This was going to be part of part 1 but I changed my mind once I realized how long it would wind up being. The following opinion piece is by Pastor C.A. Cowart, of Winter Haven, Florida.
Recently I was given the opportunity to attend a School Board meeting in which I was pleased to see many citizens of Polk County in favor of prayer and the cause of Christ. It was quite an encouraging feeling to see so many Bibles and passionate people at this meeting.
Much support was given in regard to an on-going battle that has been brewing between the atheist and the Christian community.
What “on-going battle” would that be, I wondered, and a quick Google got me an answer. Atheists of Florida launched a case against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd recently. In an effort to make incarceration less fun, he pulled the basketball hoops out of jails in his County and donated them to churches.
Possible misuse of funds is also an issue on this one but AoF is trying to make the case that he could have just as easily donated them to secular groups instead, and should have. They could even have gone to schools as encouragement to stay and get educated and skilled in the sport. This way he seems to be implying that going to church is the only way to stay out of prison.
“If you want to play basketball,” Judd told reporters, “don’t go to jail.”
Anyway, Cowart uses that issue to launch his own case against atheists. He claims we misunderstand the nature and purpose of prayer. I hardly think that’s true so I’ll refute him as he goes.
It is not my intention to force anyone to pray to a God that he or she doesn’t believe exists. However, I do not feel that we should be forced as Christians to be silent with regard to our expressions that we commonly call prayer.
Atheists don’t want believers to stop praying. Not in the way he seems to interpret it, anyway. Pray at home, pray in church. Pray at meals. Pray at bedtime. Pray as much or as little as you want.
The issue is prayer and government. In a government setting, in a country that is a democracy, not a theocracy, speakers are supposed to speak for all the people, believers and non, Christians and non. They should not use government time to pray to their god and thus exclude whole swaths of the population they supposedly will speak for over the course of the meeting. Even if they want to claim it can be inclusive, there’s still a prevalence toward the Christian definitions of god, since that’s still the majority belief system. The prayer rituals can be left out of the process and the job can still get done.
The issue is prayer and public schools. You want religious upbringing for your kids, raise them with one, but don’t sideline the unbelievers and other religions by visibly supporting one particular faith in a classroom. Keep bibles around as literature if you want. Let kids pray if they feel like it, but don’t be having teachers and principals insisting on it, or making kids feel left out and unliked if they don’t or can’t participate in that ritual. Prayer rituals can be left out and kids can still be taught everything they need to know intellectually and emotionally.
The issue is the treatment of a religion as a “God-given” right to exclude those who think or believe differently. Like atheists. Or gays, or Muslims, or Jews, or whatever group is currently getting maligned by another – including Christians in cultures where they aren’t the majority. It’s a human rights issue, bottom line.
Though prayer is a practice of religious people, prayer in and of itself is not a religion. It is an expression of one’s self to another. It does not necessarily have to be to a deity, but simply a petition or a request to anyone. Yes, it is true that religious people pray, but prayer is an expression and not a religion.
Prayer is a way to express one’s religion and the majority of people only pray in relation to their religion. I know Catholics will direct prayers toward intercessory saints and some faiths involve prayers to ancestors for the same reason, but the majority of people who pray tend to use the ritual to call God’s voice mail and that’s it. Whether it’s in relation to a sport they want to win, or a test not studied for, or an unexpected illness, those who pray are turning to a religious ritual in the hopes of altering or affirming their fate.
Let’s look at other religious groups such as Amish and Muslims who express their commitment to God in the way they dress. Should we now tell all Amish they can no longer wear long dresses and chapel caps?
Should we tell all Muslims women they can not wear hijab?
I don’t know if that’s the best idea ever had but France is trying. It’s unfair to compare prayer and clothing, though. Prayer can be done silently in the head and no one has to know you’re doing it, especially if you are in an area where obvious observance of your faith might get you killed. I don’t care if people want to commit to their religious beliefs by dressing a certain way. Hutterites and Mennonites do the same. Nuns and monks and pastors all dress for the roles they choose in society, too.
Choice is the thing though, isn’t it? Amish kids get the opportunity to leave home for a while and decide if they want to be baptized into the Amish faith when they are old enough to make a rational decision about it. I think that’s cool. People choose to be nuns or monks. Muslim women don’t really get a choice on the hijab or nabiq in some countries. Interpretations vary on how much coverage is needed but it’s all religiously mandated by clerics, not the women themselves. Some Muslim women do see a problem with this. More do than we probably realize, but might be afraid to speak out lest they get assaulted or killed.
It comes down to human rights again. People aren’t always choosing a religion. A lot of them are born into a belief system that denies them the right to choose a lot of things that they might have otherwise been able to do. Yet these restrictions are not seen as a bad thing. They’re seen as a necessary and worthwhile sacrifice, “what God wants” of his true believers.
I guess I’ll need a part three after all.