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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. georgex

    test test

    September 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Athy

      Loud and clear here. Over.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  2. rcroeder

    It if difficult to remove religion from these debate. The GOP uses religion as a tool to win votes. Reminds me of Monty Python where both side ask for gods favor going into battle, god flips a coin.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  3. Derek

    If we tell God to get out of our country and politics, he just might. And when he leaves, all hell is going to break loose, you'll see.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Athy

      There is no god so we can't tell him anything. Go back to playing with your dog, Derek.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • sam stone

      derek: based on what? translated, edited iron age hearsay? what the fvck does what what people from an agrarian culture long ago and far away have to do with us in the 21st century? you have no crystal ball...so spare us your iron age boogieman scare tactics

      "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" – chicken little

      "And when he leaves, all hell is going to break loose, you'll see." derek

      September 12, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  4. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    What do you 'believe in' about yourselves? Hard for you higuy.

    September 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. Kirk

    athy, i am used to trash talk, doesnt bother me, in fact it is another indicator of the time in which we live so keep it up, join the growing ranks that love to hate.

    September 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Athy

      We don"t hate, we just don't believe. Keep religious nonsense out of our government.

      September 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Kirk

    wow i thought this was a religious blog, athy you are the perfect example of the vile that is so prominent in this filthy world, cleareye regan was also into numerology, frayded knot, wher in the hec are the scriptures you are referring to? have you ever heard of symbolism? i have an idea, lets put our trust in dishonest, immoral, politicians that continue to promise a better world that they have no control over, and the gullible continue to believe that they can.

    September 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Athy

      Just telling it like it is. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      And how do you determine what is meant as symbolism and what isn't?

      September 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  7. t3chn0ph0b3

    Whenever politicians God-drop here, it's just pandering, regardless of what they believe.

    September 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  8. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    OK, atheists and antichrists, you have made it clear you don't 'believe in' Jesus the creator. What do you 'believe in' about yourselves?

    September 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      What does what one believes in about themselves have to do with the god claim?

      September 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I'm also unaware of any antichrists in existence.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • david esmay

      Science, moron.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      There is a big book about the Creator. Where's your little book you? Still in the closet?

      September 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Have Mud

      It is really that hard for you to answer a question?

      September 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • cleareye1

      I am as good as Jesus. That's what I believe.

      September 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  9. N.Shapiro

    Look at theThird "Commandment"

    September 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  10. faye62

    If we keep God out of politics, what you'll get is Stalins, Hitlers, Lenins, McVeighs, Jim Jones and the like running this country. Who in their right mind would want that to happen is beyond understanding. You take God out of the equation and what you'll have is "pure evil."

    September 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • sam stone

      faye: right. you need god to be moral...if you have no morality to begin with

      September 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Laura

      Absence of religion does not equate to absence of morality. That's an archaic concept and is insulting to the human race because it assumes we are too barbaric to be able to function autonomously and with other beings without having to be told how to act.

      September 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  11. Kirk

    Interesting that the Bible says that Satan is the god of this world wide system. 1 John 5:19 Says: "We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the [power of the] wicked one."
    God's Kingdom or His Heavenly Government will soon bring an end to ALL human governments. (Dan.2:44) Then and only then will there be true peace. Isaiah 2:4: "And he will certainly render judgment among the nations and set matters straight respecting many peoples. And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore."

    September 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Athy

      Man, what a load of bullshit. I can't believe there are actual people so fucking deluded that they eat this shit and think it's chocolate.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Silly. Explain this:

      We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. -Ronald Reagan, 40th US President (1911-2004)

      September 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Kirk,

      Interesting that the Bible also says that snow and hail are kept in storehouses in the sky... and all sorts of other goofy stuff.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  12. zisee

    It wasn't until the liberals and atheists put their noses into things that God is an offensive word. Well, I say keep GOD in everything. You don't like, move out of the country.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Athy

      It'd be easier for god to move out of the country. Of course this an apocryphal statement since there is no god in the first place.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • cleareye1

      We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. -Ronald Reagan, 40th US President (1911-2004)

      September 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      This is our country too, d-bag

      September 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      Also, pi$$ant, your grammar sucks

      September 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • david esmay

      Your words are what's offensive.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Steve

      You move out of the country! There is no requirement that you have to believe in any certain "God" in this country. Further, I am less likely to vote for someone who continuously reminds us of how "Godly" he/she is or how religious he/she is. Makes me think he is either an idiot or a fraud.

