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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. zap

    This god crap is what is wrong with the world.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Regina

      If the bible was used to justify slavery in the past, I'm sure it can be twisted to reflect that ideology once again. It certainly has been a thorn in the sides of gay Americans who have been on a generational search for the American dream that is constantly withheld by conservative politicians.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  2. peter johnson

    If the majority of the Democratic party does not want God or Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their platform (as they truly voted), then they should be able to take these words and ideas out.

    My question to my irreligious citizens is, if you know that your leadership clearly does not care about your beliefs and votes, then why do you continue to support them?

    September 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • zap

      Bingo.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Leslie

      It was not the majority of the Democratic party. Nice partisan try though. It was 50/50 and only included the diehard Democrats within the convention building. Democrats at home didn't vote.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I don't want them to care about my beliefs, just like I don't care about theirs. I just don't want religion being used to decide laws.

      September 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Sal

    Religion is the cause of most of the problems in the world today! Don't forget the holy wars and the god willing, we will wipe out the infidels! 

    September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Dr. Rick Stoppe

    Surely some would come under your condemnation as "asserting their own godliness" rather than "humbly" expressing their own faith; and without doubt, many would feel it is a political necessity. You have no reticence about quoting the words of Jesus obviously as some final authority–and that is a reasonable Christian view. Jesus' said: "Judge not lest you be judged." It is a shame that the sciences cannot be in the platform of each party–evolution theistic or otherwise among many others.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  5. The Founding Fathers were Cocaine Addicts!!!

    They were!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • sam

      I thought it was opium.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  6. ed

    This country was founded on the believe in god. With most religions there is a higher power then us. Some use a different name. I believe a big part of the problems we have today is that people don't believe in god. If more people believed in god, we have a whole lotless crime at all levels. The lines wouldn't be so hazed. As a country we get farther and farther away from religion, and things just continue getting worse. It's just ridiculious how people are quick to critize when someone uses God in what they do.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • wrong

      try again, genius!

      September 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Xdoc

      The reverse would be more accurate. Less belief in imaginary beings would be better. What childish fairy tales.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • James PDX

      History has taught us that belief in God is more likely to lead to violence and oppression than to stop it.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • IO

      The country was founded on common sense, if you want to believe in God or do religion..fine. and if you don't want to...fine also.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Tom

      So which church do we go to,catholic,protestant,baptist, some other, I guess the you guys can fight about who is best.Might you be forced to choose a different faith.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      When the catholic church protected pedophiles, how far away did they get from religion?

      September 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  7. Sal

    They should keep religion out of politics. These evangelicals would be happy if the country turned into a taliban type religious government! We don't need that! 

    September 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • pooryorick23

      You should know better than slandering any group in its entirety.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • mfox

      Considering their are way more people who want god in our schools and in our lives as well as in our government, would mean that you are outnumbered by a large margin. Its time we put our foot down and quit letting you guys run our country into the mud.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  8. DC

    Yeah, just keep any objective sense of morality out of platforms and politics altogether...that works real swell

    September 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • sam

      Huh. Christianity is supposedly objective morality, now?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • AnnieM

      Morality has much more to do with humanity than religion. In fact, some of the most immoral people we know are self-professed Christians...

      The founding fathers DID NOT want religion in government (in spite of what the Republicans tell you)

      September 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  9. gstlab3

    Forgetting about or ignoring your Earthly mortality and GOD makes you into nothing more usefull than cannon fodder for these tyrants and fools and liars.

    The golden rule and basic morality are all from NATURE AND GOD and the idea of GOD itself brings mankind into a system of checks and ballances our present government has abandoned.

    Our own government ignores good science for political power and control over the people.

    God is useless if you do not believe in him or her and you therefore become quite usefull as an idiot for these politicians and beurocrats in Washington D.C. to use up as a tax payer and obeidiant servant to the state.

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

    I don't mind religion but I don't like having it forced down my throat like it was last night. This was not a proper vote. Why this is not being addressed is beyond me. Retract the vote NOW!!! Stop forcing religion down our throats.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  11. American Democrats

    I don't mind religion but I don't like having it forced down my throat like it was last night. This was not a proper vote. Why this is not being addressed is beyond me. Retract the vote NOW!!!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  12. Harvey Garciawicz

    One key issue is missing here. Some say god is unnecessary, others say God should be left out. Who sets the definition of God? How do you explain the God status that liberals put on Obama?

