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. prettythingsforlazypeople

    How dare you assume and imply that those of us who are active Democrats push for God in our platform as a political 'prop'. As a former DNC member, former "Super-Delegate' and still active DNC volunteer, I can tell you that easily 2/3s of our voting members believe in a God, and want that spirituality included in our platform.

    You are also HIGHLY INACCURATE when you claim this came after the 2004 election. Nothing could be further from the truth. Democrats have always embraced faith, and accepted those of all faiths, in our big huge tent.

    What I HAVE SEEN for the last several years is a bullish & brash push from organized atheists who in caustic and harsh ways have been pushing for 'liberal' or 'democrat' to be synonymous with agnostic or atheist. Sorry...you are welcome in the Democratic tent...but don't expect us all to give up the very underpinning of who we are just because you are new to the party and want to use it for your own agenda.

    Not cool at all.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Plucky

      We (aytheists) are new to the party? Well, thank you for letting me in. And I thought for the last 35 years that I was already welcome.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam


      September 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • prettythingsforlazypeople

      Plucky there have always been atheists and agnostics in the modern Democratic Party. However, of late there have been a lot of atheists joining the party's ranks and pushing, very harshly, an atheist agenda. It's disconcerting. You don't see Protestants or Hindus or Wiccans or Muslims trying to push such a hard and fast dogma on the D party the way the atheists have in the last few year. You would have to be blind not to notice it.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      @prettythings. I call Bullshyte on you and being a super anything. Wait...I mispoke. You are super deluded if you believe in the big sky-fairy.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • prettythingsforlazypeople

      I do talk like a plant for the Romney campaign.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'd like to know whom you represent, pretty. All the people, or just those who believe what you do?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ah, my bad. I see you're a "former" not "current" delegate.

      I can see why.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • OldSchool

      @prettythingsforlazypeople – I think what you are failing to recognize is that atheists/agnostics are a RAPIDLY GROWING demographic, and as such our collective voices will be getting louder as time goes on. I have voted Democratic all of my life, I also insist that church and state be kept as far apart as possible, and I do not plan on relenting.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  2. Plucky

    Instead of asking us all the questions, aren't you supposed to supply some answers?

    September 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      @Plucky. You should be filling in those questions with your own "rational" answers. But your delusions are too deep seated, I fear. No sense, no thought, no progress. Stagnant stupidity.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  3. Anthony A

    Yep. We should base political decisions off of a persons religion. Even though we do not know which religion is correct, and that no citizen should have someone else s religion forced onto them.

    As a project, as any Christian citizen if they would appreciate living in a City/State/Country that is mostly Muslim and being forced to follow laws based on that religion? All women having to wear a veil in public etc. The answer is no, and as a result they are hypocrites.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • FriendofGodtoo

      God lives in the hearts of all "believers"....He moves us to live in the truth of God's word and God's way...period.
      Start using God in a lame attempt to channel his faithful to vote for something outside of God's will just won't happen!
      You can debate whatever you want but God lives in the hearts of his children...and we will do what is right and just because we trust God over all else...

      September 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Jon

    American politicians are expected to slather superfluous religious references on their language like barbecue sauce on ribs. It would be nice if we outgrew this, but for the moment it's a fact of life. It was a strategic mistake for the Democrats to forget this, and trying to fix it after the fact just looks like pandering (for the very good reason that it *is* pandering). Whether or not "potential" is preceded by "God-given" has exactly zero effect on how politicians will act on that particular plank – if indeed they act on it at all. If you're religious, you believe everything is "God-given", so why bother to say it? If you're not religious, it's just a colorful synonym for "inherent", maybe it's best to move on to an actual problem.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      Good points, Jon. It is inherent in our everyday language. Though an atheist, it took me a loooong time to stop saying "god bless you" when someone sneezed, or god-damn- it (etc),when p!$sed off. Still use that though, and no lightening bolts, haha.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Roscoe Chait

      Keep God and religion out of politics. If some people are right that God represents the greatest and highest good, then keep the Supreme One out of the sleazy dealings of humanity.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Jon

      Even though I'm an atheist, I have no problem saying "God damn it!", "for Christ's sake", "Thank God!" or even "God-given", in the same way I have no real issue with the fact that the days of the week are named after an eclectic combination of Norse and Roman deities.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  5. BJ

    Using God for political purposes is just as bad as actually removing Him. And just as bad to quote or reference the Bible for one's own interest, too. Such as the author of this opinion piece.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Jon

      Everything that's in a political platform is there by definition "for political purposes", so your comparison is a bit paradoxical.

      Also, I thought the point of the Bible was to teach moral lessons. If you can't quote the Bible to point out when people aren't heeding those lessons, what purpose does it serve?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  6. JH

    Please don't take that as a threat, that's what the bible says. God's love and salvation is free for those who ask, accepting him is the only way into heaven. Time is short he is returning soon, read what the Bible says about the end times and prophecy and then look what's happening in our world today.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      End times just around the corner. Be afraid everyone.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Horus

      The bible says.....the bible says....the bible says..... the bible says....... Guess what? Only xtians care what the bible says. It's a pathetic, poorly assembled book of literary works from roughly 1700 BCE to 200 CE, written by MEN during a time of far less understanding. Not to mention much of it is nothing more than recycled and revisioned material from much older religions. Ever wonder why Jesus told his followers to "take up the cross", yet the cross wouldn't technically have had meaning since he hadn't been crucified yet? Well the crazy thing is...the cross had religious meaning long before your version of god-man was dreamed up....

      September 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • sam

      Uh...nope, not returning soon. Thanks for playing, though.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "Please don't take that as a threat, that's what the bible says"

      Do some research on the bible and you will find that it was written by a bunch of humans, not god. but feel free to keep your head buried in the sand.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • old ben

      We do have something else to worry about though. That Aztec calendar, you know, the one with the crowned face in the middle with the tongue hanging out. Clearly it has foretold the start of the zombie apocalypse (slight eclipsed by the Diamond Jubilee).

      September 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • old ben


      September 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  7. Reality

    I see that Stevie P thu-mped Matthew 6: 5-6, (hypocritical prayer) in his commentary. Had he did some research like any professor worth his salary would do, he would have found that said passage does not meet rigorous historical review i.e. a single attestation found no where else in the NT. See also Professor Gerd Ludemann's conclusions in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 145-147 and pp. 694-695. "In no way did Jesus speak these words......................."

    September 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • okiejoe

      He must have! they're in the Bible and the Bible is God's word, isn't it? If that part is wrong then it is all suspect.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm |

    God will not bless America any more than God blessing Syria, or Afghan, or Darfu, etc.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  9. SmellsFishy

    Amen brother. I'm so sick of the religious pandering on both sides. keep it out of politics, oh and lets start taxing them like the businesses they are!

    September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  10. pensimmon

    I think the Founding Fathers who believed in separation of church(religion) and state were absolutely correct. Each person's spiritual beliefs are their own, and should not be used as some kind of political sledgehammer. It is actually anti-religious. All the world's religions teach tolerance and acceptance. Therefore by using it as a political tool, is is disobeying their tenets.
    The Christian God is everywhere, as is the the God of all groups. We should be absolutely inclusive, we are all Americans- and that includes atheists too.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  11. Coop

    I guess
    'ignorant people keep trying to shove the square peg in the round hole'
    would include John Madison,Thomas Jefferson, etc.

    There are no atheists in foxholes.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Horus

      Jefferson was a deist who notably referred to Christianity as an abomination, and barbaric. He wrote his own "bible" based on the NT in which he removed all the mystical nonsense and contradictions....

      September 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Adam

      militaryatheists [dot] org/expaif.html

      Your assertion is fraudulent. Please refrain from such behavior in the future. Thank you.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Unegen

      Athiests in the military would disagree with you.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      @coop. You are an idiot and a liar. I'm an atheist, and I was in those foxholes you speak of. So were some of my buddies. We didn't cry out to a make believe sky-fairy when mortars were dropping all around us.. Go fukk yourself and your stupid remarks as well. Dumubshyte!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • sam

      There are no atheists in foxholes...because they're out actually taking care of stuff instead of hoping god will do it.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Charles Richter

