Paul  Kengor
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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.

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