Over these past few days, much ink has been spilled on the subject of the Democratic party’s eleventh hour decision to include the word “god” in their official platform. But in case you haven’t been paying attention, let me bring you up to speed in short order. When the Democratic Convention recently adopted their official party platform, they elected to approve a document that did not contain the word “god,” and did not recognize Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel. When Republicans caught wind of this omission, the usual talking heads seized the airwaves, and began to paint the Democrats as a party that didn’t want “god” to be recognized. This, of course, was done with no small measure of self-righteous indignation, as many right-leaning pundits were quick to point out the fact that the Republican platform contained no less than ten acknowledgements of “god.” So the implication was, if you believe in “god,” the Republicans are the party for you because the all-important scorecard read 10 mentions of “god” to none.
As I have watched these events unfold, and as I have watched the ensuing comedy that surrounded the Democrat’s hasty attempt to ramrod the politically expedient language back into their official platform, I have found myself wondering … Why do certain religiously oriented people want the language of “god” in a party platform?
Now, let me take this question one step further. As has been widely documented in numerous studies, we know that approximately 70% of white Evangelicals either openly identify themselves as Republican or lean in that direction. Given the fact that it was conservative, Republican-leaning pundits raising the question about the omission of “god” language, it is not unreasonable to refine the initial question to read: why do so many Evangelicals want the language of “god” included in a party platform?
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there was a time in the history of this nation when the majority of the immigrating European population was, in fact, Christian, or at least oriented around a Judeo-Christian ethic. Even if this is true, as I personally believe it to be, what cannot be argued is the simple fact that the population of the United States is no longer as homogenous as it once may have been. Over the past two decades, sociologists have been tracking an enormous shift in the self-professed religious identity of the American population. In 1990, 86.2% of the population claimed to be Christian, whereas today, only 76% claim the same. By contrast, those who proclaim no religious preference or claim to be atheist and/or agnostic have almost doubled in size and they now make up 15% of those of us who call this nation home.
While some Christians who long for a “Christian nation” may still see a measure of “hope” in these statistics, it must be noted that amongst those that self-identify as “Christian,” many do not hold to the historical tenets of the Christian faith itself. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Barna group, self-identifying, American “Christians” hold the following beliefs:
- More than one-fifth (22%) of self-identified Christians strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth. An additional 17% of that population somewhat agree that Jesus sinned. Finally, 6% are unsure of what to think on the matter in question. So amongst self-identified Christians, only 55% percent believe that the Christ was sinless.
- Most self-identified Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living member of the Trinity. Fifty-eight percent of the survey respondents understand the Holy Spirit to be nothing more than “a symbol of God’s power or presence.” Discounting the 9% of people who are unsure, this suggests that only 33% of survey respondents believe that the Holy Spirit is actually a living being.
Needless to say, a list such as this could go on and on. But what should be plain to all who are reading this article is that even amongst those that identify themselves as “Christian,” there is little consensus as to what an allegedly “Christian” god actually looks like. And for those of us who subscribe to historic, orthodox, creedal confessions based upon Holy Scripture, these differences are not minor deviations from the Truth. For those of us that subscribe to the Great Tradition, people who deny the existence of the Holy Spirit and people who deny the sinless nature of the Christ are not truly “Christian” in any real sense of the word. For Christianity is not merely an ethical system for determining what is “good” and what is “bad.” At its core, the Christian faith is predicated on an historically documented assertion that YHWH sent his Son to be born into this world and to die as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for humanity. Furthermore, through His resurrection, Jesus defeated the powers and principalities of this world; and in so doing, He fundamentally changed the course of human history.
So, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. While many may self-identify as “Christian,” an argument could be made that many of these people are simply creating a “god” in their own image, a “god” that bears little to no resemblance to the Trinitarian God described in the Bible. And as such, their self-identification as “Christian” is about as meaningful as my assertion that I am a Dallas Cowboy.
Now, back to the discussion at hand. What does it mean for the Democrats to not include a reference to “god” in their official platform? What does it mean for the Republicans to include ten references? Does the word “god” actually have any agreed upon meaning here in the 21st century? And if it doesn’t, what good does it do to include it apart from making certain segments of the population feel as if their values still matter?
If you look back to the Hebrew Scriptures, you see many encounters between the God of the Israelites and the “gods” of the surrounding region. But never, at any moment, do you see a celebration of the fact that these Canaanites were worshipping “gods,” as if their religiosity or their religiously based ethic counted for something. If anything, their religiosity and their willingness to worship something other than YHWH was held as a mark against them.
So why do Evangelicals get excited about the vague use of a “god”-language in a political party’s platform? Even the most optimistic amongst us has to realize that we live in a pluralistic society. America is no longer the mythological “melting pot” that once absorbed foreign cultures into our own. We are a stew, with chunky, unique ingredients that refuse to be broken down.
And this is why I think the Democratic party got it right … the first time around. Language has culturally conditioned meaning that corresponds to the nature of reality around us. And when the meaning of certain language is no longer clear or agreed upon, the verbage in question becomes devoid of meaning and is useless to society. That is why I cannot celebrate this intentionally vague, theologically neutered “god”-talk that is now being promoted in both party platforms. For when language has been stripped of real meaning, its continued use in forums such as this can only be read as a cynical ploy designed to satiate and manipulate a population for the ultimate purpose of nothing more than electing a given party’s candidate.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.