The ‘Godless’ Democrats: Again?

GETTY IMAGES People cheer as First lady Michelle Obama speaks on stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention. … Continued


People cheer as First lady Michelle Obama speaks on stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention.

Having endured a morning in which they were accused of godlessness the Democrats made sure that they wouldn’t be vulnerable to that charge come nightfall.

On the convention’s first evening Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio reminisced about the prayers of his grandmother. “Our parents,” remarked Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, “always taught us to love God.” Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland somehow used Matthew 6:21 to ding Mitt Romney’s finances. And first lady Michelle Obama spoke about “a young preacher lifting us to the mountaintop to reach our dreams.”

But Tuesday morning, however, was dominated by a quite different story line. As first noted by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody the party’s platform, a seventy-page text entitled “Moving America Forward,” is somehow bereft of any mention of the word “God.” As you may imagine, ructions ensued.

This raises a key question: How did those who drafted the platform make an error that hands back to the Republicans–if only for a nanosecond–the stick they had used to beat the Democrats senseless for a good 30 years?

View Photo Gallery: Faith is on display at the gathering of delegates, held this year in Charlotte.

Let us be very clear: this platform did not come into being because a staffer on Team Obama gathered fellow caffeinated charges together and said: “Guys–a little focus here- what can we do to reach out to the atheists of America? There’s electoral gold in their vote!”

The reason that conversation never took place is that the Democrats have labored mightily for eight years to neutralize a devastatingly effective smear. Since the late 1970s the Christian Right has tarred them as the party of Godlessness.

The charge was morally wrong—there is neither shame nor indecency in non-belief. But more importantly, the charge was false. The Democratic ranks over the past few decades have included few atheists. The party did contain countless believers who did not share the religious sensibility of conservative Christians.

You can call them “religious liberals,” “religious modernists,” “religious progressives,” or “secular religionists.” But calling them “irreligious” or “godless” or even “less religious” is simply inaccurate, if not libelous. They are no more, nor no less religious than their Red State counterparts.

What must be stressed and what makes the Democrats’ blunder so puzzling is that since Sen. John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, the party has spared no effort in broadcasting its word-and-thought-defying faithiness to the American people. This has rankled not only the aforementioned atheists, but religious secularists as well (i.e., those many believers who are suspicious of all church/state entanglements).

Political platforms are misleading things. The GOP also has shifted references to religion in their platform at different times. The 2004 Democratic platform may indeed have mentioned God seven times to the scant one reference in the 2008 version. Yet the difference in terms of attention to faith issues between the 2004 Kerry and 2008 Obama candidacies is staggering.

Kerry, a privately religious man, was deeply uncomfortable with public expressions of religion. Obama, for his part, wore his Awesome Blue State God on his sleeve.

The Kerry team ran what just might be the most ham-fisted campaign in the history of faith and values politicking (read Dan Gilgoff’s “The Jesus Machine” to understand how utterly unprepared the Kerry people were to engage religious constituencies). The crack Obama outfit with its religiously themed “house-parties” and grassroots networks skillfully neutralized the advantages provided to the Republicans by the “values voters” of 2004.

The 2008 platform may have only mentioned God once. But it was there that Obama doubled down on the justification for his renovation of former President George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A Kerry administration would almost have surely favored a tear down of that controversial federal agency.

The point is this: as much some atheists, separationists and conservative Christians would like it to be so, the absence of a divine reference in the party platform was an accident—an error that masks the Democrats often troubling turn to faith-based politics and pandering.

UPDATE: 10:35 p.m.: Trying to rectify what I surmised was a pretty bad oversight, the Democrats voted to reinstate God’s (and, on an unrelated issue, Jerusalem’s) name into their platform. Though in doing so, that somehow managed to exponentially enlarge their self-inflicted wound. Too, they helpfully provided the GOP with helpful video documentation of the proceedings to boot!

