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National Day of Actually DOING Something

National Day of PrayerToday is the National Day of Prayer. How about a National Day of Actually Doing Something instead?

The president issued the obligatory proclamation today: “Americans have long turned to prayer both in times of joy and times of sorrow. … Prayer brings communities together and can be a wellspring of strength and support” and blah, blah, blah.

We’ve had a National Day of Prayer since 1952. What good has it done? In 1952, the world had 50 million cases of smallpox each year. Today, zero. Guinea worm and polio should soon follow. Computers? Cell phones? GPS? The internet? Science delivers, not God.

I can appreciate that praying to Jesus can help someone feel better, but so can praying to Shiva or Quetzalcoatl or whatever god they’ve been raised with. In terms of actual results, praying to Jesus is as effective as praying to a jug of milk.

I understand how the National Day of Prayer helps politicians suck up to Christians. But how it coexists with the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), I can’t imagine.

Julia Sweeney’s departure from Christianity

My own departure from Christianity was pretty gentle, and I learned a lot from the painful road taken by Julia Sweeney (creator of “Letting Go of God”). As she gradually fell away from first Catholicism, then Christianity, and finally religion, she realized with a shock how ineffective prayer had been. Prayer lets you imagine that you’re doing something when you’re actually doing absolutely nothing. All that prayer that had helped her feel like she was helping people—whether the person on hard times down the street or the city devastated by natural disaster around the world—had been worthless.

In fact, not only does prayer do nothing in cases like this, but it is actually harmful. The pain that people naturally feel when they hear of disaster—that emotion that could be the motivator for action—is drained away by prayer. Why bother doing something yourself when God is so much more capable?

Prayer becomes an abdication of responsibility, and atheism can open the doors to action.

Where help actually comes from

Sweeney’s conclusion: if you want to help the victims of the tsunami in Haiti (or whatever the latest disaster is), you need to do something since God clearly isn’t doing anything. Contribute to a charity that will help, or demand that the federal government spend more to help and demand the tax increase to pay for it. If it’s a sick friend, Jesus isn’t going to take them soup and cheer them up … but you can.

Prayer doesn’t “work” like other things work. Electricity works. An antibiotic works. Prayer doesn’t. As the bumper sticker says, Nothing Fails Like Prayer.

Even televangelists make clear that prayer is useless. Their shows are just long infomercials that end with a direct appeal in two parts: please pray for us, and send lots and lots of cash. But what possible value could my $20 provide compared to what the almighty Creator of the universe could do?

Televangelists’ appeals for money make clear that they know what I know: that praying is like waiting for the Great Pumpkin. People can reliably deliver money, but prayer doesn’t deliver anything.

Instead of a National Day of Prayer, how about a National Day of Actually Doing Something? Many local United Way offices organize a Day of Caring—what about something like that on a national level?

Doing something makes you feel good, just like prayer, but it actually delivers the results.

Prayer is like masturbation.
It makes you feel good but it doesn’t change the world.
Don Baker

 

(This is a modified version of an article originally posted 5/3/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

    But how it coexists with the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), I can’t imagine.

    Because asking people to pray does not establish a religion.

    In fact, not only does prayer do nothing in cases like this, but it is actually harmful. The pain that people naturally feel when they hear of disaster—that emotion that could be the motivator for action—is drained away by prayer. Why bother doing something yourself when God is so much more capable?

    Do you have evidence that people who pray are less charitable?

    • http://www.facebook.com/carol.lynn.710 Carol Lynn

      People who pray tend to give their charitable money to churches – who have a dismal rate of return of actual help to people who need it compared to how it is spent on the church and its personnel. Look through the four-star charities on Charity Navigator and compare how many are secular to how many are religion based. Secular charities predominate 9 to 1 in the top 10 charities with the most consecutive 4-star ratings. If you want your charitable money used well, in general a secular charity will use your money to help more people, more efficiently. Calling a donation to your own church “giving to charity” and equating it with actually helping someone in need is often disingenuous.

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        Carol, you’ve provide no more hard evidence than Bob. How much time and money do people who pray donate? How much time and money do people who do not pray donate?

        • http://www.facebook.com/carol.lynn.710 Carol Lynn

          A reply with links is caught in moderation, I think. It’s hard to get statistics, since the majority of people who donate through religious organizations are clearly labeled as religious, religious congregations often have a lot of social pressure to donate money to various religious causes and to broadly announce that you have done so, and religious people count the money they give to their churches as charitable donations. Secular organizations don’t usually keep track of the religious affiliation or lack thereof of the people who donate to them and nonreligious people are rarely asked how generous they are and often are anonymous. Free Inquiry magazine has several relevant articles that you can search for until the moderated post shows up. Look for “Are Secularists Less Generous” and “Research ReportL How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States”

          “We recognize that there is a lot of variation in how much religions engage in charitable work, and we don’t want to discourage religions from doing so. However, comparing their charitable giving to the performance of secular charities is informative. The American Red Cross spends 92.1 percent of its revenue directly addressing the physical needs of those it intends to help; only 7.9 percent is spent on “operating expenses.” If you use a generous 50 percent cutoff for indicating whether an institution is primarily a charitable organization or not (that is, they spend more than 50 percent of revenue on charitable work addressing physical needs), we doubt there is a single religion in the world that would actually qualify as a charitable organization.”

          “One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions”

        • primenumbers

          Denoting money that goes towards proselytization isn’t charity but selfish interest.

    • Kodie

      Why does the government need to establish a preference for prayer and lead the country in doing it? I thought it was a relationship, that’s personal. The government telling you it’s time to pray, that should offend you, since it’s infringing on your beliefs. The government should assume anyone who prays is on their own schedule, thank you very much, and doesn’t need the government to tell them to do it and when.

      Next is what are they all praying for? Is it time for the government to give you an agenda for your prayer? They are taking your religious beliefs and borrowing you for a moment to pray for something they think should be prayed for. The government is making suggestions for your prayer. It’s your prayer! How dare they!

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        Why does the government need to establish a preference for prayer and lead the country in doing it?

        I’m not arguing that they need to. I’m merely pointing out it is not unconstitutional.

        The government telling you it’s time to pray, that should offend you, since it’s infringing on your beliefs.

        LOL. Why would I be offended? If I don’t like it I don’t have to do anything. End of story. Move on.

        The government is making suggestions for your prayer. It’s your prayer! How dare they!

        Please tell me this is tongue in cheek. A friend with cancer is making suggestions for my prayers. It’s my prayer! How dare they!

        • Kodie

          How does the 1st Amendment apply to your friend’s request? It doesn’t.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          How does the 1st Amendment apply to the government’s request? It doesn’t.

        • Kodie

          The government advocating for prayer as a means to achieve anything is the establishment of religion. That’s illegal. The government advocating for prayer as something the whole country should JOIN THEM in doing is the establishment of religion. Why are you so horny for the government to intrude on your personal relationship with your god? You shouldn’t be. You can believe what you like, freely, without the government infringing on your beliefs, and that is great! Once the government sets foot between you and god, you should have a problem with that. The only reason you like it is because it’s nominally Christian. If they were saying to lay out a mat and pray 5 times to the East on the National Day of Prayer, you would have a riot attack. They’re not allowed to tell you TO PRAY, HOW TO PRAY, or WHAT TO PRAY ABOUT. It IS, by the 1st amendment, seriously none of their business. It is your business, your freedom, and your beliefs in your god. Government is not invited. Why do you want them there? You want them there to prove they PREFER your beliefs over my lack of belief. Secularism just means it’s none of their business what you do with your beliefs.

          EDIT: This is a point I think most Christians are being total idiots about.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Why are you so horny for the government to intrude on your personal relationship with your god?

          It’s a non-issue for me either way, whether there is a NDOP or not.

          Once the government sets foot between you and god, you should have a problem with that.

          Yes, but the NDOP does not set foot between me and God.

          The only reason you like it is because it’s nominally Christian.

          I’m indifferent to the NDOP.

          If they were saying to lay out a mat and pray 5 times to the East on the National Day of Prayer, you would have a riot attack.

          As long as it’s a request we can ignore it. The only people getting emotional here are atheists.

