8 years ago: And whenever you pray

April 18, 2005, on this blog: And whenever you pray

This is not an unusual story. The Indian River district is not unique. So why is it that so many American Christians have become so vehemently disdainful of both the Constitution and the Sermon on the Mount? Why is it that these Very Nice People see their determined embrace of an un-Christian, un-American position as evidence that they are good Christians and good Americans? And how is it that the CHINO majority can bully a single Jewish family into leaving town while simultaneously pointing to that as evidence that they, the majority, are “persecuted”?

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  • Baby_Raptor

    There’s probably not one short answer.

    Part of it is the martyrbating. After all, Jesus told them they’d be persecuted.

    Part of it is privilege. They’re the majority, and they’ve been the majority so long that they’ve gotten comfortable and cocky. They see anything that threatens their comfort as an attack.

    Another part of it is just…Well, ignorance. And there’s probably some selfishness in there as well. It’s a giant mess.

  • aunursa

    Here’s what I don’t understand. If communal Christian prayer is so important, why can’t the Christians all meet outside the classroom, board room, or stadium, and pray together before the class, meeting, or game? Why do they feel it necessary to vocally pray inside the venue during the event?

    (Of course I know the answer to my question. Only by compelling non-Christians to endure the Christian prayer at a public event can they assert Christianity’s superior position as the national religion.)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Oh, I imagine at least a few of them honestly believe that its their “right” to do it. And a few in the other corner honestly think that they’re “witnessing” to the unsaved masses with their grandstanding.

    Of course, when you tell them that forcing their religion on others isn’t going to make those others want it, you’re just persecuting them all the more…

  • In addition to a subconscious desire to have it publicly verified that their religion is Number One in the face of all those Other, I’d say it’s pushback against anyone who dares offer them compromises like that. It’s not that praying before class is any different from praying at the start of class, it’s that How dare you tell them when they can and can’t pray, you Other.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    From Roger Ebert in 2003:

    This is really an argument between two kinds of prayer–vertical and horizontal. I don’t have the slightest problem with vertical prayer. It is horizontal prayer that frightens me. Vertical prayer is private, directed upward toward heaven. It need not be spoken aloud, because God is a spirit and has no ears. Horizontal prayer must always be audible, because its purpose is not to be heard by God, but to be heard by fellow men standing within earshot. […]

    Although some of the horizontal devout are sincere, others use this prayer as a device of recruitment or intimidation. If you are conspicuous in your refusal to go along, they may even turn and pray while holding you directly in their sights.

    This simple insight about two kinds of prayer, which is beyond theological question, should bring a dead halt to the obsession with prayer in public places. It doesn’t, because the purpose of its supporters is political, not spiritual.


  • Vermic

    “I’m for religion in schools,” [said Oliver Hitchens]. “That is the way I was raised. Keep it in.”

    I have never been able to grasp why “it’s how I was raised” is considered a persuasive moral or legal argument for anything.

  • I prefer to quote Randall Munroe on that one: “An ‘American tradition’ is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.” http://xkcd.com/988/

  • stardreamer42

    Matthew 6.5: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
    for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of
    the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They
    have their reward.”

    Yes, I’m clobber-versing. But jeez…

  • Carstonio

    Excellent analogy by Ebert. The practitioners of horizontal prayer might not think of it in these explicit terms, but what they’re doing is perpetuating and reinforcing social norms as they see them. And that’s ultimately the problem. There can obviously be social norms within a religion, but there shouldn’t be religious social norms in a society, especially a pluralistic one.

  • JustoneK

    What I get hung up on is why they never extend that to all other religions.

  • Carstonio

    Depends on the target of the argument. I suspect it’s not about persuading others but about soothing the person making the argument, like a teddy bear to cuddle when fearful.

  • Appeal to tradition“, a common logical fallacy.

    Part of why I think that formal logic should be part of standard curricula starting from an early age. It would shut down dumb arguments in the political arena quickly, making democracy more effective.