God, Democrats, and the Europeanization of America

The battle at the Democratic convention to exclude God from the party’s platform is no minor moment. Do not underestimate what transpired there.

And while it speaks to so many things, at many levels, it reminds me of the recent battle within the European Union to exclude God from the EU constitution. That comparison is no mere academic one. It speaks volumes about the ongoing direction of the Democratic Party, and this nation.

About 10 years ago, the EU was in an intense debate over whether to mention God in its new constitution. The God opponents were the predictable Western European progressives: leftist Eurocrats in Brussels, Labor Party atheists in Britain, German socialists, Scandinavian secularists, and, naturally, the French leadership. The God supporters included new EU member states that survived godless communism—with Poland in the forefront—and the continent’s preeminent religious figure: Pope John Paul II.

The pope, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s, took up the fight with vigor. In the summer of 2003, he devoted a series of Sunday Angelus addresses to this political issue that transcended politics. He made arguments akin to those made by the American Founding Fathers: It is crucial for citizens living under a constitution to understand the ultimate source from which their rights derive. Their rights come not from government but from God. What government gives, government can take away. What God gives, government cannot take away.

The pope was countered by the likes of French president Jacques Chirac, who sniffed: “France is a lay state, and as such she does not have a habit of calling for insertions of a religious nature into constitutional texts.” The “lay character” of France’s government and public institutions, according to Chirac, simply did “not allow” for a reference to God in a constitution.

Chirac displayed precisely the misunderstanding of church and state that secular liberals in the United States have heartily embraced.

In the end, the EU compromised on a bland statement grudgingly conceding the continent’s “cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance.” It was a nod to God that George Weigel, in his superb “The Cube and the Cathedral,” described as “so bland as to be meaningless.”

But, in an important way, it was actually not meaningless. Hilaire Belloc once said that “the (Christian) faith is Europe and Europe is the faith.” Well, it isn’t anymore. Perhaps, then, it was perfectly fitting that the Europeans excluded God from their platform.

That brings me back across the Atlantic, to Charlotte. That the Democrats, in 2012, would find themselves in a similar battle is no surprise.

I’ll never forget the night Barack Obama won the 2008 election, when I turned on CNN and glimpsed an unknown Republican congressman from Wisconsin named Paul Ryan. When asked about Obama’s victory, Ryan said he was most concerned about “the Europeanization of America.”

“That’s it!” I said to myself. “That’s exactly it. Who is this guy? He nailed it.”

A further “Europeanization” of America is the best description of what has transpired under the Obama administration, especially its first two years under a fully supportive Democratic Congress. In 2009-10, we witnessed incredibly wasteful Keynesian-style prime-the-pump “stimulus,” partial nationalizations, “Obama-care,” explosive public-sector growth and unionization, demonization of the banking and investment and oil industries, stagnant unemployment, class-warfare rhetoric unlike anything I’ve ever heard in this country, and debt-to-GDP ratios approaching Greek standards. We’ve experienced a record-long non-recovering recovery reminiscent not of the American experience but of Western Europe.

As someone who researches communism, I’m often asked if the Obama administration is pursuing socialistic or even communist policies. No, no, I’ve always said. If you want the closest model to what Obama is doing, look at the Attlee government in Britain after WWII or Western Europe today generally.

I recently did an interview with the BBC in Ireland. The host asked: “What’s wrong with you Americans? You call Obama a ‘socialist’ as if socialism is bad. Here in Europe, we think he’s doing exactly the right thing.” Likewise, a friend of mine recently returned from Spain. She was shocked by the overwhelming support for Barack Obama’s policies. It’s really no shock at all—not in Spain.

Here in America, the staunchest liberal-Democrat areas, such as California, Massachusetts, and New England, all have European-level birthrates, divorce rates, abortion rates, and even church attendance. New England, in many ways, is a microcosm of Western Europe.

By the time of the 2012 Democratic convention, party delegates had already (following Barack Obama’s lead) embraced everything from unlimited taxpayer-funding of abortion to gay marriage. How does one get to these positions? Answer: by removing God. Fittingly, then, the delegates merely need to take the next evolutionary step: exclude God. It was very … European.

The soul of the Democratic Party continues to change dramatically.

This essay first appeared September 7, 2012 on The Center for Vision and Values website and is reprinted with permission.

Paul Kengor


Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of many books including The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage (2015). His new books are A Pope and a President and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism (2017).