          They’re not allowed to tell you TO PRAY, HOW TO PRAY, or WHAT TO PRAY ABOUT.

          But they can make a request.

          Why do you want them there? You want them there to prove they PREFER your beliefs over my lack of belief.

          Who says I want them there?

          This is a point I think most Christians are being total idiots about.

          Yet you’re misrepresenting the NDOP and ascribing beliefs to me I don’t hold.

        • Kodie

          I think you’re a liar. If the government suggested a Muslim style prayer, all of a sudden people would be getting emotional. Christians who believe this is a Christian nation and we only support Christian prayer would have a serious fucking problem with that. “As long as it’s a request, we can ignore it.” Do you understand the difference between zero opinion about religion (as government should have) and the addition of an unnecessary suggestion to ONLY people who already pray anyway?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Bringing up the topic itself, a day where the government acknowledges religion and celebrates prayer itself, is not in the government’s sphere, do you not understand?

          Do you not understand that that is not the establishment of religion?

          I think you’re a liar.

          Maybe I’m not as emotional as you are.

          If the government suggested a Muslim style prayer, all of a sudden people would be getting emotional.

          Yes, some people would have a problem with it. I wouldn’t care.

          Do you understand the difference between zero opinion about religion (as government should have) and the addition of an unnecessary suggestion to ONLY people who already pray anyway?

          I understand the difference. It’s just that it does not make the NDOP unconstitutional.

        • Kodie

          Tell me what you think the establishment of religion is then.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Obviously it could take many forms. An NDOP that forced people to pray, or legally rewarded them for praying, or legally punished them for not praying would be some examples.

        • Kodie

          Establishing a preference for people who pray by setting aside time to acknowledge and address them and celebrate doing nothing but talking to themselves adds to the mindset that this is a Christian nation, not a neutral-with-respect-to-religion nation. It is a small ceremonial act that can just as easily be omitted. If it were omitted, you want to see people get emotional? Wherever religious symbolism is removed to uphold secular neutrality in government function, practice, or property, Christians get stupid emotional. From taking the Pledge of Allegiance out of public meetings, to taking Christian prayers out of high school graduation ceremonies, to taking 10 Commandment plaques out of courthouses, to taking religious-themed plays and songs out of public school holiday concerts, to taking “IN GOD WE TRUST” off of the money, NEUTRALITY on the subject of religion causes the tears to run so hard. Wailing like you’ve never seen. People think the US is a Christian nation because of all the obvious preferential symbolic gestures. We’re not even getting to the actual subjects of Marriage Equality and abortion rights, because all those symbolic gestures lead people to believe their beliefs are preferred and that all the laws have to reflect their irrational beliefs too. I would prefer my government make laws that have a rational basis, not a sentimental, ignorant basis.

          You are being so fucking thick about this because you are not “harmed” by one simple act that you can easily ignore. It is not one simple act that WE can easily ignore because it has actual repercussions that have no place here. Suggesting to the populace that yesterday is a good day to put your hands together and look to the sky and make a wish is fucking ridiculous. That’s your pastor’s job, not the president’s.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Establishing a preference for people who pray by setting aside time to acknowledge and address them and celebrate doing nothing but talking to themselves adds to the mindset that this is a Christian nation, not a neutral-with-respect-to-religious nation.

          It’s hard to see how the NDOP adds to the mindset that this is a Christian nation when people of any religion can pray.

          If it were omitted, you want to see people get emotional? Wherever religious symbolism is removed to uphold secular neutrality in government function, practice, or property, Christians get stupid emotional.

          I agree that can happen. It doesn’t change the fact that many atheists act similarly.

          You are being so fucking thick about this because you are not “harmed” by one simple act that you can easily ignore. It is not one simple act that WE can easily ignore because it has actual repercussions that have no place here.

          Perhaps you’re just making an incredibly weak case. You’re commenting on far more than just the NDOP.

        • Kodie

          It doesn’t stand by itself as an infringement of the establishment clause. Why not just get rid of it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          It’s hard to see how the NDOP adds to the mindset that this is a Christian nation when people of any religion can pray.

          And it’s hard to see how anyone could see any differently when the prayer itself tells us that we will be able to “see the Lord’s healing and renewing power made manifest as we call on citizens to humbly come before His throne.”

          Hindus will be comfortable with that? Scientologists and Wiccans? Sounds pretty Christian to me.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a privately funded organization. They can pray any way they like. Likewise, Hindus, Scientologists, and Wiccans can have their own task forces and ceremonies. Atheists have even created a National Day of Reason to coincide with the NDOP.

    • primenumbers

      “Because asking people to pray does not establish a religion.” – The 1st doesn’t say “establishment of a religion” but “establishment of religion”, see?

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        I don’t see how that makes a difference to the constitutionality of the Day of Prayer.

        • primenumbers

          Yup, day of prayer is unconstitutional either way.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          On what basis? How does a request establish anything?

        • primenumbers

          Religion is established to any extent when it is given privilege either through custom or law by government.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          I’m not sure how the NDOP privileges religion in any legally relevant sense.

        • primenumbers

          So you see that it privileges religion, but are not sure on the legal relevance? Well, if it privileges religion, it’s “establishment of religion”, and the legal relevance is that it’s illegal.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          So you see that it privileges religion, but are not sure on the legal relevance?

          Actually, I’m not sure how it privileges religion either. I’m trying to get you to spell out what the actual problem is.

        • primenumbers

          Through the day of prayer, government promotes religion. That is a privilege for religion. It’s quite simple.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          You still need to show that promotion equals establishing.

        • primenumbers

          The bar for breaking the 1st is not to explicitly establish a church, like the CofE is the established church of England, but to respect the establishment of religion, which promotion does indeed equal.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          According to Wikipedia:

          The panel ruled that FFRF did not have standing to sue because the National Day of Prayer had not caused them harm and stated that “a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.” The court further stated that “the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens’ rights.”

        • primenumbers

          The Supremes are mostly religious and utterly blinkered with respect to the harm and alienation that such NDOP causes. When atheists are the most hated minority in the USA, this all just makes things worse. That they cite lack of standing is typical of their lack of will to actually uphold the constitution on matters of religion, letting the powers that be get away with practically anything that promotes religion.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          But aren’t atheists hated, in part, because of groups like the FFRF? Do we really want a “feeling of alienation” to be the basis of laws?

        • primenumbers

          Yes, Christians breaking the rules all the time, thus causing Jews, atheists, FRRF and all non-Christians to sue them could indeed be seen as bringing hatred on themselves. And the Jews killed Christ and brought hatred on themselves – the Holocaust was their own fault, wasn’t it?

          No let’s blame those hate filled Christians for spreading their hatred, and governments that privilege them and appease them in their hatred, their discrimination and their bigotry.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Yes, Christians breaking the rules all the time, thus causing Jews, atheists, FRRF and all non-Christians to sue them could indeed be seen as bringing hatred on themselves.

          No, frivolous lawsuits by the FFRF is what draws ire. And plenty of non-Christians participate in the NDOP too.

          And the Jews killed Christ and brought hatred on themselves – the Holocaust was their own fault, wasn’t it?

          No. You’re just emoting because you have no rational case.

        • Kodie

          You have no basis of an argument:

          “I am Jayman. I don’t care what the government does. If they say pray, I don’t have to. I can just ignore it.” If you are complaining about “frivolous” lawsuits, why aren’t you complaining about frivolous celebratory days favoring prayer?

          Wouldn’t it be cool if the government didn’t spend the effort to celebrate prayer when they shouldn’t without being explained to? I also see it as a bad thing if our government is run by people as block-headed as you on the subject. NO special day of prayer costs less than A special day of prayer, and as Bob explains, prayer is frivolous. It accomplishes nothing. It serves no one. Why is government not only breaking the law, but supporting a bullshit superstitious thing to do? Helping people actually helps them. Chanting is ineffective.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          If you are complaining about “frivolous” lawsuits, why aren’t you complaining about frivolous celebratory days favoring prayer?

          Because it would be a waste of time.

          Wouldn’t it be cool if the government didn’t spend the effort to celebrate prayer when they shouldn’t without being explained to?

          I would have no problem with the government not having a NDOP. But that is a matter for the legislature, not the courts.

