities, from across the theological spectrum -- even a Focus on the Family representative extended generous praise -- it's only fair that they also sit down with an atheist advocacy group.

That said, this seems like an encouraging development concerning the interests of atheists. Historically, administrations would keep a group like the Secular Coalition for America at arm's length. What's more, a meeting like this, not too long ago, may have sparked a controversy.

That this meeting occurred, the group raised legitimate concerns, and no one freaked out about their discussion, looks like a positive development as it relates to diversity of spiritual thought.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* James Dobson chatted this week with Tim Goeglein, a former special assistant to President Bush before he resigned in disgrace following a plagiarism controversy, about the former president's legacy. Goeglein told Dobson that George W. Bush "was was the instrument in God's hand as the leader of the free world."

* The Rev. Rob Schenck, perhaps best known for applying anointing oil to the door leading to the Inaugural portico in January, has now been given permission to anoint the doors to the Senate hearing room where Sonia Sotomayor will face questions from the Judiciary Committee in July. I'm not sure who gave Schenck permission to do this.

* And in Kentucky, one Louisville pastor has decided to encourage his congregation to "strap on holsters and bring their weapons to church." Pastor Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church told ABC News, "As a Christian pastor I believe that without a deep-seeded belief in God and firearms that this country would not be here." Paul Helmke, of the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, noted, "Christ tells us to put down the sword and this pastor seems to be encouraging them to take up the sword."


Tagged as: this week in god

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."

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