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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. clubschadenfreude

    so, Mr. Prothero thinks we need less God in politics? Good. We don't need more people insisting that they can talk to imaginary friends and that they and only they know what that imaginary friendn "really" wants. With Mr. Prothero's argument, the nonsense of having "in god we trust" on money should be removed also. Like Prothero says: "Are the repeated references to "providence" and "God" in its platform proof that its policies are more godly?" Are repeated references to god on money make it more holy? Does it make the US a stronger nation? Nope, it was just put there by idiot congressmen who evidently thought that the mere presence of the word would make the "Commies" quiver in fear or burst into flame or some such primitive nonsense.

    as for Mr. Prothero's plaint: "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."

    Care to apply that to all of your Christian brethern, Steve? Those hucksters on television, on literal street corners, and those who want to force their religion on our buildings and our bodies?

    September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • sam

      A lot of the trouble comes from the fact that the more visible the faith is does not make it viable. It's become some kind of grandstanding tactic to supposedly prove morality or trustworthiness. It's really beginning to fall flat.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Sacmar

    I think it's great that people have their religious beliefs. I just don't want to be governed by them. Keep religion out of politics.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  3. sam

    I LOVE ballz rubbing on my chin.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  4. sam

    I wore my knee pads last night to suck Biden off.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • sam

      Aren't you going to be late for your Mcshift at McD's, little troll? Punctuality is super appreciated!

      September 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  5. Kat

    Why does this news network always attempt to downplay the number of non-believers in this country? Ninety-five percent of people in this country believe in a god(s)? Please. This is not Pakistan.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • clubschadenfreude

      I think Prothero is responsible for that. But when it comes down to it, each Christian is so sure that htose others "don't count " since they disagree. When the number is needed high, Christians want to claim Catholics, and every other sect they are sure are wrong. When they need to claim how "right" they are, the number shrinks considerably. Convenient, that.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Chuck

      You are so right Kat. We are always overlooked but our number is getting bigger.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  6. Chuck

    Atheists: 28 million strong and growing.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  7. sam

    I like it in the butt. Can you do me now?

    September 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  8. Joel

    I'll be happy with God in our government when He runs for office and wins an election fair & square. Except the GOP would never accept him without a birth certificate.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  9. sam

    I like teabaggin every chance I get

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

      That's kind of cute, 'Obama's America 2016', but still pretty boring. Standard troll nonsense.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  10. realoldguy

    What this country needs is a little less religion and a lot more realism. Get out of the comfort zone of your car. Turn off the damn TV and take a look around you.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  11. sybaris

    Putting the christian god in the party platform must really make the subscribers to other religions feel welcome.

    So much for equality

    September 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      Thsi is why it is proper to refer to the GOP as the Christian Taliban.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Robert

      I agree. Leaving "God" out of politcs is not anti-religious at all; it is including and respecting the viewpoints of everyonel

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

    Pathetic. For a second there, I though the Dems might take a big step forward in leaving behind the theological security blanket, but was sadly disappointed by the so-called vote to include God.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Evangelical

      I was disappointed too because a Democrat using God is like taking the Lord's Name in vain.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  13. Robert

    "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.," Boy, I sure do agree with you. I think Obama is probably just trying to show he is not a Moslem, but enough already. I have no issue with your private religion, but keep your God comments out of politics.

    September 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Mark

    The author writes, "But do we really want “God” to serve as a “prop” of our politics?" I do not think the use of the word God in political platforms or the Declaration of Independence is a "prop". Republicans use the word to show that rights come from God, not government. Democrats use the word only to pander to the religious members of their party. But their actions of booing at the convention speak so loudly we can hardly hear what they say. The Democratic Party is quickly moving to the view that there is no God and that our rights and moral values are determined by majority votes in the body politic. It is this view that Republicans rail against because they see it as a reflection of a society that places less and less value in Church and faith unless is private and never public. Democrats have protested praying in public schools, removed the ten commandments from courthouses, and fought for the removal of memorial crosses from public lands. Their fear of public displays of religion or even mentioning of faith is now drowned out by thier own public dispay of denying "three times" the inclusion of the word "God" in their platform. Are we really that far away from the words "Crucify Him!". Only one step away when the leaders of the DNC tell thecrowd the Yea's have it and insert the word God against what is clearly not a required 2/3's majority .

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

      So you would prefer the Christian Taliban introduce their own version of Sharia????

      Not in MY America, monkeyboy

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

      Monkeyboy is right. If you really believe that you have the right to use your interpretation of a "god" to make decisions about my life you will be ignored or worse.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  15. sybaris

    Religion and the belief in any god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind

    September 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  16. this guy

    the quesion is...if god were real, what's his favorite movie?

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

      Anything with George Burns in it.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Evangelical

    Just including God in the platform means nothing. The Democratic party is far from supporting the Christian agenda. It isn't even friendly to God. Remember the Democratic party is the party of abortion, contraception, and ho.mos.exual rights. No right-thinking American could vote for a Democrat.

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

      Exactly. Vote Republican and make sure the government keeps a close eye on your plumbing.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      Evangelical

      Just including God in the platform means nothing. The Democratic party is far from supporting the Christian agenda. It isn't even friendly to God. Remember the Democratic party is the party of abortion, contraception, and ho.mos.exual rights. No right-thinking American could vote for a Democrat.
      .
      Funny you mention a party supporting rights....then say no "free" thinking American woudl vote for the party that supprots rights. I don't think you realize that you in fact supprot Anti American and Freedom.. lol God some people are ignorant.
      .
      fas·cism/ˈfaSHizəm/

      1.An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
      2.(in general use) Extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Horus

      So we go from support of a generic "god" to the nee to support the xtian agenda? btw, which version of the xtian agenda? There are so many that seem to disagree.... I know a number of "christians" who view birth control and abortion as a personal issue, not the government's. I mean let's drill down on what exactly is the agenda? We talking Oral Roberts Theocracy? You guys can't even agree amongst yourselves.....

      September 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Mystical Pizza

      forgot the Anti in front of Freedom

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

      I know Christians who vote for those rights, as well as Jews, atheists, and others. Right-thinking Americans, all of them.

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

      Can I suck you off PLEASE?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I support all those rights as well. So does my brother-in-law, a devout Catholic.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Evangelical

      There is only one Christian agenda being proposed.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Sacmar

      The Republicans are such hypocrites. In one breath you don't want the government interferring in our lives, but in the same breath say you want to restrict others rights.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • ccw

      you are so off base...I am not a christian..I lean more toward Buddhism...and I believe more in equal rights...I'm happy for you that you believe so much, but, keep your belief to yourself...better yet, don't try and make me believe the way you do...I don't like abortion but it is a fact of life and I would rather it be safe than the way it was in the past. Christians always amaze me spouting off how we should believe in the bible...well..a lot of what is said by evangelicals is not in the bible...as least the way they say it is...like jesus said...i'm paraphrasing...can't we all just get along...

      September 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Chuck

      Including god anywhere means nothing since he isn't real. If he is real how come the most religious states are getting hit with the worst disasters.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  18. slippery

    Once political parties and politicians start touting which of their gods for me to believe, begone with you. I want no part of a theocracy proposed by vocal believers.

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

    sam – It's a shame you're a pathetic little parasite. (I can play your game also).

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

      So disagreeing with your hysterical rhetoric brings out standard insults...I was kind of hoping for something more creative. Also, the reply link...I know it's hard for you. Maybe there's an adult nearby that can show you?

      September 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  20. Jesus

    If god is so powerful why can't he/she make me believe?

    September 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Obama's America 2016

      You're not worth the trouble apparently.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:27 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.