        • Kodie

          The National Day of Prayer is frivolous and illegal. Why can’t someone just go, oh, you know what? They’re right. Let’s not do this next year. Ok. I hate that MY government stands like a stone wall such that they can level an accusation of “frivolous” against an organization pointing out what they are doing is also frivolous. All they have to do is not do it anymore. Do they need a thousand hours of consideration? That’s another clue they prefer their nod to Christianity to no nod.

        • primenumbers

          No, they’re not frivolous as often minor Christian infractions are used to support later major ones by appeal to “we’ve always done this with no complaint”. The rational case here is that Christians break the rules, that atheists are hated, and that government promotion of religion enforces the privileges of religion and entrenches hatred and discrimination against atheists. The comparison to the case of tradition Christian hatred of the Jew and where it lead to is just to point out that you’re blaming the victim.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Except being asked to pray doesn’t make you a victim. A real atheist victim is like the guy in Bangladesh who is facing jail time.

        • primenumbers

          Just because someone is more victimized doesn’t make the atheists in the USA less worthy of equality before the law.

          That said, the 1st amendment doesn’t say that it can be broken if “no harm” is done by breaking it, or that the harm is minimal. It says what the government cannot do. That the Supremes play the “standing” game is sickening as it basically gets them off the hook from having to stick their necks out and actually say that the government broke the rules.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Just because someone is more victimized doesn’t make the atheists in the USA less worthy of equality before the law.

          I didn’t say that. I said being asked to pray does not make you a victim.

          That the Supremes play the “standing” game is sickening as it basically gets them off the hook from having to stick their necks out and actually say that the government broke the rules.

          The ruling I referenced was not made by SCOTUS.

        • primenumbers

          Courts in general, including the supremes play the “no standing game”.

          ” I said being asked to pray does not make you a victim.” – sure if you’re part of the privileged Christian majority and don’t care that rules that govern how the government must behave are being broken.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Courts in general, including the supremes play the “no standing game”.

          I’m not a fan on the “no standing” game either.

          sure if you’re part of the privileged Christian majority and don’t care that rules that govern how the government must behave are being broken.

          You’ve yet to spell out how you’re victimized by the NDOP. Your claims that it establishes religion are unconvincing.

        • primenumbers

          The NDOP respects the establishment of religion by giving religion privilege. We don’t need to be physically harmed by it for it to be against the constitution. Although the promotion and appeasement of religion and the simultaneous lack of support for atheists engenders and condones an anti-atheist environment and that can be seen as harming atheists, that’s not the essential point which is that what the government is doing is promoting religion against the rules.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          prime:

          No, they’re not frivolous as often minor Christian infractions are used to support later major ones by appeal to “we’ve always done this with no complaint”.

          Great point. The (unfortunate) lesson from some court cases is that if you don’t want precedent set, you must raise the alarm for even small infractions.

          Imagine a day when believers realized that First Amendment is their best friend as well and avoided infringement …

        • primenumbers

          The fundamental principle of secularism that everyone is equal under the law regardless of belief or lack or belief and no special privileges based on belief or lack of belief is something that most people, atheist and religious alike can get behind as it protects everyone equally.

        • Kodie

          Aren’t atheists hated in part because groups such as the FFRF contest the government breaking its own laws? It’s like you want to ignore the 1st amendment. It was placed there to keep any one of any religious belief or category, as atheism is, from that exact feeling of alienation. Freedom is for all, disenfranchising one’s citizens is never ok and must always be striven to correct, so thank the FFRF and other organizations for making you hate atheists for the stupidest reason I ever heard of. You have the opinion of someone who hates freedom and hates America. Christians hate America when they hate atheists for upholding the 1st Amendment, and it’s not to punish Christians for being a majority. It’s to uphold your rights too, without government preferring your religion, you are MORE free, not less. Only an idiot doesn’t see that, because their beliefs ARE clearly preferred by the government.

          When you feel the government prefers A religion to NO religion, or ONE religion over EVERY OTHER religion, you no longer feel enfranchised in your own country. You seem to have no idea what that might feel like, since your own beliefs are preferred, you don’t notice the breaking of the law. Aren’t atheists hated for not just adjusting adequately to being treated like a subclass by our own government despite their explicit written intention established in the LAW OF THE LAND never to do that?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          It’s like you want to ignore the 1st amendment. It was placed there to keep any one of any religious belief or category, as atheism is, from that exact feeling of alienation.

          Can you quote a Founding Father who cites alienation as the reason for the First Amendment?

          Freedom is for all, disenfranchising one’s citizens is never ok

          Except the NDOP doesn’t restrict anyone’s freedom nor does it disenfranchise anybody. So the FFRF is making a frivolous case. The fact that you have to continually resort to exaggeration shows how weak your case is on legal grounds.

          You seem to have no idea what that might feel like, since your own beliefs are preferred, you don’t notice the breaking of the law.

          And you seem to have no idea what real loss of freedom and disenfranchisement is. My beliefs in plenty of areas are not preferred by the government. I don’t think that means I am disenfranchised.

          Aren’t atheists hated for not just adjusting adequately to being treated like a subclass by our own government

          How are atheists a sub-class?

        • Kodie

          My government expresses an overt preference to a style of Christian religion, and Christian citizens feel superior and a false belief that their morals are preferred in law. It gives Christian citizens the extra notion that their government prefers them to me, to which they respond by trying to enact other laws that not only prefer their beliefs but take them into account – like not allowing gay people to marry. The 1st amendment was drafted expressly to keep people’s conscience in their personal beliefs free from the intrusion of a government body. Why do you want the government at all expressing an interference in your beliefs? I mean, even if they align with your beliefs, why do you think it’s their business? Just look how when they believe that Obama is a Muslim, that being a Muslim is unacceptable? Why should a Muslim (and he’s not one) president be unacceptable with regard to the 1st amendment? Only because our US government tramples the 1st amendment by offering many, many clues and winks and acceptances to give Christians the idea that any other religious beliefs aren’t acceptable or as acceptable as theirs.

          That’s why the government should get the hell out of religion at all. That’s not atheism, that’s secularism. That’s having zero opinion on the subject. Prayer would be ONE opinion more than zero, and so would making a suggestion to refrain from prayer. Neutrality keeps their beliefs out of yours. They can’t tell you what to think or suggest you to believe a certain way in order to gain preference. Clearly what they are doing now is making it at least practically appealing to become a Christian in order to become a member of the government-advocated group. That stands as an offensive act against all non-Christians. That comes between me and what I believe is actually true. That distresses me to address the government via the FFRF as to its effective non-neutrality and find they call such a complaint “frivolous”. To call that frivolous is to say out loud that atheists don’t count as much as Christians do.

          But you won’t get it.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Why do you want the government at all expressing an interference in your beliefs?

          I don’t want the government to interfere with my beliefs and asking me to pray does no such thing.

          That offends all non-Christians.

          Now you’re speaking for all non-Christian Americans? It’s hard to take you seriously when you exaggerate continuously.

          That comes between me and what I believe is actually true.

          You keep implying that but you haven’t shown that to be the case. All you’ve shown is that the NDOP makes you feel bad.

          To call that frivolous is to say out loud that atheists don’t count as much as Christians do. But you won’t get it.

          I won’t get it because you’re being irrational. You interpret “The lawsuit is frivolous because the NDOP is clearly constitutional” to mean “atheists don’t count as much as Christians do.”

        • Kodie

          NDOP, if it were only a quaint custom, which you seem to behold it as, would not be that big a deal. It’s one among a lot of infractions. Each infraction is too subtle to bother with! How convenient.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          The problem for your side is that this “infraction” isn’t an infraction at all. It’s something you don’t like about the government.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          All you’ve shown is that the NDOP makes you feel bad.

          Kodie can more than speak for herself, but for me, it’s not that “the NDOP makes [me] feel bad” but that spitting on the First Amendment (which I’m pretty sure protects you just like me) is what makes me feel bad.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          but for me, it’s not that “the NDOP makes [me] feel bad” but that spitting on the First Amendment (which I’m pretty sure protects you just like me) is what makes me feel bad.

