‘You call that worship? As if.’

‘You call that worship? As if.’ May 2, 2012

I am not a fan of having government officials proclaim a “National Day of Prayer.”

If religious leaders want to proclaim such a day for their followers, that’s terrific — although Isaiah 58 ought to make them a bit cautious about the idea. That passage provides God’s sarcastic dismissal of such a proclamation.

And, yes, Isaiah 58 presents itself as the verbatim words of God, and God’s words there are dripping with sarcasm. You people want to have a special day to honor God? God says. Right. As if

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

(For the full impact of Isaiah 58, try reading the above aloud in a voice like the one Jon Stewart uses when he’s doing the Jersey Tough Guy shtick.)

So, OK, if religious leaders and their followers have already been busily loosing the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing their bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into their houses, clothing the naked and remembering that we are all brothers and sisters, then such religious leaders should feel free to proclaim a National Day of Prayer.

But probably not until then.

And as for government officials, they have no business making such a proclamation. That’s not their job and that’s not their business.

As I wrote a couple of years ago:

I’m utterly opposed to the idea that such a day of prayer ought to be nationalized. Once the thing becomes nationalized and official and established it becomes another thing entirely. Prayer is not something to be rendered unto Caesar, nor is it something Caesar ought to be put in charge of, asked to bless, permit, allow or establish. A Nationalized Day of Prayer defeats the purpose and will inevitably wind up with pious posturing in which repentance and thanksgiving are transposed. Politicians offer pompous thanksgiving for national shames about which we ought to be begging God’s forgiveness while at the same time lamenting many of the things most pleasing to God. A Nationalized Day of Prayer — or a nationalized prayer breakfast — is bound to wind up backwards and upside-down.

Yet the National Day of Prayer has been an annual American ritual since 1952. It’s an annual American ritual that flagrantly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but that hasn’t slowed it down any.

Every year since 1952, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation of the annual National Day of Prayer. Here is this year’s, from President Barack Obama: “Presidential Proclamation — National Day of Prayer, 2012.”

Bookmark that link. In a few weeks, the Good Christian Bearers of False Witness will be telling you that no such proclamation ever existed because the evil, Kenyan, secret-Muslim atheist socialist in the White House is waging a war against the religious liberty of the righteous white straight people now suffering so much persecution.


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  • histrogeek

    There do seem to quite a few sections of the Bible against ostentatious displays of piety, Isaiah, Amos, Samuel, Matthew, etc, etc. You really would think somebody would get the message. But I guess the temptation to show off, insult different believers, and peer pressure is enough to keep this crap going and going. 

  • JonathanPelikan

    Of course the Kenyan Usurper would issue a proclamation like this, he just wants to trick you into believing that he’s-

    Oh, fuck it. I’ve become so allergic to conservatism in its many interesting modern manifestations that even intentional satire and over-the-top parodies are poisonous and hurtful to my faith in the human race.

    I steadfastly oppose any injection of religion into a government that would claim me as a citizen and equal under the just laws of our republic and our constitution, of course, but I’m still somewhat glad that President Obama issued this proclamation instead of breaking such a long tradition. Imagine the FOX News headline.

    Maybe that’s just the bit of Obama in me, saying ‘don’t give the Teabagging fucks another cannonball to lob at you’, because, well, Obama’s been trying since before he was President to give the Right zero ammo against him and they’ve still found an abundance to (metaphorically,  so far) rain down on his Administration, his allies, and his birthplace of Kenya.

    Mr. President, this prayer I offer you  as a devout atheist who would sooner reference the Twelve Lords of Kobol in  my speech and writing than Jesus of Nazareth (despite a lifetime’s training of ‘Oh, Jesus,’ and ‘Godamnit’): I hope that liberals who’ve observed you slowly, slowly, waking up to the true nature of modern Republicanism and its adherents aren’t wrong. I hope you really are gaining at least some insight into your enemy.

    You’ve been needing it for, oh, a few years now, and it won’t get any less important going into November.

  • Magic_Cracker

    But if I don’t fast and pray in the most public, ostentatious and obnoxious manner possible, how will the American people know what an upstanding, moral and devout guy I am?

    What’s that? By my actions? PUH-LEAZE!

