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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. Carlos

    I find it interesting how everyone believe in their president and congress and themselves but nothing ever changes things just get worse and worse. Then again the bible has predicted everything that is happening today and that people would be sick in tired of Religion and speaking of God, and now is actually happening. Another reason out of many to believe. It sucks to be blind and not even know it and on top of that still believe your right and the bible is wrong.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  2. Oldeye

    Religion and politic in the the USA is infused. There will no ifs and buts.
    Obama would not have been elected if he was a known Muslim.
    Romney will be running as a Mormon and we will see if the majority of
    voters will accept him and his Mormon religion. This will be an interesting
    election. Me, I don't really care, as long as the candidates meet my expectations.
    I do understand a bit about Mormonism(mostly from reading about it) but not really
    a big fan of it. Who cares as long as the candidates are patriotic Americans who are
    qualified to lead us. That's all it matters. Don't try to make something out of nothing.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Carlos

      I agree with you it doesn't matter what a person believes in. Their job as a president should not mix with their beliefs.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  3. Carlos

    Funny how the bible has predicted that people would be sick in tired of Religion and speaking of God, and now is actually happening. Another reason out of many to believe.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  4. Carlos

    Damn everywhere I look people don't want to know anything about God. Now even here in the US. Funny thing is that bible predicted people would be sick and tired of religion. So I guess this another good reason to believe it.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  5. GOD spoke to me.

    God didn't create man, Man created god.

    That's why there are so many different "gods" and religions and why each religion is "right".

    September 16, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Robert

      You are wrong, of course. But that pretty much goes without saying.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Sue

      You're a liar or a fool, Robert.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • sam stone

      How is he wrong, Robert?

      September 17, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  6. Sherri

    To those who want religion and politics to be together,or who want no separation of church and state, let me remind you, that is what the Muslim countries have. They have a religious state. The religion IS the state. The religion makes the rules and you better obey them. It is important that we have separation of church and state or we will end up like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc. And if you want your church to be your state, well, whose church? Baptist? Catholic? Methodist? Jewish? Buddhist? Hindi? Presbyterian? WHICH do you put in charge? I want a leader who is a GOOD person. Who knows right from wrong. Who will do the right thing. I don't care what religion she is. I want someone who can be strong, when needed. Compassionate. Moral.

    September 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Would it matter if the people get to decide periodically which religion is to be in charge?

      September 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • chaz8181

      Beware of Romney and Mormonism.. read recent books about Mormomism and what they really believe and how they have and do influence Romney today. Of course we cannot believe everything we read, but these books or some of them reference specifically the Mormon bible and those applicable verses and also the doctrines of the founder of Mormomism..Joseph Smith..many of the doctrines are still in effect but the LDS church has swept them under the rug because they do not want to lose their "tax exempt status". Read it with an open mind..and decide for yourself .. i did and it is frightening what Romney believes and how it has influenced him and what he had to teach whild dodging the draft in France doing his "missionary" work at the peak of the Vietnam war. Seems he should have done his "missionary work" in Vietnam .

      September 16, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • Milton

      How many times do we have to see minority religions being persecuted by the majority to know that religious control of a government often ends in genocide. If one can be convinced to believe the extraordinary in the absence of reason or evidence, then it is a short walk to convince one that it is okay to kill someone else in the absence of reason or evidence. This is why faith isn't a virtue, it's a scourge on society.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Tom

      "Seperation of church and state" was to keep the government from medling with the church. Go read history on England and the church before the Consitution was written and you'll figure out why. Democracy is what was left to determine how much Biblical ideology will be in our government. This is why the Bible and prayer have been banned from public schools and 100 years ago was part of most schools curriculum.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  7. 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 lets 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 need a religion. Sometimes, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). Sometimes, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Religions are just big old evil clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division along the way (disguised as love).

    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.

    ** (yes, charlatan spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think it hadn't?)

    mama kindless

    September 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      How is indoctrination in agnosticism or atheism any different than indoctrination in a religion?

      September 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Robert

      So you WANT your children to burn in hell.... interesting.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Oldeye

      Interesting but very boring. This is an historically debated issue. It's been beaten to death.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  8. lindaluttrell

    That's why I keep asking what happened to separation of church and state? I don't care about your religious beliefs or the lack of them. It's what you are going to do with that political JOB that concerns me. Is the US government going to become another Chik-fil-a??? Never mind job performance...just rant about your own personal baggage??? Enough of the religios rhetoric! What are you politicians, if elected, going to do to solve this country's problems...action required...prayer alone ain't gonna cut it!

    September 15, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  9. Askmehow

    THERE IS NO MANUAL FOR LIFE.

    People need to stop bsing No one is born with the bible or the koran attached to the umbilical cord.