          According to Wikipedia’s entry on the National Day of Prayer, George Washington declared a day of prayer. Washington signed the Constitution. Are we to believe that Washington misunderstood the First Amendment or that you misunderstand the First Amendment?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman: The Constitution as amended prohibits a NDoP. Politicians do what they have to do, I guess, even back to good ol’ George.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Kodie:

          Why do you want the government at all expressing an interference in your beliefs?

          Good question. The Christians can’t figure out how to pray on their own? They need some coaching or prodding by the president? And whatever happened “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”?

          Meh—that was Jesus. What did he know?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          Except the NDOP doesn’t restrict anyone’s freedom nor does it disenfranchise anybody.

          So you’d be fine with a NDOP that was overtly Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Scientologist. You’d be in the position of the atheist today, looking on from the outside but not feeling as if your rights are being stepped on.

          Is that right?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          So you’d be fine with a NDOP that was overtly Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Scientologist.

          First of all, Obama’s proclamation mentions giving thanks “in accordance with our own faiths and consciences”. Outside of his proclamation I’m not clear if any other statement or event is government sanctioned/endorsed. If that’s the case, then the NDOP is not overtly Christian and your hypothetical question is not analogous to current practice.

          As to your question, I don’t think it would be unconstitutional if the President said something like the following: “I join the citizens of our Nation in giving thanks, in accordance with our own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and in asking for God’s/Allah’s/Narayanan’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection.” In fact, I’d prefer the President to just state his personal beliefs there instead of trying to be politically correct. So, if the President was a Hindu, I wouldn’t expect him to fake it.

          You’d be in the position of the atheist today, looking on from the outside but not feeling as if your rights are being stepped on. Is that right?

          Strangely enough, 20% of self-identified atheists pray according to the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. But you are correct that I fail to see how declaring a day of prayer (to whomever) steps on my rights.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          First of all, Obama’s proclamation mentions giving thanks “in accordance with our own faiths and consciences”.

          The Constitution defines a secular public square, so you can see the big picture.

          But to your point: Obama talks about praying to “God.” Sounds overtly Christian to me, but if we pretend that “God” might not be a name but rather a title, that rules out the Hindus and anyone else who believes in more than one supernatural being. Of course, the atheists are beneath contempt, so let’s not worry about whether they’re annoyed or not.

          If that’s the case, then the NDOP is not overtly Christian and your hypothetical question is not analogous to current practice.

          As I mentioned before, the official prayer contains, “see the Lord’s healing and renewing power made manifest as we call on citizens to humbly come before His throne.” Sounds overtly Christian to me.

          Anyway, this doesn’t answer my question. I’m asking if you’d welcome an overtly [fill in blank with religion] prayer instead of a Christian one. Maybe we mix it up? Even years get Christian prayers and odd years get a guest religion? Would that work for you?

          Strangely enough, 20% of self-identified atheists pray according to the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

          I couldn’t find that statistic. Show me.

          But if you’re right, that just goes to show you that even smart people like atheists aren’t perfect, I guess.

        • Kodie

          It’s not only establishing that prayer is something the government has any business encouraging (it does not), it is infringing on everyone’s religious beliefs by stepping into the issue. Why do you want the government to celebrate your beliefs particularly? Can you pray without their help, and shouldn’t you be worried when the government wants to tell you how to pray?

          I don’t know why everyone hates the government telling them what to do and infringing all their personal freedoms all the time, but you are just fine with them telling you how to use your personal beliefs. You no longer have freedom to practice your religion freely, i.e. between you and your god, the second the government endorses prayer. That’s an unnecessary and illegal intrusion.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          it is infringing on everyone’s religious beliefs by stepping into the issue.

          How does it infringe on anyone’s beliefs? You are free to believe what you like.

          Why do you want the government to celebrate your beliefs particularly?

          Where did I say I want the government to celebrate my beliefs? I’m merely saying the NDOP is not unconstitutional.

          Can you pray without their help, and shouldn’t you be worried when the government wants to tell you how to pray?

          I’ll be worried when the government forces anyone to pray. I’m no more worried about the government asking me to pray than I am worried about the government asking me not to not smoke.

          You no longer have freedom to practice your religion freely, i.e. between you and your god, the second the government endorses prayer.

          What are you talking about? You make it sound like the government is forcing me to go to church or recite a prayer they have written out.

        • Kodie

          Religion, religious beliefs, and religious rituals as distinctly, made by the 1st amendment, outside of the government’s business or influence. Bringing up the topic itself, a day where the government acknowledges religion and celebrates prayer itself, is not in the government’s sphere, do you not understand? It is entirely a human right and a constitutional freedom to believe what you like. As I predicted, though, you are being an idiot. You are making an exception because government does exert its powers outside its sphere of concern to do something you approve of, while it is notably, specifically prohibited by the 1st clause of the 1st amendment to the original Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Not added later. Cigarette smoking is not in the Constitution at all. That’s not your first straw man. If the government told you today is the day we’re abstaining from bacon, you’d say “what business is it of theirs that they are spending time and money even starting to tell people what to eat?” If veganism was celebrated one day out of the year by the government, people would mind the government expression of an official opinion about that, even though it doesn’t officially prevent them from buying, cooking, eating, and enjoying bacon the whole damn day.

          And you better believe that people don’t like government telling them what to do. You don’t see this from another perspective? Like I said, you’re going to persist in being idiotic.

    • Sue Blue

      Five minutes spent in prayer are five minutes you could have been sending some money to relief workers in disaster areas. It’s five minutes you could have given down at the homeless shelter. It’s five minutes you could have spent listening to a troubled person instead of brushing them off with “I’ll pray for you.” It’s five minutes you, and everyone you could have actually helped, will never get back.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

        Sue B: The five minutes one spends in prayer helps drain away the desire to help people. And why not? You’ve already helped. You’ve let the Big Man know that you’d like him to work on this problem.
        Instead of actually getting off the couch and doing something about it.

        • Kodie

          And if it’s not his will, it’s not his will! He’s not Santa Claus!

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Sounds to me like Julia Sweeny never learned to pray either. But that’s not surprising because I’ve yet to meet an atheist who actually learned to obey instead of just dissent.

    • Kodie

      So you don’t think prayer works either. Why is it so hard to learn to pray and get nothing and still believe that you’re doing anything?

      • Baby_Raptor

        No, he just thinks that only he knows how to do it right, and those of us who believe that prayer does nothing are doing it wrong.

        He’s pulling your typical No True Scottsman.

        • Kodie

          In a nutshell, he agrees that prayer doesn’t work. There’s a whole rationale about why it can’t work. Even though sometimes it does “work”. You can ask god to win the Powerball and then win the Powerball. I am certain that even though they say it doesn’t work (“that way”), they still pray for things they want and don’t deserve, just in case, and statistically, people do get exactly the outcome they wished god for to get. When they don’t get it, they make up some sour grapes, like I wouldn’t know what to do with all that money anyway, or my relative didn’t make it out of surgery so will be in heaven, and everything that happens is what god wanted to happen. Let’s accept that everything is god’s way and praying to change the outcomes on whatever he wants “works” because nothing changes from what would have happened anyway.

          What I just now realize is that they still think this is a conversation. God can I have a job? God says yes or god says no. They are still receiving the no as if it is the other side of an actual conversation. No? Ok, god, you know best! Thanks, I didn’t know not having a job was better than having a job.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        No, I’m saying if you actually learn to pray correctly, you will ALWAYS get something. It just is rarely-to-never the thing you think you want, but it is always what you need.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: And how do you explain how the Bible gets prayer so terribly wrong?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          It doesn’t. You do. Don’t blame your lack of understanding on the textbook. Especially when you’re prooftexting the textbook like some little religious fundamentalist sect.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: Simply stating your position again doesn’t help me. This is little more than, “Nuh uh!!”

          I wrote a blog post to explain my position; give me some reason to accept yours.

        • Kodie

          You will always get the delusion that someone is doing your thinking for you, and on top of that, consider those thoughts infallible. That’s actually very scary, Ted.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          So people who pray for health and then later catch malaria really need malaria more? Or is it just that people who live in malaria-ridden areas happen to be on average much worse at praying?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Or there is a purpose to malaria that goes beyond individual suffering. Or the malaria death is incidental to the third cousin who in his grief, forgives the uncle of the person who died. But hey, can’t possibly consider that there is a greater good at work, can we.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          But hey, can’t possibly consider that there is a greater good at work, can we.

