The word “God” is contained in a lot of places throughout the United States. I’ve previously complained about it being in the country’s motto. It’s also in our pledge and printed on our currency. And it’s been made very clear by politicians that it must remain part of our politics, or else.
Such a topic comes up again for a timely reason. The Democrats just had their nominating convention (the 2012 DNC) and came to the important choice of choosing what would go into their party platform. …Of course, there would be a large uproar over whether the party platform contains the word “God” or not.
Turns out the phrase was removed from the platform, then met with complaints, and then placed back in. Amid all this uproar, I’d like to explain why I’m so motivated to see the phrase “God” taken out of party platforms and out of government, and why my attempts are based not on silly “faith hating”, but rather an appeal to equality and a rejection of bigotry that even religious people can get behind.
There, Taken Out, Then Back In Again
So what’s the deal?
You see, in 2008, the party platform contained the phrase “We need a government that [...] gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential”. But for this 2012 convention, that phrase was replaced with “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”. God had been removed entirely from the Democratic Party platform.
…But it didn’t last long:
The change, proposed by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland immediately after the convention was gaveled into order on Wednesday, required a two-thirds voice vote, but was declared as adopted after three voice votes which brought delegates to their feet, shouting their yeas and nays. Democratic sources told CNN prior to the vote that it was to take place by acclamation.
“I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we’ve expressed in our party’s platform,” Strickland, who chaired the party’s platform committee, read.
I’ve said before that religion has both good and bad, and I’m not really against religion per se. Instead, I’ve been writing about religion because becoming an atheist was an important and formative part of my life almost two years ago, and I wanted to share this process with others. I also think philosophy of religion really interesting for my idiosyncratic fascination with disagreement, but I don’t need to go into that much more.
However, there are issues related to religion which transcend the existence or nonexistence of God. Obviously, I think God doesn’t exist for reasons I’ve outlined before. But when someone — especially my former governor and who I always thought of as a progressive icon — declares to me that belief in God is central to the American story… Or makes statements that are ambiguous, but certainly could be read with an assumption that a belief in God is required to want the world to be a better place, or that atheists can’t really qualify as being a part of America… That’s not just factually wrong, but engagingly sad.
I’ve gotten used to “God” references in the pledge, motto, and money, as being defended as part of a “civic religion“. And of course, I’m used to the Republican Party wrapping themselves in the flag and Bible, ensuring their platform contains the word “God” 12 times, and saying things like. But I’m not used to my party — the party to which I, more or less, consider myself part of the base — essentially saying I can’t be one of them.
I mean, I can understand why they would want “God” in their platform — essentially fan service to the religious part of the party — but I insist that, in a more perfect world, such an inclusion would be seen as offensive.
The Case for Removing God
Clearly God is extraordinarily important to quite a lot of people. I wouldn’t really doubt that. But on the flipside, God is not important to a fair amount of other people. Indeed, saying that potential is “God-given” is unnecessarily taking sides on a fairly divisive issue and alienating a segment of the party, the atheists, by essentially saying “No, we think you are incorrect, and will go as far as indirectly asserting this in our platform to show that you are not welcome”. What if the platform had instead talked not about god-given rights, but suggested that potential is something that white people bestowed on America, and that being white is a central part of the American story?
It gets worse when we branch out from the party platform. Look at the pledge, which asserts we are “One nation, under God”. But clearly this is an oxymoron, asserting a unified nation and then immediately pointing out a factor that splits the nation into two groups — those who claim themselves to be under God and those who do not (the polytheists, the atheists, the agnostics, etc.). This essentially says “We are one nation, and if you do not consider yourself under God, you are not welcome here”. What if the pledge asserted we are “One nation, heterosexual”?
Lastly, look to our country’s motto — “In God we trust”. Again, we don’t all trust in God — some of us trust in multiple gods or no gods at all. Thus this motto essentially amounts to “Those of us that believe in a singular God are the ‘we’ that compose this country, and all others are not welcome”. What if the pledge asserted “In conservative economics we trust”?
People think that taking “God” out of the motto, pledge, or party platforms is nothing but atheism. But it’s not — atheism would be changing the party platform to say “our potential derived solely from natural forces”; changing the pledge to say “One nation, godless”; and changing the motto to “In no gods we trust”. Instead, the happy middle that is neither atheism nor theism but inclusive of all would be to ignore God completely and not take a side either way.
Such a gesture would not destroy faith, nor would it destroy cultural heritage. Churches could still go on their happy ways, religion could still be preached, and religious history could still be taught and kept. Instead, we could ensure that our country itself takes no particular stance on religion as a plain reading of the First Amendment seems to command, and ensure that our country is set up to be truly equal to all, even those who do not accept gods.
After all, those of us who are godless are no more or less worthy of being an American, or a Democrat, than those of us who are godful.
Followed up in: I Too Am a Values Voter
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