As this video demonstrates, the amendments on reinstating Jerusalem and God into the platform met with some derision. The video also demonstrates that no one in the party figured out that it would be a really bad and confusing idea to couple a vote on “Jerusalem” (whose inclusion some would oppose for one set of reasons) with a vote on “God” (whose inclusion some would oppose for completely different reasons). Jerusalem, God—it’s all good for the Republicans who now have a record of dissenting delegates plausible booing God and America’s greatest ally.

Needless to say, few were giving God the old Bronx cheer at the DNP. The story is more complex than that. But tell that to the assorted Republican SUPER PACS who have been handed their second mind-boggling flub in as many days.

Jacques Berlinerblau is associate professor and director of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. His next book “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom” will be released in September. Follow him on Twitter @Berlinerblau

  • Chagrined

    “When men speak ill of thee, live so that nobody will believe them.”
    ― Plato

  • lucretius

    Conservatives believe that America is a “Christian Nation.”

  • ChetBaker1

    Michelle is a Christian, as are her children. He is a good example for America.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Could it be that they modeled their platform after the U.S. constitution?

    ‘Human enterprises which, in all other Christian countries, are resigned despairingly to an incurable dullness – things that seem devoid of exhilirating amusement, by their very nature – are here lifted to such vast heights of buffoonery that contemplating them strains the midriff almost to breaking. I cite an example: the worship of God. Everywhere else on earth it is carried on in a solemn and dispiriting manner; in England, of course, the bishops are obscene, but the average man seldom gets a fair chance to laugh at them and enjoy them. Now come home. Here we not only have bishops who are enormously more obscene than even the most gifted of the English bishops; we have also a huge force of lesser specialists in ecclesiastical mountebankery – tin-horn Loyolas, Savonarolas and Xaviers of a hundred fantastic rites, each performing untiringly and each full of a grotesque and illimitable whimsicality.’

    HL Mencken, On Being an American

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Mr. Berlinerblau,

    This was not an error, as you try to spin it. The entire paragraph was rewritten to accommodate the removal of the word God. In 2004, 7 references to God. In 2008, 1 reference to God. In 2012, ZERO references to _ _ _.

    Are you suggesting that the Democrat Party made this change (along with removing any mention of the Jerusalem) without running it by President Obama? Do they hold him in such disregard as to not even consult him on a change that could impact his campaign for re-election? Or did they mistakenly let Joe Biden write the document?

    It’s your party’s platform. Own it. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Hold it up for the whole country to see.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    I’m disappointed, Fox. Is your relationship with god really so frivolous that you’ve taken to counting ‘mentions’ of his name in political discourse like all the other imbeciles that make religion into a circus in this country? Obama is an atheist, any remotely thoughtful person has figured this out by now. He panders to religious types like any politician must, but it’s refreshing to me that the shameless pandering did not find its way into the official party platform. Perhaps you might even agree with me on that.

  • Swell

    I hate to inform you all, but…..

    You know it is all made up, right?

    There are probably 100 “Gods” worshipped around the world. And those, too, were all made up.

    There isn’t one iota of evidence or proof that there is a god.

    Just wake up everyday and try to be a good, decent human being. You don’t need god to make you do good. Trust me – you can do it all on your own.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Don’t forget Thor. He does not take kindly to being left out of political documents.

  • tony55398

    What priority do the Republicans put on feeding, clothing and sheltering the poor, thereby following Christ whom they seem to believe is theirs alone.

  • SimonTemplar

    As of the latest headlines, it looks like the convention is descending into chaos over the issue.

  • Freethinker

    Dcer1: Spot on. This was the final nail.

  • jade_alpha

    Seperation of churhc and state?

    Yeah… I’ve got nothing

  • TotalRecall

    Is this suppose to be journalism?!? It’s sound like a Democratic fluff piece! It sounds like a non-religious Democrat wrote this crap! How about report the news?!? Stop trying to persuade readers with your own personal biases!!!

  • jaguar6cy

    It was very clear that the democratic delegations did not approve including God or Jerusalem in their platform. The country has witnessed corrupt chicago politics in action on national television.

  • wahnsinnig

    No, it’s supposed to be an opinion article in the “Guest Voices” blog. Mr. Berlinerblau is a well-known non-religious writer. Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the concept of blogs.

