Bill Maher and President Obama on the politics of atheism.

Atheist Bill Maher invited President Barack Obama on his TV show Real Time with Bill Maher and they discussed the politics of atheism, the dangers of religious extremism, science, and the rise of the non-religious population. Maher, who had tried several times before to invite Obama on his show, began by thanking Obama for giving a shout out to the atheists at his first inaugural address and many other times as a president. He spoke with Obama on various subjects, but focused mainly on the challenges of atheists in the country which Maher claimed make up almost a quarter of the population.

Maher asked Obama about the lack of open atheists who are serving in public office by saying atheists are the biggest minority, but have no representation in. Obama, who is a Christian, responded by expressing doubt that there was “active persecution of atheists” in the United States. However, he agreed that atheists seeking political office and also other occupations faced a unique challenge and bias.

Obama implied he does not think people are actively discussing each other’s religious beliefs or the lack there of. Obama stressed the importance of respect by saying that “we should foster a culture in which people's private religious beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, are respected. And that's the kind of culture that I think allows all of us, then, to believe what we want. That's freedom of conscience. That's what our Constitution guarantees.”

Obama added, “where we get into problems, typically, is when our personal religious faith, or the community of faith that we participate in, tips into a sort of fundamentalist extremism, in which it’s not enough for us to believe what we believe, but we start feeling obligated to, you know, hit you over the head because you don’t believe the same thing. Or to treat you as somebody who’s less than I am.”

The HBO host suggested America might be “more pro-science if we were less religious” to which Obama disagreed. Obama said “the issues we have with science these days are not restricted to what’s happening with respect to religion. There are a lot of very religious scientists around.” Obama insisted that America needs to do a better job of teaching children “critical thinking to be able to sort out what is true and what is false, what is contestable and what is incontestable” he added, “and we seem to have trouble with that. And our political system doesn't help."

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