          Sure, let’s consider the possibility. But let’s also consider the possibility that prayer to Yahweh is as effective as Druids’ prayers to trees, and that believers are just fooling themselves. That’s certainly where the evidence points. Prayer obviously doesn’t work as promised in the New Testament.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Then you haven’t actually seriously considered the possibility.

          A huge problem with atheist/Catholic discussions is exactly that, and due to the new Strange Notions blog, yes, I blogged about it.

          http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/05/fundamentalist-atheism.html

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          Fundamentalist Atheism starts with the assumption that the supernatural doesn’t exist and that the natural world is all there is, and runs with it, denying any data to the contrary.

          I don’t know who you imagine you’re talking to, but this isn’t me.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          If you deny that, then you deny the very center of the hard atheist worldview- and it means you are willing to accept the concept of *prayer changing your mind*.

          If so, then maybe you should start with the atheist parts of what this conversation (and several others over the last six months) urged me to write this morning.

          http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-chaplet-of-tarski-fatima.html

          The constant denial of eyewitness evidence to the supernatural, is what led me to write that original article- well that, and the Strange Notion (pun fully intended) that atheists are reasonable.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: I don’t remember meeting any atheist who was convinced that they had it all figured out and refused to listen to evidence from a believer.

          Are the gospels eyewitness accounts? Sure doesn’t look like it, but if there’s evidence I haven’t heard, I’d be interested to hear it. Search for “eyewitness” and you’ll see that I’ve written quite a bit about that already.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Funny, I’ve run into several in this thread alone who claim that because *they* don’t experience something during prayer, that must mean *nobody* experiences anything during prayer.

          Of the Gospels, only one is truly an eyewitness account (Matthew). Mark is secondhand knowledge from Peter, Luke (and Acts, which is Luke Part II) is a series of interviews of eyewitnesses, and while John was an eyewitness, it is a memoir written maybe a late as 110 A.D., the memories of a very old man remembering events when he was a teenager with a lot of time as a Bishop in between.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          Of the Gospels, only one is truly an eyewitness account (Matthew).

          What’s your evidence?

          He doesn’t claim to be an eyewitness. He copies from Mark (something an eyewitness wouldn’t do). And the attachment of Matthew as the author to that gospel is quite late.

          Once you’ve established the easy one, we can move on to the other gospels.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          In the 2000 years of Church records and study into this subject, of which you seem to want to reject just for the fun of rejecting.

          If you want the easy answer, which I normally don’t give (I figure people should at least bother to do basic leg work on their own) it is because Matthew is in the list of the Apostles and we know that his body is in Naples. Other religions and cultures also attest to Matthew being a disciple of Jesus, most notably the Babylonian Talmud.

          I did tell you I wasn’t a Biblical fundamentalist, didn’t I?

          But of course, rejecting *chains of eyewitness evidence* is no harder than a blanket rejection of eyewitness evidence, is it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          I figure people should at least bother to do basic leg work on their own

          You have no problem with basic leg work? Great. Watch my 3-minute video here.

          it is because Matthew is in the list of the Apostles and we know that his body is in Naples

          … and therefore we know that the first gospel was written by the apostle Matthew? That’s your argument?

          Maybe you don’t understand what I’m asking for. Or maybe any old evidence is good enough for you as long as it massages your presupposition.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          So your three minute video is a 404 error? That fits, somehow.

          “… and therefore we know that the first gospel was written by the apostle Matthew?”

          You said you wanted the quick answer, not the correct answer. The correct answer requires a four year degree in history at a university actually accredited by the Church.

          ” Or maybe any old evidence is good enough for you”

          Whether it massages my presupposition or not is immaterial. Any old evidence is good enough for me, because I am skeptical about my own skepticism.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          Oh, we can consider it alright. But keep in mind that the requirements for it actually being a “greater good” are pretty damn strict: not only does it have to outweigh the harm done by the malaria, but it has to be something that couldn’t be accomplished without all that suffering.

          Your “forgiving the uncle” example fails dramatically on both points.

          I also notice that you seem to have backed off from claiming that the benefit of the person who was praying was guaranteed (“it is always what you need”, emphasis added). Now apparently the benefit of any other person also qualifies as a successful prayer? You’re giving yourself a pretty low bar there.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          “But keep in mind that the requirements for it actually being a “greater good” are pretty damn strict: not only does it have to outweigh the harm done by the malaria, but it has to be something that couldn’t be accomplished without all that suffering.”

          Prove that without the act of the death bringing the family together to actually have a chance to talk, the forgiveness would have happened.

          Also, don’t forget that for the true believer, all things work for the best for those who love the lord and are called according to his purposes (and no, I’m not a religious fundamentalist, so even though I know that is a quote from the Bible, I’d have to do a google search to tell you where!)

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          Prove that without the act of the death bringing the family together to actually have a chance to talk, the forgiveness would have happened.

          It’s certainly not totally impossible for a family to be in a situation where the best possible event, out of all possible events in the entire universe, is the one where somebody dies horribly and slowly of malaria. Not impossible… but extremely unlikely.

          I’d expect much better out of even a human do-gooder, let alone someone who is effectively omniscient and omnipotent.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          The extremely unlikely is what makes it a coincidence; the forgiveness is what makes it a miracle. The cause doesn’t matter hardly at all.

          What you would expect, with your flawed and finite human brain, is less important than what is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          What you would expect, with your flawed and finite human brain, is less important than what is.

          And how are you going to know what is with your flawed and finite human brain?!

        • TheodoreSeeber

          You don’t. That’s why no Catholic in the Church militant ever rises above a 2 on that scale of theistic probability. To be a 1, you have to die first.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          If the cause doesn’t matter, why wasn’t a cause that didn’t involve horrible suffering and death used instead?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Because in my hypothetical, any lesser cause would not have brought the uncle and nephew into the same room. Instead, they’d just continue in their individual resentment.

          Don’t tell me you have never had any experience with family feuds that go on for decades.

        • TheodoreSeeber
        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          I don’t understand why that link’s relevant.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Get yourself a rosary, and pray the atheist part daily for a year, and maybe you will understand.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          The Atheists should respond “If I am shown evidence of the supernatural, let me not claim that it is not evidence.”

          Who do you think you’re talking to here? Take your caricature of atheists to somewhere where it’s valid. This certainly doesn’t apply to me. Unless you’re here only to reinforce your stereotype, you’re not going to learn anything with those presuppositions.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Are you saying you never claimed that a religious near-death experience was just a hallucination and you accept the idea that miracles exist, and that you now believe prayer actually does work? If so, I truly might not be talking about you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: You seem to have an odd dichotomy. I can either be closed minded, certain that I have it all figured out; or I accept miracles.
          I hope you’re sitting down because neither applies to me.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          The only way it doesn’t apply to you is if you have redefined “supernatural” as something other than “the superset of the natural that we have yet to figure out”.

          Pray tell what this strange definition of “supernatural” that you use is, you might find out I agree with you that it doesn’t exist because you made up a different definition.

    • trj

      If by “obey” you mean worship God and by “dissent” mean the opposite, then it’s not very surprising you’ve only met atheist dissenters.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        By “obey” I mean “listen and observe and discern truth and do it”. By “dissent” I mean “come up with a prejudicial and preconceived notion of how the world should run, and then search out data to try to force the world to be that way through persuasion of others”.

        • trj

          But since you will never accept that an atheist has discerned truth your characterization of atheists is simply a tautology.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          It is hard to discern truth when you reject data. Reductionism is incompatible with discerning truth. But that isn’t unique to ATHEISM at all.

        • trj

          Feel free to present the “data” we reject according to you.

          I’ll take a wild guess that the data consists of Bible references and anecdotes from Christians – IOW assertions that are unverifiable as data.

        • Kodie

          I have discerned truth that you are hearing nobody when you pray, but you believe it’s coming from outside of you. Who accuses atheists of wanting to be god? Theists do. Theists who pray and listen to their own thoughts and consider their own thoughts infallible. I don’t, on the other hand, think that I can never be wrong. You think you are god.

