May 7, 2009

National Day Of Hypocrisy

Today is the National Day of Reason. This is getting almost no publicity. Rationalism, logic, and secularism do not sell.

It is also the National Day of Prayer. This gets a Presidential Proclamation. But unlike the previous Administration, that's all it gets. There will be no prayer breakfast in the White House and the President is not participating in any additional activities related to this purported holy day manufactured from whole cloth.* Nor will he participate in its Catholic counterpart. The promoters of the National Day of Prayer, Shirley Dobson (whose socially reactionary husband recently retired from his post as chairman of Focus on the Family, declaring the culture war "lost") are therefore holding their tear-down-the-wall-of-separation services near the Capitol building.

They are also issuing press releases, which has turned the event into a political football. Activist groups will use this ostensibly religious event to promote and support passage of H. Res. 397, the Congressional religion resolution to which I wrote a counter yesterday. Others will issue broadside swipes intended to encourage Christians to withdraw or weaken their political support for the President based on his failure to participate -- or excuse me, pretend to participate -- in their prefabricated display of public piety:
"At this time in our country's history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer," said Mrs. Dobson, who occupied a prominent seat in the front row for the ceremonies during the Bush administration. ... Some evangelicals said they were not surprised by Mr. Obama's decision. "For those of us who have our doubts about Obama's faith, no, we did not expect him to have the service," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. "But as president, he should put his own lack of faith aside and live up to the office." Referencing a remark the president made at a recent press conference in Turkey that Americans "do not consider ourselves a Christian nation," she added: "That was projecting his own beliefs, but not reflecting what the majority of Americans feel. It's almost like Obama is trying to remake America into his own image. This is not a rejection of Shirley Dobson; it's a rejection of the concept that America is a spiritual nation and its foundation is Judeo-Christian."
Thus, the National Day of Prayer appears to actually be a National Day of Attacking the President on Religiosity. They seem to forget that President Obama actually addressed a prayer breakfasts only a few months ago, with no small amount of his trademark eloquence. Or that the President hosted a Passover Seder, despite not being Jewish. They also forget that what President Obama is doing now is exactly what was done for this "holy day" under Presidents Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Clinton.

Instead, they are upset that President Obama doesn't publicly participate in their particular brand of religious behavior. Obama is no enemy of religion -- his political machinery was built in no small part on urban churches, he's expanded funding for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (formerly the Office of Faith-Based and Charitable Initiatives) and he has prayers said before every public event he gives -- prayers that his aides edit with the clerics who deliver them.

Nor are they going to concern themselves with the fact that prayer turns out not to work particularly well at all. In a now-famous double-blind study, patients who were given the benefit of intercessory prayers experienced increased rates of medical complications as opposed to patients who did not receive the prayers. Now, the differential was not great -- almost as though the effect of the prayer were the same as pure, random chance. A reminder to you all -- if I ever get into cardiovascular trouble, I appreciate your good wishes, but don't pray for me. And if you want the country to get better, your prayers aren't going to do a thing one way or the other. They are not, however,"harmless" in that they divert your attention, time, and energy from more productive ways that those limited and evanescent resources could be used.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the promoters of the National Day of Attacking the President on Religiosity are hypocrites. These are the ones who want the government to promote a strict Biblical view of Christianity on the theory that the United States is somehow a "Christian nation." The merits of a government-sponsored National Day of Prayer were opined on two thousand years ago by a guy who it seems to me ought to be viewed as an authority on the subject of what good Christians should do:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. The Gospel of Matthew, 6:5-6.
Or, for that matter, what good Americans should think about their government officials telling them to pray:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The United States Constitution, Amendment I.
But, there I go again, trying to be reasonable and logical about the whole thing. Praying earnestly but in private rather than making a hypocritical spectacle of yourself for political advantage wouldn't be very much fun, now, would it?

Hat tips for links to Doug Mataconis and Howard Friedman.

* When you think about it, aren't all holy days just made up out of whole cloth?

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Kudos to Obama for toning down the religious rhetoric and even acknowledging atheists. The Republican mainstream have got to cut their ties with the Religious Right or they will die like the dinosaurs.