Why Wright Matters
It's been a tough call from the atheist perspective.
Let me start out by saying that every Christian preacher in the world is disaffected in some way or another. That's what leads them to religious preaching. They are altogether a very harmful lot. Rev. Wright is no exception. If we had everything that these people ever say recorded on tape, there is no doubt that we could find the equivalent or worse from every single one of them. One only need to look at the Bible that they preach from to realize that anyone who believes in that garbage is estranged from reality. The very fact that they devote their lives to preaching such drivel should be cause for alarm.
I didn't fully make the connection between religion, race relations, and how I feel about the Rev Wright controversy until Strappado wrote a new post touching on this subject. I highly recommend reading his post. A Duke study has actually attributed the low wealth of conservative protestants to many of their religious beliefs. So, even though Wright correctly points out that poverty among blacks is an issue in America, Wright himself is a part of the problem. The religious beliefs that white slave owners imposed on their black slaves hundreds of years ago are a continuing source of impoverishment in black communities.
By teaching his followers about Christian values, Wright is only helping contribute to their poverty. And I have a huge problem with the morality of that. But to really dig into this issue, as atheists, we'd have to take a long hard look at the whole civil rights movement from King to everyone else. How would race relations look like today if civil rights leaders were atheists? Would the leaders use such inflexible, inflammatory rhetoric to express their points of view? I've long noticed that the same love/hate paradox that exists in Christian Love exist in race relations. I'm sure the entire language of civil rights would be different than it is. Of course, it's a chicken or egg question - the racists themselves might not be racists if not for the reinforcement of those views by their religion. So who has to change first? I don't have an answer to that. I just know the religion is harmful.
Why Wright Doesn't Matter
All that said, the nature of the uproar over this one preacher has been nothing less than an insult to our intelligence whether we're blacks, atheists, Democrats, or even Christians. This whole controversy has been instigated by people we've long suspected to use race baiting in politics, whether it came from the Clinton campaign or right wing punditry. And the majority of the people who have attempted to latch themselves onto the Wright controversy also adhere to an intolerant, hateful religion of one sort or another. We all know what was said post 9-11 by the spectrum of the religious right.
But from another perspective, the things that Wright said weren't even religiously fundamentalist in nature. He didn't blame 9-11 on gays, abortions, and liberals the way countless and countless white pastors did over the last few years. The right wing wasn't decrying what Wright said because it was religiously extreme, they were decrying it because it sounded unpatriotic. But for Christ's sake (pun intended), Wright served in both the US Marines and in the Navy!
New Rule (Bill Maher style): if you're not a veteran, stfu and stop making political attacks on the patriotism of those of us who have volunteered to risk our lives to fight for our country, right or wrong. Simply pointing out that our country is wrong and does bad things is not unpatriotic. You know all the catch phrases that conservatives use, Freedom Isn't Free, etc., or that our military fights for the right of our citizens to burn our flag in protest (it does, I agree). Well, guess who has earned that freedom, earned that right to free speech, more than anyone else? Veterans. For crying out loud, if Wright has a problem with America, he's got the right to talk about it. Nothing unpatriotic about that!
But the greatest failure of the controversy has been to actually connect Wright to Obama in any meaningful way. It came down to accusations that Obama should have actually attended the given sermon in the first place just to be able to stand up in the middle of church and decry everything he's ever said before storming out and joining a nice and friendly white-oriented religion. This is the best that Obama's political opponents can do to portray him as unelectable?
Why I still support Obama
To his credit, Obama didn't waste time waiting to deal with this. He reacted quickly and successfully framed the controversy in terms of race relations. And moved on with his campaign, drinking pints fo beer and bowling with small-town Pennsylvanians. Even as the media was still trying to sort it all out, his poll numbers already recovered and in fact he widened his national lead over Clinton. This is a far cry from how Kerry dealt with the Swift Boaters.
His political detractors love to attribute his success merely to his outstanding oratory skills. But the fact is that not only is he an amazing public speaker, but he is an outstanding political strategist. And even in Pennsylvania, the supposedly racist state where blacks are unelectable, Obama is eating away at Clinton's lead just as his campaign has done in every other state where Obama campaigned prior to their primary.
For more on the Wright controversy and atheism, see vjack's post as well.