I spent last evening at the Connecticut Forum, where Christopher Hitchens, Peter Gomes, and Harold Kushner spent a couple of hours amusing the crowd with quips and barbs about God, religion, faith, and reason. On the anti-God side, Hitchens believes he has a new ally in the White House; to wit, that Obama is a secret nonbeliever who signaled as much in his inaugural speech not only by including nonbelievers in his array of Americans-by-religion but also by (anonymously) quoting the words of Thomas Paine that George Washington read to the troops at Valley Forge:
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
That was from the first of Paine’s Crisis articles, the one that famously begins:
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
But later, during the French Revolution, Paine earned wide notoriety by attacking Christianity in a book entitled The Age of Reason. So Hitchens’ idea is that Obama’s doing for the freethought crowd what George Bush did for evangelical one in his 2003 State of the Union Address, when he alluded to an old Baptist hymn:”…there’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people” (as opposed to “…in the blood of the Lamb”). I doubt it.