Politicians Shouldn’t “Wear God”
I’m trying to think of a more superficial assessment of American religiosity than this Washington Post piece about Romney capturing the “God vote” at the debate, but nothing comes to mind. Zack Beauchamp calls the post “the stupidest thing you’ll read on the debate.” Its author, Sally Quinn, tells how Romney snatched away the God vote from Obama by–wait for it–mentioning God during the debate. And owning it! Because, had Obama mentioned God and had Romney remained mum on the glorious subject, the president surely would have netted the God vote the other night.
Quinn describes the America’s religious landscape in an attempt to explain why Romney’s God talk matters:
This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.. We’ve got the Creator in our Declaration of Independence. We’ve got “In God We Trust” on our coins. We’ve got “one nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance. And we say prayers in the Senate and the House of Representatives to God.
An atheist could never get elected dog catcher, much less president. (Democratic Rep. Pete Stark of California is a nontheist but doesn’t talk much about it).
Up until now, the idea of being American and believing in God were synonymous.
Let me get this straight: we’re a religious country because artifacts and practices of our political culture name God? I’d say that makes American religiosity thoroughly nominal. Thanks be to God, the many religious faiths of Americans go much deeper. I want to believe Quinn recognizes this, but the evidence suggests otherwise. She writes that claiming citizenship implies a claim to a belief in God, not because citizenship is some kind of profound, transcendent religious exercise, but because a handful of our national cultural artifacts feature a particular word. Her advice for Obama in the next debate is to “wear God.” Then he can win!
I don’t know even what to do with her notion that “the idea of being American and believing in God were synonymous.” Did that work in reverse? Is belief in God synonymous with being an American? Are all religious believers American by way of synonym? Never mind.
Truth is politicians shouldn’t “wear God” or treat the divine and sacred as a vote-catching fashion. There’s an ancient name for that practice: using God’s name in vain. And if this is a free country, as we like to believe, then politicians shouldn’t have to be “believers” to win elections. If a candidate’s religious beliefs will inform and influence her political reasoning and decisions, then she should explain them and how they will affect her performance and public service. An atheist candidate should lay out her non-religious beliefs and principles and how they will motivate her. Beliefs matter and they should matter, and not just superficially.