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.


#1 FreeInKy on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 6:54am

Now this is more like it. Much better than Tom Flynn’s “Obama has lost my vote” post, which apparently has been taken down. We must live in the real world, and in the real world, the Democrats stand head and shoulders above their rival party when it comes to supporting the agenda of secularists, humanists, and progressives. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

#2 Paul the Morning Heretic on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 7:35am

@FreeInKy: Tom’s post has been amended for clarity. You can see it here:

#3 Ophelia Benson on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 9:23am

So what you’re saying is, we need an Israel for secularists.

I’m down with that!

#4 tpobserver on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 11:06am

Although I do share Tom Flynn’s frustration, I agree with your take on this Ronald. Well said!

#5 Griff on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 12:42pm

“Frankly, if I were God I’d be insulted. He’s becoming an afterthought.”

Hardly.  “God-given” is the classic notion—and, in my view, the bedrock of our democracy—that basic human rights are things we are born with, i.e. are naturally entitled to.  Endowed by a C/creator, as opposed to sanctioned by the state.  The Dem God, therefore, is the God of our founders, and what the heck is wrong with that?  As far as God feeling insulted, I doubt it—He’s bigger than all of you guys put together, though His ego, curiously, can’t compete in size with any one of yours.

#6 Ed Brayton on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 2:04pm

I’m very pleased to see this far more reasonable take on the situation than the one Tom Flynn has offered (and the amendment for clarity didn’t help make it any more reasonable). And I say that as someone who has no intention of voting for Obama in November.

#7 Griff on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 2:50pm

Fascinating, Ed.  I wonder how many other members of the logic ‘n’ reason club aren’t liberals, either?  Probably a great many.  Why am I not surprised?

#8 Ed Brayton on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 3:00pm

Who said anything about not being a liberal? I said I had no intention of voting for Obama. I’ll take false assumptions for $1000, Alex.

#9 Griff on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 3:32pm

Ooooo… I’ve been knocked down by the Logic Train.  Didn’t see that one coming, Marge.  These seculars are sure smart.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  One can be a liberal and not vote for Obama.  Of course.  I should have clarified for the kiddies that I meant a responsible liberal who realizes, as any thinking adult must, that we are a two-party democracy, and that anything but a vote for Obama is, at best, a squandered vote.  I fail to understand the joy you guys derive from splitting hairs in this fashion, of playing the intellectually adolescent “one can love people and still be a serial killer” game that most of us wised up and abandoned by, say, college.  Parsing for the sake of parsing may be a stance, but it’s not an intellectual one.

Which is why I keep urging libs to drop your demographic and not look back.

#10 Ed Brayton on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 4:01pm

Well that was just big mishmash of stupid and condescending. Thanks so much.

#11 Griff on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 6:38pm

In secularspeak, “mishmash” seems to mean anything that doesn’t monomaniacally riff on a single theme.  Anything, for example, that isn’t an endless restatement of “Religion is stupid,” or “Our democracy is secular.”  A “secular” sonata would be one set in a single key with the same note (probably the tonic) played over and over.

#12 Randy on Thursday September 06, 2012 at 10:03pm

The most disturbing thing about the whole thing is the portion conducted in full view of the cameras, taking voice vote after voice vote, and then declaring a 2/3 positive result when no such result was in evidence.  If they wanted to make this change, they should have done what they asked Florida to do in 2000, and count every vote cast.

#13 craig gosling (Guest) on Friday September 07, 2012 at 6:36am

Unfortunately the loud no vote was for the Jerusalem issue and not the God issue. One rash move by an Israeli politician and the US could be in another war. Most Americans do not want Israeli politicians making that kind of decision for them. All would have been clarified had the issues been voted on separately. But of course, that would have been a huge problem for the Dems. Another issue was the Dolan prayer which seemed more like a political statement. Dolan kept looking upward as if his God were in the top balcony, he never clasped his hands together or shut his eyes as is custom in prayer, he mention Romney and Ryan at the Democrats convention but not Obama at the Republican convention, He enjoyed his power and influence before his God and ignored all other faiths and the non religious which make up a larger portion of the US population than do just Catholics.

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