When President Obama said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, “While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own feelings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I have no place else to go,’” it was one of the few references to religion he made to the Almighty and one of the few at the entire convention.
The Democrats, obviously not wanting to seem the secular party, also appeared determined not to pander to the religious element on both sides, by invoking God at every turn.
God was not the “11 o’clock number,” the blockbuster song at the end of a Broadway show.
The Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney, were quick to criticize the Democrats for their godless approach to their convention, even though Romney was careful not to talk about his own religion, Mormonism, except as a vehicle for doing good.
Religion is tricky these days. Moderates of both parties don’t want to be seen as playing the religion card because they realize that it more often than not appears cynical. On the other hand, leave God out of the conversation at your peril.
Look what happened at the Democratic convention Wednesday. The 2008 platform had included the word God. Not this year. The original 2012 platform said, in part, “in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.”
Not a word about God. It didn’t take long for major outcries from both parties. Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan weighed in immediately.
“The (Democratic) party is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize,” said Romney.
Connie Mackay, head of the Family Research Council’s political action committee, said, “It was easy to remove God from their platform given their support of issues such as abortion on demand and same-sex marriage go against what God’s word says on these issues.”
President Obama, seeing the gathering storm clouds insisted that God be restored. According to his deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, “They were a mistake and he said we’ve got to fix it. President Obama didn’t agree with the platform. He sought to change it.”
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, an ordained United Methodist minister who chaired the platform drafting committee quickly rallied to reinstate the old language because, as he said, “our belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we’ve expressed in our party’s platform.”
Not so fast. There were three voice votes on the language to put God back in the platform language, presented by Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, which were not conclusive. There were many loud “No’s” and quite a few “boo’s” prompting right-wing media outlets and religious blogs to proclaim, “Democrats Boo God” and “God Booed by Democrats at Convention! Incredible!”
After a very ugly struggle language was changed to read “We need a government that. … gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”
What should we make of this? Are Democrats really atheists who want to deny God a place in American politics? Do Republicans really have a proprietary relationship with God?
At first glance it all seems a bit silly. God was in the 2008 platform in the most minor, offhand way. It was almost a kiss –off. Someone decided that this particular mention of God might seem a bit gratuitous and didn’t really bring much to the party. So they took it out. Not a big deal.
As it turned out, it was a big deal - but for all the wrong reasons. It was a big deal because the majority of Americans say they believe in God, are used to being pandered to on this issue, and are suspicious of those who they think don’t believe or don’t attest to their beliefs publicly enough.
Politically it was a no-brainer to restore the old God language. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Why rile everybody up and give the Republicans ammunition to confirm everyone’s worse suspicions that Democrats are not as God-fearing as they should be. Obama is in a particularly precarious position on this issue since, according to Pew, around 17 percent of Americans believe he is a Muslim and even though Muslims believe in God they are not Christians and a lot of people don’t make the distinction.
Morally, however, it was more ambiguous. Obama never misses an opportunity, when he talks about religion, to mention those of all faiths and no faith.
When you add “God” to the Democratic platform you are essentially ignoring the fact that some 15 percent of Americans are either atheists, agnostics, secular humanists or simply say they don’t believe.
That doesn’t make them less good than those who believe. Osama Bin Laden, for instance, believed in God. What it does make them is disenfranchised. It says, this is a party and a country that doesn’t include you. They may not believe that their potential is God-given. Those who do must know that it goes without saying. So why does it have to be shoved down the throat of the nonbelievers?
If you merely said “potential” wouldn’t that get the point across? Would believers be okay with “Allah –given” or Yahweh-given” or as the atheists would say, the “flying spaghetti monster-given”?
As with racism, sexism, our views toward homosexuality or discrimination of any kind, one day non-believers will no longer be excluded from the discussion either. In fact, it’s already happened. Somebody somewhere decided to take God out of the Democratic platform this year, simply assuming that it wouldn’t be a big deal. They were right about one thing. Some day it won’t be.
Sally Quinn | Sep 8, 2012 8:57 PM