      September 12, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  13. Adam C

    This should be pretty obvious. Many democrats are not religious, but knowing that there are a lot of small-minded Americans, they will play the part to try to attract the votes. You could say pretty much the same thing about the Republicans.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  14. Adam

    Democrats found God in 2004. And booed Him in 2012.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  15. What???

    Again this past Democratic Socialist Communist Party convention shows its true godless colors and any godly American that can find the courage to vote Democrat might want to reconsider who they support as party leadership and the architects’ of the party platform. There were even American descendants of Arabs booing God?

    September 11, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Athy

      What's that apostrophe doing on architects? And is your last sentence a question? Your writing skills are typical of most cross cuddlers.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • cleareye1

      But then there's:
      We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. -Ronald Reagan, 40th US President (1911-2004)

      September 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      So, cvnt, your consider yourself "godly"?

      September 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  16. Nick

    Cant wait until we finally see the day when politicians don't have to say the word 'god' to appease the deluded masses. The internet is helping the next generation to realize that the fairy tales of their parents will do them no good as they strive for knowledge. Eventually all the conservative old grannies will die, and a new generation will prevail, a generation that knows that god is the worst idea ever invented by mankind.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • What???

      Hitler, Stalin and Mao didn't mention God. How did that work out for the Germans Jews, the Russian people and the Chinese intellectuals?

      September 11, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Derpa Derp

      @ What???
      I am invoking the Hitler rule. You used Hitler as your defense, therefore your statement is invalid and you lose any credibility henceforth. Thank you and have a wonderful day...

      September 11, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • Derek

      Thank you... It's funny how we pretend to be so smart as the dominant life form on this planet, and yet so many believe with truly blinded vision that these historical stories of supernatural beings are so important, and so real. Why are we still so dumb?

      September 11, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • christ_child

      "Eventually all the conservative old grannies will die, and a new generation will prevail, a generation that knows that god is the worst idea ever invented by mankind." well that is a statement that I want to ask y is that your thinking and opinion is that god was invented? god has always been and ever will be we get that from John 1:1 Int he beginning was the word and the word was with GOD and the word was GOD. I would like for you to think on this Jesus Christ was a real person who died on the cross. So John 3:16 For GOD so loved the world that he gavee his only begotten son that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Romans 10:13 Whoever will call on the name of the lord shall be saved. GOD loves you and I love you but do not agree with what you are saying..........

      September 11, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Laura

      Christ_child: You're making the assumption that the Bible is an accurate representation of history and even of "God". The Bible is not the direct word of God (as it has been written by the hand of man and we have no idea what they could and couldn't have left out when writing) and has been used in the past to manipulate a population (No shellfish in Leviticus is a prime example). Do not use Bible verses to support your claims, all that does is show you have nothing to hide behind but a book that may not even be true.

      September 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  17. larry5

    The problem is that God has been with this country since the start. References are everywhere. If it's such a problem maybe you can get yourself and your friends together, get on a boat and start sailing for a new world. Get a fresh start.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Athy

      We'd rather change our country than leave it. And we will be successful.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Nick

      Larry, you know little of American history. Our government was created to be entirely seperate from religion. Just read the treaty with Tripoli....

      September 11, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • What???

      As long as any single American believes in God that American will always consider God's perspective. If he or she doesn't he or she is not a believer in God. Proverbs 3:5

      September 11, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Athy

      Yeah. Larry apparently doesn't know that the whole reason for the founding of our country was to escape religious persecution. He needs to retake 6th-grade history again (assuming he ever took it in the first place).

