Politics won’t shrink God gap

February 29, 2012


There have been many “gaps” in modern politics. There is the gender gap, the generation gap and now the God gap, which is the gulf between people who take God’s instructions seriously and those who don’t. Which side of the gap you’re on could influence your vote.

The God gap is growing wider.

I asked Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum about this. In a telephone interview with me, Santorum, whose rhetoric is loaded with religious and cultural language, said, “While (such language) may be upsetting to some, there’s a hunger out there for talking about what’s true.”

How, then, would he explain a recent New York Times story that reported for the first time in our history, that “more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.” Santorum acknowledged, “I’m probably talking to Republican audiences, so it’s a little different. I’m not talking to the general audience at this point. Marriage is on the decline. The culture is changing.”

The problem for presidential candidates — and for President Obama, who occasionally appeals to Scripture to justify his policies — is that fewer people are listening to the voice of God, or to voices claiming to speak for Him.

Not too long ago, a report about growing numbers of out-of-wedlock births would have produced sermons calling for repentance and set revival fires burning in churches across the land. Today, there’s only the sound of silence.

The Times story, citing government data compiled by Child Trends, a Washington research group, noted that the shift in the makeup of American families was likely to produce children who face “elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.” Yawn.

The failure to communicate across the God gap brings to mind something former president George H.W. Bush said about broccoli. Bush said his mother made him eat broccoli, but he never liked it. When he became president, he said it meant he no longer had to eat it.

So people who might have been taken to religious services as children are now grown up and many feel they no longer have to “stomach” faith, or conform to a standard outside themselves. Some who grew up in a secular household are spiritually deaf, if not biblically illiterate. A general cultural morality is fast disappearing.

The God gap will not be shrunk by politicians, though to rally “the base” they often talk as if it can. The goal of cultural transformation has historically been the work of clergy, whose “hellfire” messages scared people awake from their comfortable and what used to be called “sinful” lives. But this was before having a baby without a husband became an acceptable thing to do.

Too many of today’s clergy seem preoccupied with building personal empires and monstrous buildings. They go on costly TV instead of investing in the less visible “work of the church,” which is people, not brick and mortar. The first Christians met in homes, not megachurches. They took care of each other and did not rely on government to sustain them. Many pastors today dislike sermons about sin and repentance because it makes people uncomfortable. And so we get instead the discomfort of social decay and an ever-widening God gap.

Materialism and pleasure contribute to social rot. Social rot precedes national decline. These have become our twin false gods; contemporary “golden calves,” as unable to produce satisfaction as the idols of biblical times. Most politicians won’t urge restraint or personal sacrifice and too many ministers allow the secular world to set their agenda.

And so the God gap widens and the wisdom and understanding of the older generation goes unheard and unheeded.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Maddy Griffin 6 years, 2 months ago

Too many "Gods" with too many conflicting messages.Leave God out of it. He wants no part of this mess.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

I don't agree that there are too many Gods with too many conflicting messages. Jews Chrisitians and Muslims believe in God the Creator of all things. And besides the issue with Jesus being the son of God, Muslims and Christians agree on most everything else. We all believe in the Day of Judgement, the Last Day and the belief in Heaven and Hell. These are the common threads that put Muslims and Christians on the same playing field. Jew don't believe in Hell and that all Jews will be heaven bound, they commit no sin. But they still believe in the same God of Abraham, M and C's believe in. So there aren't too many Gods, there just isn't enough belief in them.

denak 6 years, 2 months ago

Of all the examples that Cal could have used to illustrate the "God Gap," he uses children. Not greed, not the obsessive quest for fame, not the destruction of the ecosystem via deforestation, pollution and war and not the wholesale slaughter of innocent people in Syria or Mexico, but children.

Children who grow up in single parent homes do--often times--face more challenges but they are not predestined to fail. It all depends on how functional the child's parent is and the love and support the child gets. Do I think it is a disturbing trend that over half of children are born out of wedlock? Yes, I do but I think it is indicative of many things (ie women's earning potential, level of education, a cultural shift) but I don't believe that it is a sign that there is a "God Gap" among single women who have children.

To me, the "God Gap," if it truly exists, is reflected in how a society takes care of its weak and vulnerable and cutting funding to social services that help the mentally ill or destitute is a bigger example of the "God Gap" then illegitimate children.

Linda Endicott 6 years, 2 months ago

Single men have been creating children since the beginning of time...they just don't always acknowledge them...

He didn't specify whether these single women who are having children are raising them on their own, or if they might just be in a relationship with the father, just not married to them...that happens, too...

I don't see that having a child out of wedlock is such a horrible thing...just because some puritan decided that long ago...

And all children are "legitimate"ly children...whether or not their parents happen to be married...

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Agreed, denak. It's not a "God Gap" (was there any question who wrote this piece?) that leads to single mothers; it's an Intelligence Chasm. Pretty easy to prevent impregnation, cheap, too. But no...... plenty of morons on both sides contributing to that plight.

funkdog1 6 years, 2 months ago

Uhhhh ... I think many of those single mothers are choosing to be single mothers. No "intelligence chasm" necessary.

notaubermime 6 years, 2 months ago

An opinion piece by Cal Thomas with a pastoral view of the past? Wow, not exactly branching-out today, are we?

