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. DB

    The president seems to disagree with you. The president believes in God and wants to lead a party that believes in God. It's actually refreshing to hear a Theology professor call for less religion in politics, but that's not the way Obama wants his party, and he's the Dems' standard bearer right now.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Athy

      Well, he's got to say that to placate the cross clutchers, but he seems too smart to really believe it. Who knows? I'll go with the lesser of two evils. He seems less likely to let religious nonsense affect his decisions.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  2. donner

    Just read a post here describing Mitt Romney as a Christian. Mormons are not christians. Go to YouTube and search "Banned Mormon cartoon" See what Mitt Romney really believes. Then Google the "White Horse Prophecy" Educate yourself before you vote for Romney. It matters.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. yannaes

    A=without, Theos = God, god

    So an Atheos (atheist) is without God/god, so there is a god/God to be without. ummm So an antheist is one that does not believe in God/or god therefore I would agree with the religion of atheism, that they are without God/god.

    September 9, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  4. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and let's them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds, and don't run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, disserving society).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    mama kindless

    September 9, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • yannaes

      Yep..You atheist certainly do have strong minds:
      Stalin, Pot (of Cambodia), Mao, China.and the list can go on...genocide of millions of people..yep strong minds alright..congratulations, we who believe are very weak minded. Dr. Francis Scahffer (I.Q. 168) Phd. Harvard, Philosophy,
      I am sure he would appreciate your comment about being "weak minded" and he believes in God. Just an example, and he would be more than happy to debate you, I am sure.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Stalin and Mao may have been atheist, but they didn't use their atheism to justify their crimes. Alternatively, Hitler did in fact use the speeches of Martin Luther to justify murdering jews, and he had plenty of expert help from the Vatican. No nation has ever slipped into despotism by following scientific advancement, which atheism is.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  5. james butts

    im amazed at how wicked and dishonest cnn is being about the truth ,i just watched a rabbi discuss how important it is for america to support and defend isreals right to take land from palestinians and as if the palestinians are not human beings with rights everytime cnn has someone on talking about this issue they never have an opposing view WHY because isreal embodys every evil we have accuse all the world tyrants of but theyve done one good thing...controlled the information that people recieve the democratic delegates were not outraged at the word god being kept ,they were opposed to being forced to acknowledge isreals blatant attempt to continue to force there will on the world and take from the palestinian people thanks to the internet we no longer need to depend on media like cnn who cant be trusted to tell the truth ...god help those who dont have access

    September 9, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  6. Clinton

    To all you poor unbeleivers,the day will come as you embrace your darkness so.Be it as one dies,but the word of God overcomes time and nations.So waste your time speaking as God still moves people and Wars.I will vote for Romney and this nation will still be blessed to have people that still have faith.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Seyedibar

      which god would that be? Ishtar? Thor? Zeus? Dyonisius? Vishnu? Varuna? Brahma? Buddha? Mithra? Horus? Wotan? Axomama? Catequil? Tsukiyomi? Akuma? Bishamon? Vairocana? Lucifer? Diana? Pluto?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Paratrooper1

      There is archaeological evidence that even the jews were once polytheists. But there is no real evidence that any gods have ever really existed.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  7. worldcares

    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.

    Not on the television, with a phone number, to take from the weak and wulnerable
    Legal religious extortion, by force or fear..

    September 9, 2012 at 6:15 am |
  8. TrueBlue42

    Religion in politics: Less is more; none is best.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:45 am |
  9. CA

    Few 100% true Reasons why Islam is a terrible and evil religion to stay far away from...

