I was recently on a Christian website scrolling through a list of sermons about Atheism and I came across this ad:
Initially, it literally made me laugh out loud at the ridiculous-ness of it. “Learn” how to pray? …Huh? Isn’t prayer just talking to yourself in your head and hoping someone/something hears it and does something about it? Isn’t prayer personal and customized to fit nicely with your inner voice? And how does praying for our leaders differ from that? Is there a special chant or rhyme that must be used in order for the prayer to make its way up to god so that he’ll immediately know to give this prayer preference because it is for a leader? I was clearly curious so, naturally, I clicked on the link. Here is the description I found:
“‘It is a great privilege, as well as our responsibility, to pray for our government leaders.’ – Billy Graham
This helpful pamphlet helps guide you through what the Bible says about how to pray and about our government leaders. Also included are scripture references and ways to specifically pray for our leaders. The back has space for the names of local, state and federal leaders to be written, so they can be prayed for by name. Great tool for your congregation to encourage prayer for our nation! ” Billygrahambookstore.org
After reading the description and the hilarity subsided, I was left with a disturbing feeling of confusion. Most evangelicals disagree with our current government as well as the progress being made on social issues like abortion and marriage equality so, why would they be so light-heartedly praying for them? Then it hit me: They aren’t! This prayer guide is a rouse. It’s a cover up. They aren’t encouraging simple prayer for our nation (which is disturbing enough in and of itself) but rather, they are encouraging government in church under the guise of prayer.
It’s amazing, really. Without blatantly advertising the discussion of politics and government in their congregation (which would be illegal under their current tax-exempt status) they are disguising it as prayer. And how can one pray for our political leaders unless they know what they are praying for and how to do it? This then gives them an excuse to discuss it in the church and find themselves nice and warm and safe in the comfort of their loop-hole. They can’t legally tell their congregation who to vote for (although this is done quite often), but they can encourage prayer for a particular candidate whose views align with their own. Or even a prayer that an opponent of their chosen candidate wakes up to god and “reality” to find his/her proper way.
Woah. Votes disguised as prayers. Who would have thought?
I have another thought: How about when you are in church you do less talking about grown-up stuff like politics and law and more talking about your cute little fairy-tale book with its magical stories? Or, if you insist on playing with the big-dogs, how about you pay your fucking taxes like everyone else and earn that right?
People, organizations and/or mindless groups of blindly devoted idiots who do not contribute to society financially should have no say in what society does financially; whether in regards to funding social services or otherwise. The government is holding up its end of the bargain by keeping itself out of the church (tax exemption), it is time that the church start holding up its end of the bargain and staying out of government (prayer/vote brainwashing).
I would like to see some seriously headstrong attempts made to quash the tax free status of churches.
So would I. I never really realized how often politics was discussed in religion until I started volunteering with the “No on Prop 8” campaign in California (the campaign to prevent the passage of heterosexual marriage “protection”). The “Yes on Prop 8” campaign was almost entirely funded by the Church of Latter Day Saints, who still enjoy tax exemption to this day. It is unbelieveable how much we let religion and religious organizations get away with in this world:
…I could go on and on. It’s disgusting.
They should be treated like an NGO. Demonstrable charity work should be tax exempt; meaning receipts, please. Everything else must be treated as income/profits, which is exactly what it is.
Or, alternatively: FULL TAX EXEMPTION if they can prove their god exists, and present it to give evidence in the hearing.
I think perhaps your inexperience (or something) lead you to assumptions about the practice of prayer in the Christian context. No, it isn’t “talking to yourself”, nor “hoping someone/thing hears it”. Admittedly, children may conceptualize or characterize it that way, or people who read scripture with a literal interpretation (more’s the pity for them).
Praying (the adult version) is centering and quieting yourself for purposes of focus. It is exactly the same as the process undertaken in transcendental meditation or in a Zen sitting. In a psychological frame, it is “thought stopping” in order to open yourself to a deeper understanding of whatever problem or goal you are attempting to resolve. You turn off your “running mind” so you can hear in stillness. It isn’t magical, but words will sound more than a bit “woo-woo” in trying to describe it concretely. It’s doing nothing, on purpose, in order to be. There are methods to facilitate access to the subconscious in every culture and religion. Calling it prayer is the Christian means for trying to explain it.
There are specific exhortations in Christian scripture both to pray for those who lead you AND for your enemies. The point of those instructions is to orient your intentions away from selfishness (for a change), and toward compassion for others. All of what I’m talking about inevitably gets dumbed down and diluted when your available audience consists of people with less formal education. That was one of Jesus’ main problems. He was providing a direct service, healing and giving comfort to oppressed people, but whenever queried about what exactly he was doing he had to explain it in a form understandable to illiterate workers who lived in contexts like “tend the livestock until dark”. About all you can do is find new, symbolic ways to restate “You could understand things more deeply if you were open to it.”
Evangelicals provide me with as much amusement as they do you, and people who think politics is a solution to anything, and those who crash their lives willfully on the illusionary rocks of the Coast of Materialism. In daily living, ethics is far more important to me than religion. But having or practicing faith isn’t the same thing as being religious. So I pray, as a method to open myself toward sensing whatever power exists beyond my narrow, individual experience of living.
I like your idea of prayer, however, I disagree that it is the Christian definition. Christians pray or illicit prayer as a means to a desired result. They have prayer lists for those that are ill so that their prayers might help them get better. They pray that their families remain healthy or that they land their dream job. They pray to help themselves through difficult or scary situations. They believe that prayer is an action that can produce a desired outcome (if god wills it to be so). It is more a means to an end than an inner self-reflection. This is where my assertion of them hoping someone hears it comes into play. They are hoping that their thoughts are heard and tended to in some divine way. I say that those who pray are talking to themselves out of personal experience with prayer when I was a genuinely devoted believer and an avid pray-er. My experience was that even though the people I knew and I were whole-heartedly praying, nothing was happening. Nothing was changing and everything was left up to chance. As I began to struggle with my faith, this was one of the first things that hit me. My devoted and innocent prayers were merely a more-widely accepted version of talking to myself hoping that someone else would hear it and do something about it.
If prayer was more the way you described it, as a spiritual, quiet time for self-reflection, then it would contradict the very values of Christianity all together. Christianity asserts that its followers pray and then leave it to god. God is in control, god hears all and loves all and god is watching over you. Your definition of the “adult version” of prayer asserts that people pray to give themselves a deeper understanding of the issue at hand and to help them come to a solution on their own. Christianity would view this action as arrogant; how can you decide what can and can’t be done? That is for god.
Perhaps your version of prayer is in fact the adult version, but it would seem that the rest of Christianity is still caught up in their childhoods then…
Again, I think it’s your context of experience that’s limited. I learned virtually everything I described while on retreat at Benedictine Monasteries. I think monks can be safely labeled Christians.
Hmmm, interesting. I wonder how easy it would be to give away free brainwashing materials to churches from an organisation such as “The Ark Religious Foundation” – subtly promoting critical thinking under the guise of bible study and prayer sessions. Another great post! As ‘Invisible Mikey’ points out, I think your experience may have been ‘limited’ to mainstream Christianity – where most of them reside. Sounds like his monks were doing a Buddhist-Christian fusion praying, which I’m sure will catch on, but I’ve yet to hear about it from any other source.
That’s a fascinating analysis. I love it.