Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let Us Fray

For those of you that feel deprived because of not having had a "War on Christmas" last year, you may console yourself with the knowledge that a pointless and religiously-themed argument has broken out over The National Day of Prayer this year.

"This makes us who are not religious feel excluded," [Annie Laurie] Gaylor[, who runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation] says. "It makes us political outsiders. It makes me feel like the president is telling me that I'm supposed to believe in a God, and there's something wrong with me — and even if I don't believe in a God, I'm still supposed to pray."
Day Of Prayer Becomes Culture War Skirmish
I expect that the answer to Mrs. Gaylor's dilemma is to not give the President such power over her emotions. Not to be flippant, but if the President calling for a token (and yes, it is a token) day of prayer "makes" you feel that there's some sort of obligation to believe, and that you're a broken person for not doing so, perhaps you care a little too much about what the President thinks, and whether or not he might approve. It's also worth noting that there is an interesting intersection between language and mentality here. While it's common to refer to things as "making" us feel a certain way, this isn't true in a strictly literal sense - no one really has the power to force certain feelings on someone. Granted, our emotions often seem completely outside of our control, but I think that the world would be a completely different place were emotionally manipulating others such a trivial exercise.

This isn't to say that there are no issues. Being an admitted atheist is a nation of believers can sometimes feel like painting a bull's-eye on your back - you can easily become a target for the fears and insecurities of the religious. And there is a strain of religious thought that aims to have the Establishment Clause interpreted in such a way that it would effectively outlaw atheism.
"The Constitution never says there was a separation of church and state. It is the freedom OF religion, not the freedom FROM religion. And that's why we're fighting so hard." Reverend Ken Hutcherson, Antioch Bible Church, Redmond, Washington. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 14 October, 2004.)
(And lest you think I'm reading some insecurity into the reverend's words where perhaps none was intended, you could be right. But this is the same man who proclaimed: "God hates soft men. God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end." A model of security and self-validation he is not.)

But - that said, the answer to that is not to play up one's own fears and insecurities.
"[...] we are offended and injured when our government tells us that we have to pray and when to pray and why to pray."
When the requirement for personal prayer is codified into law, and refusal to participate is a crime, let's talk. But if the "coercion" comes simply from the disapproving stares of snobbish believers, even those who happen to work for the government, perhaps the FFRF and like thinkers should just tell them to get bent. (It's very therapeutic, I'm told.) By the same token, it stretches the definition of the word just a bit too far to presume that atheists (or simply those people whose belief system doesn't allow for a personal deity that can be propitiated with prayer) are "disenfranchised" by the idea of a National Day of Prayer. I'm fairly certain that I've never been asked to prove attendance at any sort of religious function to obtain my voter registration card and absolutely certain that I've never perjured myself by attesting that I've been to one on a registration form.

Of course, I'm leaving aside the idea that this very fine public whine is simply a means of attention seeking, using that new American standby of the victimization sob story. That's a post for another time.

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