National Prayer   (2015Apr01)


Wednesday, April 01, 2015                                                12:04 PM

April Fools! The “National Day of Prayer” isn’t until Thursday, May 7th. Americans United has a nifty little site: What’s Wrong With The National Day of Prayer, if anyone isn’t clear on there being a problem with it. To quote Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, President of AU’s National Board of Trustees: “The National Day of Prayer is problematic because it presumes that Americans should take direction on their religious lives from the government. It suggests that they will engage in certain religious activities because the government recommends they do. People do not need government directives to pray or take part in any other form of worship.”

I can’t argue with that. But a case could be made that National Days are not so much directives as they are responses to popular opinion. Americans United is in danger of making the same mistake as the Tea Party’s anti-government nonsense. The government doesn’t create National Days out of thin air—they are proposed by citizens, often due to an existing, less-official celebration tradition—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Fourth of July—these were all popular observances that came from the collective heart of Americans. Their canonization into ‘bank holidays’ came later. And atheist or otherwise, I don’t think anyone can claim that there aren’t a lot of prayer-friendly citizens in this country.

If we were talking about a Mandatory Day of Prayer, then okay, that would be a problem. But a day that celebrates prayer can only be wrong if there’s something wrong with prayer. The fact that I don’t pray may leave me out of the celebration, but that doesn’t make it wrong to celebrate. I don’t have a womb, either—but I have no problem with baby showers.

We’re living in the future, folks. And space-age living requires that we pay attention. There is a distinct difference between what we don’t like and what is wrong. There are lots of things I don’t like—that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those things. There are lots of things that are wrong—the fact that they may appeal greatly to me doesn’t make them less wrong.

People with seniority, people with power, people with money—such people often get to have things their way—their preferences have importance. This is confusing. Their preferences shouldn’t have importance, but reality says otherwise. We have to reconcile this ongoing condition with its temporary equivalent—a hostage stand-off. Yes, a person holding us at gunpoint has the power to inforce their preferences—but we must decide whether to give in to their threats or to try to rush in and disarm the hostage-taker.  It’s called ethics—and the reason most people avoid thinking about ethics is that having them is often similar to rushing an armed attacker—it can be suicidal. Hence the expression, ‘Live Free Or Die’.

It’s ironic that the non-religious would waste time, effort and attention on something that isn’t intrinsically wrong, like a National Day of Prayer, when they should be focusing on actual wrongs, like the recent states’ legislation legitimizing religion-based bigotry—the anti-gay laws and the anti-abortion laws. Gays make up ten percent of our population. Women make up fifty percent of our population. Between the two groups we can figure that a solid majority of American citizens are being persecuted by religion-based laws. This condition may have spurred the anti-prayer sentiment, but opposing a National Day of Prayer is rather missing the point. Better we should all pray they repeal that nonsense—and maybe start voting for politicians instead of fundamentalist zealots.

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