  • Mick

    Last night I prayed that I wouldn’t scurvy and today I haven’t got scurvy.

    Checkmate atheists.

    • Kodie

      I got scurvy. God works in mysterious ways.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

    Jayman:

    The proclamation, taken as a whole, clearly preserves the right for people to pray or not pray as they see fit.

    The proclamation is a clear violation of the Constitution’s clear and unambiguous separation of church and state.

    Pretty much everything the government does (or doesn’t do) annoys someone.

    I flatter myself to think that my annoyance at the Constitution being used for toilet paper is near the head of the line.

    Like with nearly everything else, you can work to change things through the democratic process.

    I don’t want change. I want the laws respected.

    Because you’re question is premised on false information.

    It’s a hypothetical. I’m asking you to imagine a possible future and then critique it. Simple, no?

    if a, say, Muslim President made reference to Allah in his proclamation that it wouldn’t bother me.

    Who cares what religion the president is? He’s the president, not the pastor. If I understand your position, you’re saying that you’re consistent. No favoritism for Christianity. If every public prayer within a government body (public schools, city halls, Congress, Supreme Court, and so on) were exclusively Muslim for a year (say, to redress the balance), you’d be cool with it.

    Do I understand your position?

    See here.

    I guess that shows you that some people don’t know what “atheist” means! Thanks for pointing that out.

    I’m still waiting for a certain smart atheist to provide evidence that prayer is harmful.

    I’ve said what I had to say in the post. If I wasn’t convincing there, I doubt I can explain it any better with a second try.

    • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

      The proclamation is a clear violation of the Constitution’s clear and unambiguous separation of church and state.

      The First Amendment is not unambiguous about the separation of church and state. There is a tension between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. You seem to stress the Establishment Clause more than the Free Exercise Clause.

      If every public prayer within a government body (public schools, city halls, Congress, Supreme Court, and so on) were exclusively Muslim for a year (say, to redress the balance), you’d be cool with it. Do I understand your position?

      Not necessarily, because I haven’t said I support the kinds of prayers you mention. For example, what do you mean by prayers in public schools? I’m against state-sponsored prayer in public schools but for the right of students to pray individually or in groups. Prayers prior to sessions of city halls, Congress, and the Supreme Court are trickier. In the case of city halls there may even be different kinds of practices across the country. Since the Founding Fathers seemed to accept prayers before Congress I can’t see that case as being unconstitutional.

      So, for the kinds of prayers I think pass legal muster, I have no problem with a Muslim prayer. I do have a problem with redressing the balance, however. I see the prayers as coming out of a democratic process. A city hall in Dearborn, MI may have more Muslim prayers. A city hall in Salt Lake City may have more Mormon prayers. A city hall in New York City may have more Jewish prayers. Precise balance is impossible. I would go with the will of the people.

      I’ve said what I had to say in the post. If I wasn’t convincing there, I doubt I can explain it any better with a second try.

      I was hoping for empirical support. If your hypothesis is correct, people who pray should be less charitable than people who don’t pray (all else being equal). I couldn’t find statistics specifically on prayer and charitable giving but I could find some statistics on religion and charitable giving. Assuming most religious people pray, the statistics seem to undermine your hypothesis.

      In “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving” Arthur C. Brooks makes a number of relevant points:

      “Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).”

      “The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer.”

      “Charity differences between religious and secular people persist if we look at the actual amounts of donations and volunteering. Indeed, measures of the dollars given and occasions volunteered per year produce a yawning gap between the groups. The average annual giving among the religious is $2,210, whereas it is $642 among the secular. Similarly, religious people volunteer an average of 12 times per year, while secular people volunteer an average of 5.8 times. To put this into perspective, religious people are 33 percent of the population but make 52 percent of donations and 45 percent of times volunteered. Secular people are 26 percent of the population but contribute 13 percent of the dollars and 17 percent of the times volunteered.”

      “Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68 percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). For example, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. It seems fair to say that religion engenders charity in general — including nonreligious charity.”

      • Kodie

        I see the prayers as coming out of a democratic process. A city hall in
        Dearborn, MI may have more Muslim prayers. A city hall in Salt Lake City
        may have more Mormon prayers. A city hall in New York City may have
        more Jewish prayers. Precise balance is impossible. I would go with the
        will of the people.

        That’s exactly why you’re wrong. It is about the freedom clause, as I started to say at the beginning. When you live in, say, Salt Lake City, and you aren’t a Mormon, you aren’t represented by YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT when they do things “the democratic way,” or “majority rule.” Every single person can pray at home, or to themselves, or in their house of worship, or outside before they come in. Prayer has no place in official business of government. The freedom of belief is taken from the minority when the majority feel they absolutely must officially pray during government business. Neutrality is easy – everyone can be free to pray when they want and feel no pressure or alienation from their government, which applies to the establishment clause.

        The clauses are not in conflict with each other. Where the necessity to pause while in official government session to pray, or encourage/invite/exert social pressures on everyone to pray, as a group arises, then there is a conflict. The minority of believers would be disenfranchised while abstaining, and the majority would be guilty of establishment.

        What I can’t figure out from theists is why prayer is essential to the business. It doesn’t do anything. All it does, effectively, is take “attendance” to see who is religious and who is not. If I said we had to start every meeting with a juggling act and a game of musical chairs, you’d definitely notice that intrusion as a complete waste of time. But prayer! That’s not silly at all!

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          When you live in, say, Salt Lake City, and you aren’t a Mormon, you aren’t represented by YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT when they do things “the democratic way,” or “majority rule.”

          Am I represented by my own government when they do things the democratic way on secular matters and I disagree with them?

          The freedom of belief is taken from the minority when the majority feel they absolutely must officially pray during government business.

          Except the freedom of belief is not taken away from the minority. If I, as a minority, listen to a Mormon prayer I do not have my beliefs taken away from me. Unless someone at the government function makes a persuasive argument, I am probably going to leave the function with the same beliefs I came in with. You claim that prayer doesn’t do anything so surely it can’t take your freedom of belief away from you.

          Also, is my freedom of belief taken away when the government takes a secular action I disagree with?

          The clauses are not in conflict with each other.

          The very history of the country on this very question shows how wrong you and Bob are. We don’t all have access to The One True Interpretation of the First Amendment. We all see it a little differently.

        • Kodie

          Am I represented by my own government when they do things the democratic way on secular matters and I disagree with them?

          Technically yes. You vote democratically for your representatives. If the person you voted for doesn’t win, and your representative doesn’t represent you, that is tough. The will of the people does not and should not carry over to religious conscience – that’s why there IS a 1st amendment. I am not the thought police to turn you atheist if you believe in god. Neither is your government. That is your freedom. But neither is your religious belief welcome to make the laws of the land. The government has to be free to make rational decisions without regarding your belief in zygote souls and that gay marriage is an abomination, for just a couple examples.

          False equivalence. You fail to uphold group “prayer” or “religious expression” as a necessary component to any town hall meeting, and you fail entirely on comprehending the 1st amendment and what it applies to. ENTIRELY.

          Your freedom of belief is taken away when it is insinuated that you belong to the majority or speak against their religion at your peril. That kind of threat has no business in our government and what the 1st amendment was written precisely for.

          The very history of the country on this very question shows how wrong you and Bob are. We don’t all have access to The One True Interpretation of the First Amendment. We all see it a little differently.

          Well you see it wrong. It works very easily if you just don’t have to have the government endorsing your magic show. You don’t require their endorsement to keep your beliefs, you require their endorsement to oppress the minority believers or non-believers in your community. Fuck you.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Technically yes. You vote democratically for your representatives. If the person you voted for doesn’t win, and your representative doesn’t represent you, that is tough.

          And the exact same argument can be turned around on you in regards to the NDOP.

          The will of the people does not and should not carry over to religious conscience – that’s why there IS a 1st amendment.

          And since the NDOP respects everyone’s conscience this argument fails to work for you (you didn’t answer my second question). You have no rational argument.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          Am I represented by by own government when they do things the democratic way on secular matters and I disagree with them?

          Like what?

          We’re always going to have disagreements on policy matters. I would’ve hoped that we could agree on what the Constitution allows, however.

          If I, as a minority, listen to a Mormon prayer I do not have my beliefs taken away from me. Unless someone at the government function makes a persuasive argument, I am probably going to leave the function with the same beliefs I came in with.

          You’re OK with proselytization from the government?! Doesn’t it simply seem reasonable to leave that to the churches (which the First Amendment takes pains to protect)?

          We don’t all have access to The One True Interpretation of the First Amendment. We all see it a little differently.

          We could get into this. I’d prefer to ask (with incredulity): why would you possibly want to interpret it any differently than I do? I want Mormon, Wiccan, and Satanist prayers out of any government-defined space for you and all you hold dear. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, I realize that you could tough it out and sit through a Scientologist prayer opening a city hall meeting or in your kid’s schoolroom, but why would you want to? Wouldn’t it simply make sense to have government-defined spaces religion free?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          I would’ve hoped that we could agree on what the Constitution allows, however.

          Seeing as the Constitution is not crystal clear and cases are continually being brought before the Supreme Court, this is a strange hope to have.

          You’re OK with proselytization from the government?! Doesn’t it simply seem reasonable to leave that to the churches (which the First Amendment takes pains to protect)?

          I don’t see prayer as proselytization since it doesn’t try to convert anyone. If you convince enough members of the city council not to have a prayer then there won’t be a prayer. Doesn’t bother me either way.

          why would you possibly want to interpret it any differently than I do?

          Because I try to be intellectually honest. This requires that I try to interpret the Constitution as it was intended by those who wrote it and not according to my wants. If I don’t like a law then I should push for its abolish or modification, not its reinterpretation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          Because I try to be intellectually honest. This requires that I try to interpret the Constitution as it was intended by those who wrote it and not according to my wants. If I don’t like a law then I should push for its abolish or modification, not its reinterpretation.

          Did you misunderstand my question? I’m not asking for your wishes to override what is the case; I’m asking what you’d want in society.
          Wouldn’t you prefer a society where prayers of any sort–not just Wiccan, Satanist, and Scientologist, but Christian as well–are kept out of the state-supported public square? You said earlier that you would accept a Muslim prayer from the president. OK, good for you for being consistent. Now I’m asking: would you like such a situation where your president does public religious activities? Wouldn’t you prefer that this stay out of government?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Bob:

          Wouldn’t you prefer a society where prayers of any sort–not just Wiccan, Satanist, and Scientologist, but Christian as well–are kept out of the state-supported public square?

          Yes, but I imagine we might disagree one what, exactly, counts as the state-sponsored public square.

          Now I’m asking: would you like such a situation where your president does public religious activities? Wouldn’t you prefer that this stay out of government?

          I would not want the president to do state-sponsored public religious activities. I think the president can be as publicly religious as he would like if it isn’t state-sponsored.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Jayman:

          I imagine we might disagree one what, exactly, counts as the state-sponsored public square.

          Really? It’s a wonder we’re able to communicate at all. I’d
          define it as any government building—public school, courthouse, legislative building, etc.

          I think the president can be as publicly
          religious as he would like if it isn’t state-sponsored.

          I agree. On his own time, he can do whatever he wants, I
          imagine. When he’s wearing his president hat, however, I think the Constitution constrains him. (Or, at least should constrain him.)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Kodie:

          When you live in, say, Salt Lake City, and you aren’t a Mormon, you aren’t represented by YOUR OWN GOVERNMENT when they do things “the democratic way,” or “majority rule.”

          And that was the whole point of the Bill of Rights. This country isn’t a democracy, and the majority sometimes doesn’t rule. Good thing, too. Almost all of us are a minority in some way.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

        Jayman:

        You seem to stress the Establishment Clause more than the Free Exercise Clause.

        I love the Free Exercise clause. You’re saying I’m making it a second-class clause? How?

        I’m against state-sponsored prayer in public schools but for the right of students to pray individually or in groups.

        Ditto. Then why are we on opposite sides of this question of the representative of the secular Constitution jumping in on the side of Christianity (or at least monotheism)?

        Prayers prior to sessions of city halls, Congress, and the Supreme Court are trickier.

        My own view (surprisingly, perhaps) is that these prayers are not as obviously prohibited according to the First Amendment. Doesn’t mean I like them, though.

        Since the Founding Fathers seemed to accept prayers before Congress I can’t see that case as being unconstitutional.

        So “constitutional” is the union of what the Constitution actually said and some set of traditions followed by the founding fathers? Seems an odd definition to me.

        So, for the kinds of prayers I think pass legal muster, I have no problem with a Muslim prayer.

        I wish you’d just answer the question directly, because now I have to repeat it again.

        Say the president (for a reason that you understand or don’t—I don’t care) decides to have a Muslim-focused prayer in 2014. Would that annoy you?

        people who pray should be less charitable than people who don’t pray (all else being equal).

        If we talk about religious vs. non-religious, whaddya know? This is indeed the case. The non-religious are more generous.

        I talked about that here.

        But why do you think this is my hypothesis? The point of the post was a combination of prayer not working and it’s a National Day of Prayer in a secular country is a bad idea.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          I love the Free Exercise clause. You’re saying I’m making it a second-class clause? How?

          I’m not saying you’re making it a second-class clause. I’m saying, in regards to church/state issues, the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause are in tension. Each of our positions can be seen as on a line between the two clauses. Regardless of where you are on that line, it doesn’t mean you don’t respect both clauses. It just means you try to balance the scale in a certain way.

          Then why are we on opposite sides of this question of the representative of the secular Constitution jumping in on the side of Christianity (or at least monotheism)?

          I see the NDOP as a proclamation and a request. You don’t need to attend or heed this proclamation. In the case of school-sponsored prayer the student had to attend and the teachers had to participate. The level of coercion seems greater in the case of school prayer.

          So “constitutional” is the union of what the Constitution actually said and some set of traditions followed by the founding fathers? Seems an odd definition to me.

          The actions of the founding fathers can give insight into how they intended their words to be taken.

          Say the president (for a reason that you understand or don’t—I don’t care) decides to have a Muslim-focused prayer in 2014. Would that annoy you?

          No.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Which link didn’t work?

          Update: I see the problem now. Strange. I’ve fixed that link.

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          Bob, I think I got your link to work concerning religion and giving. A few deficiencies with your study:

          A) It divided people by geographical region instead of by religious/non-religious.

          B) It only examined taxpayers who earned more than $50,000 and itemized their tax forms. According to my link, the poor give a higher percentage of their income than the middle class.

          C) The IRS data does not provide information about the specific charities people supported. They also write: “Information from the bureau’s consumer spending survey was also used to analyze the impact of religious giving. That information is available only regionally and was applied to states within each region.”

      • Nox

        What happens to those numbers if you don’t count tithing as charity (which it isn’t)?

        • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

          My quotes noted that religious people give more even to non-religious causes (see the last paragraph).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          And my source (“How America Gives” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy) disagrees. Take away religious giving, and the most generous part of the country becomes the least.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    Everyone: In the old commenting world, I would use Outlook to compose a reply and then paste that in. But Disqus, has a hyperactive idea of what a line break is, and I have to go back and prune the comment.

    Solution (on a PC): paste the text into Notepad, and then copy and paste that. Problem solved.

    FYI, in case this helps any PC users.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I have no doubt that there are many who choose to “trust their religious beliefs” instead of trusting God and end up disappointed by prayer.

    And yes, I’ve met many a person who started out as a believer, and ended up a non-believer, and a few, who like me, reverted to the faith when they realized the inconsistency of atheism.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      TS:

      I have no doubt that there are many who choose to “trust their religious beliefs” instead of trusting God and end up disappointed by prayer.

      Aren’t a Christian’s religious beliefs best compiled from an honest reading of the Bible? It’s the Bible that has this nutty definition of prayer.

      a few, who like me, reverted to the faith when they realized the inconsistency of atheism.

      What is this inconsistency?

      • TheodoreSeeber

        “Aren’t a Christian’s religious beliefs best compiled from an honest reading of the Bible?”

        Absolutely NOT. A Christian’s religious beliefs are best compiled by living in community. But then, I’ve got a different definition of Christianity than most.

        “What is this inconsistency?”

        The primary one is insisting on objectivity in science but accepting subjectivity in morality.

        • Kodie

          A Christian’s religious beliefs are best compiled by going along with the group, that sounds about right.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          I’ve got a different definition of Christianity than most.

          I’ll agree with you there.

          The primary one is insisting on objectivity in
          science but accepting subjectivity in morality.

          Are there objective moral truths? I’ve never seen evidence for that. Show me.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Let us take an example from evolution for an objective moral truth: species that artificially limit their genetic diversity, or whose genetic diversity is artificially limited by outside intervention, will go extinct.

          That’s one of my big reasons for being pro-life and rejecting pro-choice; and it has examples throughout modern husbandry, from Weyerhouser Super Trees to bananas.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: For our conversation, I only care about objective moral truths. Show me the evidence.
          (On a different topic, I don’t see how inbreeding connects with your pro-life position.)

        • TheodoreSeeber

          It’s not just inbreeding, it is outright discrimination against certain genotypes. Downs Syndrome, for instance, in which 90% of fetuses detected with that genetic structure are now not allowed to be born.

          There is a similar bigotry against minorities and the poor, but I’m sure you knew that.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          Still waiting for the evidence for objective moral truth …

          it is outright discrimination against certain genotypes.

          Well, yeah. God does it. Half of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion. If the parents could get a chance to try again to get it right, that sounds like an option that they need to be given.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          Are you seriously saying that we should take natural selection as a basis for our moral system? Do I even need to explain why that would be a big problem?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          I am saying we already do; and have since long before the term “natural selection” was invented. Moral systems that go against natural selection- die. A good example was the 19th Century American Biblical Fundamentalist cult known as the Shakers, who through sheer force of will and abstinence, contracepted themselves into oblivion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS: Why is the atheist teaching the Christian what objective moral truth is? I’m looking for something like “abortion is wrong” or “capital punishment is wrong.”

          Take a vexing moral issue like one of these and show us that (1) the objectively correct moral answer exists and (2) we humans can reliably access it.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Those are both obvious from the concept that every human being has inherent dignity. Only those who deny basic dignity, would argue that either abortion or capital punishment is a positive good- at which point I’d question why they don’t commit suicide, since they obviously believe human life has no worth.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          Those are both obvious from the concept
          that every human being has inherent dignity.

          And yet not everyone agrees. So what could you mean by “objective moral truth”?

          You do realize that “objective moral truth” isn’t defined as
          “what TS says,” right?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          The people who disagree, are not being objective on the value of human dignity. They are instead being subjective on the value of human dignity, and thus arbitrary rather than concrete.

          I fail to understand why somebody would be subjective on the value of human dignity, but I do recognize the difference between objective and subjective on the subject.

          This is why I claim that your side preaches subjectivity- and lies when they claim to be scientific.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          The people who disagree, are not being objective on the value of human dignity.

          Translated: if they disagree with me, they’re wrong.

          What good is your imaginary objective moral truth if you’re the only one who can access it? You’ve done nothing but take your own opinion and wrap it in a claim that it’s objectively true. Fail.

          Either drop your claim that objective moral truth (1) exists and (2) is reliably accessible by ordinary humans or back it up. And (since this seems to need to be repeated) that it just seems correct from your viewpoint doesn’t make it objective.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          If they disagree with the objective value of human dignity, then they are being subjective. For a moral relativist, there is no right and wrong at all, so I don’t see how you can complain about me labeling something as wrong.

          I am not the only one that can access the basic truth that human life has value. Valuing human life was common to *every* culture of Europe since the fall of Rome, is common to Asian and Native American cultures, is common in every developing culture on the planet. I do not understand why you would reject it, nor do I care to, but to claim that objective truth doesn’t exist merely because you personally want to be a relativist, is ridiculous on its face.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          If they disagree with the objective value of human dignity, then they are being subjective.

          Aaaarg!! Show me that any moral truth is grounded objectively! Do you not know what we’re talking about here? You don’t just assert that objective moral truth exist; you must give compelling evidence for such a remarkable claim.

          For a moral relativist, there is no right and wrong at all

          Then I guess I’m not a moral relativist (with that ridiculous definition, who would be?). I simply reject objective moral truth because (despite myriad pleas) I’ve been given no evidence.

          Morality is shared; it’s not objectively grounded. Show me otherwise.

          I am not the only one that can access the basic truth that human life has value.

          You bypass my request for evidence. You see that, right? You see that a simple assertion that you’re right isn’t compelling?

        • TheodoreSeeber

          ” Show me that any moral truth is grounded objectively!”

          I tried, and you just claim that it isn’t objective. You don’t want to be shown, and will just ignore all evidence to the contrary.

          “Then I guess I’m not a moral relativist (with that ridiculous definition, who would be?)”

          You already claimed you don’t believe in an objective morality, therefore you have no grounds to claim that anything is universally right or universally wrong.

          “You bypass my request for evidence.”

          I gave you evidence right there, in that message, and you claim I am bypassing your request for evidence. You didn’t ask for “evidence that is only acceptable to my subjective mind”.

          And people wonder why I don’t respect atheists, or even want to have discussions with this sort of idiocy anymore.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          TS:

          I tried, and you just claim that it isn’t objective.

          You seriously think that you nailed a defense of objective moral truth? You’ve done nothing but assert what you think is true and give us the reasons why. OK, that’s an interesting data point, but don’t claim that it’s objectively true.

          Pretty ironic, though, that you give a subjective analysis of a moral issue and then wag your finger at me and call me a subjectivist.

          Perhaps if you go read up on just what it is you’re claiming first.

          You already claimed you don’t believe in an objective morality, therefore you have no grounds to claim that anything is universally right or universally wrong.

          Correct. That’s my belief. Let’s leave it at that, since when you try to label it, things go awry.

          You didn’t ask for “evidence that is only acceptable to my subjective mind”.

          What subjective mind? All minds should be open to the objective truth, right? I couldn’t block out the objective truth if I wanted to, right?

          And people wonder why I don’t respect [you], or even want to have discussions with this sort of idiocy anymore.

          I hear you, bro. There’s a lot of that going around.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          I don’t think you understand what you’re implying here! If natural selection were the basis of your moral system, for example, then you would be against monogamy, since it imposes an artificial limit on gene propagation. You would be against palliative medical care for genetic diseases. You would be in favor of families continuing to have children well past the point of being able to take care of them financially, as long as they are (just barely!) healthy enough to reproduce. You would be morally obligated to euthanize or expel from society people who are unable to reproduce, as they’d be just a drain on resources that would be otherwise spent increasing selective fitness!

          Bah, this is my final comment to you. I can’t take your statements seriously anymore, and frankly I probably should’ve stopped earlier.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Well, aside from the Polygamy (which I’m only against because it is usually misogynist) and the euthanasia (why expel them from society, infertility is unpredictable, so like most eugenics, that is a bad idea to use unpredictable effects to create predictable causes), plus you are confusing the *general* with the *specific* individual, I am for most of what you write, as are most pro-life from conception until natural death Catholics.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    What a curiously narrow definition of charitable.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      TS: I hear you, bro. I tried to get dues to my country club and my spa declared as charitable donations. You wouldn’t believe how restrictive the IRS is! They turned me down.

  • Chris Doerr

    I don’t like the National Day of Prayer either, because it feels like the religious right cramming something down my throat, but I would have less trouble with a National Day of Meditation. The country could only benefit if everyone spent some quiet time thinking about how they are living their lives, and the various challenges confronting them and their friends. That might actually lead to doing something, and the something might be more effective after a day of reflection.

    As you know, I too have fallen away from Christianity, but still find myself wanting to tell friends/acquaintances who are believers that I’ll pray for them when something terrible or scary has happened/is happening in their lives. Because I know they’ll be comforted by that. In an effort to be more honest, I’ve switched to “I’ll be thinking about you”. No more likely to change the outcome than praying, but for most people (even believers, I would wager), saying “I’ll pray for you” is more a way of showing solidarity than a way of changing the outcome.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      Chris:

      Reflection and meditation? Sounds like both a good idea and a way to not
      insult the Constitution.

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