      September 11, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • max3333444555

      athy, the reason for the founding of this country was not religious freedom. its funny that you dis someone about not taking 6th grade history when you apparently skipped a few classes yourself.

      the colonies already had religious freedom under english rule. the monarchy was fine with the religious nutjobs being in the colonies and doing what they wanted.

      this country was founded based on a tax policy that the monarchy had imposed. the colonists largely wanted to remain loyal to the monarchy but the king refused to receive the negotiators. when the hostilities in mass broke out the colonists (in mass) realized they had no choice but to fight.

      read the journals of the mass delegation that went to the other colonies. it may open your eyes a bit. read about franklin and his business ties to the brittish.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • max3333444555

      athy, i apologize. i typed the wrong name and then criticized you. it wasnt your post that prompted me to respond.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Athy

      Apology accepted, max long-number.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Explain: We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate. -Ronald Reagan, 40th US President (1911-2004)

      September 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      The problem is that we were founded on freedom of religion, so you can take your vision of god and insert it soundly up your rectum

      September 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • cleareye1

      max3333444555 should acquaint themselves with Roger Williams.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  18. Da King

    God has always been in US politics starting with George Washington. That will never change. God is in the heart of all Americans.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • logan5

      Don't be so sure my over-confident friend! Non belief is spreading like wild fire and we owe thanks to the Internet for this. What the printing press did for Christianity the Internet is doing for atheism and agnosticism. Sure god will always be a part of politics in this country but hopefully soon he will play a very small part. Ramen!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Athy

      Well, I'm an American and god is not in my heart. So your statement is false, Kingy.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Turtleguy

      You might want to take a moment to review American history. Try starting with the Treaty of Tripoli, then read Ben Franklin's autobiography. You have much to learn, and much more to unlearn.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Qman

      Ahh... "the non believers are spreading like wild fire"

      Look at the last cencus, and compare it to the one previous.

      Then come back here, and delete your comment.

      Thanks,

      Qman

      September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      Not so, Da King. Atheists are Americans, too.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  19. Professor

    Again, simple non-sense is paraded as if it is scholarship. This book-peddler Prothero should be ashamed of himself for his unyielding ignorance of American political history. As should cnn.

    September 10, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Doc_77

      You should be ashamed for writing a post that clearly shows how ignorant you are.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Turtleguy

      Clearly, you are not a professor.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Athy

      No professor would hyphenate nonsense or use one in "book peddler". Most of these so-called intellectuals reveal their true ignorance by their eighth-grade-level English.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I'm a professor and I confess grammar, punctuation and sometimes spelling elude me. Give us a break, please. We do contribute in our own way.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Athy

      I'm sure you're right in many cases. But since we have no face-to-face contact on these blogs, the way posters write is the only clue we have of their general intelligence. I once had a friend, a fellow engineer, brilliant in all respects except that he couldn't spell well, even many simple, common words. He actually invented and successfully marketed a handheld electronic "dictionary" of sorts to help people with this affliction. These devices are quite common nowadays, but this was back in about 1970 or so.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  20. nelsonleonard

    I am a weekly church attendee and try to act as a Christian though I do slip now and then. I do not believe in using the name of God in secular affairs as almost a necessity as I abhor the theocracies we see in parts of the world. I see little reason to make reference to him in a political platform. The attack that the Democrats booed God in so ridiculous. They were booing the way the platform issue was decided. Some of those who did not vote for the references to God in the platform were kind of like me. So many citizens are atheist and some religions refer to God by other names that I find the including the mention to be unfair to some. Of course, if you do believe in God, then live your life that way remembering to be loving to yourself but also your neighbor.

    September 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      " if you do believe in God, then live your life that way remembering to be loving to yourself but also your neighbor."

      Sir, I appreciate your balanced comment, but one does not need religion to possess morals. This maxim that is so often attributed to Jesus is so obviously perceptible to the human race without any impetus such as any "written word" or "word of God" or what have you.

      September 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • cleareye1

      All the concepts credited to the Bible were in existence long before the time of Moses, etc. The European and mid-East cultures are all newcomers when compared to China. America is still an embryo.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • cleareye1

      Good post as it shows your true beliefs and your confidence in them. As a politically independent free-thinker I can relate to your comment. Your god should not need and Ed McMahon spokesperson to sell the idea as though religion will evaporate without constant reminding.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
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