Just shut up already: a dissident Christian's take on the National Day of Prayer | Blogh

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Just shut up already: a dissident Christian's take on the National Day of Prayer

Posted By on Thu, May 6, 2010 at 2:24 PM

Today is the National Day of Prayer -- it's going on in Market Square Park as I type this. And both Pittsburgh's old media and new have noted the controversy surrounding it. 

The crux of the issue, as its usually discussed, is whether a government-sanctioned "Day of Prayer" constitutes an unlawful establishment of religion. 

Frankly, I don't care. I think a "day of prayer" is about as intrusive as Pittsburgh's once-renowned "Boy George Tribute Day." I didn't feel obliged to go home and listen to "Karma Chameleon" then; I don't feel obliged to recite "Kyrie Eleison" now.

Besides, the problem with National Prayer Day isn't that it establishes Christianity, or any other religion. From my perspective, the problem is that if anything, it compels Christians to ignore their faith.

Let me put that a little more simply: National Prayer Day is un-Biblical.

I give you the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

The speaker here, of course, is Jesus. And this ought to be a Bible verse Christians are familiar with: It comes just a couple versus before the Lord's Prayer. 

Now I'm the last person who would take a Bible passage literally. After all, if you read these verses strictly enough, it could almost sound like Jesus was advising Christians to skip church services. (Which would be one of the few religious observance I've proven myself more than adept at following.) These passages ought to be understood in their broader context, which is that Jesus objected to those who used their faith as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The objection here is not that somebody else might see you pray ... it's to prayers made because someone other than God might see. 

And yet, that is clearly part of the agenda of this event. Here, for example, is how the National Day of Prayer Task force describes its mission:

In accordance with Biblical truth, the National Day of Prayer Task Force seeks to:

  • Foster unity within the Christian Church
  • Protect America’s Constitutional Freedoms to gather, worship, pray and speak freely.
  • Publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage
  • Encourage and emphasize prayer, regardless of current issues and positions
  • Respect all people, regardless of denomination or creed
  • Be wise stewards of God’s resources and provision
  • Glorify the Lord in word and deed
  • Plenty of admirable sentiments there. But it's that "publicize and preserve America's Christian heritage" part that bugs me. I mean, that's not about prayer. It's about propaganda ... the message you send not to God but to other men. It's nice if you can "respect all people" in the process, but really -- you could do that just as easily by not noisily asserting the primacy of your faith in the first place.  

    As a First Amendment supporter, I have no real objection to using public prayer as a way of sending a message. If Tea Partiers can denounce Obama as a socialist -- and they can, God bless 'em -- then having Christians urge us to be "wise stewards of God's resources" is a nice change of pace. (For one thing, it sends a more supportive message to environmentalists than they'd hear at the average Tea Party.) But that's the point: At bottom, National Prayer Day is just another political demonstration. Both its detractors and its supporters ought to keep that in mind. 

    The Republic will survive the tradition of National Prayer Day ... just as Christianity would survive if the event were canceled. But at the heart of all these controversies about public religious displays -- be they manger scenes at the county courthouse, or store clerks who insult your faith by saying "happy holidays" -- is the same bogus assumption. And that assumption is that your faith is weakened unless it receives constant confirmation in the public square. 

    Jesus didn't get that confirmation, obviously. I'm not sure why so many of his followers seem to demand it. 


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