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Bush's Beliefs on Nonbelievers
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From Bill Maher's latest show, came this exchange:

SULLIVAN: You know what I found really frightening about George Bush's press conference, the latest press conference? He actually – we're actually at a state in this country where the president had to say that non-believers are just as patriotic as anybody else.

McKEAN: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: He had to say that?! That should be the most obvious statement imaginable.

MAHER: He didn't say that—

SULLIVAN: Now, that—

MAHER: He just said, “other religions.”


McKEAN: No, he did say – he actually did suggest—

SULLIVAN: [overlapping] He also said people who don't believe anything at all, or atheists, are just as patriotic.

McKEAN: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: And that – no, he did say that, Bill. Trust me. And I know you don't trust me that much.

MAHER: Well, if he did, he didn't believe it. [laughter]

Here's what the President actually said:

BUSH: Well, I can only speak to myself. And I am mindful that people in political office should say to somebody, "You're not equally American if you don't happen to agree with my view of religion."

As I said, I think faith is a personal issue. And I take great strength from my faith. But I don't condemn somebody in the political process because they may not agree with me on religion.

The great thing about America is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want. And if you chose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship. And if you choose to worship, you're equally American if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim.

And that's the wonderful thing about our country and that's the way it should be.

Well, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that it should be an obvious point, but I don't agree that it was a "frightening" thing for him to say. He's basically advocating pluralism and recognizing nonbelief as patriotic. Many of his supposed "base" don't hold that view, so it bears repeating. I think it's great that the President said what he said.

But is Maher right that he doesn't really believe it? That's the stereotype of course. But why would he keep saying such things, which really aren't all that politically popular? You really think Bush wants the atheist vote?

And he does keep saying such things.

From the National Prayer Breakfast, February 7, 2001:

America's Constitution forbids a religious test for office, and that's the way it should be. An American president serves people of every faith, and serves some of no faith at all.

And from the National Prayer Breakfast of February 7, 2002:

Every religion is welcomed in our country; all are practiced here. Many of our good citizens profess no religion at all. Our country has never had an official faith.

Okay. So Bush has repeatedly noted the pluralistic principles of America, and specifically noted that nonbelief is just as American as belief.

If he doesn't believe this stuff, why does he keep saying it? It sure as hell ain't gonna win him points with the Christian Coalition.

How about this? Bush isn't the simplistic, Bible-thumping rube that opponents keep portraying him as. Maybe (gasp!) he actually does embrace religious pluralism and really does believe that religious freedom is a bedrock American principle.

Is that possible?

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