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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. NYOMD

    Excellent article. Mixing God and Politics makes a joke of both.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  2. this guy

    I'm not religious in any way, but Christmas is my favorite holiday. What does that mean?

    September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      absolutely nothing considering jesus wasn't born on December 25th....

      September 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • sybaris

      Festivus for the rest of us!!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  3. Michael

    With how many zealots we have posting here, and with how extreme their statements are, you'd think this were a theocracy. We really aren't that much different from the Islamic states overseas in many ways, unfortunately.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  4. Rick

    Democrats want to include God into the platform because they know that God = Votes. I myself am an agnostic and a Democrat. Personally I would love to exclude God from the political side of things, well actually, all things. Unfortunately I don't always get my way. I guess that if Democrats want to include God into the platform I'll have to go along to get along because God = Votes

    September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  5. DANILLE

    THEY KEPT MENTION GOD BUT IT NEVER HAPPEN A GOOD WAY TO THEM. THEY ARGUE AND CAN'T GET ALONG ALL THE TIME. THEY HAVE ONE MESS UP GOD THEY ARE PRAYING TO. PERHAPS THEY SHOULD TRY A NEW GOD, HUGH HEFNER.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  6. Obama's America 2016

    HEY TONY V., HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU HAVE TO GET AN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTINO BEFORE YOU CAN ACTUALLY COMPREHEND IT?

    TONY V. IS PROOF DEMOCRATS CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • sam

      The 'reply' link is under each post...so you can reply directly to a person. Also, the capslock key is in the left of your keyboard. Can't help you with your delusions, tho.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Obama's America 2016

      sam – Why do you hate facts so much?

      Rhetorical question.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • sybaris

      and you are proof that all caps does not make your drivel any more meaningful

      September 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • sam

      At least you found the capslock key. Tomorrow we'll work on colors and shapes! Yay!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Tim

    So called Christians these days.
    If you are a true Christian then the name of Jesus Christ should be in your mind always.
    You should also want to hear the name of Jesus.
    Luke warm Christians, plan and simple.

    http://www.timandjulie.org

    September 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • sybaris

      "true christain" love it

      Ever heard the story of the true Scotsman?

      You might want to read it.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  8. James Andrews

    They denied God 3 times and then the Chairman crowed.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  9. Vincent

    I totally agree. Keep god out of the mix of political platforms. Practice your religion on your own time. It's all fiction anyway. Speaking of religion – isn't about time we get the War on Christmas talk going.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      cant wait for that and to prove, using their own religious text, that jesus wasn't even born in december yet they celebrate his birth during that month simply because they needed to convert pagans to christanity.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  10. ceg10

    There is no such thing as keeping God out of anything! That in itself is a contradictory allusion...

    September 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • sybaris

      Prove it

      September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  11. Obama's America 2016

    Tony V. has an IQ of 20 tops. Perfect posterboy for the democrat party. No wonder they have a donkey representing them.

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

      then you must be the posterboy of the GOP – you can't offer anything more than some lame ad hominem attacks. Way to go, loser.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Obama's America 2016

      I like turtles. A lot. Maybe too much.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  12. LibertyBell

    Christians in DEM is a dying breed. So get over with it! Your cause is going nowhere, not believing that God exists or has influence in your party is part of your platform either.

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

      Christianity and religion in general is dying period and thankfully so. Our children are more educated now and are not as easy to believe whatever you tell them anymore. That is a good thing. They should always question what adults tell them. Bye, Bye man in the sky.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  13. this guy

    Why do people believe in god? I'm talking about the source of their belief, not why they do presently.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Horus

      Cultural traditions. Hard-wired from ancient man who longed to understand the natural world, yet couldn't.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • sybaris

      Fear and ignorance.

      I suppose there's some social interaction that some are drawn to as well.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  14. Obama's America 2016

    How much more proof does one need that the majority of demcrats hate Christianity and God which is anti-America.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • sam

      Please. Your foil hat is too tight, you need to adjust it.

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

      Believing in fairy tales is anti-America?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Obama's America 2016

      sam – You're a typical democrat, attack the person and ignore the facts.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • sam

      So your definition of 'facts' = whatever you perceive. Boring troll.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Obama's America 2016

      I like turtles.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • sam

      Yep. Troll.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Sacmar

      I'm a Dem and agnostic. I lead a very ordinary life and have never commited a crime. I try to treat others how I want to be treated because karma is a bleep. I was born and raised in tjis country. How am I any less American than you?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Havoc7

      Some may hate christianity and some may just not be christian. There is nothing un-American or anti-American about not being christian. It has been my experience that most people in the United States who claim to be christian fail miserably in living up to their own professed ideals. I dont have a problem with God not appearing in a party platform. It has no real meaning there.

      September 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Really tho

      I thought that being an American was having the right to believe in anything I want??? Correct??? Home of the free right??

      September 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  15. vp123

    If they took God out of platforms, the GOP wouldn't have any platform...gotta love that seperation of church and state

    September 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  16. Tom in San Diego

    Wack Jobs in the Democratic Party abound...

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

      There are a few wack jobs in the Democratic Party, but they don't control the Democrats the way they do the Republicans.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  17. Robert

    OPINION: Keep Stephen Prothero out of the newspapers.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  18. Without God Holding Them Back, Christians Would Be R a p i n g Your Children

    If morality is top down, then take away God and the Christians will start r a p i n g anything that moves. They cannot be good for goodness sake, they can only be good if threatened with eternal torment. It must be tough being such morally bankrupt individuals.

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

      Hide yo kids, hide yo wife...

      September 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  19. rad666

    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.

    Here, here.....you are free to practice your religion and believe what you like, I should be able to live my life without your religion having any bearing on it.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Havoc7

      amen...

      September 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  20. dugg

    Once you mix god with politics you get people being burned at the stake for not following the most current interpretation of the bible.Belief should stay in your church and in your concience. The founding fathers came from religious oppression in Europe and were careful to keep those kinds of metaphysical issues from becoming tools of Popes and evangelicals. If you want to read some sad stuff: look up Michael Servetus. Poor slob, he mocked the catholics and was captured and burned at the stake by evangelicals.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:15 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.