Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let Us Not Pray


The Wisconsin Federal District's court's decision late last month which challenges the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer could result in a Supreme Court case. This is good news to anyone who ever found himself at a dinner or a meeting and was peremptorily told to bow his head in prayer, in total disregard of his religious proclivities. While I am certain that I was not the only person who was made to feel uncomfortable for that moment when he was told to pray, I was probably the only one who wanted to object in some way. It is an affront to be told to participate in an activity that I do not practice, and it is insulting that the person presiding should be so oblivious as to not expect anyone to take offense.

Since the Wisconsin decision, both sides in the debate have been expounding on their interpretations of the words of the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment. Whatever the meaning behind those remarkably explicit words Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, the fact remains that it was religious freedom that brought so many of the first settlers to America - the freedom to worship however they pleased without anyone restricting them because their devotions were at variance with established practice.

I have made my opinions about religion abundantly clear on this blog. But while I believe that such books as Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great are necessary, they are only a first step. Once you have settled the problem of God, you are left with the problem of what to do with the void that is left in your spiritual life - assuming you have one. I do not believe that it is like an appendix, and can be removed without ill effects. Once you have amputated the unwanted limb of religion, some kind of prosthesis should be found to replace it.

When Marx wrote his famous line about religion being "the opium of the people," he wrote that line in the context of his definition of religion, which he called "the cry of the soul in a soulless world." Marx knew that religious faith provided millions of people with some kind of explanation or reason for existence. For one thing, it provides a sense of relief that there is an explanation or reason at all for being alive.

When I was a boy, prayer was nothing more than yet another means of making me feel miserable. Since I felt nothing when I prayed, I felt that I must not have been doing it right. What could a boy possibly say to his parents and teachers when he talked to God and God did not answer? When I received my first communion, I waited until I had returned to my seat and, still kneeling down, I removed the host from my mouth and examined it. A fellow student saw me commit this heinous act and reported me to one of the nuns (how quickly we all learn to inform on one another!). The nun wondered if I had got Jesus on my fingers.

I harbor a personal grievance against the Christian derivative known as "Born Again," since they got their hands on the 14-year-old son of a woman very dear to me and turned him into a perpetually prayer-spewing, Bible-thumping freak. I even tried to suggest to him a more civilized manner of prayer - the very one suggested by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount: "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." Worship can be a public activity, but prayer is purely personal. Since the boy evidently trusts and derives ego-gratification from his fellow freaks, he did not take my advice, and continues to make a complete fool of himself for Jesus.

There are quite enough reasons for hating religion without the U.S. government trampling on the First Amendment in its name.

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