God-Talk in U.S. Politics
     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 mid 50's?
Jerry Moyar ‘57
February 15, 2012