      You're right. The only aetheists in fox holes were out of the real line of fire. When it gets close it's a different story.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      @charles richter.
      Hey numbnut, you speak out of your a$$. Bet you never put on the uniform and went in harms way. You are a fukktard, and a usless pos coward.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • WhiteDesert

      Wrong, Charlie.
      Plenty of us have been under fire. In 2012 pretty much everyone who has served for more than a few years has a combat patch. Plenty of us have been shot at, and plenty of us have returned fire and put rounds center mass.
      No firefight conversion here.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  12. nate

    One president, one term, five trillion in new debt. I think we have bigger problems then throwing the word God around.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  13. Old Guy

    The answer is we don't know and it does not matter if we can' t explain our existence, or how the world was created. Maybe someday science will discover how. Like when they figured out gravity, the world was not flat or the center of the universe. Not knowing something is not a reason to make up gods and then force your religion on the rest of us. The belief in a god may have helped other cope, and brought some sanity into the world, but it has brought countless war and death and misery into this world when opinions differed between two religions. There are numerous examples in our world.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  14. Michael


    Your interpretation of that scripture is incorrect.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      scripture can be interpreted anyway the reader wants....thats how it was constructed.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  15. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    Unfortunately if a politician doesn't say God Bless America, they don't stand a chance of getting elected in this country full of bumpkins.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  16. servantofTHEWORD

    God is love.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Horus

      love, like god, is an invention of man.....

      September 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • houmpheng

      If God is love then why over hundred of millions of people worldwide have been kill in the name of God?

      September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Dr. Zaius

      That is the self perceived God of ill advised and mislead people. God himself is the Prince of Peace and loves everyone. Out of the millions of followers in only takes a small sampling to give the rest a bad name.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The very first are foremost characteristic attributed to God is jealousy.
      It's in the 1st Commandment.
      God is not love, God is the green eyed monster.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |

      What are you hiding that you needs God's love?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • okiejoe

      From all hatred being pumped out "in the name of God," that doesn't seem likely any more.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  17. Christopher Lyons

    The problem isn't with language being inserted or removed from the platform, the real problem is how it was done. It was obvious that there was no way one could be certain 2/3rds of the delegates voted Yea by voice. There should have been a roll call vote, and there was not. Instead, the chairman of the convention, Antonio Villaraigosa (mayor of L.A.) simply declared that 2/3rds had approved and that the motion was passed.

    For this, Antonio Villaraigosa should suffer political ruin. He should have been immediately removed as chairman of the 2012 DNC. He should be stripped of any position he holds within the Democratic Party. He should lose all party support for his next reelection bid, and he should be barred for life from receiving any party support in seeking any elected office. We shouldn't allow this kind of tyranny in our party.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Paul

      Thank you! Everyone is swirling around whether God was or wasn't part of the platform... and whether He should or shouldn't continue to be. But that's a personal decision. The political crime committed here was the manner in which the DNC wanted to have a certain conclusion and openly ignored those who voiced a different view. Members of a political party are the ones in charge and should be telling their leaders and elected officials what to do... it shouldn't be the other way around!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  18. nate

    Love thy neighbor!!! We must keep this out of our government and culture!

    September 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • 1+1=2

      @ NAte. I do love my neighbor. She is smoking hot and divorced!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nate

      What are you doing on Cnn! You should be laying some pipe!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  19. Peter

    "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."

    To me, this passage means that you should keep your religion to yourself.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Joe


      September 6, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  20. Harpinent

    I couldn't agree more on keeping god/religion out of politics and have beaten the drum about separation of church and state for years. Although I support Obama and contributed to his campaign, I have steadfastly registered my great disappointment with his religious proclivities...to no avail. I hope by the time I pass we elect an openly atheist president!

    September 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Dorkus Maximus

      Yeah, I was pretty saddened during his last campaign when, after being called a Muslim by the conservative blogosphere, Obama started using the "God Bless America" stuff at the end of his speeches. It's like the wearing of the flag pin–completely meaningless acts that would be roundly and repeatedly attacked if a politician didn't do it.

      September 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • my2cntsworht

      Amen. If only we could get fairy tales out of politics, we'd be in a much better place. We'd find out all we have is each other. Wouldn't that change how we treat one another!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:05 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.