    September 15, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  10. Alex Esterhase

    Those politicians who refer to god constantly e.g. Romney, only go to underscore how delusional they are, weak-minded, brainwashed and enslaved, completely out of touch with reality.

    September 15, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • rickirs

      Amazing how much Romney sounds like a Muslem. Next thing you'll hear from Romney is – GOD IS GREAT.

      September 15, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Milton

      ..assuming Mitt Romney actually believes what he says. I've seen no evidence of this however. The greatest skill set of the sociopath is the ability to lie convincingly and without remorse.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  11. Mad Cow

    Our Founding Fathers and Mothers were Pastafarians. Everyone knows that.

    September 15, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  12. Wow

    keep the christian right out of politics, they have been used like a doormat on a rainy day anyway.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  13. !!!!!!!!!

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

    1. "Prophet" Muhammed was an evil & disgusting pédophile who had several wives like a maniac!
    2. Islam = submission. Allah tell Muslims to submit to his will; otherwise he will torture and torment you in life for eternity. Allah also permits war and violence against non-Muslims!
    3. Islam treats non-adherents worse than animals. If they are people of the books (Christians or Jews), 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. Death Penalty for any Muslims leaving Islam, being gay, atheist or insulting Muhammed.
    5. Quran: "Men are better than women", "Men could have many wives", "Men could hit their wives" etc.
    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 freedom of/from religion in Saudi Arabia & many other Islamic nations.
    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.
    They start by opening mosques and marry Christian or Jewish women so they will convert to Islam and raise Muslim kids.
    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. God forbid you are Christian minority in any Muslim country!
    13. Islam says they believe in Jesus (Isa), yet they deny his words and the Bible.
    14. Muslims in western nations tries to act 'nice and tolerant' to make non-Muslims believe & think their evil religion is peaceful so people fall into their cult and convert! Blacks, prisoners, and poor women are the main targeted!

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

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

    !!!! The more freedom we give those Muslims by letting them wearing their scary Islamic clothes, opening mosques (paying no tax), shoveling their evil religion in our throats, wanting Sharia Laws, etc. – the more problems will be caused !!!!
    !!!! Most Muslims are extremists, and even "moderate" Muslims still support them, so we should NOT tolerate them and we should BAN Islam unless they allow other religious minority in their countries to live in peace !!!!!.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • bigmeechy74

      Muslims are insane but so are christians. So what's your point?

      September 15, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Oldeye

      This exactly why one should be get mired in a particular religion.
      Once you are washed, you are done.
      My deepest condolences to your lost freedom of the mind.

      September 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  14. Edward Current

    Forget what George Washington had to say about morality. The man kept slaves until the day he died.

    September 14, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  15. Barney

    I didn't read the article. All I have to say is: Don't use God's good name to manipulate a voter into voting for you. Especially when there are way too many lies in politics and to say this and do that, well, God probably frowns upon that.

    September 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  16. beth s

    Whatever happened to humility of faith? Actions louder than words? Excellent point from Matthew, by the way

    September 14, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  17. Mark B

    I want to know which religious beliefs the candidates hold because beliefs inform actions.

    September 14, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • G to the T

      Why do you have to be religious to hold beliefs? Who says everyone that shares a religion (say Christianity) shares the same beliefs?

      Why can't they stand on their own without religion coming into it?

      September 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • John

      Correct. A person's religion is foretelling of his actions in office. Obama's church preached G– D- America. Obama has bowed to the Saudi King. Obama has declared America isn't a Christian nation. Says it all.

      September 15, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • Athy

      And, John, Obama is absolutely correct, you'll just have to deal with it as best you can.

      September 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  18. Marcia

    And yet Obama is reviled as a Moslem and 40% of Americans think so-thanks to Rush, Fox news Hannity, Sarah and others despite evidence given in this article that he is a Chrisian-it would be better to get religion out of politics as the Republicans have used it as hate

    September 14, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • John

      And rightly so.

      September 15, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • John

      Obama and the Democrats have no problem inciting hatred for those who work hard, spend wisely, save for a rainy day and follow the teachings of Christ. Democrats don't have much room to complain about teaching hatred. That's how they have managed to control this country for most of the 20th century. Its easy to make under-achievers (PC for lazy and stupid) hate hard working Americans: just tell them that the rich (anyone with a real job) are evil and stingy and obtained their life savings through nefarious means, therefore its OK to gang up on them and use the government to tax them into poverty. Its all nice and legal (still immoral though). Democrats are nothing if not lazy (and jealous of those who work hard and live right because they show up Democrats for what they truly are).

      September 15, 2012 at 2:56 am |
  19. PAUL

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

    September 14, 2012 at 6:01 am |
  20. gary

    religion makes people nuts

    September 14, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • Athy

      I think it's the other way around. Nutty people make religion.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Carlos

      No Gary is right

      September 16, 2012 at 7:47 am |
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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.