  • Alecto

    The Administration of George W. Bush was a testament to European progressive politics. He supported progressive budget policies including Federal Reserve policies which led to the housing bubble; enactment of Medicare Part D; NCLB, federalization of education; supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, an attempt to render citizenship and national borders meaningless; TARP, which effectively led to the election of Obama; Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the longest in American history, for which victory was undefined and therefore impossible to win and the costs of which remain undetermined. Lest we forget, John Roberts, that Constitutional traitor who should immediately be impeached, was a Bush appointee. Has
    there ever been a Chief Justice more aligned with progressive policies?

    Prior to the Obama Administration, the Bush Administration did more to push us down the road of Europe than any other president with his explosion in federal spending and failure to veto even one spending bill. Before that, Clinton did, and so on and so forth. Every recent president, except Ronald Reagan whom the Republican establishment reviled and dismissed, has taken us further down the road of Europe.

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  • Matt

    Not mentioning God is not the same as not knowing God. Personally, I don’t appreciate pharisaical claims to be exceptionally religious or patriotic. It is said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I think overt religiosity falls into the same category.

  • Rich

    God is not mentioned in our Constitution either. To me, it makes sense. All the hoopla over the Dems not putting it in their platform had more to do with money and power in AIPAC than anything else. Our country is far too beholden to Israel right now anyway. Go ahead and let the Dem party platform bother you. Keep complaining about specs in others eyes. Whatever works.

  • GrahamCombs

    I can’t argue much with Alecto. I can note that Pres. Obama would never meet with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus or commission a bio-ethics study. As for Matt and Rich, the late Fr. Neuhaus would ask what they have to gain by driving religion from the public square. Say what you will about the Republicans, they do not appeal nearly as much to the worst instincts of Americans. The high point of their convention was the genuine respect that greeted the prayer given by a Sikh. You could tell that prayer was not unfamiliar with them. Democrats pray less and less. And despite the party’s history are more and more ignorant of Catholicism and its inconvenient magisterium. Charlotte was a council of tribal grievances. .

  • hombre111

    In Europe, at least, part of the problem is the Church’s longstanding opposition to democracy and the famous basic freedoms. Having dragged the Church kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, Europe is not so apt to agree with Pope John Paul’s revision of history, where the Church somehow played a vital supporting role. Oh, and they also remember the Thirty Year’s War fought in the middle of Europe, where a third to half of the people died. This led directly to the Age of Reason, in which philosophers said, if this is the best that religion can do, maybe we better create a society based on something else.
    And as for mentioning God in the platform: That is pandering at its best. The South, with its dark heart still steeped in racism, is also famous for its deep religiosity. Not sure if a belief in God saved any black man from lynching, or made the South any less crime filled, violent, and prone to abortion and divorce. The more secularized north does better in all those areas.

    • Do you mean the Age of Reason that gave us the rejection of God, followed by the Reign of Terror, the chaos of the Napoleonic Wars, (which dwarfed the chaos of the Thirty Years War), and led inexorably to the atheist regimes that gave us the Gulag, the death camps, and the most brutal dictatorships in the history of the world?

      Oh, yes, that Age of Reason. Nice try, hombre, but you secularists have more blood on your hands than all the Christians who ever lived. Where Christianity recedes, awful things advance.

      • hombre111

        I was not trying to justify the Age of Reason, just following the very reasonable explanation of the history of ideas explained so clearly by the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. We do have to realize the horror experienced in Europe in the name of religion. A century of religious wars, capped by the unspeakable Thirty Years War. In the name of the true faith, Catholics and Protestants had just torn each other to bits and no innocent was spared. Now this is not my history, or yours. But it is the history remembered by people who live in Europe. They saw the Church fight the emerging modern world with everything she had. It was enough to make them very skeptical. I just wish the Church had been a real “mother” nurturing things along. If she had been, maybe the horrible things you mentioned would not have happened. But she had no sense of the direction history was going. The story of Italy would be my favorite example. The country longed to be united but the Papal States were right in the middle, blocking the way. A foresighted pope might have handed the territory over and won the reverence and gratitude of Italy to this day. But Pope Pius IX could not give up what he was going to lose anyway. As the world was caving in around him, he forced the Vatican Council to proclaim him infallible. This is beyond bizarre.

        • Adam_Baum

          Well then, it seems your god-the secular superstate has given us tremendous upgrades in modernizing mass murder-you know the concentration camps and gulags.

          Why are you here (I mean all of you).

          • hombre111

            I am here because I read widely, including the internet. Sometimes Crisis is an interesting magazine. Sometimes it is just a Republican blurb. But I do like to make a comment as long as I am passing through. It is really fun to see the mindset of the commenters, as well. Your own comments serve as a good exampe. Reminds me how hopeless the right sometimes is.

        • Augustus

          I am afraid, hombre111, that your view of history is flawed having been formed by the Protestant Whig interpretation which has since been debunked by contemporary historians. The progressive Whigs characterized the post-Reformation “Wars of Religion” so as to discredit religion and to defend “Reason” and the modern State. The fact is that, while Charles V intended to secure the Catholic character of the Habsburg Empire at first, the conflict became a balance of power contest between two historic rivals, Austria and France in which the latter Catholic state joined with the Turk against another Catholic state. The Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century was a continuation of state consolidation. Religious unity translated into political unity. All sides acted on that basis. Don’t assume the the Church had control over events. The fact that the Gallican Church in France operated largely independent of the pope, and that other princes in moderrn times sought to strengthen their power at the expense of the Church (e.g. the expulsion of the Jesuits from Iberia and France), should not be ignored. Enlightenment ideas were used by the State to strengthen its hand against the Church. But do not think that most people accepted Enlightenment philosophies. The role of Enlightenment philosophers is large in our mind thanks to sympathetic past historians who give them greater influence than they had. Nor should we ignore the influence of nationalism, a response to the Napoleonic wars. The unification of Italy was conducted not by popular consent but by a handful of revolutionaries and the conventional army of Piedmont. Everyone who has studied the plebicites in the former papal states (meant to justify the invasion) knows that the vote was rigged from the start. Papal infallibility was an assertion of the pope’s SPIRITUAL authority, after having lost his temporal power. Most Catholics believed that only a strong papacy could defend the Church from internal and external threats. The fact that several hundred bishops opposed the teaching at the Council is proof that Pius didn’t “force” anything on anyone. (Another debunked Whig interpretation.) Your characterization of the American South is shot full of stereotypes. The Klan was very popular in the North. And northern limousine liberals and country club Republicans have always been the biggest donors to Planned Parenthood whose racist origins are also well-documented. It is easy to judge historical figures (and the Church) from hindsight. History is complex and is too often judged through ideological lenses. There is no reason why Catholics should so easily make concessions to their enemies.

          • hombre111

            Actually, a pretty good post. Needs some corrections, but it is loong. I do agree that it is easy to judge history through hindsight. I just wished the Church had demonstrated better foresight in the course of history. Let’s see…not clearsighted enough to avoid the split between East and West… not clearsighted enough to realize that nationalism was going to be stronger than anybody’s loyalty to the pope…not clear sighted enough to figure out how to reform the Papacy and clean up corruption in time to avoid the Reformation…Not clear sighted enough to figure out how to dialogue with growing rationalism…not clear sighted enough to avoid the Galileo affair…not clear sighted enough to see that Europe was moving toward democracy…inot clear sighted enough to help Italy find national unity instead of standing in the way…not clear sighted enough to realize that openness to Hitler as the alternative to Communism was not the best Idea Pacelli ever had…. And so on.

            • Augustus

              hombre111, you would make the Whig historians proud. They too believed that human actions in history are justified if they succeed. (If they succeed, like the Russian Revolution, they were meant to succeed.) This is how progress happens you see, and anyone standing in the way is an obstacle to human development. No one has the supernatural powers to see into the future as you expect the Church to possess. These powers are not shared by her enemies either. You are simply being selective in what you highlight and, as ususal, in a way that misrepresents actual events. Just because Piedmont had a professional army to exact its will on the papal states does not justify the forced unification of Italy. But since you believe that successful actions in history are justifed because they succeed, then it’s really hopeless to offer any facts to the contray.

              • hombre111

                Some things did not take supernatural powers. Just refusing to think in the way of the world. For instance, the beef with the Eastern Church. Two guys from on high trying to dominate each other. Did anybody think of the way of Christ? Did anybody ever imagine it might be worth it to go visit the other guy to see what they were really saying? Or the Grand Inquisition. Of course Christ wanted the Church to torture and murder. My favorite anecdote there, the “crusade” on the Albigensians had the whole town trapped in the Cathedral. The leader writes to Pope “Innocent,” telling him that he could not distinguish an Albigensian from a real Catholic. What should he do? “Kill them all,” came the pope’s famous reply. “Let God sort them out.” Became a slogan in Vietnam, as well. Or slavery. Why, in the early 1800’s, was a pope still arguing in favor of slavery? Or the hostility to the freedom of Religion, as if God’s Providence could not be trusted. And so on. When push came to shove, why did the Church so often choose the worldly way of power and violence?

    • Adam_Baum

      Other than trolling, why are you here? You’ve already explained your socialist-statist viewpoints, you’re clearly not an effective advocate for your disorientations-and while I realize the left works in delusion the way Michelangelo worked in paint, the question remains-why are you here?

