home
RSS
My Take: When it comes to 'God' in our political platforms, less is more
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over the reinsertion of 'God' into the Democrats' platform.
September 6th, 2012
12:27 PM ET

My Take: When it comes to 'God' in our political platforms, less is more

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I first heard that God had gone missing from the Democratic Party platform from a Facebook friend who rejoiced in a godless platform as a triumph for the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.

I was surprised, however, because since the loss of John Kerry to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential race, Democrats have gotten religion.

President Obama used the word God five times in his inaugural address. And according to my search of the database of The American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he has used it thousands of times more during his presidency.

In remarks at annual National Prayer Breakfasts, Obama called us “children of God” in 2009, spoke of “God’s grace” in 2010, quoted from the Book of Job on “God’s voice” in 2011 and invoked “God’s command to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’” in 2012.

The president also invoked the almighty in more prosaic settings, including fundraisers and television interviews and remarks to Super Bowl champions.

This April he used a weekly radio address to talk about Passover and Easter—“the story of the Exodus” and “”the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of his son.”

And in dozens of speeches over the last two years Obama has spoken of our “God-given potential.”

That is the formulation that found its way back into this year’s Democratic Party platform, after "God" had gone missing in a prior draft.

None of this should really matter, of course. There isn’t any straight line from an affirmation of our “God-given potential” to any particular federal law. But it does matter because we continue as a nation to wage a culture war that goes back to the late 1970s.

That was when Republicans decided to start hammering away at their Democratic opponents on so-called “values” questions and in the process turned U.S. politics into a decades-long referendum on the libertinism of the 1960s.

Foolishly, the Democrats responded as my Facebook friend did, by invoking Thomas Jefferson and the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state. But being the anti-God party in a nation in which 95% or so believe in God proved to be a losing strategy. So the Democrats reversed course in 2004.

For better or for worse, we now have two religious parties in the United States. The Constitution may be godless, but both parties are hell-bent on presenting themselves as godly.

Is this a good thing? If you believe, as George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address, that “religion and morality” are “these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens," then perhaps it is.

But do we really want “God” to serve as a “prop” of our politics? Apparently, the answer of both parties to that question is yes.

The decision of Democratic Party delegates to reinsert God into their party's platform was clearly motivated by political calculations rather than theological acumen. But are the decisions of the Republican Party any different?

Are the repeated references to "providence" and "God" in its platform proof that its policies are more godly?

In its discussion of the Second Amendment, the GOP platform informs us that our citizens’ “God-given right of self-defense” extends not only to gun ownership but also “the right to obtain and store ammunition without registration.” Really? Is bearing a semi-automatic weapon really the answer to "What would Jesus do?"

Is the fact that the GOP platform refers to “God” twelve times rather than one supposed to prove that Republicans are 12 times more godly?

As a matter of tradition, Americans have always mixed church and state, but they have almost always tried to do so in ways that were respectful of adherents of minority religions and of citizens without any religion at all. So what our two religious parties are doing today runs in the American grain.

Still, I can't help but feel that the now-obligatory references to God in virtually every presidential speech and every party proclamation are more about pridefully asserting one's godliness than humbly asserting one's faith.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his followers not to pray, as the hypocrites do, on the street corners, so they might be seen and admired, but to pray instead in their closets, in secret, with the doors shut.

Today I'd like a little more of that sort of religion, please, and a little less of the street corner hucksterism of the Democrats and Republicans alike.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Church and state • Culture wars • Politics • United States

soundoff (1,491 Responses)
  1. little stevie

    Hey there Ken, the ONLY thing that is clear from what the DNC did is that they pander to the electorate exactly as the RNC does. They are all equally embarrasing. However, the real issue is that we have allowed Ideologues on both ends of the spectrum to drive the political dialogue in this country. Shame on us for allowing them to get away with it ! Its also equally clear that this culture war was begun by the "religious right", the so called Moral Majority. They happen to be the biggest hypocrits of them all.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Edith

      None of us knew before that hurricanes were caused by tax-paying, law-abiding gay Americans until the Moral Majority let us in on the little secret.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  2. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    I'm pretty sure that the creator of the universe is unimpressed with the piety displayed at these political events. As someone said, don't trust the powerful and those who want power when they talk about faith, because it's earthly rewards they're after.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Ted

      While America will no doubt defend Israel to the teeth no matter which party is in office, we might not be their pre-emptive offense, especially considering our last pre-emptive strike against Iraq. We lose moral authority when we strike the first blow.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  3. ERH

    Some of you are about as stupid as you are ignorant. This country was not founded by godless people. Look around you moron, look at the coins in your pocket, the dollars in your wallet, the engraving on the doors of the supreme court building. Everywhere around you is God. Do you think for an instant that you would be tolerated in tolerant societies like Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, China, Burma or some other nice places like North Korea? You would be hung or shot on sight.

