Twenty-two years ago today, on 9 May 1988, President Reagan signed Public Law 100-307. It states:
The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and mediation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.I don’t think that it’s such a bad law – provided, of course, that the people are discouraged from praying to God on all other days of the year! That is, although prayer is flagrantly immoral and terribly demeaning, I don’t expect that too much harm would be done if – not more than once per year – people demean themselves and behave immorally. It would be like a once-per-year drinking binge, whose hangover might prevent recurrence during the rest of the year.
But Judge Barbara B. Crabb disagrees: last month, she ruled the “National-Day-of-Prayer” law to be unconstitutional. So, apparently in her opinion, even on a single day per year, people shouldn’t “turn to God in prayer…” In her judgment she states:
It bears emphasizing that a conclusion that the establishment clause prohibits the government from endorsing a religious exercise is not a judgment on the value of prayer or the millions of Americans who believe in its power. No one can doubt the important role that prayer plays in the spiritual life of a believer. In the best of times, people may pray as a way of expressing joy and thanks; during times of grief, many find that prayer provides comfort. Others may pray to give praise, seek forgiveness, ask for guidance or find the truth… However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic…Judge Crabb makes many good points in her ruling (which, unfortunately, is being appealed). For example, in the quotation above, she raises the question about “the value of prayer.” Some might think that, in her position as a member of the judiciary, she shouldn’t address such a question, but I disagree: whereas praying attempts to corrupt natural justice, personal justice, and interpersonal justice, it would be highly appropriate for a member of the judiciary to rule on “the value of prayer”.
Elsewhere, I’ve already explored how prayer corrupts natural, personal, and interpersonal justice, as well as how it demeans the supplicant and is immoral. Here, therefore, I’ll present only some summary opinions of others:
Prayer is like a pump in an empty well, it makes lots of noise, but brings no water. [Lemuel Washburn]The above quotations contain substantial wisdom. Yet, given that there are so many Christians in the U.S. who disagree with Judge Crabb’s decision, perhaps it would be more efficacious to call their attention to their Christ’s assessment of prayer as given in the Gospel of Thomas, v.14:
Praying is like a rocking chair – it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere. [Gypsy Rose Lee]
To think that the ruler of the universe will run to my assistance and bend the laws of nature for me is the height of arrogance. [Dan Barker]
Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: “Great God, grant that twice two be not four.” [Ivan Turgenev]
Prayers never bring anything… They may bring solace to the sap, the bigot, the ignorant, the aboriginal, and the lazy – but to the enlightened it is the same as asking Santa Claus to bring you something for Xmas. [W.C. Fields]
Over the years I realized the god I prayed to was the god I invented. When I was talking to him, I was talking to myself. He had no understanding or qualities that I did not have. When I realized god was an extension of my imagination, I stopped praying to him. [Howard Kreisner]
To pray for anything, which we can obtain by the due application of our natural powers, and neglect the means of procuring it, is impertinence and laziness in the abstract… for example, to pray for more wisdom, understanding, grace, or faith; for a more robust constitution, handsomer figure, or more of a gigantic size, would be the same as telling God that we are dissatisfied with our inferiority in the order of being; that neither our souls nor bodies suit us; that he has been too sparing of his beneficence; that we want more wisdom, and organs better fitted for show, agility, and superiority… “Whosoever lacketh wisdom,” instead of “asking it of God,” let him improve what he has… this is all the possible way of gaining in wisdom and knowledge… But it is too common for great faith and little knowledge to unite in the same person; such persons are beyond the reach of argument… The only way to procure food, raiment, or the necessaries or conveniences of life, is by natural means; we do not get them by wishing or praying for, but by actual exertion; and the only way to obtain virtue or morality is to practice and habituate ourselves to it, and not to pray to God for it… This is all the religion which reason knows or can ever approve of. [Ethan Allen]
The first and most forthright count in the accusation against prayer is that it is infinitely degrading to the human ego. As it springs out of the ego’s profound sense of his inferior and dependent status, out of the recognition of his base and helpless nature in relation to the power prayed to, these basic assumptions in the case and the posture and habit of mind bent to conformity with them inevitably tend to strengthen and more deeply ingrain on the subconscious life of the individual so conditioned the dominant obsession of one’s lowness and unworthiness. The “prayer consciousness” thus endlessly renews and sharpens the self-infliction of a most injurious psychological trauma upon the human psyche. In the simplest form of statement prayer thus constantly beats down the human spirit. It throws over it a heavy pall of depression, of negative cast of consciousness, of self-accusation, and self-depreciation…
The deleterious influence of prayer reaches perhaps its climactic point of disservice in its disastrous inhibition of man’s impulse to overt action in all contingencies in which resolute action is crucial. It strikes at man’s truest interests when it persuades him to pray instead of acting. When prayer steps in to paralyze the spirit of resolute self-exertion and causes him to stand as an impotent beggar when prompt action alone will save, it is of all things most damaging… It is the contention here that the prayer habit, leading men to substitute prayer for needed action, is the cause of untold evil, wreckage, defeat, and tragedy in the run of history. Prayer puts a specious value on cowardice, or offers a tempting resort to it. And mankind suffers the consequences of its failure to act. [Alvin Kuhn]
Jesus said… “if you pray, you will be condemned…”His statement might have been closer to the truth, however, if he had said: “If you pray, you condemn yourself.”