Shuck and Jive

Friday, April 23, 2010

Worshiping Empire's God

I always find the disputes surrounding religion and politics fascinating. I am watching with interest the kerfluffle over the National Day of Prayer. Here is a story from AP:
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — To pray or not to pray? That's the issue government leaders across the country are facing after a federal judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer set for May 6 was unconstitutional.

The ruling can't take effect until all appeals are exhausted, but that's not stopping atheists and prayer advocates from firing off letters, e-mails and even planning to put up billboards to convince state and local leaders across the country to see things their way. (Read More)
According to the mayor of Topeka, Kansas, Bill Bunten:
"Some of these judges have lost their way," Bunten said. "Every day is a day of prayer in most Kansas lives, whether they are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or whatever, and to say that a prayer day is illegal is just ridiculous. That judge better go back and read some history about how this country was formed. Next thing you know we won't be able to sing 'God Bless America.'"
Someone does need to read some history to be sure. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been motivated:
They were drafting an online petition where people could urge Obama to honor Crabb's ruling and "leave days of prayer to individuals, private groups and churches, synagogues, mosques and temples." Annie Laurie Gaylor, one of the foundation's leaders, was putting the finishing touches on a full-page ad for the New York Times.

The foundation also plans to take out billboards promoting the separation of church and state in Colorado Springs, Co., home of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The signs will read "God and government: A dangerous mix."

"Whether or not we win in court, I want to win in the court of public opinion," said Gaylor. "This law is based on lies and bad history."
The irony is that modern day atheists are in a similar position to pre-Constantine Christians in Rome. These early Christians were called atheists because they wouldn't participate in the Empire's cult. The gods of the Roman Empire were in their experience, gods of war, slavery, and exploitation. They wanted nothing to do with them.

The emphasis of the National Day of Prayer isn't on the word "prayer," but on the word "national." The important part of the phrase "God Bless America" isn't "God." It is all about "America." But it isn't America for everyone. It is a particular kind of America: a cultic, superstitious, militaristic, and self-absorbed America. It is an America in which freethinkers are not welcome.

The National Day of Prayer does little more than stir up passions for the empire's cult. Christian leaders who think they are witnessing for Jesus by participating in this spectacle are deceiving themselves. Jesus (the historical person, not the cultic figure he has become) would have stayed a long way away from this charade.

He might have said instead something like:
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


  1. This decision is going all the way to the Supreme Court, IM (not so) HO.

    According to the Christian Science Monitor story, part of the judge's ruling stated: “Recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge, or practice rune magic.”

    A propos of that, it is also important to realize that the activities of the private Colorado organization, National Prayer Breakfast, have also been criticized recently on 1st Amendment grounds, and those activities may be behind the filing of the Freedom From Religion lawsuit.

    The National Prayer Breakfast is a right-wing, conservative group, and those groups are also behind the National Day of Prayer. If the statute were written to include all forms of prayer, then it would probably pass muster. But you can be sure the NPB wants nothing to do with Jewish, Sikh, Islamic, or (Horrors!) Pagan prayer.

    This will be an interesting summer, politically.

  2. This is not the first time the National Day of Prayer has been challenged. Last May (2009) Obama canceled the National Prayer Breakfast normally held at the White House on that day, which under the Bush administration had become a love-fest with the right. Here's the link to the Los Angeles Times article:

    The National Day of Prayer was started by Truman, but really took off when Regan began the accompanying Prayer Breakfast. See a pattern here?

    The time is right for the Freedom From Religion lawsuit.

    Now, if we can just separate Jesus's birth from the Pagan Winter Solstice . . .

  3. I read last night that the Obama administration is going to appeal the judge's decision.

    Question: though no one has brought a case couldn't Thanksgiving also be challenged for the same reason? And holidays that follow the Christian calendar but not Jewish, Muslim or other religion's holidays?

    And curiously there are efforts to make an accommodation for Muslim children to pray at their regular prayer times and to provide places for them to wash before prayer. Is this the same thing?

    In the past I have prayed at civic functions and have felt uncomfortable. There is pressure to pray a generic prayer which I won't do. (I deal with the issue by saying at the end "I pray in Jesus' name rather than we) But the government is not Christian. I don't think I'm going to do this again.

  4. I think that politically the Administration probably has to appeal, if -- as may be the case, given the decision to appeal -- the case has some loopholes in it. We shall see.

    I don't think that Thanksgiving is in danger, because it is not directly related to Christianity in the same way that the National Day of Prayer has gotten entwined with the National Prayer Breakfast organization.

    And despite my comment about Christmas, it is too secular a holiday to be eliminated. But it could be renamed. "Winter Folies"? Solstice? (the Pagans can't claim the word because it refers to a particular scientific phenomenon).

    I also think that accommodating non-Christian practices in public schools and for holidays is the opposite of establishing any particular religion as the "official" one. That battle was won in the Prison system by Native Americans (possibly by Leonard Peltier, but I'm not sure); the battle was also won in the military by Wiccans.

    We can pray in Jesus's name among Christians, but not in a public place for a public event. I have no problem with that.

  5. I don't like civil religion. Christianity was the established (with a nod and a wink) religion in America for too long. National Days of Prayer tend to reestablish Christianity. I think we, Christians in particular, need to let go and admit that America is not a Christian country and never has been. I want the chance for everyone to be who they are and not forced into some box by the government or by a hidden connection between the government and some Christians.

    I'm with John. We Christians have used the government and allowed ourselves to be used by the government for too long. Part of the anti communist crusade through most of my life was against the atheist hordes. I think as Christians we need to withdraw from our supporting role in the American Empire.

  6. On provisions in the prison and school system (and the military) for Muslims, etc., much of that is free exercise. Since the government requires children to attend school, prisoners to be in prison and soldiers/sailors to be under government supervision often 7x24, it has to make provision for them to practice their religion (barring illegal activities within the religion and balancing that against others not in the religion from feeling any pressure to participate).

  7. I live in Australia. From a distance much of the American religious right agenda seems unbelievably alienating. It is great to hear that there are a few voices of sanity speaking out.

  8. It seems unbelievably alienating from here, to, Eileen! It's reassuring to know the whole world doesn't have the same "phenomenon".

  9. John, if we all believe in the Constitution then people have the right to assemble and freely express their religious prayers on behalf of whatever nation they believe in. As for the Freedom from religion group, they misquote the Bill of Rights which states freedom of religion.

  10. "if we all believe in the Constitution then people have the right to assemble and freely express their religious prayers on behalf of whatever nation they believe in."

    And they can't do this unless the national government tells them to in a proclamation? I find it hard to believe that a group of people that prides itself on its own faithfulness really needs a government sanctioned day to pray.