  • Alan Tracey Wootton

    I don’t think this is so much about God, per se, but instead about traditional Christian institutions and the whole idea of a ‘Christian attitude’. In ye olde days the government did the laws, police, commerce, etc. and the church did the charity. I seem to recall that the ancient formula was 10% for Caesar and 10% for the Church. Historically the Church (whether Protestant, or Catholic, or Jewish, or whatever) has been at odds with government over social policy because government is likely, unchecked, to trample the unprofitable people.
    Frankly, it is my opinion that every American should contribute to a local, tax-exempt, charitable organization whose goal is to help the disadvantaged. Believing in God is entirely optional. Relegating this historically important role in society to the government is simply begging for waste and mismanagement imho.
    So, you see, it’s not about God so much. It’s about charity and which institutions should be in charge of administering charity.

  • Alan Tracey Wootton

    I would say that Republicans, in this context, belong to Churches and that they prefer for their church to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor. Churches do that you know. They do not prefer for the government to entirely take over that role in society.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Wow, there certainly was a lot of drama centered around that little conundrum. What an entertaining display. My interpretation: They took God out of their platform because, even though they are the party of the “big tent” their tent is not big enough to include theistic belief. UNTIL they realize that such a genius move could cost them the election (and the Jerusalem bit could cost them significant votes from an important voting block) in which case they decide to reverse their position (that is, flip-flop) on these issues. But according to Wasserman Shultz this does NOT constitute a change of policy. Hmmmm.

    As I said, entertaining.

  • catherine3

    Maybe I’m strange but I honestly don’t see why God needs to be mentioned in a political platform. The platform is about government, in a country where religion is separate from governing. God was NOT mentioned in the Constitution, why should a political platform talk about God? All this flap shows is that everybody today is afraid of not looking sufficiently religious. I think it is stupid and that they should have left the platform alone.

  • TonyDiaz999

    At the peak of signifiance to the future of the USA are the self-anointed deity given exceptionalism and the crushing burden of the liability of Israel.

    The issues are critical.

  • TonyDiaz999

    “Actually, there is a lot of evidence that there is a God, and that that God is the God of the Bible. You are just wilfully blind to it.”

    But at least if god exists, it/she/he is a callous SOB.

    Your ominpotent god is morally bound to make sure that there is no earthquake that kills thousands of human beings.

    This is very intrinsically true and obvious. It is an insult to my intellect to deny this simple truth.

  • TonyDiaz999

    Look, a political party is not the state so the whole idea of separation of church and state does not apply.

    Change can only take place if a party sees that including the nonbelievers overtly would bring victory.

    Here is the catch: if a nonbeliever votes Democratic, his or her atheistic view will not be salient.

    The nonbelievers must refrain from participation but also allow the impact of such non-participation to be known.

  • SimonTemplar

    They chose their position (removing the word God) but did not have sufficient courage to publicly stand by their choice. They are trying to have it both ways. Indeed it seems they did NOT have the sufficient votes to overturn their original position, and the loud “boos” and “hisses” from the audience when they tried to put it back in suggests that the leadership went against their own constituency. The unfortunate result, for the Democrat Party, is the blatant appearance of this being cynical, politically motivated stunt of the sort that turns most people’s stomachs. It nauseates people not because of their particular beliefs about theism but because they can see such duplicity for what it is. Then the cynical, flip-flopping, nauseating politician turns to us with a cheesy smile and says, “Trust me!”

  • nkri401

    You make too much sense.

    Not to mention 3rd commandment not to call G-d’s name in vain.

    However, I hope your future plans do not include politicking.

    Good luck…

  • nkri401

    above was for catherine3 if not obvious.

  • Secular1

    “Look, a political party is not the state so the whole idea of separation of church and state does not apply. ” this is utter rubbish. The party is seeking to run teh government, so they should refrain from pandering to the deluded.

  • Secular1

    SinVA, give it a rest with the ObamCare nonsense. It is the law, if you don’t like it you can move to – Oops, well no where, cuz all other countries worth going to have Obamcare already.

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