    September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Erica

      After 8 years of Bush, we might have bowed down to Phylis Diller had she had a campaign and a plan.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I can't explain it because it doesn't exist.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I don't believe in G-od. That doesn't mean I don't want you to pray. G-od should be kept OUT of politics that's all.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Sportsteamer

      W was the epitome of street corner hucksterism, combined with huge sums of corporate money and boundless hubris. The whole world was ready for someone else, not just liberals. The Nobel prize, while undeserved, reflected a worldwide hope that the next president would show some humility and common sense.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Brandon

    Its funny to me that everyone continues to miss the point in all of this. These politicians are forever coming up with ways and reasons to draw the masses' attention AWAY from the real issues. Abortion....Breastfeeding in New York.....God in politics....Tax Returns.....birth certificates......who really cares? At the end of the day, I want to know what you are going to do to make my life, and the lives of the people around me, better. Because right now, my life isn't that great. and neither are the lives of most around me.

    I'm considering going through foreclosure because my home is worth about 30% of what I bought it for 7 years ago, and now that I'm ready to upgrade I'm stuck. The rise in inflation is outpacing the "rise" in salary 3-fold. In fact, Salaries have gone BACKWARDS over the past 5 or 10 years, while the cost of goods has risen immensely. The american Dollar isn't worth the paper its printed on these days. we continue to spend our taxpayer dollars defending the freedoms of others, and getting slapped in the face for doing it. Meanwhile, our own men women and children are starving on the streets of our own country, while we spend 20% of our budget on 'defense" in Other countries.

    Wake up. Stop feeding into the intended purpose of all of this BullS*it. Lets start forcing our politicians to address the real issues that our country faces, and stop making the election a simple Homecoming Queen vote.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Erica

      While you were writing this, the State Department was trying to figure out how many hundreds of millions of dollars to give to Pakistan, Egypt and Israel.

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

      you forgot one part. First, they had to fill out a Credit app from China in order to borrow those Hundreds of Millions of dollars that they turned aroudn and gave to Pakistan, Egypt and Syria.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  14. Steve

    Everyone in the world knows that this country was built on fundamental beliefs related to God. Everyone is welcome to come to this country and practice their own beliefs, but don't think you are going to change the cornerstone of what this country was built upon. If you don't like it, you are free to move to wherever YOUR beliefs are the cornerstone.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Bob

      Check your facts, bub. Everyone knows you are wrong.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Everyone knows" is almost always followed by a fallacy. This country was NOT built on religious beliefs.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Dave

      This nation was also built on the back of slavery. Folks also once thought that the universe revolved around the earth.

      I personally agree with having god or gods in a party platform. Equal emphasis should, of course, be given to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and, yes, the Great Pumpkin.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • sam

      Seriously, how many of you dolts that never took a history class are going to post this today?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Bullets and bombs built this country. We didn't throw bibles at people.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • AnnieM

      Yep, check your facts. All that religion stuff came into place because of McCarthy in the 1950ies.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • IO

      a simple google search can prove your are wrong Steve

      September 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  15. little stevie

    lol... and i find it humorous how smug "former atheists" are. We're wasting time with these stupid arguments. We need to make this world a better place for us all.....in the here and now, not in some after- life.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Erica

      This has always been the problem with conservatives. They never seem to be comprehending the world around them. Reality is forever out of reach. They are so caught up in an after-life that they ignore all of the truths surrounding them.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  16. Jean Sartre

    Keep GOD/GODS out of political platforms, schools, courts and all of our government... if you want to be a person of DELUSION, please do so from the confines of your cave...

    I have a right to: FREEDOM FROM YOUR RELIGION!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Mouth

      Hahaha... I agree. Remove God from the Democratic platform.
      Then we vote.
      And then you see how a republic works.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Rhubarb

      FYI –

      1.) God IS largely out of our schools, courts and government. The results speak for themselves.

      2.) The First Amendment cites freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Please move to a Communist country if you want freedom from religion (or stay in the USA if BO gets re-elected – he'll invoke his self-professed Marxist roots without restraint if that happens).

      3.) Yes, we do have a God-given right to protect ourselves and our families: "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." Luke 11: 21-22.

      Did it ever occur to the author that when the RNC prays and invokes God, that they actually MEAN IT? That it's a sincere gesture of respect to our Creator, not a flippant attempt to appear pious or "more holy" than anyone else??

