There’s been a heavy, if not very intelligent, conversation going on at Irregular Times over the last few days, as readers of a website called NiggerMania.com have flooded onto this site, pushing forward the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is not really an American citizen, and therefore is not legally entitled to the Presidency. Underlying their rather clumsy arguments is the idea that Obama couldn’t possibly be an American, because he’s not completely of European ancestry.
It’s a theme that runs throughout right wing ideology: The belief that there is some kind of cultural core of the American identity, and that people who deviate from that core are not truly American. They express it in terms of coffee – if you drink latte, you’re not a real American. They express it in terms of ethnicity – people descended from non-Europeans are not real Americans. They express it in terms of religion too – only Christians are real Americans.
Yesterday, speaking before the House of Representatives, Congressman Randy Forbes gave us a taste of that last attitude. He proclaimed, “Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism.”
Is Randy Forbes right? Is belief in the Christian God the most basic element of being an American? The answer is simple: No.
The United States has never, ever been a culturally homogenous nation. That applies especially to religion. There has never been a time when everyone in the United States believed in the Christian deity. Now, lack of belief in Christianity’s God is stronger than ever. The American Religious Identification Survey found that the strongest and most consistent current trend in religion is the increasing number of Americans living with no religion at all. In every state in the union, the number of Americans who don’t have any religion at all, much less the Christianity of Randy Forbes, has risen strongly over the last three decades.
In many places, non-religious Americans are a substantial minority. In Wyoming, for example, more than one quarter of the population lives without religion. Here’s a translation for you, Congressman Forbes: No religion means no God.
Yet, all those people remain American. Without God, without religion, they continue to live an American way of life, and to lend support to the American government.
Am I wrong about that? Did those people, people like me who live without any belief in God, renounce their American citizenship by refusing to join Randy Forbes in his conspicuous public worship? Are we not Americans?