  • ReverendRef

    I will not be available for (what I’m guessing is) the traditional Gathering of Good Christians on the steps of the courthouse for this event, but I would so enjoy reading Isaiah 58 from there in my official Preaching Voice.

    Maybe next year.

  • ReverendRef, I like that. I might (if I’m not lunching with my organist planning wedding music) just go out to the steps of the main library on campus and read Isaiah 58 out loud. Unfortunately my voice doesn’t carry well, and it’s finals week so there won’t be many people around. Maybe there’ll be a gathering on campus I can stand at the edge of and read at.

  • ohiolibrarian

    What was Caligula’s horse’s name again? The one that he insisted that people pray to?

    Yeah, that’s another good reason to keep government out of the prayer biz.

    Frankly, there are a lot of ostensibly religious folks who ought to stay out of the prayer–in fact, the whole religion–biz. Like this guy.

  • JustoneK

    But but but actions don’t save!  I have to be ABSOLUTELY SURE my spirit is saved via lots of prayer and meditation on God!

    Actions doom us to hubris!  /flail

  • Magic_Cracker

    I once got into it with a street preacher with the whole faith vs. deeds (my argument being that there shouldn’t be any “vs.” in there) … he was so loud and so angry that people stopped at the traffic light were rolling down their windows to tell him that faith without acts was just words words words.

  • CoolHandLNC

    I read Isaiah 58 in church a while back. My philosophy on lay reading is to make it interesting, and I love Isaiah and Jeremiah for sheer drama. I didn’t do a Jon Stewart, but definitely my best Isaiah. Isaiah was a street preacher. Isaiah was on a rant, not out to make friends. The first part was viciously sarcastic, with a bit of a mocking tone around “Why do we fast but you do not see?”, but I put a long pause in the middle and continued in an intense sotto voce, as if trying to control my temper enough to explain something. Great fun. Of course, I could also see doing it in a bit of a John Cleese this-is-an-ex-parrot sort of voice with a bit of Mrs. Nicobator in the quotes.

  • JustoneK

    I’ve never understood the opposition between em myself.  Seems like both would feed into each other.

    They still have street preachers?  Were ya in a big city then?  Little things like that make me wonder about diversity of a place.  Fairly homogeneous where I am.

  • Magic_Cracker

    It was in Carlise, PA, not exactly a big city, but pretty diverse. I should have stopped talking to the guy after he told me he had summoned a demon by playing “Ripple” backwards.

  • AnonymousSam

    You could always buy some brand name items with I’m A Great American written on them! See, I have a t-shirt here (made from 100% virgin Cambodian children) and some shoes (authentic American sweat-shop corporation hardware straight from China) that you can purchase!

  • Magic_Cracker

    OOOOOH! And I could put a flag pin through each nipple whenever I go to the beach!

  • What I always find vexatious is the instances I see of people covering themselves in clothing which depict the American flag very prominently, as though patriotism were measured by the size of one’s flag-like accoutrements* rather than through the results of one’s actions.


    * various meanings, but in this context, “trappings” or “accessories”.

  • I always assumed that the doing good works part should be seen as a sort of meditation.  The work itself is a way of purifying the spirit, of practicing the aspects of the spirit we exault, and thereby strengthing them.  To see the results with one’s own eyes the work one has done with one’s own hands allows one to be confident that the spirit is there, and there in enough force to affect and better the world.  Sure, salvation might be through “faith alone”, but good works only strengthen that faith, not distract from it.

    It goes a long way to alleviate salvation anxiety. 

  • Tricksterson

    I don’t think he wanted it worshiped, just made Senator.  And if the Roman Senate was as full of horses asses as ours is I can see his point.

  •  If memory serves, the horse was named Incitatus and Caligula tried to make him a Consul as a giant middle finger to the Senate.

    Speaking of middle fingers, there’s a photo of Johnny Cash giving his regards to the Nashville establishment that I should get around to posting on one of these threads.

  • ohiolibrarian

    According to Wikipedia, he wanted Incitatus acknowledged as a god, but there is some thought that this was satire or a prank (as you said to tweak Senatorial noses). But who knows?

  • Turcano

     I really do wonder how much of Caligula’s reported madness was real and not just trolling the Senate.

  • Forcing all the senators wives into prostitution goes a bit beyond ‘trolling’, IMO. 

    The television series I, Claudius has by far the best depictions of Caligula of any medium. John Hurt FTW. 

