One of the biggest ways that overzealous Christians reveal that their religious grandstanding is, well, just a pretendy fun-time game is in how they publicly talk about and engage in praying. One of the very last things they should be doing is letting that fact slip to the rest of us–but they show us, in so many ways, exactly how little they themselves believe the words they say.
Here is one major way that we can tell that Christians don’t have much faith at all in prayer.
The National Day of Grandstanding.
We’ve been talking lately about the National Day of Prayer (NDP). To briefly recap, the day began as part of the Religious Right’s entirely-manufactured Red Scare, as part of their blatant grab for power. We’ve also seen how right-wing Christians’ practice of the NDP is actually hindering their goals.
There’s one aspect of it that I’ve only briefly touched on that I want to expand a little since we’re on the topic: its leaders’ bizarre choice of what they want to spend their Big Special Day’s prayers on.
The people who spearhead the NDP like to pretend that their Big Special Day is about praying to Jesus extra-lots in hopes that he’ll magically make more Americans become their kind of Christian, but their very own leaders show us that they’re actually making a transparent and baldfaced political play. They want to control the lives of all other Americans, and they clearly think that the best way to get that control is to demonstrate their power over our country’s political landscape.*
Samantha Bee recently made a terrific video outlining how the NDP fits in with right-wing Christians’ political ambitions. She showed that there is nothing whatsoever that is loving, compassionate, or indeed even honest about the National Day of Prayer, precisely because it exists purely and completely to politicize right-wing Christians as part of an overarching goal of gaining power and halting the religion’s slide into irrelevance.
As Right Wing Watch has noted, James Dobson himself “gave away the game” (meaning the NDP’s already-thinly-disguised political nature) by revealing during his radio program that the 2012 NDP goals were to get Jesus to help Mitt Romney become President so Barack Obama wouldn’t get into office.
The NDP talks a big game about using their Big Special Day to be extra-sanctimonious, but in reality, its participants pray for very earthly power over very earthly political offices and figures, so the 2012 NDP’s goals aren’t all that surprising. What is surprising is how openly Mr. Dobson used his out-loud voice to describe just how much political bullying his tribe did–and what happened when their efforts failed.
Mr. Dobson enlisted an entire battalion of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to to ask Jesus to rig the election process and strong-arm non-fundagelicals into complying with fundagelicals’ demands. And they weren’t just praying, either, but also actively lobbying–because obviously “God” needs a little help sometimes.**
Because there were these “40 Days of Prayer,” there were several of those that took place, where people fasted and prayed for forty days asking the Lord for His intervention on Election Day. We did a program last week where my wife Shirley came in with her vice-chairman John Bornschein and told how three hundred Gideon prayer warriors came to Washington, went to every single office of the House of Representatives and the Senate and prayed for the occupant, prayed for our representatives, went to the White House, went in a vigil to the Supreme Court, which is now at great risk, and went to the Pentagon.
That’s a very curious thing to
hold his breath and throw a tantrum to get pray for, out of all the other things he could be requesting. And his rather curious goal is exactly how we know that he doesn’t believe for a heartbeat that he’s got a real live god listening to his prayers.
Keepers of the Bat-Phone to “God.”
Christians keep saying that when they pray, they’ve got the author of the universe on the other end of the Red Bat-Phone to Heaven. They keep insisting that prayers can work miracles and do all kinds of stuff that isn’t technically possible.
But they certainly don’t act like they believe this profession of faith.
They could be asking for an end to cancer; a permanent state of peace in the world; for all murderers and abusers to suddenly become good people; maybe even for irrefutable and incontrovertible proof of their god’s existence, just to be spitballin’ here, since that’s what non-believers tend to ask for (and never seem to get).
For some weird reason, though, Christians don’t ever ask for any of that.
The vainglorious hypocrites of the Religious Right have wrangled themselves an entire day that our government has set aside for them to talk to the ceiling in public and in taxpayer-funded spaces without much fear of pushback or criticism. They’ve spent decades painstakingly ensuring that it is a day that even the most powerful people in our secular government must at least pretend to support–because these sanctimonious, Jesus-smile-wearing ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love have made sure that any dissenters will be smeared as traitors and accused of being false Christians.
But instead of asking their god to make himself useful at last and for a goddamned change, Christians’ major request for 2012 was for this being of infinite power and might to… magically elect the (surprisingly un-powerful) official they wanted elected in a modern secular government where power is shared among a shocking number of people, not all of whom are even elected.
Even so, in 2013, Mr. Dobson’s wife Shirley, the leader of the NDP Task Force, whined that Barack Obama, who despite all that bullying was now the President, didn’t attend her meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club after all of the NDP’s prayers to stop him from being elected had totally failed. It was like she and her entire group had simply totally forgotten that they’d prayed to keep him out of office after their prayers went unanswered–as Christians often do in such cases.
For the next couple of years after 2013, the NDP focused on the other big culture war of right-wing Christianity: abortion. Their official, James-Dobson-issued 2014 NDP prayer was so focused on the topic, in fact, that one politician actually “stormed out” of a Washington, D.C. NDP rally because James Dobson referred to Barack Obama as “the abortion president,” among other deeply-politicized false witnesses and blatantly untrue smears.***
This year, they swung back around to equal marriage, which is understandable given the huge and crushing loss they suffered recently after the Supreme Court in Obergefell slapped down their grabby little hands.
Their official prayer for 2016’s NDP uses all the official dogwhistles and code-words that they like–such as ginned-up fearmongering about their mislabeled concept of religious liberty, an insistence that America was founded on “biblical truths,” and some blathering about persecution. This day is not an attempt to bring Americans together, regardless of ideology, to focus on our country’s emotional and spiritual health. No, instead what we’re hearing is a bellowing of rage at a shocking and incomprehensible loss of privilege, a chthonic howl of outrage that they have fallen so low and lost so much, and a pompous, veiled threat about what’ll happen if the rest of America doesn’t give them back the dominance they once had.
If they actually did manage to make everyone in America fundagelical like themselves, they wouldn’t even need to bully anybody in government, much less reserve for themselves a Big Special Day to act extra-sanctimonious.
And yet I don’t see much in their official materials that indicates that they’re even vaguely interested in asking for something that dramatic, unequivocal, and world-changing.
Nor am I surprised at this oversight.
As Above, So Below.
Christians like to inform us heathens that they are praying “for” us. Usually they’re praying for Jesus to magically force us to change our minds about some point of difference with the Christians in question, since they can’t change our minds with rational conversation or force us to shut up. This salvo usually gets hurled at us after the Christians in question realize that they have well and truly lost whatever squabble they’ve provoked.
(Sometimes the Christian is expressing sincere concern in the approved way their culture has taught them to do so, but I’m talking about something else entirely here–and non-Christians know the difference between ignorant-but-well-intentioned attempts to be kind and belligerent attempts to strong-arm and silence us.)
It’s always baffling to be told this by one of those belligerent Christians. It doesn’t feel loving at all, and certainly only serves to remind non-Christians of how aggressive and hateful right-wing Christianity really is–as well as how intellectually empty its claims are when it becomes clear to us that they have nothing but threats underneath those claims.
Moreover, even under the very best of situations and issued by the very most loving of Christians, public announcements of prayer only remind people that prayers don’t do anything supernatural.
As I have been saying for years, if prayer really did anything, then Christians would never need to tell anybody that they’re doing it. They’d just do it in private the way their Savior told them to do it, and then those things they privately asked for would simply happen.
Instead, Christians have to tell people they’re praying, because otherwise, we’d never know it happened.
Seriously, do these folks even think about the stuff they say?
If prayer did anything, Christians sure as hell wouldn’t be wasting their time on praying for the incredibly low-impact, low-visibility stuff they tend to pray about now. If I had the author of the whole universe on the other end of the line, and I knew that he would literally do anything I asked, I certainly wouldn’t waste any time issuing Vaguebook-style meaningless drivel whose results would be indistinguishable from coincidence more than those results even usually are (like “Fathergodjesuslordjesus, I just come before you today to just ask you to just help me get through today, and just help me to just try to just be a good witness, just fathergodjesuslordjesus please hear me, injesusnameIprayamen”). Nor would I be trying to win petty arguments with people online. Hell, you wouldn’t even see my shiny white ass around the internet because I’d be off in some foreign hellhole working miracles left and right.
But once they figure out that prayer doesn’t work the way the Bible and their leaders insist up and down that it works, Christians tend to restrict their prayers to requests that are so vague that nobody’d know if they were being answered or not in the first place, or so minor and localized that any failures can be easily explained as user error. I did it myself, years ago.
When I actually believed that prayer did anything tangible, early in my time as a fundagelical, I thought of myself as an emissary of the One True God (LOL). I needed to use my limited time on Earth as wisely as possible–and my power as a Daughter of the King as effectively as I could. That phase didn’t last long, as you might guess. I can almost track the beginning of my deconversion to the realization that somewhere along the line, I’d stopped asking for anything specific and verifiably divine. I came to that realization when my entire denomination came together as one to pray for a magical healing for one of our pastors–a healing which, as you might also have guessed, didn’t happen.
I began wondering why we’d prayed for this one man’s cancer to be healed. Why didn’t we ask for a healing for all sufferers of disease? I mean sure, Daniel was a good pastor and I liked him, but why were we all coming together to pray for this one man when there were literally dozens if not hundreds of cancer patients in our very own church?
And why did we have to ask “God” for anything at all in the first place? Either a healing was his will or it wasn’t, and if it wasn’t, all the praying in the world wouldn’t change his mind, while if it was, it was grotesque to think that we had to beg him to heal someone he was already going to heal anyway–not to mention creepy for having to ask for a deliverance from such a gruesome and terrifying disease. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a serious dilemma–as many Christians face even today.
I had just come face-to-face with a very uncomfortable truth: Christians know perfectly well what would happen if they prayed for everyone in America to wake up tomorrow with a sudden and unquenchable desire to convert to fundagelical Christianity. It’s the same reason why they don’t ask Jesus to cure all diseases, make permanent peace in the Middle East, put an end to all violence and abuse, or–to use the classic example–heal amputees.
They know that it ain’t gonna happen.
When they pray for one person to change their mind, or for one person to be healed, or one relatively minor situation to go the way they want it to go, it’s very easy to explain away why it didn’t work. (Soon we’ll talk about the long list of asterisks involved in getting a prayer answered.) But when someone makes the massive mistake of asking for something huge and undeniable, then the cognitive dissonance that results becomes a lot harder to ignore.
Shake Your Tail Feathers, Baby.
It seems to me that most Christians don’t really have much faith at all in their god. They know what the boundaries of reality are, and what is and isn’t possible. There may be a little posturing to one side or the other of that boundary, but ultimately, there is one thing Christians know better than anything else in their entire ideology:
Prayer, as right-wing Christians practice it, is nothing but a flash of tribal markings.
It is an outward sign of compliance with a dominant group. It is a way of signaling privilege both to those in the group and those outside it. It does absolutely nothing supernatural, and so it must be displayed for other people to know it’s there.
Though some Christians do pray in private, and consider prayer to be a sort of meditative practice that helps them even if it doesn’t actually do anything magical, they’re not the ones that are out there swanning around at NDP rallies and flinging veiled (and not-so-veiled) threats at non-believers. The Christians doing that kind of grandstanding are the very ones who don’t pray in private–because what would be the point of wasting time doing stuff that other people will never know happened?
The Bible was right about this: the Christians responsible for these ostentatious acts are getting their reward already (emphasis mine):
When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.
Matthew 6:5 (New Living Translation)
* “Might makes right,” as the saying goes, and that’s the whole basis of fundagelical ideology. Donald Trump is a Republican candidate for President precisely because of their idolization of this philosophy.
** He can’t do anything without human hands–even when, according to fundagelicals’ theology, billions of babies’ lives are at stake. That’s totally not a preposterous mis-setting of priorities and a complete abdication of divine responsibility.
*** We’ll ignore for now, because fundagelicals certainly do, that in his time as our president, Barack Obama has prevented more abortions than all of their efforts have likely ever managed. But I’m sure that calling him that sort of name gives fundagelicals a giddy little thrill.