    You best wake up every morning and thank God you breath the air of the USA, paid for by the blood of God fearing men and women.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Brandon

      That air has also been paid for by non-god-fearing men and women as well. That's what you religious folk fail to realize. Not every man and woman fighting our wars believes in God.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Spud

      Coins, dollars and doors do not make a God so.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Scarface86

      I think you are the ignorant one if you believe our country was founded by godless people.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • scanboy

      We can never ever wipe out the stain that these God-fearing settlers of a "new" continent founded the country on genocide and slavery.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Scarface86

      Wow Scanboy, so much hate. Show one country or civilization that does not have something in its history that is not exactly squeaky clean.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Ed

      In God we trust has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957. The founders were long dead.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      The type of faith that our founding fathers had could not be less relevant. Our constitution does not give preference to any religion.
      God was not on our money until a bunch of fear mongering McCarthy era knee jerk reactions in the 60's. It should never have been done, and is an affront to what our country was actually founded on.

      The christians in this country may not hang or shoot un-believers, but we are marginalized and pushed aside as if our views don't matter, which is still a form of intolerance. Just remember, in a theocracy, there's no gaurantee that your particular denomination will be in power.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Scarface86

      What's your point Ed? Just because god did not appear on our currency until 1864 does not mean the founders were godless. You are using bad logic.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Don

      Like!

      September 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Carl, Secaucus, NJ

      You call slavery and genocide "not exactly squeaky clean"? The point is that belief in God didn't prevent them from committing barbaric acts. Indeed, they found justification for it in the Bible, saying that black people were the descendants of Ham and that the Indians were like the Canaanites.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bob

      "This country was not founded by godless people."

      Right, it was founded by DIESTS. Pay attention, numbnuts.

      Deism (i/ˈdiː.ɪzəm/[1][2] or /ˈdeɪ.ɪzəm/) is a philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of a creator. According to deists, God never intervenes in human affairs or suspends the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending instead to assert that a god (or "the Supreme Architect") does not alter the universe by intervening in it. This idea is also known as the clockwork universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. Two main forms of deism currently exist: classical deism and modern deism.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Tom

      I maybe be wrong but wasn't dollars,coins,and doors built after founding fathers?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Ken

      ERH, the hate you spew is typical of evangelical hatemongers. Go find a different country. You are a disgrace to America and a hateful, mean, spiteful coward.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  4. George Miller

    That is...well said, Stephen.
    I believe that the only way to preserve religious freedom is to resist putting it up for a vote. The only way to preserve civil freedom 'is' to vote. In my opinion, that make them mutually exclusive.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  5. riabm60

    Among registered voters Jews favour Obama over Romney by 68 % to 25 %.
    To them it is the economy, health care and so on that matters most.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Scarface86

      If that's true, I cannot believe they favor the President. He will not even talk about the economy.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Agnes

      Why do Republicans work overtime to get God and Jews in their corner at all cost? The Jewish community, like the gay community, can see right through the hypocrisy and faux embrace.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Scarface86

      How are the Republicans trying to embrace Jews and gays? What are you even talking about?

      September 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Don

      And if you close your eyes and click your heals together 3 times this may come true.
      The truth is the Jews are scared to death of Obama because they don't think he will support them when they attack Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Edith

      Maybe you didn't watch the Republican primaries. These men spoke about their love for gay people and cursed the sin and not the person. They spoke of the Republican party being a safe place for gay Americans looking for economic freedom. As though economic freedom trumps civil and human rights. Republicans have made hay about Jerusalem being left out of the platform. Sean Hannity drove it into the ground and broke it off three times before he could catch his breath.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Edith

      I didn't say Jews and gays, I said God and Jews.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  6. George Miller

    Well said!