    1. "Prophet" Muhammed was an evil pédophilé who was an intolerant murder, destroyer and had many wives, incl. 9 year old!
    2. Islam = submission. Allah tells Muslim to submit to his will; otherwise he will torture and torment you in life for eternity.
    3. Islam treats non-adherents worse than animals. If they are people of the books (Christians or Jewish), classify them as "dhimmis" and make them pay a special tax (Jizya) to the Islamic government, or they should be enslave, rob, rápe, and lynch them as you please unless they convert to Islam.
    4. Islam kills those who leave Islam and/or convert to another religion.It also says to kill gays, atheists and those who insult Islam.
    5. Islam says "Men are better than women", "Men could have many wives", "Women are worth half a man", "Selling a wife is perfectly ok".
    6. Unlike Christians – Muslims pray and serve Allah, rather than praying for themselves or someone else.
    7. Islam is the most violent Religion by far –>> http://www.thereligionofpeace.com <<–
    8. Muslims frequently persecute and kill Christians unless they convert to their cult. Churches have either been converting into Mosque. (Hagia Sophia an example) or being burned down in Islamic countries.
    9. Non-Muslims are forbidden visiting Mecca, and no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia (No churches, No non-Islamic stuff, etc.).
    10. Islam is spreading like rats in western countries (Europe & North America), and seek to spread their "Sharia Laws", as well as trying to convert as many people to their "peaceful" religion and ev. Taking over the nation.
    11. It is the DUTY of every Muslim to expand Islam and strive for world domination.
    12. Quran is nothing but hate and violence. Muslim children are brainwashed and brought up with violence and hatred towards non-Muslims.
    13. Islam says they believe in Jesus (Isa), yet they deny his words and the Bible.
    14. Many Muslims in western nations tries to act "nice" and "tolerant" like normal humans so people think that their religion is "peaceful" and ev. people falling into converting to Islam and accepting them.

    May our Lord save us from Islam and its disgusting people!

    Muslims could openly practice their religion freely in western (Christian) nations, but Christians or Non-Muslims would risk getting their head cut of doing in in any Islamic nation, both secular and extremist.



    September 9, 2012 at 2:32 am |
  10. annieL

    Mixing politics with religion does great harm to religion. Jesus Christ did not attempt to take over the civil government of his day or allow his followers to make him "king." He rejected the temptation of Satan to give him earthly (political) power over a great kingdom. "My kingdom is not of this world," he said repeatedly. So why do many Christians today do just the opposite? I believe Jesus knew both the futility and the danger of his followers putting their faith in governments. I do not want any politician claiming to speak for God or do God's will on my behalf. I do not give them that right when I cast my one vote.

    September 9, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • 1836eig

      The separation of Church and State, seems I've heard that somewhere before!

      September 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Bill

    Atheists lack more than "belief". They lack humility. It is a prerequisite.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Pot, meet kettle.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • timmuh

      So you need to be humble in order to believe something there is absolutely no evidence for?

      September 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • yannaes

      The kettle is empty!

      September 9, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Seyedibar

      What's humble about christians making outrageous claims about talking snakes and resurrected sorcerors.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  12. havefaith

    God had a hand in our coutry being born and free. We based our laws from our founding Christian faith. If we left religion out of politics, it will be jeapordizing us who do believe in a higher power of God's grace and divinity. Please just ignore or accept our beliefs in this world if you don't like it. You have no right to jeapordize or infringe on OUR belief system either. Lets just agree to disagree and leave it alone. People who don't believe have nothing to lose, but we have everything to lose and we Believe in praising our God for the GREAT things he has done for OUR (not your) country.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, for fvck's sake, this crap again. This country was NOT based on Christianity. Stop lying. Either you're stupid or you're ignorant. Or both.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • timmuh

      Do tell which laws are based on your founding christian faith? America is a secular nation settled predominately by Christians but by others as well, and not a Christina nation.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      The founding fathers made it very clear in writing that this nation was NOT founded on christian principles and that it would never be allowed to rule as such. We built this country specifically to escape the oppressive forces of religion in Europe and disallow any sort of church to build that much power.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  13. Gopherit

    Stephen Prothero has written several well-researched books about the role of Christianiity and religion in the U.S. and especially in American politics. He is correct in his contention that the popular and political identification of Christianity with the Second Amendment's granting people the right to buy and use guns actually is contrary to what Jesus teaches and what he did in his lifetime. The major problems with the political invoking of Christianity and religion are that Christianity and religion have been hijacked to serve agendas which are in opposition to Jesus' intentions for the world, and also likely is offensive for non-Christians.

