26 April 2010

A Christian Questions the National Day of Prayer

While he remains a dire reactionary and a religious bigot in his own fashion, Cal Thomas the columnist is, to his credit, a disillusioned member of the Religious Right. Some time ago he repudiated the Moral Majority, contending that Christians had spent too much time trying to transform society through the political system when the old fashioned approach of evangelism and moral suasion might work better. It didn't surprise me, then, when Thomas didn't exactly bite on the bait set for religious conservatives when a federal court ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. He's not impressed by the reasoning behind the court's decision, but he seems to be in no rush to have it overturned.

"It is of no concern to me whether this president, or any president, issues prayer proclamations," Thomas wrote this weekend, "I can pray or not, without government encouragement." While he notes that "Republicans and conservatives" may make political hay out of the court controversy, Thomas regards the whole issue with something like a shrug. "What difference does a national day of prayer make?" he asks.

Of course, we should note that Thomas isn't outright opposed to the idea of a nation united in prayer. It's apparent, however, that he considers the National Day of Prayer as currently conceived as vague to the point of worthlessness. "There are many non-theistic religions in America," he notes, "Does a presidential proclamation aim to ask such people to pray to those gods? And if it does, then the entire exercise is meaningless. Sending letters to the same person at different addresses would mean that most aren't delivered."

In other words, unless the people pray to the right God, any presidential encouragement of prayer could be counter-productive. That aside, the idea of the Day of Prayer as a petition for blessings offends Thomas's judgmental sensibility. "Should God be expected to bless a nation that tolerates, even promotes, so much evil?" he asks. We can guess at what he means: abortion, pornography, non-theistic religions, etc. He'd rather hear us repent our "evil" and beg for forgiveness -- again, only so long as we beg the right way. But at least he knows not to expect that, and for that reason he sees no point in any official national call to prayer. So let's give credit where it's due. On this occasion, Cal Thomas would not use politics to force his religion or any religion down our throats. You know what they say about the broken clock....

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