      Based on the number of posts you’ve made-you might be suffering from hypergraphia, in addition to whatever else troubles you. Seek help while there’s time.

    • JP

      Funny that you forgot to mention both World Wars of the 20th Century. Those wars had nothing to do with the Church, and they made the Thirty Years Wars look like a trifle disagreement. More people than 3 times as many people died due to Stalin than did in the Thrity Years War. Hitler was responsible for more deaths in Europe in one year that any of the religious wars fought in the 16th Century. The Age of Reason led to The Terror; gave us Realpolitk, poison gas, and Mengele. And you totally mis-read the South. It wasn’t religion there that kept Jim Crow alive. FDR and Wilson, both Progressives in the Enlightenment model were racists as well eugenicists. Progressive politicians in the South (think Hugo Black, Sam Rayburn) were racists due to Progressive race theories (refer to the live and writings of Sanger), and not religious intolerance.
      Enlightenment and later Progressive politics made possible the nasty world we live in. You are right, in that the Church since the 16th Century decayed as far as political influence (how many divisions does the Pope have?) goes. The Vatican was occupied by Napolean and various Italian regimes; the Holy Roman Empire was destroyed, and eventually Progressive regimes in Paris, Berlin, and Rome created a system of government that stressed material comforts and political prizes which the Pope couldn’t compete with.
      But, the lasting legacy of Enlightenment will be abortion and contraception.

      • hombre111

        The wars of the 20th. century do not challenge my argument and comparing casualties seems lame. The simple fact is, a church that claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit has been incredibly sinful and abysmally dumb over the centuries. In the end, the Church got involved in power struggles and had no spiritual insight into how to reunited East and West, or the horror of the Grand Inquisition. When the Enlightenment arrived, we needed a Thomas Aquinas who figured out how to baptize the thing, the way Thomas baptized Arlistotle.
        As for Jim Crow: After the Civil War the slaves were freed. But the South quickly figured out how to re-enslave the black man through its prisons, its violent society, and its economic system. Slavery was not really over until the Civl Rights Act. As soon as that happened, the South switched to the Republicans. Their most recent shock was the election of a black man as president. Now that really turned their world upside down again.

    • Tout

      Let’s hope for a new growth in the Catholic Church. All those who call themselves Catholic should become active in ‘real’ Catholicism.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    M. Chirac was, as usual, wrong, when he said that France “does not have a habit of calling for insertions of a religious nature into constitutional texts.”

    The present Constitution (October 4, 1958) like all its predecessors, declares that “The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789..”

    This Declaration states that “the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:”

    As Robespierre, one of the best orators of the Revolution, insisted, “Atheism is aristocratic; the idea of a great Being that watches over oppressed innocence and punishes triumphant crime is altogether popular.”

  • Bill

    Other than the argument about keeping God out of the EU Constitution and the reaction on this same issue at the Democratic Convention the remainder of the article is worthless.

  • publiusnj

    A term like the “Europeanization” of America is abad choice of words because it is not just biased, but ambiguous. Apparently, the writer meant the “turning of America into a more socialist polity” when he used that term. He should have been more direct. Unfortunately, some Americans (mainly Republicans) use the “European” term as a shorthand for socialism and think the term appeals to “American patriotism.” And it may work with a certain subset of voters that are xenophobic and have little historical memory. Yet it hurts the conservative cause because our culture is European and Christian. By demonizing all things “European,” we demonize our past and that leaves us in the brave new world that the Democrats are trying to hand us, free from the inherited culture and determined by the latest poll. Why not use terms that are not so biased and self-defeating? If it is Socialism that we are trying to avoid, call the people who are trying to impose it “socialists” and not “europeanizers.”

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      As a European myself, I believe that there is a very real difference between the American and European approach to politics and that it is rooted in a different idea of freedom.

      To an American, freedom primarily means being free from interference, especially government interference. To a European, freedom primarily means sharing in the government.

      The American Revolution was a rebellion against an external power, the British Crown; thereafter, strong local feeling often led to the Federal Government being seen as, in some sense, an external power. In Europe, by contrast, in the wake of the French Revolution, government action came to be seen by the citizens, as the consummated result of their own organized wishes. Of course, Europeans can be very readily persuaded that self-serving deputies are betraying the people’s mandate, in the service of special interests; in fact, the political class is held in great contempt. Nevertheless, no one believes that curbing the powers of government is desirable, or even imaginable: the government is the appointee and agent of the people; to curb the government’s powers is to curb their own.

      This does not necessarily translate into socialism, although it can. It does lead to a passion for civic equality and a deep suspicion of particular interests that undermine the general will.

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