The Generic God of the Stump Speech

The Generic God of the Stump Speech October 11, 2012

Patheos bloggers are roundtabling on issues of faith and politics in the run-up to the election.  This week’s prompt is: “What’s wrong–and what’s right–with the role of faith in American politics today?  For instance: How should church and state be separated, and how should they work together? Does one side manipulate faith more than another? How do you see you the candidates appealing to voters of faith?”

I was ticked off during the Democratic National Convention when the party crowbarred a reference to God into the party platform.  And not just because it was a blatant abuse of parliamentary procedure (look at the video below and tell me with a straight face you hear a two-thirds voice vote).

Here’s the plank that was apparently worth ignoring Roberts Rules to insert:

“We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

Good thing we stuck a theological seal of approval on that bit of pablum.  When you’re writing, an adjective should constrain the noun it applies to.  A sickly smile means we’re considering a lot fewer cases from the set of all possible smiles.  But in this plank, I challenge you to name a kind of potential that God-given excludes; it’s a contentless addition.

This is how faith often surfaces on the national stage.  The emphasis on the God of vague, inoffensive things seems well nigh taking the name in vain.  But pundits keep assuming that any use of the word must be a cause for rejoicing for the religious.  The only quasi-religion that’s strengthened by this kind of praise is moralistic therapeutic deism.  Why should we give people points for this?  There’s a big difference between the via negativa, where our inability to talk about what God is points to inability of human language to contain Him, and the genericization of God that seems to point to apathy about who He is and what He wants.

So, when politicians tell us they love God, we should take it about as seriously as we do when they tell us they love America, or freedom.  Remind them that love is something you do, not something you feel, and ask them to be specific about what service they offer their beloved.

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

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