    September 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  7. NYbywayofTexas

    Well Stephen, as a Practicing, Believing, God-Fearing Democrat, I believe you have a right to your opinion. I do not necessarily have to agree with it, but you have a right to it. I also have a right to believe and choose so openly to call out, pray to, and boldly declare my belief in God. I am not pushing Him down your throat just as you should not suggest that the Deocratic Party should exclude God. If we are asked to be tolerant of all... Let's truly be tolerant of all. I for one believe God is not a prop although at times He is used as one. I prefer to hear from the politicians I elect.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Balls McGhee

      you missed the point. You are correct that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and to not jam it down others' throats. which is why it should be removed from an official platform. a platform position implies we all have to follow it whether we believe it or not. i'm glad their is disagreement in the democratic party because it shows that we are all unique and special, unlike the solid block party with no individuality to think on their own. embrace differences!!!

      September 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  8. Margaret

    What I hate about the injection of religion into politics is the my religion is better than yours, my way is the only way, the I am the only church that knows the truth about what God wants. My Bible is more truthful than yours.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • JR in Texas

      Amen sister.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  9. Raymond

    I believe they are playing it up to collect votes. I do not believe dem's choice can persuade me that he shed the ties of his past. As far as removing GOD from our society you better look around and find a new National Anthem to replace the Star-Spangled Banner. Go revisit verse 4. Then go visit the song often mistaken for the Nat'l Anthem, America The Beautiful and look again at My Country Tis of Thee, agin in verse 4. I like these songs just as they are and remember why this country has developed into what it today. Think on this- GOD Bles America- why not America Bless GOD.. he has. And one last question "Why did Obama return the bust of Churchill to England"? check for yourself...

    September 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Dave

      Just because man was foolish enough to invent god does not mean we need to continue to be fools. There is no god.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Scarface86

      Dave, I assume you are liberal because you are espousing a typical liberal point of view. You will tolerate everything you agree with and belittle that which you do not.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @scarface86. Why is that considered liberal?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  10. CaesarXIII

    Here I thought Pilgrims came to the New World for religious freedom.. Guess the history books were wrong, they just came here to kill indians.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • No Dice

      That which can be accomplished in the name of God is varied and flexible — including killing Indians.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • JR in Texas

      They did a pretty good job of it too. They apparently rounded up the survivors and confined them to gambling casinos and bingo halls.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • No Dice

      Yes, my grandmother was among those forcibly relocated to Oklahoma. Of course, that branch of the family ended up owning oil wells. Wish I had me some of those.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  11. JR in Texas

    Evangelical Christians are the biggest threat to Americans' civil liberties.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • DCKeene

      Where is the "like" button. You hit it, dead-on.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Frances

      Just ask gay Americans who have had to suffer under generation after generation of Godlier than thou grandstanding from the GOP.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  12. first

    Question to all those asking about God in the platform, God is in their hearts, minds and actions. Can it be the problem was with just declaring Jerusalem being considered the capital of Israel

    September 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Linden Atrocity

    Religion should never be injected into politics. It is disgusting when you see politicians pandering to religious groups for votes. ie. The RNC. This is not a Theorcracy, but a well laid out country of complete diversity working together for one goal, Freedom.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Joe

      Agreed. If the objective is freedom, then the choice is clear, and it is neither Democrat nor Republican, but Libertarian.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Captain Moroni

      There will be a time in your life when you will knell on knees in prayer to the same God that you do not want part of this nation.
      No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  14. No Dice

    I have this worry that if evangelical Christians get their way and take over government, separation of church and state will become a thing of the past. You rarely hear them speak about respect for those religions not Christianity. My nightmare is that in a American theocracy as envisioned by such folks, we who do not believe as they do will hear "Y'all are wrong and if you don't come around to our way of thinkin' we'll write some laws that will force you to."

    September 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Scarface86

      I cannot believe you wrote that. The liberals are the ones who use legislation to force others to conform. Wake up.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • No Dice

      Yes, they certainly do. The difference is they are not telling me which god I have to believe in.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Scarface86

      Show where a conservative politician is telling people how to worship.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • No Dice

      They aren't officially, but my worry is that the more vociferous of the evangelicals (American Taliban, if you will) will get that opportunity and influence. It may not happen at all but radical Islam does not have anything on historical Christianity in terms of conversion by force.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Dave

      Scarface: they certainly take exception to atheists. But, beyond that: the anti-Muslim effort is a Conservative one...the voucher situation in LA is one shining example.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Joe

      Waking up means voting Libertarian. Both big parties are taking away our freedom.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Scarface86

      What about the historic brutality or the left wing. Honestly, who killed more people, Mao and Stalin or Christian fundamentalists.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • No Dice

      No one wants to become a second class citizen because they fail to believe in the prevailing religion. Atheists are people, too.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • No Dice

      Scarface: Remember the Crusades? How about church-sanctioned slavery and discrimination (Blacks called less than human and therefore are property).