Nevermind that divorce rates, out of wedlock children, and underage mothers are more closely correlated to a belief in religion than a disbelief. Given that, perhaps these social issues would be better if more people turned away from God.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

"Nevermind that divorce rates, out of wedlock children, and underage mothers are more closely correlated to a belief in religion than a disbelief."

I'm sorry, but an explanation or citation.......something is needed to back THAT up, por favor.

jonas_opines 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm pretty sure that I've seen that documented somewhere, but I don't have the time or current inclination to look it up.

It's likely correlational, if demonstrably true, rather than causational. The small segment of the population that truly rejects or discharges a faith in a higher order or divinity are likely to be the ones that are capable of thinking both critically and skeptically about the suppositions inherent in religion, and by extension in other things as well. They are also (pretty sure this has been shown in a LOT of studies), of a higher education level and income level, both of which lead to less children, and much less unplanned pregnancy.

They're also, I would suspect, less likely to believe that outside of their choices (good or bad), they'll be taken care of in some way by fate or divinity etc.

/of course, then you might have the grating atheist proselytizer that doesn't have those traits, but maybe are just too hostile and annoying to have much chance at getting someone to share a bed with them. ;D

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Seriously? I don't believe I've ever read that anywhere, but I'll have to look it up. Seems to me I read something a while ago, think it was last election, that spelled out the correlation of truancy, delinquency, teen pregnancy, and crime to infrequent church attendance; ya know, things got worse the less one went. But then I can't remember who came up w/ the numbers, and if it WAS election year AND came from the right......... well, what are the odds that was truly legit? Interesting, though, gonna have to look into that.

jonas_opines 6 years, 2 months ago

Given that faith in religious precepts and church attendance don't really mean the same thing, I think both of those could feasibly be correct. The sample size of atheists/agnostics has got to be a great deal smaller than the sample size of those who identify as religious but don't regularly attend services.

notaubermime 6 years, 2 months ago

Jonas' explanation at 8:17am is basically exactly what I would have said, so I won't go into that any further.

As for citations:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm cites a study by the Barna Research Group in which athiests/agnostics have the lowest divorce rates.

http://www.reproductive-health-journal.com/imedia/1545549611271544_article.pdf?random=414460 An article from the Reproductive Health Journal which finds that a strong correlation between the religiosity of a state and teen pregnancy rates.

That is just one of each. I could probably find a lot more. The main point here, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is that simplifying issues like this down to what religion a person ascribes to is severely lacking in any sort of understanding for what the problem truly is. Arguments such as the above opinion piece are a useless distraction from the real solutions to these societal issues.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the citations. Very interesting.

livinginlawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

"But this was before having a baby without a husband became an acceptable thing to do."

Right, because it's all up to the woman to ensure unplanned pregnancies don't occur, and it's all the woman's fault if they do.

Mike Ford 6 years, 2 months ago

oh wow.....the churchlicans aren't trying to take people back to the scopes trial of 1925 and further back to where women had no rights.....tell me again what good they do and what freedoms they support as they force their will into houses and bedrooms....maybe that explains their declining popularity.....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

I'll never vote for any candidate that doesn't worship at the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

+1 The sacrament tastes good too. Sacred red sauce and a spot of good red wine. I like the metallic head coverings too; makes for better reception.

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

There are so many things in this column to disagree with...

First, not all religious believers believe in following "God's instructions" or even agree on what those might be.

Next, while children of single parents are undoubtedly likely to face certain challenges, that doesn't necessarily translate to all children born "out of wedlock" - couples who are together but not married have children.

Then, of course, there's a serious distinction to be made between the "voice of God" and the voices that are "claiming to speak for Him".

I do agree with him, that materialism is a potentially destructive force in our society, and that many ministers, etc. are caught up in that, rather than ministering to their congregations.

Pleasure, though, is just fine with me, and I'm glad if religions aren't trying to "scare the hell" out of people any more.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

"Then, of course, there's a serious distinction to be made between the "voice of God" and the voices that are "claiming to speak for Him." ==== That may be the most curious statement of all. How does one tell the difference and who gets to make these 'claims?'

jafs 6 years, 2 months ago

In my view, nobody can claim to "speak for God' with any certainty.

They can only speak for their understanding of God, whatever that may be.

So, when Thomas says people aren't listening to the "voice of God" or those that "speak for Him", I think he's lumping two different things together that don't belong - just because people aren't blindly following religious leaders doesn't mean they aren't listening to God, if they are so inclined.

I personally believe that God is not trying to instruct us as a strict disciplinarian, and doesn't particularly want us to follow leaders blindly.

But, I would never claim that I know that for a certainty, or that I could "speak for God", so that others should listen to me and follow my instructions.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 2 months ago

I am sure the mullahs in Iran and the Taliban agree with Cal 100%

They also see a god gap, and they are very active in filling it.