  • Tonio

    The concept violates the Establishment Clause because all prayer is inherently sectarian – it’s well nigh impossible to have a prayer that’s truly neutral among all sects. Obama’s specific proclamation tries to make the concept nonsectarian, but the first paragraph still treats prayer as socially and culturally normative.

    Beyond the First Amendment, the contradiction with the Day of Prayer is that it waters down the “city on a hill” concept to argue that the citizenry has a shared religious heritage while trying to maintain the principle of individual freedom of conscience. But the latter can only really exist outside the governmental realm when a society isn’t identified with a single religion or a specific type of religious practice, or when no particular type of religious belief of practice is considered normative.

  • My fiance’s little hometown is about 99.99% christian, and probably 90% baptist* and they have a street preacher. Apparently a few years ago the local businesses pushed him out (don’t know exactly how) because they thought he was scaring people. I don’t know if he’s toned down or if it’s a new guy at the edge of downtown every Saturday now. You just need someone who is convinced he knows the only true way to salvation to get a street preacher. If your lucky, he’ll bring his own mic and speakers so you can listen and stroll through town!

    *ok, I might be exaggerating – 90% and 75% respectively?

  • JustoneK

    I’m in the buckle of the Bible Belt – we have churches literally across the streets from each other in places – and I’ve never really seen street preachers except as the occasional stunt from already established churches.  To not have a physical venue to preachify from strikes me as anomalous here.  Like they’re so scary/weird/not mainstream for the area that they can’t get accepted in the several hundred churches available.
    It’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder where our borders are as a widespread Southern Christian/ist culture.

  • christopher_young

    Somebody’s recently published a biography of Caligula arguing that i. much of his reported madness was trolling the Senate and ii. most of the rest was either made up or massively exaggerated after his assassination by people who had been his courtiers and were in a great hurry to disassociate themselves from im once he was dead.

    I don’t have the details of the book to hand, but it’s on my list because it was favourably reviewed by Mary Beard, who is magic.

  • Street preachers are definitely an anomaly around here, although this guy (or succession of guys), has been a staple there for some time. I’m wouldn’t be surprised if this one has a regular Sunday gig around Attalla, but feels he needs to preach at all the passing cars just in case some of them aren’t SAVED. (I sense that all-caps-saved is somehow different from simply knowing state of one’s soul. But what do I know, I’m Presbyterian.) Occasionally, we get someone on the Quad (I work at UofAlabama) preaching but I suspect that’s not unheard of on college campuses.

  • christopher_young

    Apparently a few years ago the local businesses pushed him out (don’t
    know exactly how) because they thought he was scaring people.

    Did anybody check first to make sure he wasn’t Richey Edwards?

  • AnonymousSam

     Great, now I have mental pictures of an android dragon rampaging through Rome.

  • Tricksterson

    Well, why should it always be Tokyo that gets the crap kicked out of it?

  • rizzo

    Am I allowed to be angry about Obama declaring a national “Loyalty Day” or whatever and not recognizing May Day at all?  It’s not surprising considering all the corporate shilling he’s done during the past few years, but it’s still annoying. 

  • Street “preachers” (actually abusive jackasses) are a norm here in Tampa. So are churches. So are strip clubs. There are more of all three here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. And fewer bookstores. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Because Tokyo is the center of the kekkai, and once the Dragons of Heaven destroy it, the entire Earth will follow!


  • friendly reader

     It’s easy to forget thanks to Hollywood/BBC/HBO that most of what we know about the Julian emperors (Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) was written after they were dead by people who wanted to discredit them, and particularly hereditary imperial lines. Caligula undoubtedly was a giant dick to the Senate, and a bit of an egomaniac (he did declare himself a god while still alive, rather than waiting until he was dead), but the incest and other debauchery was pretty par-for-the-course bash-your-enemies material at the time.

    But come on, all that makes for better stories!

  • P J Evans

    There are street preachers in Los Angeles, too. Some of them have loudspeakers, and some just have loud voices. (There was one guy who would stand on the corner and read his Bible in a sing-song voice, which made him impossible to understand.)

  • A.C.

    Rizzo, you’d be allowed to be mad at Obama for Loyalty Day if it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t make it up and it’s been an official holiday since 1958, and has been recognized almost every year since then. It was basically America’s response to Labour Day.