      September 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Dave

      Um, yeah...that's not a question you should be asking if you want a real answer, as the truth hurts your cause.

      Christian fundamentalists (which is to say, Christians) are responsible for FAR, FAR more atrocities than atheists.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • No Dice

      No to mention about six million "Christ-killing" Jews by a right-winger Adolph H.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • sam

      Scarface, those are some tired old arguments that have been thrown around carelessly for ages. You have no idea what you're talking about, you're just here to fight with someone. It gets old fast.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  15. JR in Texas

    Not only do most Americans believe in a god, they believe that their God is the only true God and that all others are false gods. Muslims believe the same thing and most religious sects are willing to wage war against one another because of such nonsense.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Joe

      Hence the separation of Church and State. Religion should not be injected into politics at all.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Brandon

      JR.....this is true of ALL religions, not just Americans. the basis of Most religions is that their way is the only way, and any who don't believe that way are wrong and need saving in some way, shape or form. Why do you think that's just an American thing?

      At least Christians just verbally abuse non-believers. In the Muslim world, they just kill you if you don't believe.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  16. Lindsey

    The reason is simple: Because Dems don't want to be seen as the "anti-God" party, when too many Americans still believe that God made them out of a bunch of clay and that some dame talked to a snake in a tree while her mate strolled around in a garden with dinosaurs.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Don

      If 95% of the country believes in god, shouldn't the majority rule? I find it interesting how some think their minority opinion should be adopted in our way of life. Fact is 95% of Americans believe in God. So God should be a part of our politics.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Dave

      God does not exist, and therefore should not be in politics at all.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Ed

      Don – The whole purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect minorities from majorities.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • sam

      No, Don. The majority does not get to boss everyone around in this country.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  17. scanboy

    With a nod to Rob: Keep your mythological bull-crap out of my politics and life AND start paying taxes.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  18. IceMan

    Less is more.
    Zero is best.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  19. JR in Texas

    The republican candidate is a man who wears magical Mormon underwear and prays to a God from another planet. You can't make this stuff up.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Scarface86

      Please show me one example of how Mitt Romney's religion has impacted his political decisions.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Raymond

      and this is your guy... http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/9436526/White-House-admits-it-did-return-Winston-Churchill-bust-to-Britain.html then read the post underneath.....

      September 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @scarface86 Mutt Romney has changed his position so many times, even he can't tell you how religion impacts him.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • sam

      Mitt seems not to have any idea what he really thinks.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  20. Ken

    It's quite simple. As the Washington post reported, 92% of American believe their is a higher power. Call the power God, Allah, Zeus, the Universal Spirit, whatever. But you can't deny that 92% do believe in this, they believe this power does interact with us in our lives, and does so to an extent that 80% believe in Miracles created by this higher power. Even among atheists and agnostics, 21% expressed belief in a higher power (but no existing religion matches their beliefs, so.... atheist / agnostic). Now lets look to the Democratic Party and the convention attendees. The DNC as driven by the Obama campaign stripped all references to God from their platform. They shoved it back in Wednesday night under a procedure calling for a voice vote ... which they called three times for the yeas and nays as on the first two votes the nays sounded louder. Once it sounded close enough to them, they simply said the yeas had it, even as delegates in the area boo'ed the decision. It is quite clear to anyone with a brain that the DNC does not believe in God, does not want God in the platform, but they shoved it in at the last minute as they realized the Republicans were going to have a field day with this in the election. In order to retain the power they craved, they shoved things into the platform that delegates disagree with, merely to sound good to the electorate (not because they mean it). These are the facts folks. You can't deny this truth (unless your a hopium smoker and love Obama, in which case your world view is so twisted you can't understand the difference between fact and fiction).

    September 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • charles davis

      Fact or fiction? I do see a lot of fiction in your tirade, and very little fact.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Ken (trust me folks it's not me answering myself) You're just another religious whack job. It's a shame when a (so called) religious person lies to make their lousy point. I hate to break your heart but that higher power doesn't exist. He wasn't around when it counted (9/11) Which proves he didn't exist before and he/she doesn't exist now.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • fairy tales

      most people in the world used to believe the world was flat, too. I stopped believing in superheros, fairy tales, gods and monsters when I got to middle school. People will start catching up.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.