Monday, January 05, 2009

"So Help Me God"

We've got some silly illogical things going on in the lawsuit that wants to prevent Barack Obama from saying "So help me God" to conclude his presidential oath. The lawsuit says in part, "There can be no purpose for placing 'so help me God' in an oath or sponsoring prayers to God, other than promoting the particular point of view that God exists."

Surely that's false. If I were to end an oath or prayer with "So help me God" I would never be doing this to "promote" the particular point of view that God exists. For me, I already believe God exists, and my pre-existing belief makes sense of the "So help me God" utterance. In other words, I would say it because I believe God exists, and would be uttering it as a prayer.

I do meet people who pay little attention to God and utter words like "So help me God." In such cases, such phrases function in a purely conventional way, just as some people ask "How are you doing?" but have no intent of desiring to find out how you are doing.

For some people saying something like "So help me God" is a genuine appeal to God for help; for others it's just a conventional way of speaking. But in neither of these ways is the person who utters the phrase trying to "promote the particular point of view that God exists." That simply does not follow. Therefore this point adds nothing to the reasoning of the lawsuit.

If a presidential candidate believes in God, which Barack Obama does, why disallow him from saying something that has importance to him? If Obama was an atheist, then I think it would be strange to require him to say "So help me God," unless he is able to do it purely in a conventional way. We'd all be looking at the tv watching the expression on his face as he says words he strongly disbelieves in.

What should we do? Why not allow elected officials to choose to say "So help me God" if they are God-believers, and allow atheists to refrain from doing so? To force an serious, non-village atheist to say "So help me God" would be like forcing William Wallace to say "I was wrong."

President-elect Obama actually believes in God. Why take this away from him? Sounds evil to me.