Orwell 6 years, 2 months ago

Actually, Cal makes a pretty convincing argument that many religious leaders and politicians – particularly those who are both – are raving hypocrites. From there it's a very short step to another reasonable conclusion: if government can't do things well, we certainly can't expect it to be successful in any attempt to instill faith-based values and behavior in the electorate.

Cal just couldn't bring himself to write where his argument leads: we should disregard any political position or argument based on religious belief, and dismiss entirely those politicians who claim divine guidance for all their actions. It's the unintended corollary of John Prine's wise lyric – your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore.

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

I personally prefer his lyrics, "you will find me with an illegal smile. It doesn't cost very much, but it lasts a long while. Won't you please tell the man, I didn't kill anyone. I'm just trying to have me some fun."

asixbury 6 years, 2 months ago

I find it interesting that the increasing "God gap" is right alongside the increasing acceptance of people with varying lifestyles (homosexuals, transgender, etc). We are becoming more aware of the hypocrisies instilled in many religions. I think less people following religion is a good thing. Like John Lennon said, imagine this world "with no religion too." No reason to die for, to wage many wars, to hate one another. Morals are great, but you do not need religion to have good values and morals. The atheists and agnostics I know are the most non-judgmental, accepting people I have met. I cannot say the same for most religious people I have met in this state.

I agree that materialism is destroying this country, but it is also what made this country the super-power it is today.

John McCoy 6 years, 2 months ago

Pleasure contributes to "social rot?" Come on, man.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

The Bible is an extraordinary work and it has been used, misused and abused throughout history.

I am often reminded of this passage when I listen to today's politicians and political columnists.

I Corinthians 1:20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Cal Powers is simply trying to manufacture a wedge in the same way that Santorum has and try to paint the political contest as a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, with the so called "true conservatives" as the defenders of all that is righteous and good.

With the recent defeat of Santorum in Michigan and Arizona, it appears that this argument does not have a lot of traction with the American people who are rapidly becoming more educated and more involved in understanding what is at stake.

The frustration with the political process is that no one seems to want to actually tell the truth anymore but they will boast all day that they are the only ones who actually know the "truth".

Whenever religious leaders allow themselves to be used by politicians, it never seems to paint religion in a positive way and it always makes religion less attractive to young people.

That is the real cost of all this nonsense and for that I am very disappointed when I watch adults behaving badly.

camper 6 years, 2 months ago

“While (such language) may be upsetting to some, there’s a hunger out there for talking about what’s true.” Rick Santorum

Can be translated as "I am now starting the damage control process for that clip that was quite disturbing to some."

Getaroom 6 years, 2 months ago

Using the Christian credential is a weak excuse for any guarantee in abilities to govern. Look at the Taliban for the perfect example of religious extremism. No difference really- all want to be overlords empowered by what they think is The One GOD. There simply are no viable candidates in the GOP worthy of being President and Obama will continue in his current position another 4 years anyway. And all the while the GOP baffons' battle it out for who is the most extreme christian conservative. As if any in the Party of NO matter a 'tinker, tailor soldier, spy worth of difference. In the mean time all of this SuperPAC money will have been flushed down the drain in vain, when it could have spread around to me so I could hoard it and not create jobs and done just as well as the super wealthy Fuax job creators. Call me the wealth Spread-a-tator, I like it! Drone on Republicans and I will try to find a job for you when I get up from my nap.

Mike Ford 6 years, 2 months ago

I love selfish americans. Every culture since the beginning of civilization has levied taxes on it's citizens. Even Seminole communities in pre American invasion Florida collected corn crops from every community for the benefit of all. They existed sharing the wealth while a greedy american president, andrew jackson, illegally invaded and purchased Florida from the Spanish to take away a place for escaped slaves to flee to. For all the religious nonsense I hear I wonder where the concept of selfish greed fits in....oh....that's right.....it doesn't.... maybe in the heads of denialistic revisionist conservatives that want their own fiefdom at the expense of civilized people. Ever wonder why the articles of confederation was never fully adopted....greed and american individualism is sooooo 1780.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

FHNC: I admit to being a skeptic for obvious reasons, but won't argue for or against the 'existence' of any gods. There is no proof either way, but the burden, it appears to me, would be on those who practice magical thinking in a modern age. Thanks for the insights into my inner being, however. You are most perspicacious.

Mike Ford 6 years, 2 months ago

it's nice to hear nonsense.,....when do some people speak fact and reason.... never.....you know.....that lowest common denominator thing....

usnsnp 6 years, 2 months ago

What I find intresting is that according to some of our leaders or people wanting to be our leaders, that if you do not believe in their version of Christianaty you are not a good Christian. My feeling is, that the people that feel this way have not really read the Bible.

Kirk Larson 6 years, 2 months ago

As far as marriage goes, what will most likely save it is when we finally have marriage equality. Gay people want to get married because it IS important. Once that happens there will probably be a resurgence in marriage among heterosexuals. Won't that set the fundagelicals heads spinning!

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