Son of a Humanist

By Niose, David A. | The Humanist, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Son of a Humanist


Niose, David A., The Humanist


MUCH HAS BEEN SAID in the last year about President-elect Barack Obama's religion, from groundless rumors of his being a Muslim to controversies over the rants of his former Chicago pastor. In all of this, the media and the public have overlooked an extremely important detail of Obama's background--his nonreligious upbringing. Although his campaign touted his religion in an effort to appeal to evangelicals and other religious voting blocs, little was said about Obama's nonreligious past. Yet, as Obama explained in detail in his candid 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, his values and worldview were shaped in a childhood that was essentially atheistic, or at least agnostic.

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This is especially significant considering that Obama is often admired not so much for his particular political views but for his deeper persona, his profound thinking, his empathy, and his strength of character. Obama's views on taxes and trade are indistinguishable from those of other politicians, but he inspires millions with his unique sense of understanding and assurance, his stability and calm.

As such, Americans might learn quite a bit more by studying the formative years of their charismatic new leader.

In Dreams from My Father, there is one person who receives Obama's utmost admiration, one person whom he credits as being central to shaping his character--his mother. Interestingly, Obama unambiguously describes her as "a lonely witness for secular humanism," a religious skeptic, and a woman who stressed to her young son the importance of education, critical thinking, and respect for others, all without a trace of religious creed or dogma.

Raised with this outlook, Obama's mind and worldview were shaped by humanism, not religion. It was not until well into adulthood, after years as a Chicago neighborhood organizer, that he found religion and joined a church. …

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