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God talk and politics

I urge you to head over to the excellent diary at Street Prophets by David Domke, Religious politics: The dangerous facts. The author of The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America is a professor and heads up the journalism program in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington.

In this presidential cycle, we’ve already been subject to Mitt Romney’s Faith in America speech, where he declared “liberty is granted by God,” and “freedom requires religion.” And now look at this ad the presidential candidate, rapist/murderer-releasing Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is running in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. It’s not just a holiday greeting; he specifically invokes Christ:

With “Silent Night” playing in the background: “Just remember, what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ.” [Even Queen Drudge refers to this as the “FLOATING ‘CROSS'” ad.]

Domke (and co-author Kevin Coe) crunched the numbers and found that the use of “faith citations” or religious language in politics has increased dramatically, particularly in the GOP, and that’s no mistake. Read a snippet, with graphics, after the jump.

On average, presidents from Franklin Roosevelt – commonly viewed as the beginning of the modern presidency – to Jimmy Carter mentioned God in less than half of their major addresses. In contrast, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush (through year six of his tenure) all did so in more than 90% of theirs. Further, the total number of references to God in the average presidential speech 1981-early 2007 was an astounding 120% higher than the average speech 1933-1980. References to broader religious terms, such as faith, pray, sacred, worship, and crusade increased by 60%.

To gain perspective, here’s a graph that shows how much presidential religious rhetoric increased in four important contexts, from FDR through six years of GW Bush:

  1. when the nation goes to war (compared to times of peace)

  2. whether presidents are Republican (compared to Democratic)

  3. whether a president faces re-election (compared to not)

  4. whether the president served 1981 or later (compared to 1932 to 1980)

Given God’s Own Party has become a laughable haven for morally and ethically corrupt elected officials and embarrassing sexual hypocrites, it’s pretty breathtaking that they continue to ratchet up the piety.

Please click over and read the rest; Domke sees a dangerous political path that these pols are leading the country down.

This convergence of faith and politics is exactly what the nation’s Founders sought to avoid. Many of these men were deeply religious, but they were only an ocean removed from the religious strife that had plagued Europe for centuries. With these experiences in mind, they created a Constitution that doesn’t contain a single mention of God and prohibits religious tests for those seeking office.

Their vision is at serious risk today. History has shown with tragic consistency that an intimate relationship between religion and politics does irreparable damage to both — from the crusades of medieval times to the terrorism of modern times. Constant use of the God strategy by political leaders encourages just such a relationship. When George W. Bush justifies the Iraq War by saying that liberty is “God’s gift to humanity” (2003 State of the Union) and that America’s “calling” is to deliver that gift to the Iraqi people (countless times), he is offering something quite like a divine vision for U.S. foreign policy.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding