A Pastor Who Condemned Rick Perry’s Pray-a-Thon

We often complain that Christians don’t speak out enough against the Religious Right. So when they do it, they deserve credit.

That’s why Rev. Jim Rigby deserves some praise. Before Texas Governor Rick Perry‘s Christapalooza rally over the weekend, Rigby publicly condemned it:

… as a Presbyterian minister and community organizer, it’s part of my job to stand up for my neighbors. The use of the governor’s office to promote one religion in a country with such rich religious diversity is obviously unhealthy politics, but, if one takes the Christian and Jewish scriptures seriously, it is also unhealthy religion…

Whatever Jesus meant by the word “prayer” seems to have been quiet and personal. The disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray, which is a pretty good indication that he wasn’t praying a lot publically. What he did say about prayer carried a warning label: “Don’t rub it in other people’s faces.”

I can’t know what is in Perry’s heart, of course, but I do know the problem isn’t one politician but rather a nation that has embraced an unhealthy political arrogance undergirded by even unhealthier religious one.

The “prayer” that is most needed at this time is for each of us, believer or not, to go into our own heart and find the humility and empathy that is at the core of righteousness, political and spiritual.

Bravo.

More of this, please.

Rigby’s email address is at the bottom of his post. I’m sure he’d appreciate any support you could send his way. (If you’re willing, feel free to leave your messages to him in the comments.)

By the way, while I’m on the subject of the rally, Michael Tracey has a fascinating article about it at Mother Jones. Looks like Mike ran into a leader of the Religious Right while he was there:

Later, in a stadium hallway, I ran into Bryan Fischer, the most visible figure of the American Family Association, which underwrote the prayer fest…

… “The entire political system of the United States was built on the religious foundation that there was a creator, with a capital C,” Fischer went on. “And that creator is the source of all our human rights. You can’t get any more political and religious than that.” Even John Jay, the nation’s first chief justice, thought that a Christian nation should select Christian leaders for elected office, Fischer said.

“But isn’t our current president a Christian?” I asked.

“Claims to be,” Fischer replied. “He shows far more deference to the Muslim faith than he does to the Christian faith.”

“How so?”

“Iftar dinners in the White House.”

“Well, he has Jewish dinners, he has Christian dinners,” I said. “You know, all sorts of interfaith events and acknowledgments.”

“He issued a proclamation for Ramadan this year, and did not issue a proclamation for Easter,” Fischer said, satisfied that he had provided ample evidence for the insinuation that Obama is probably a Muslim. At least they had an Easter egg hunt, I added. Fischer laughed.

Fischer’s ignorance and arrogance are amazing… I think my face is now scrunched up beyond repair after reading that.

(Thanks to Keith for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/manintheskies Alec Axelblom

    Cred to the rev, and of course he is right…

    “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.”

    Matthew 6:6

    • Istj04

      How come no one held a sign at this “prayer orgy” SCREAMING OUT this Bible quote? 

  • William Snedden

    Fischer is a world-class f***wit.  There was no “Ramadan proclamation”, but rather a message aimed at honoring interfaith traditions and reaching out to Muslims around the world.  At Easter, the president attended a prayer breakfast and delivered a message IN PERSON expressing much the same sentiments and the administration hosted an annual “egg roll” on the WH lawn.  Only a complete moron could somehow look at the two situations, especially in our current global context, and conclude that the president is a “secret Muslim”.

  • Anonymous

    If anyone has a chance, on the lack of an Easter proclamation, ask them what US President ever made an Easter proclamation.  As I understand it, none of them have.  It’s just a new conservative talking point where they make up reasons to say Obama is evil. 

    Also ask them how a beer drinker and hot dog eater can be considered anything close to Muslim.  I’d like to know how they can even consider it an issue, if Obama is praying to Mecca five times a day, that would be impossible to hide.

    Not that I’m pro-Obama, I’m anti-stupid.

    • Anonymous

      Which Easter do they want Obama to proclaim, the Western date or the Eastern Date.  Most years they aren’t the same date, so that would be hard.  I’m sure that the Protestants who are complaining have about as much use for Orthodox and Oriental Churches as they do for Muslims, but it’s still worth mentioning.

      • Anonymous

        Also worth noting that Easter is a blatantly pagan festival. Even more obviously so than Christmas (which is a mix between the Roman Saturnalia and various winter solstice celebrations).

        Eggs? Rabbits? Those are symbols taken from fertility cults

  • Anonymous

    If anyone has a chance, on the lack of an Easter proclamation, ask them what US President ever made an Easter proclamation.  As I understand it, none of them have.  It’s just a new conservative talking point where they make up reasons to say Obama is evil. 

    Also ask them how a beer drinker and hot dog eater can be considered anything close to Muslim.  I’d like to know how they can even consider it an issue, if Obama is praying to Mecca five times a day, that would be impossible to hide.

    Not that I’m pro-Obama, I’m anti-stupid.

  • Anonymous

    If Jim Rigby believes that prayer is private, then why is he the pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX?  Are there no public prayers in his Presbyterian Church?  That seems mightily implausible.  I’d love for someone to go to St. Andrew’s next Sunday and make sure that they are living up to Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”

  • Anonymous

    If Jim Rigby believes that prayer is private, then why is he the pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX?  Are there no public prayers in his Presbyterian Church?  That seems mightily implausible.  I’d love for someone to go to St. Andrew’s next Sunday and make sure that they are living up to Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”

    • Anonymous

      I’d happy if they could keep prayer in their churches. That would be a huge step forward already

      • Daniel Lafave

        I just find it interesting how people will make the Bible say whatever they want it to say.  If someone doesn’t like Perry, they find the part in the Bible where Jesus says to pray in private, but then go on praying in public every Sunday.  The entire thing is a charade. 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    The Christian doctrine I’m aware of considers that revelation (by God) will only happen in quiet privacy.  Personally, I view religious belief as being fine if you conduct it by yourself in private.  If you feel you are bonding with some kind of universal spirit and perhaps increasing the chances of having a bonding even after you die, then that is fine.  Problems arise when people use religion as a big stick to wave around in public and try to influence others.  People like Perry and Fischer use religion as a very big stick and are very dangerous.   Kudos to Jim Rigby for speaking out.

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    My first impulse was to applaud Rigby’s post. But after reading it, I’m not so sure.

    Rigby isn’t saying that Perry was wrong to use his office to promote a particular religion (which is the actual problem here). He’s saying, essentially, that Perry is wrong in his Christinaity. Rigby is using one set of religious beliefs to criticize another. This would be no different than if a Hindu came out and said “dude, you’re praying to the wrong god.”

    Who cares? What I want to see is a Christian who speaks out against government promoting Christianity, which it has no right to do.

    • rhodent

      Tim: He didn’t dwell on the political angle, but he did speak out against government promoting Christianity when he said that “[t]he use of the governor’s office to promote one religion in a country
      with such rich religious diversity is obviously unhealthy politics[.]”

      It is definitely true that he spends more time discussing how the event was bad religion than discussing how the event was bad politics.  But he did condemn the event from a political standpoint.  And in any case, I strongly suspect that condemning it from a religious angle is going to do far more to stop it from happening again then condemning it from a political angle.  The people organizing it clearly don’t care about the Constitution; they might care enough about the Bible to listen when a preacher finds quotes from the Bible telling them to knock it off.

      • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

        Yeah, he said it was bad politics – like if you promote one religion over another, you’re going to lose votes from people of other religions.

        …That’s not the ringing defense of separation of church and state that I’d like to hear. All Rigby’s saying is “you wanna look good to get votes.”

        • Michael

          Nitpick here, but he wrote ‘unhealthy politics’. I suspect he chose that word carefully, since ‘bad politics’ has the connotation you took from his statement.

        • Pseudonym

          Rev. Rigby most certainly did not say “like if you promote one religion over another, you’re going to lose votes from people of other religions”. Those are your words, not his.

          For the record, he didn’t say it was “bad politics”. The word he used was “unhealthy”. Those who have never been mainline or liberal Christians may not understand what that word connotes, so I’ll try to briefly explain.

          Broadly speaking, conservative/fundamentalist Christians generally follow deontological ethics. Like the Levitical code, things are either “good” or “bad”, because God says so (in my opinion) and that settles it. What matters is whether or not you follow the rules.

          Mainline/liberal Christians, on the other hand, generally follow virtue ethics. Nothing is inherently good or evil, but not everything is good for you (1 Cor 6:12, paraphrase). What matters is what your actions and words say about you as a person.

          The confusion, I think, is that you interpreted “unhealthy” in terms of consequentialist ethics, where nothing is inherently good or bad, but all that matters is the outcome. When a mainline/liberal Christian says that an act or attitude is “unhealthy”, they don’t mean that it has a bad outcome, but rather that it is an indication of a figurative illness, which can be cured.

          Did that help?

          • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

            Honestly… no.

            Rigby’s article is an opinion piece written for popular audiences at Statesman, not a philosophical text. There’s no reason to think he’s using some esoteric definition of a word when the more obvious, everyday reading fits.

            Furthermore, saying that Perry’s actions indicate a figurative illness (whatever that means?) still don’t amount to a defense of separation of church and state, which is my complaint.

            But debating this is now irrelevant, as I’ve asked Rigby a few questions for myself above.

            • Pseudonym

              The meaning of the word isn’t esoteric. In fact, the meaning is pretty plain, albeit figurative: the fact that an experienced and senior politician is willing to promote one religion over another is an indication that the political system is sick. What’s hard to understand about that?

              Incidentally, fundamentalist Christians also throw around jargon words like “satanic” or “evil” in public discourse. Liberal/mainline Christians don’t use words like that in public because they’re loaded, unhelpful and (in their opinion) bad theology. This is their equivalent.

              • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

                You spent 3 paragraphs explaining to me the meaning of something that was “pretty plain.”

                the fact that an experienced and senior politician is willing to promote one religion over another is an indication that the political system is sick.

                Let us keep in mind what religion is. It’s superstition – beliefs that have no basis in reality that people nevertheless use as a guideline for how to act and how to punish and how structure our societies. The problem is not promoting one religion over the other, and the problem is not interpreting Jesus the wrong way (as Rigby says). The problem is believing in stuff that isn’t true and using it as a basis for your values.

                To protect secular society from religion (and to protect religious people from other religious people), we (America) have a wall of separation between church and state. It’s illegal, and to the detriment of our society, to break that down. That’s what Perry has in some small part done, and that’s what we should be speaking out about.

                Calling it “unhealthy politics” does not address the issue at all.

                • Pseudonym

                  You spent 3 paragraphs explaining to me the meaning of something that was “pretty plain.”

                  In my defence, pretty much everyone on this thread except you got it the first time.

  • mike

    …there was a creator, with a capital C,” Fischer went on. “And that creator…

    Did anyone else chuckle dangerously loud in a public space?

  • Rich Wilson

    Dang, put this in the wrong place…
    It’s worth googling for some of Rigby’s other writing.

  • Jim Rigby

    I was trying to defend non-christians in general.  I spoke as a Christian because I felt that would have more weight in this context.  I appreciate people from this site who sent kind messages.  I was very touched by Hemant’s message.  I’ll ignore the insults on this page.  This site is a wonderful opportunity to help people work past their fears and misconceptions about atheists.  That won’t happen if some of you enjoy ridiculing ignorance more than teaching it.

    The atheists Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell were some of the greatest human beings that ever lived.  They hated religon, but they hated it because they loved humankind.  I do not find a bit of cruelty in their writings.  Their ability to persuade people to the free thought movement came as much from their compassion as from their brilliance.  I think it would be wonderful if people found that kind of wisdom and compassion on this site.

    Again, thank you Hemant for your attempt to be a good neighor.  As I said to someone from this site earlier today, if someone from inside the church attacks you for being free thinkers I will weigh in on your side against the church.

    • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

      I don’t understand – what were you defending us non-Christians from?

      And how does calling Perry’s move 1) bad politics and 2) theologically mistaken amount a defense of non-Christians?

      • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

        Politicians who think that putting their religion front and center is good for the country, and for them? Exclusion from the conversation? Persecution? Hypocrisy? Jim Rigby can obviously speak for himself on that, but the way I read it, it touched on all of that.

         What [Jesus] did say about prayer carried a warning label: “Don’t rub it in other people’s faces.”

        A big part of what many of us want is for the religious to stop rubbing it in our face. I would have far less reason to be out and working to make people aware of us if religion wasn’t shoved in my face so much. The principle of separation of church and state is a part of that.

        The word “God” can be a helpful symbol for all the transcendentals of life, but the symbol becomes instantly pathological when used as a scientific explanation or political justification.

        Emphasis mine. Mostly speaks for itself, regardless of what you think of the symbol “God.”

         We are to change the world by humble persuasion and good example, not by messianic coercion.

        I object to coercion, messianic or otherwise. I do not object to “humble persuasion and good example.” I’m reading that as a call to include everyone in the efforts to help America, not just those who think Jesus is the end-all-be-all of ethical thought, or those who think Jesus is the son of God.

        If the governor wants to call us to repentance, it should begin with our real sins against the poor — not the imaginary sins dreamed up by his friends.

        If Perry and friends listen to this, that can only be good.

        Persuasion doesn’t just mean having the most logical, rational argument. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the human brain works. Most often when we seek to persuade, it’s tactically best to use language that is similar to what the target of your persuasion uses, and to address things in a way that takes into account the views already held by your target. In politics and public policy, we don’t usually have time to work purely from what’s rational, so sometimes it’s just going to be best to take such shortcuts, and take a long view toward bringing people around to the other reasons for holding our view.

        In other words, if essays like Jim Rigby’s can convince the religious to behave better, then I’m ok with that — for the time being.

        • Pseudonym

           

          Persuasion doesn’t just mean having the most logical, rational argument.

          Correct. A valid argument must rely on facts and valid inferences. But to persuade, you must appeal to emotion at some point, because you need your audience to actually give a damn about the logically arrived-at conclusion.

          This is all covered in the first week of material in any decent Critical Thinking 101 course.

          Incidentally, in the case of the “call to repentance”, this is actually a perfectly sound argument. It’s inconsistent for a Christian to call for repentance and at the same time neglect the poor, since that was a huge deal for Jesus. That’s valid regardless of your religion or lack thereof. The emotional language that it’s dressed in just happens to makes it more personal (and hence more persuasive) if you happen to be a Christian.

          • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

            I must have been extremely unclear, Pseudonym, because I agree completely, and was trying to get that point across. I’ll try to do better in the future.

            • Pseudonym

               You weren’t unclear at all. I was agreeing with you.

              Group hug?

              • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

                Group hug!

        • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

          Apologies for the late reply.

          My issue with Perry was never that he was badly behaved. I know that many Christians are badly behaved, and I know that those Christians who are good, moral people are so despite their superstitions, not because of them. 

          My issue with Perry is the use of a governmental office to promote religion. It’s not that he rubbed religion in our faces – Jehovah’s Witnesses do that too (and if I were convinced that I could save [eternal] lives by doing it, I would do it as well). My point is that religious people are allowed to rub religion in our faces, but members of the government are not allowed to use their office to promote religion. 

          Rev. Rigby’s post had nothing to do with upholding the separation of church and state. Rigby opposed Perry’s move on religious grounds, saying that Jesus didn’t want Christians to be this way, and that Christians have been called by God to concern themselves with greater matters.Notice that anyone who wished to argue with Rigby on this point would be engaging in theology. Not discussion of reality, and what’s really good for humans and human societies, but discussion of what a God who exists only in fantasy commands us to do.

          I find this sort of thing completely unhelpful, Nathan. It does no good to argue that we treat people better because our religion says so. (And what happens if your religion happens to command that we kill the infidels?) We should treat people well, and keep church and state separate, because life works out better for everyone if we do.

          …Not because Jesus said so.

          • Pseudonym

            …and sorry for the late response to this.

            There are at least three grounds on which the Governor of Texas should not be using his political office to promote his religion (and apparently not even his religion, but a lunatic fringe conspiracy group), and I think that even though any one reason is sufficient, together they make a stronger argument.

            The first and most obvious reason is that it’s against the law.

            The second reason and almost as obvious reason is that it’s ethically wrong. This is not the same as it being illegal, because the law is sometimes an ass. Jim Rigby did make this point, using the word “unhealthy”.

            The third reason is that it’s also (in this case) hypocritical. It’s important to make this point because it heads off the objection that you could use your religion as an excuse to do something like this. Even though it’s not a reasonable excuse, your religion doesn’t condone it anyway.

            • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

              Do you realize your link is a Doctor Who link? Which, by the way, is annoying, because I’m not caught up on the series and just got some spoilers I didn’t want, all because I was trying to figure out why it was there. :(

              • Pseudonym

                Sorry! That was indeed not the link I meant to paste. It was this one.

                • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

                  That’s quite the mistake!

          • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

            I agree that Rigby didn’t address the separation of church and state as strongly as I wish he had. He could probably have even used the Bible to do so, if he wanted to address Perry’s followers as a Christian, since I seem to recall something about ‘render unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s.’ I also agree that it works out better for everyone if we keep church and state separate and treat people well.

            But I’m extremely doubtful that Perry gives a rat’s fart in the wind about the separation issue, or that a sufficient number of his followers do. So I’m ok with addressing religious arguments to the religious in an effort to point out their hypocrisy, which might get them to focus on more on being decent people with the powers they have (whether they’re in office or not), rather than worrying about things like condemning same-sex marriage. I think it’s a short term solution, hence why I ended my original comment with “for the time being,” but I think it’s more likely to work at this point in time. Sometimes, people who are steeped in the religious world view have to have things of this nature presented to them from a religious perspective before they can even consider looking at it from another perspective. We can’t ignore those people, much as we might wish we could.

            One more reason I’m ok with Rigby’s approach: two-pronged attacks. There are plenty of people making the separation argument, pointing out the value of separation, and the legality of it. But some are still on the fence about that, so having someone like Rigby come along and say what he said, in the manner he said it, gives those people one more reason to fall off the fence onto our side of it. And those who weren’t on the fence, but on the other side, might step onto the fence as a result, so that sometime down the road a different argument can push them over to our side.

            We won’t win the war with one single strategy, and we won’t win it with one battle. It’s going to take multiple strategies, and hundreds, even thousands, of battles.

            • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

              I still am bothered by the disingenuousness here. 

              Let’s say we point in-your-face-fundamentalists to Rigby’s arguments in order to get them to keep their religion out of our faces. They have every right to say to us “Uh… but you’re atheists. You don’t believe in what we OR Rigby believe in. Why should we listen to you?”

              I would say they shouldn’t. Nor do we have any right to say that they should listen to Rigby. We don’t agree with Rigby. Trying to get people to shut up by using arguments we don’t even believe is dishonest, and fundamentalists would be right to call us on it. 

              If this strategy works? Great. Your post has made me consider that it might. But it still doesn’t seem genuine. I hate it when people use arguments they don’t believe in to convince me of something. When you do that, you aren’t leading people to truth – you’re just trying to modify their behavior by any means necessary, even if it means supporting a false argument.

              I don’t like it.

              Also? It would be really nice for a religious person like Rigby to say “Hey, you’re breaking some laws that are essential to the freedom Americans have enjoyed since this country’s creation. Cut it out.” But religious people always seem to be in favor of the government favoring their religion.

              I’d love to see examples of people *not* doing this, if you know any. It would brighten my day.

              • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

                “Uh… but you’re atheists. You don’t believe in what we OR Rigby believe in. Why should we listen to you?” — I would see it more as us granting something for the sake of argument. In other words, if the reasoning is sound, based on their world view, then why shouldn’t they listen? To do otherwise comes suspiciously close to some version of an argument from authority fallacy.

                “When you do that, you aren’t leading people to truth – you’re just trying to modify their behavior by any means necessary, even if it means supporting a false argument.” — Truth is almost always better than mere behavior modification, I agree. Disingenuous? I guess in the sense of not being totally sincere it is, but then any argument that uses “Let us grant, for the sake of argument . . . ” falls into that category. Do you object to all such arguments?

                “…religious people always seem to be in favor of the government favoring their religion.

                I’d love to see examples of people *not* doing this, if you know any. It would brighten my day.”– You mean not being in favor of gov’t favoring their religion? Hang on, I seem to remember someone . . . Yes, I was right. The Reverend Barry Lynn is Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. I hope that information helps to brighten your day (truly, I do — it brightens mine a bit).

                I think I get where you’re coming from with your perspective a bit more than I did before this latest comment, and I will think about it. My initial reaction though is that sometimes the only progress that can be made is to frame things within the world view of the person. In certain core, fundamental (heh) ways, atheists and the typical Christians (especially fundies) have a world view that’s completely incompatible. And yet, somehow, we need to coexist. That’s not accommodationism, that’s just unfortunate reality.

                (Speaking of typical Christians, Rigby . . . really isn’t. A google search should make it easy to find his church’s site, where you can read his sermons and other articles. Definitely not typical, and very interesting. I don’t think I would, or could, ever go the route he’s gone, but still interesting. There’s one about whether God is real . . . )

      • Dmacabre

        You don’t think that Rigby telling Perry that religion should be kept private would not help us out at all?

    • Dmacabre

      Jim, thank you very much.  This is appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/sequel25 sequel

    thanx jim, it’s christians who speak up against fundamentalists who will eventually turn christianity into something that can peacefully co-exist with other religions and non-religions.

  • Drakk

    The problem isn’t that they’re praying the wrong way, the problem is that they’re praying at all. Instead of, you know, actually getting up and doing something meaningful about the problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffritter955 Jeff Ritter

    I’m going to give a thumbs up to Jim on this one. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and had someone pointed out a few of these scriptures I imagine a riot breaking out as the leaders tried to usher that person away. I also imagine I would have grown up with less confusion as I would have never stopped asking questions about it and may have left the faith much sooner. While it does seem that Jim was speaking to the believers more than non-believers the overall theme seemed to be inline with the overall theme of this blog-be good for goodness sake. The golden rule is not exclusive to the christian faith and is a great primary rule to live by. Civil disagreement is possible, and attacking an idea without attacking the person holding it is also possible, although the person holding said idea needs to understand the difference.  As to the shoving of faith into our faces, I’m reminded of a funny yet arguably offensive sign I saw: Religion is like a penis. It is ok to have one. It is even ok to be proud of it. But don’t whip it out and start waving it around in public. And stop trying to shove it down my kids throat!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffritter955 Jeff Ritter

    I’m going to give a thumbs up to Jim on this one. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and had someone pointed out a few of these scriptures I imagine a riot breaking out as the leaders tried to usher that person away. I also imagine I would have grown up with less confusion as I would have never stopped asking questions about it and may have left the faith much sooner. While it does seem that Jim was speaking to the believers more than non-believers the overall theme seemed to be inline with the overall theme of this blog-be good for goodness sake. The golden rule is not exclusive to the christian faith and is a great primary rule to live by. Civil disagreement is possible, and attacking an idea without attacking the person holding it is also possible, although the person holding said idea needs to understand the difference.  As to the shoving of faith into our faces, I’m reminded of a funny yet arguably offensive sign I saw: Religion is like a penis. It is ok to have one. It is even ok to be proud of it. But don’t whip it out and start waving it around in public. And stop trying to shove it down my kids throat!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X