God, the Afterthought
The Democratic Party didn't quite succeed in banning God from its platform, but it did its best to ensure that no-one would listen to him by putting a liberal clergyman who talks about anything except God in front of a deserted stadium. That checked the God box without allowing the Maker of Heaven to get a word in edgewise.
Rabbis from the wrongly named Conservative movement are used to preaching to empty rooms, but there was something surreal in the image of the Los Angeles Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe blessing a deserted stadium late Wednesday night long after the Democrats had departed. Named by Newsweek the most influential American rabbi, Wolpe beamed empathy and gestured eloquently to the vacant stadium. After the last-minute vote by acclamation to return God to the party platform, Wolpe's benediction had deep symbolic overtones. Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair, while Wolpe talked to ten thousand empty chairs.
Rabbi Wolpe proposed gratitude that "our nation is founded on the highest principles of freedom and resourcefulness and creativity and ever-renewed strength, and we understand that those worthy ideals stand alongside the commitment to compassion, to goodness, our sacred covenant to care for those those are bereaved and bereft, who are frightened and hungry and bewildered and seek shelter from the cold." He talked of "teachers with strength of soul and wild, wonderful visions." And he added:
Ours is a holy charge. A single moment, a touch, a glance, a word can change a life. Our children look to us with aspirational eyes, with the hope that their world will be kinder, sweeter, smarter than the world we have known. Each of these changes touches all of us, for you have taught us that we must count on one another, that our country is strong through community, and that the Children of Israel on the way to that sanctified and cherished land, and ultimate to that golden and capital city of Jerusalem, that these children of Israel did not walk through this wilderness alone.
The wild and wonderful rabbi from Los Angeles put religion squarely in the middle of the helping professions, somewhere between social work and psychotherapy, and Israel into a generic communitarian mix. That raises a question: if rabbis only echo what the politicians say, why not have them speak after everyone else is gone? I hope I'm not the only one who found Wolpe confusing. In 2001 he set off a storm with a Passover sermon that insisted that the Exodus never happened (because archaeologists can't prove it happened). If he doesn't think it happened, why bring it up now?
Contrast this with the benediction concluding the Republican National Convention that came from the country's senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. He said in part:
Almighty God, who gives us the sacred and inalienable gift of life, we thank you as well for the singular gift of liberty. Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom. Make us truly free by tethering freedom to truth and ordering freedom to goodness. Help us live our freedom in faith, hope and love, prudently and with justice, courageously and in a spirit of moderation. Enkindle in our hearts a new sense of responsibility for freedom’s cause and make us ever grateful for all those who for more than two centuries have given their lives in freedom’s defense. We commend their noble souls to your eternal care as even now we beg your mighty hand upon our beloved men and women in uniform. May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.
Those are beautiful words. Strong was the warning against making idols for ourselves -- that is, worshiping the work of our hands, rather than the author of Liberty. The whole of the Republican convention delegates remained in place to hear Cardinal Dolan after Mitt Romney's acceptance speech, unlike their Democratic counterparts, who walked out on Rabbi Wolpe. Viewers of CNN, though, did not hear Cardinal Dolan, because Wolf Blitzer was too busy trolling the punditeska for instant comments on the Romney speech to allow Dolan to be heard. Fox News carried the cardinal's benediction rather than the pundits.