Magazine article The New Yorker

For Heaven's Sake

Magazine article The New Yorker

For Heaven's Sake

Article excerpt

If you happen to be a Republican campaign operative and/or a Fox News Channel chat host, that unexpectedly joyful Convention in Charlotte the other week made for glum viewing. One of the few points of light on the right was the discovery, just as the festivities were getting under way, that the Democrats had drafted a platform that--like George Washington's farewell address, Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, and the Constitution of the United States--does not mention God by name. Hallelujah!

According to Media Matters, Fox News managed to alert its viewers to this deplorable development twenty-two times within the first sixteen hours after the Convention's opening session. Fox's Bret Baier seized on a statement issued by David Silverman, the president of an organization called American Atheists, splashing it across the screen in big bold caps:

WE ARE OBVIOUSLY HAPPY THAT THE DEMOCRATS ARE TAKING THESE POSITIVE STEPS. WE ARE LOOKING FOR THE INCLUSION OF EVERYONE AND WE ARE HOPEFUL THAT THAT INCLUSION WILL CONTINUE TO THE POINT THAT WE CAN DEPEND ON MR. OBAMA TO REPEAL THE FAITH BASED INITIATIVES AND REINFORCE THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.

For different reasons, both Mr. Silverman and Fox News were hopeful that they could "depend on Mr. Obama." But Mr. Obama declined to cooperate. Soon, the word came down from the White House, one "God" was pencilled in, and the delegates saw that it was good. (The Democratic Party now officially regards "potential" as "God-given.") Anyway, on closer inspection, the platform turned out to be anything but a paean to irreligion. Indeed, you didn't have to be a follower of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens to find the plank entitled "Faith" a little cloying:

Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith-based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world--from domestic and global poverty to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work . . .

And so on.

Nevertheless, by the time the Democrats were streaming out of Charlotte the Fox folks had mentioned the aforementioned non-mention eighty-four times. "I think it's rather peculiar," Paul Ryan, the Vice-Presidential nominee, said in one segment. "There sure is a lot of mention of government, and so I guess I would just put the onus of the burden on them to answer why they did all of these purges of God." Ryan's running mate, for his part, had previously judged it unwise to cast aspersions on other people's religious beliefs. A few days later, though, having experienced a post-Conventions dip in the polls, Mitt Romney decided what the hell.

Taking a page from the playbook of George H. W. Bush (who, nice guy and relative moderate though he was, based the non-Willie Horton half of his successful 1988 campaign on the fantasy that his opponent despised the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance to it), Romney led a Virginia crowd in reciting the Pledge. "That pledge says 'under God,' " the Republican standard-bearer thundered, as Pat Robertson, the Christianist broadcaster and onetime (also 1988) Presidential candidate, stood behind him, clapping. "I will not take God out of the name of our platform," Romney went on, a bit clumsily. …

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