    September 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Sorry... your christ never existed. He never walked on water and certainly didn't change water into wine. This shouldn't be too upsetting though, as every deity that was ever on the receiving end of a prayer or a temple has never existed. There have been hundreds if not thousands. One day human kind may evolve past this deity notion, that is, if they don't kill each other off in the name of their chosen non-existant god.

      September 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  14. James


    September 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • James

      In case you missed it!

      September 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  15. Jill Quaney

    The author is absolutely correct and would have more credence if the president hadn't been accused of being a Godless socialist, Muslim, America hater.

    September 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  16. acutabove

    No Chrtistian would be making the argument that we need LESS of God anywhere. Therefore this writer is a fraud.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • acutabove

      I welcome all African American Christians into the party that atthe very least gives lip service to God (ie. the Republicans).

      While I know that saying "I am a Christian" does not mean you are one, the opposite is not true. Saying there is no God or that He should be ignored does make you not a Christian. We cannot believe what politicians say (everyone knows this), so we need to look for clues to their genuine character. For instance, a rich Romney gives greater than 10% to charities. Obama only began giving 10% after he became president but only 1% before he became president. It does not mean that Romney is charitable because he could have other reasons for giving like politics, but it does prove that millionaire Obama was not.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism, labeled as Christianity is based on hinduism, racism, by divide of truth absolute God, the truth absolute, invitation to African America's to join club of hinduism, racism, called Christianity is nothing but hindu Magi ism, filthy trickster ism to hind, fool humanity. For more please visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/blog.html to learn about Magi hinduism, criminal trickster ism of hindu Jew's, criminal self centered of Egypt and Persian origin.

      September 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Blill

      Whether a person is a Christian or not isn't something you can judge by how much he gives to his church or religious organization. That was old Jewish law and Christ said nothing about following that law–he didn't ask for money Himself either. If you are truly a Christian, you surely know that you will be judged by Him in the same way you judge others.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:00 am |
  17. tuvia

    מלחמה בלתי נגמרת

    September 8, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  18. ElmerGantry

    xnothinbutthetruth stated?
    "You misunderstand is the entire concept of faith and religion. Faith is intended to be one of the most difficult things to achieve.. because it's that valuable. it isn't intended to be something that God has to prove to you... if that was the goal – then of course he would. It's about coming to belief without direct proof. To one without faith... there is no proof of God's existence... to one WITH faith – the proof is all around you."

    September 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    Funny thing though. In the NT Jesus made several very specific, clear, concise, and unequivocal statements about the efficacy of prayer!

    To wit,
    Matthew 21:21:
    I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt,not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
    [A true believer can ask a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and it will be done. LOL!]

    Mark 9:23
    All things are possible to him who believes.

    Luke 1:37:
    For with God nothing will be impossible.

    John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

    John 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

    John 14:14 If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.

    Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus' promises about prayer in the Bible.
    So there you have it, straight from Jesus in the New Testament in clear, simple, and unequivocal terms.

    You could convert millions of not billions for the greater glory of God. What person would still be a non believer if you prayed to Jesus to have a mountain throw itself into the sea and it happened as promised by Jesus in Matthew 21:21?

    So do it! Prove it to the world. Think of the glory you would bring to God!

    September 8, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • ElmerGantry


      Should be ..... millions if not billions....

      September 8, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • timmuh

      You need to demonstrate that those bible verses are true and correct before they will hold any weight in that you can't claim that the bible is true and correct because it says so in the bible.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • shaun

      the bible and every other religion was written by man just like they harry potter books

      September 9, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 8, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • hal 9000

      I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 8, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Howard

      If prayer actually changed things, then you would no longer be posting this nonsense. Unfortunately, my prayers for you to stop have gone unanswered.

      September 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      hundreds of scientific studies show that prayer has no greater effect than a placebo in any sort of trial.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  20. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    To learn causes of mayhem among humanity please visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/

    September 7, 2012 at 7:58 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.