      September 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • sam

      Rhubarb, it's both freedom of and freedom from. And, religion has no place in our courts or politics whether you like it or not.

      Do you really believe that when someone at the RNC talks about god, they mean it? Damn, you are naive. It's all gladhanding from some of the smarmiest our society has to offer.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • sam

      Also, there's that bullshit Marxist nonsense again. God, give it a rest.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @rhubarb. Please deal with reality. You are just another person who gives G-od all the credit when things are good. None of the blame when things are bad. You cant have it both ways. Do bad things happen because G-od is sleeping? watching TV? Smoking a cigarette?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  17. American Democrats

    The vote on putting god back in was a total betrayal. 2/3's did not vote in favor. Why vote if it's not gonna count. This was gossly illegal. STOP FORCING GOD ON US!!!!!!!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Ted

      Wasn't that voice vote concerning Jerusalem and not the God issue?

      September 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • American Democrats

      it was Jerusalem and God. Jerusalem as being recognized as the capital of Israel. And God on one of the by lines of the democratic platform. They showed it on the big screen as the vote was taken.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  18. Sharon

    If our freedoms are not given by God, then who are they given by? By government? So, if the government changes, then freedoms are lost. Taking God out of the equation for American Government would be rewriting, and redefining America. Everything about America is built on the fact that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights"... It is what makes us free. It is ridiculous that people were shouting down the inclusion of God at the Democratic Convention. For this reason alone, I would not vote Democrat. It is insulting to everything that America was built on.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Stop the B.S. You weren't going to vote democrat anyway. We got our rights through WARS period. We didn't get the rights we got by throwing bibles at people. It was bullets and bombs period.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Erica

      I'm certain that most gay Americans would find your conservative interest in unalienable rights a real joke. Considering that those are the very rights that you have decided not to extend to this subgroup of worthy Americans.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Bob

      "Taking God out of the equation for American Government would be rewriting, and redefining America."

      Wrong on all counts.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Nonny Mouse

      Yes, freedoms are given by government, and when governments change, freedoms can be taken away. Do you not see why? It's because government says what people can and cannot do and it's government that enforces those laws. (And we live in a country where citizens have a say in government, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still government that sets the rules for daily life.)

      This is how things actually work. Now, I have never seen any deity come forth and tell us in person what to do, and enforce that. But I do see people/government doing it. Guess which one functions in reality.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • American Democrats

      We got a bible thrown at us last night. The will of the people said don't put God back in. But the powers that be saw better I guess.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Jerry

      Our freedoms are given, quite simply, by us, to us. WE THE PEOPLE won them, delineated them, and protect them. To give credit for the accomplishments of men to an imaginary being is ludicrous!

      September 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Leslie

      They were mostly shouting down the inclusion of Jerusalem in the platform. They think that this interferes with the final status negotiations which should be left to Israel and Palestine. We can't be neutral and trustworthy arbitrators when we have already taken sides on the capital.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • peter johnson

      They are given by government! Evidently you did not read the replacement language.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • IO

      @Sharon- no need to lie, you already were not going to vote Democrat. and by the way it is "their Creator" NOT "our Creator"
      if you change the facts you change the meaning..... just saying.

      September 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  19. basketcase

    Well said. Regardless of his existence or lack thereof, God is not necessary in a political party platform.

    September 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Erica

      Until the conservatives get wind of the omission and start pointing fingers and decrying "Witches"!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  20. todd cook

    The universe in all its complexity created itself. THAT goes beyond idiocy into the realm of utter madness.

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

      Whatever. Take it to an article that actually deals with that point.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • basketcase

      "I can't explain it so it must have been this story about a magic man in the sky." Nice logic.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Maya

      The fact that you even phrase it that way just shows that you are completely ignorant of the Big Bang theory.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Are you saying religion is idiocy? I agree.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jerry

      God, in all his glory, created himself. THAT goes beyond idiocy into the realm of utter madness.

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

      So, you think that magic provides a more rational explanation for how the universe came about? You are likely one of those who believes that spirits are hovering around and influencing our actions. Does that seem rational to you? I thought so, Jesus !

      September 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • James

      Let's see if I understand this. The universe is too complex and amazing to have created itself, and so a being so capable as to have created the entire universe created it/him/herself instead? How does that make sense?

      Look, I don't know if there is or isn't a supreme being and neither do you. It's not something that can ever be proven or disproven, but this whole business of "I don't understand how else this could have happened so it must be God" is a cop out.

      September 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
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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.