Reality Check: The Nod to God

September 6, 2012

So the Democrats inserted God into the party platform. What did we expect?

Look: there’s no doubt that the nonreligious are increasing in number in the US. But even if we take a high estimate of the number of nontheists (say 16 percent), that still makes us a very distinct minority. More importantly, we’re a minority that is not united regarding the importance of removing the trappings of ceremonial theism from our political process. We all know plenty of nonbelievers who just don’t give a damn about God-language. They don’t care whether God is mentioned in a party platform or public officials use the standard close for speeches: “and may God bless the United States of America.” I think they should care, but then I’m a humanist activist and the head of a secular organization. The reality is as a movement we still have a way to go in motivating people to work toward a truly secular society.

This lack of unity, this lack of motivation also explains a difference often noted by commentators in the secular community. Even though we’re a minority, our numbers surpass the number of Jews in the US. How is it that lobbying for Israel seems so effective but lobbying for secularism meets with only middling success? Many (not all, but many) Jews are very strongly motivated to push the US to provide Israel with unequivocal support. Moreover, they are not shy about throwing around their political weight and making it clear that their votes may depend on a candidate’s stance on Israel. Do we seculars have a comparable level of political influence? Get real.

The influence of the pro-Israeli lobby was evident yesterday. More than a few Democrats think that although we should stand by Israel in an existential crisis, Israel sometimes takes too hard a line regarding its Arab neighbors—for instance, by insisting that Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel is non-negotiable. So there is a real division in the Democratic Party on some Mideast policy questions, which is what resulted in yesterday’s contentious voice vote on the platform change, which both reinserted a reference to God and also affirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. For those of you who think that a significant number of delegates were upset about the God language, I have news for you: the fight was over the recognition of Jerusalem as a capital. Had the change been strictly limited to an insertion of a nod to God, I doubt if there would have been more than a barely audible protest.

But let me end on a high note. The Democrats do not have a platform in which God references are pervasive. God snagged one passing reference. The inserted language is some political pabulum about how government needs to give everyone the chance to “make the most of their God-given potential.” Frankly, if I were God I’d be insulted. He’s becoming an afterthought.

So sure, it’s disappointing that the Dems felt compelled to say something about the great Nonentity. But reducing God to an aside indicates some progress has been made. Just not enough yet. But we will get there—if we get motivated and stay united.