The current Republican party presidential debates and related
commentary contain a lot of "God-talk," but there is a history of that
kind of rhetoric in both political parties. Why so? It must be seen to
‘work’ politically. Perhaps it is heart-felt confession in some
cases, but to me and I suspect to many of us, it sounds more like a
violation of one of the Ten Commandments (taking God’s name in vain)
Nevertheless, what does it say about the majority of the electorate if
God-talk is believed to be effective politically?
How has God-talk developed over our country’s political
history? To be sure, God is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence
three times, indirectly, but not in our Constitution. I believe most of
our country’s founders were, at most, Deists, and used God-talk
publically in the context of a ‘Civil Religion.’ Certainly Thomas
Jefferson was not a "true" un-skeptical believer and God-talker. It may
be said that Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural, does go beyond
this ( ". . . as God gives us to see the right"), but still he stayed
within the boundaries of conventional civil religion.
A God-talk milestone was the phrase "In God we trust," added
to our national currency. More recently in the early 50's while we were
at Princeton, the Pledge of Allegiance was revised to contain the
wording "under God." President Jimmy Carter made reference to God
frequently, though I think not cynically. When Jack Kennedy, a Catholic,
held the office religious presidential discourse picked up. Surely Carl
Rove’s advice led to an increase in God-talk during the George W. Bush
presidency. The 2011 book, Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics,
by James Madison University assistant professor, Dr. Brian T. Kaylor,
probably provides the most complete treatment of this topic.
Political God-talk in recent months undoubtedly has increased. Prof. Kaylor, in a CNN Belief Blog of September 14th,
2011, writes that "Perry and several of his Republican presidential
opponents have spent the last few months trying to out-God-talk one
another in hopes of attaining salvation at the ballot box."
But the increase in God-talk really began following the great
depression of the 1920s. Some say it was a cynical move to repair
capitalism’s reputation. Princeton associate professor Kevin M. Kruse’s
New York Times article of January 18, 2012, "For God So Loved the 1
Percent . . .," details this history and applies it to Mitt Romney, seen
as "the poster child for unchecked capitalism." Prof. Kruse’s
forthcoming book, One Nation Under God: Corporations, Christianity, and the Rise of the Religious Right may be expected to fully develop this theme.
In a recent e-mail exchange with Prof. Kruse, I asked "Do you
see signs of a more critical or mature political/religious perspective
in young adults, such as the Princeton students you are teaching today?"
He answered: "I have certainly found students here to be quite critical
of the religious right." Could this have been said of our class in the
Jerry Moyar ‘57
February 15, 2012