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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. Zoby

    Any platform that pushes religion pushes voters like me away. I do not want incompetent people who believe in fairy tales running the country.

    September 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Jake

    I find it astounding that anyone really thinks 95% of Americans believe in god. Then again, if you're gullible enough to believe in god, it makes sense that you'd also think that is a believable statistic. I bet the real number is not far from 50%.

    September 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Byrd

    When I do finally come face to face with this god you worship, and after I give it a tour through history it will never forget, it will have just as much of a chance of surviving the encounter as I have of surviving this world of his creation. Namely: ZERO.

    September 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  4. JohnD

    Reference to God or not should be a matter of personal conscience and not merely obligatory in an arms race about which candidate is godlier than any of the others. What is really unpalatable is the disconnect between candidates' professed love of god and their professed social economic and social policies, which spit in the face of Christian teaching. Mr Paul Ryan, please take a bow: your economic doctrine is inspired by Ayn Rand, who rejected utterly the concept of Christian charity and any form of non-selfish behavior.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. :> :>

    ..

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=360]

    September 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Gray

    which of the Gods does this article refer to please? thank you

    September 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  7. ? :>

    ..

    ..

    .'.B'H
    JERUSALEM: ISRAEL
    ----------
    .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    .???

    September 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  8. .? :> :>

    .'.B'H
    JERUSALEM: ISRAEL
    ----------
    .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    ...>.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Alger Dave

    Both parties could stand to be a bit (or a lot) more godly. Usually becoming more godly happens in directly opposite proportion to talking about becoming more godly. Especially when done by a politician.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  10. Jim Tackes

    Obama is an atheist. He's smart enough to know not to declare it.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  11. tuvia

    -

    ------

    B"H
    JERUSALEM: ISRAEL

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU&w=640&h=360]

    September 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  12. Byrd

    Neither god nor Israel have any place in the platform of any political party in the United States.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Than move out to hindered gutter of hinduism illegality called india and make a claim of hinduism, denial of truth absolute God, Not to believe in truth absolute is a hind, crime by American consti tution. To learn hinduism, corruption of truth absolute by hindu's, denires of truth absolute, please visit For more visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ and click on word Choice to open file.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  13. hogwash Dao

    Keep GoD in your parti's platform and core values just in case: you are behind in the poll, one of your prominent man got caught doing the nasty, or feeding time for the mindless masses 🙂

    September 10, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  14. sgs1965

    Stephen,

    Your best paragraph in this Opinion is the following:

    "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."

    I couldn't agree more. That said, so what? God just wants to be included in our lives. He loves us so much that all he wants to do is be praised and thought about. Just as I am sure you love your kids (if you have any) God loves his too. Would you care if your son proclaimed your name when he went out with his friends even if it was for prideful reasons as opposed to him believing in his faith in you? I bet not. I bet you would just appreciate being thought of by him. God's the same way. Praise be to God. Through Him all things are possible.

    September 10, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  15. frank

    "Keep God out of...." How many times have I heard this drivel in the last decade? Far too many. Well, lets bring in perverts, lets bring in deviants, lets bring in this one or that one, but lets be sure to keep God out of....whatever it may be. If I were Him I would have wacked this evil world long ago, but He is far more compassionate then I am. No my friend, we don't need to keep God out, we need to invite Him in. We start by inviting Him into our lives, recognizing that Jesus, the Son of God, atoned for our sins. He paid the penalty that we would have paid, He suffered in our place. We need to ask Jesus into our lives as our Lord and our Savior, and repent from our rebellion. I can't imagine not having God in my life, leading and guiding me in all that I do. PTL May you come to know the peace of His forgivenss through faith in Jesus, the Savior of the world. God bless

    September 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      FrankenNonsense, He does not exist. The Bible is nonsense. We should keep ficticious God out of everything.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Athy

      Shit, Frank. If you want god in your life that's fine. Why do you need to push that ancient bullshit belief on everyone else? Some of us have long since outgrown the need for it. Keep it to yourself if you need the crutch. We atheists don't need it and don't want it. And we're not deviants and perverts. Frankly Frank (ha ha), it seems to me the cross clutchers are the actual deviants and perverts with their mindless rituals and knee-groveling mumbling to worship and placate some imaginary boogie man in the sky. Time to grow up.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • mr

      Keep God our Creator out of the platform???? How ridiculous would that be, since God our Creator was declared by the Founding Fathers in our Declaration for the Independence of this nation. Also, FYI for the other commentators on the board, please READ in the Declaration where the Founding Fathers also depended upon God our Creator for his blessing to defeat the British.

      September 10, 2012 at 6:34 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Keeping ‘god’ out of it is a fundamental AMERICAN concept genius.

      September 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I don't think keeping "God" out was the idea TT. Keeping organized religion both distinct from and protected from the government was the idea, but certainly not preventing public figures from the personal exercise of faith or bringing those values into the public discourse.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That was not my post. The same troll is at it again.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • 13monkees

      So...a compassionate eternally wise and merciful being through whom "all things are possible" couldn't find a better way to save humanity than to nail his own son to a cross. This "moral" being from whom so many say you must invite into your life in order to be a good moral person endorses slavery, genocide, and the wholesale murder of babies. In his mercy. Grow up. My daughter, who is 6, was able to figure out that the tooth fairy is unlikely to exist, she thinks the resurection is just a silly concept, why can't adult s figure it out? Of course, she really hopes Neverland is real. She hopes to vacation there next summer.

      September 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • christ_child

      AMEN Frank I myself would be dead now if it werent for jesus christ he has changed my life especially being young in the day and age and what i had to grow up being exposed to. As a youth leader now I am teaching my youth on Jesus and they are becoming believers and are shining for Christ even some of my friends are becoming believers and joining me and all we can do is pray for everyone posting theses comments believer or not cause we do not have long for this world and judgement is coming. John 3:16, Romans 10:9, Romans 10:11, and Romans 10:13. GOD BLESS EVERYONE.........

      September 11, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • sam stone

      "If I were Him I would have wacked this evil world long ago,"

      You are a petty punk, so you find comfort in a petty punk god. Now, get back on your knees slaveboy

      September 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      christ_child: there are no end times, there is no judgement, your empty proxy warnings are laughable. if you want to spend your life on your knees, have at it.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Marie A

    Being an atheist is a religion as well. It seems that more and more the religion of "I dont' believe in GOD so I dont want to hear about him" is as bad as the bible thumpers. As long as one side or the other isn't being crammed down your throat let folks be. If they want to mention the Father then let them if not...that's fine too!

    September 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Murray, atheism is religion as bald is a hair color.

      I stole that from a post some time ago. It was too good not to use it again.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Athy

      Atheism is not a religion. We don't spend Sunday mornings wearing out our pants and shoe tips groveling in worship of some imaginary ghost. Why the fuck would I want to hear anything about some never-seen, never-heard entity invented by some illiterate goat herders 2000 years ago? My time is much better spent reading about more recent (way more recent) science discoveries.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • Ali P

      I couldn't agree more Marie. Great post. I am not sure why these posts have to be so negative about belief in God or Atheism. We believe different things...not shocking with how vastly disparate our life experiences are etc. I would agree, however, that it is disrespectful for a political party to express belief in God as a means of persuading voters.

      September 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Ralph N

      Religion centers in the idea of worship. To worship is to commit ones whole heart and belief to someone or something that the worshipper believes gives power and life. Christians worship God who created this earth. Athiests worship science and the big bang creationist theory. The difference is in the object of worship, not whether or not worship exists. Athiests will tell you that athiesm isn't a religion for the sole purpose of deflecting the merit of worship on their part.

      September 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Athy

      Belief in logic and science is not worship. Please look up the definition in your dictionary, if you even have one. Get a grownup to help you if you can't do it yourself.

      September 10, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      Marie: Religion is top down. Atheism is a philosophy, not a religion.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  17. OMG

    Atheists feel ignored. Of course. Most people aren't going to waste their time listening to nonsense. Atheists spew nonsense, nonething more. Who wants to hear that? What party represents atheists? That would be the FOOLS PARTY. "The fool has said in his heart there is no God". ....Psalm 14:1

    .

    September 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      OhMyGonads, you're quite a fool. There is no God and the Bible is nonsense.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Athy

      Actually, we spew the truth, "nonething" more. I know it hurts if you've been bible washed for many years, but just try to think objectively, if you can, and it will come to you. But I don't hold out much hope.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:36 am |
    • Dave K

      You should have kept reading until he got down the paraphrase of Matthew 6:5. BTW, I suggest you read it yourself.

      September 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      OMG: Shove your bible up your rectum

      September 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      The fools are not the ones who say there is no god. The fools are the ones who think they speak for god.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  18. martin

    One nation under law...

    September 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      One nation under La, truth absolute, God.

      September 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Trudy Rush Henson

    I am so thankful that our President has the Middle Class of America's Back. It is truly wonderful to have a man in his position that has the courage and love of God in his heart. Pay attention people! God has been left out long enough.

    I give praise to the speakers of the Democratic Convention that gave speeches supporting our President and were humble enough to include God.

    This is for Atheist that feel left out. If you want to be heard start a blog, send an editoral to your city or county newspaper, print fliers to promote Atheist beliefs. Do something about it and quit complaining.

    September 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Athy

      They have to include religion in the platform to get the votes of the cross clutchers.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      God needs to be kicked to the curb where he belongs. We should stop brainwashing our kids with religious nonsense.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  20. Lee Oates

    I wonder how long the hairless ape will cling to fairy tales of invisible beings before he evolves to a higher state of being based on science and evolution?

    September 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Science does not support hinduism absurdity of evolution, but existence of truth absolute God, hinduism absurdity of evolution is a fundamental of hinduism, pagan ism, self center ism, product of observation of animals,having nothing to do with physical science, Please visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ and click on word choice to open file.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:57 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.