Friday, May 07, 2010

Pray, Or Not

There are some blog postings about extremely important issues; some about very important issues; some about important issues; some about fairly important issues. And then there is this post, prompted by the following development:

The 59th annual National Day of Prayer was held Thursday against a backdrop of controversy and growing doubts about the future of the event, which a federal judge recently declared unconstitutional.

President Truman signed a bill establishing an official National Day of Prayer in 1952, but U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin ruled April 15 that the law violates the ban on government-backed religion.

The Justice Department is appealing the case on behalf of the White House. An injunction against the National Day of Prayer will not take effect until all government appeals have been exhausted.

At the risk of offending both the left and the religious right: it does not matter.

Art Moore of World Net Daily, as appearing in ("apostolic kingdom revival"), reports that Judge Crabb wrote the National Day of Prayer

goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.

No, not really. On April 30, President Obama issued the proclamation of
The National Day of Prayer to

call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.

He asks that citizens "pray or otherwise give thanks in accordance with their own faiths and consciences." We're not being encouraged even to pray; we may "otherwise give thanks." This does not sound like a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits an establishment of religion.

Neither does "asking for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us" violate the First Amendment or, for that matter, mean much of anything. Judge Crabbe interprets this as "a call for religious action on the part of citizens," presumably because we are asking for God's help. Helpfully, wikipedia notes

The Abrahamic conceptions of God include the monotheistic definition of God in Judaism, the trinitarian view of Christians, and the Islamic concept of God. The dharmic religions differ in their view of the divine: views of God in Hinduism vary by region, sect, and caste, ranging from monotheistic to polytheistic to atheistic; the view of God in Buddhism is almost non-theist. In modern times, some more abstract concepts have been developed, such as process theology and open theism. Conceptions of God held by individual believers vary so widely that there is no clear consensus on the nature of God.

So no matter what your, or my, concept of God is, the concept does vary widely. That may be good, that may be bad, but it is. (If everyone's concept of God were the same as mine, that would be good. But then you're thinking that if everyone's concept of God were the same as yours, that would be good.) The proclamation for the National Day of Prayer, then, calls upon each of us to request of whomever, or whatever, we wish to assist us as we wish. If that sounds vague or meaningless, well, I didn't write it.

The National Day of Prayer, no doubt very popular (unavoidably so, given that an individual can interpret it in any way he or she wants), does serve a psychic interest of the American people. For those disinterested, or too busy to attend a house of worship, it allows them to believe- nay, to feel- they are doing what they ought to do. Meanwhile, those who are devout may say (to themselves; communally might be considered rude) "so there!" in a socio-political equivalent of wearing an American flag pin in a nation in which almost everyone considers himself/herself an American.

Meanwhile, President Obama's Justice Department was only being sensible in appealing the decision of Judge Crabb. To do otherwise when a significant minority (mostly Republicans, a few Independents) of the population thinks you are a Muslim, or more ludicrously, a Socialist, would be politically nonsensical.

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