Her eyes are homes of silent prayer. – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I feel a little silly writing about Christianity for, as you will soon see, I know very little about the subject. In truth, religion usually interests me only in so far as it is a motivating force in enacting laws which affect our lives, and in the entertainment value it sometimes provides me through its mind-bending paradoxical quirks.
An example of both of these interests being simultaneously satisfied has arisen in the recent decision of the Illinois state legislature to require “all public schools in the state to begin the day with a moment of silence.”
Now, in and of itself, this legislation doesn’t really seem like a true violation of the principle of separation of church and state. There is no requirement that the children engage in prayer or religious meditation during these periods of quietude.
But there is some reason to believe that such a classroom moment is really merely a concession to the Christian Right, and that surely no atheists were championing this meditative minute as a necessary part of the student’s day. As such, this legislation was undoubtedly motivated by those who want religion to be allowed to encroach into government activities.
This is admittedly a mild erosion of the First Amendment. Erosion is a slow process, but even erosion eventually makes a flat prairie out of the tallest mountain. Erosion might even be thought to be an effective tool of the Right; having “Right” on their side, they are much more patient than the revolutionary Left. The Right seems content to conservatively chip away at our liberties, so that the sheeple will barely notice that these liberties are in the process of disappearing.
But what is it with Christians and this prayer thing anyway? I mean, I understand that the Bible repeatedly entreats us to pray, as, for instance, when Jesus says,
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:5-8
This passage does not really seem to be an endorsement of prayer in our schools. But it is, after all, just one passage and therefore (as I have learned) it is not to be taken seriously unless Pat Robertson says it is to be taken seriously.
But why do people pray? Is it that God needs to hear from us from time to time? Is He like the lonely grandfather in a distant state who occasionally needs a letter from His progeny in order to keep from slipping into a deep funk?
Or is He more like the doting rich father with the spoiled daughter who calls to say she’s embarrassed to be driving around in her old Mercedes? “Well, we can’t have that, darling! I’ll send you a new car right away!”
Most prayers I’ve heard of do seem to consist of the genuflecting one asking for the Genuflected One to grant some sort of favor. It is as though God has no way of knowing that we want our Aunt Gladys to be cured of her breast cancer until we actually get around to telling Him about it. And also, that somehow God will change His Plan if we remember to ask Him to.
Maybe it’s an ego thing. Maybe God craves lots of attention, kind of like the schoolyard bully. “Sorry, dude, but your Aunt Gladys is going to suffer unless you grovel before me.”
This all seems a little ridiculous to me, and leads me to think that God doesn’t really need us to pray to Him. But, for our own sake, we may need to pray to Him. After all, faith is a fragile thing, and it may be that the process of prayer somehow helps us to strengthen that faith, making us somehow feel closer to God.
Why God requires us to pray is perhaps one of those questions we should not ask. We do not question why He wants us to refrain from eating shellfish, or why He wants us to be baptized, or why He doesn’t want one man to lie down with another man. We simply agree to accept these as God’s rules, rather like we agree to accept the things written on the cardboard lid before we settle down to a game of Scrabble.
So is prayer necessary to salvation? I’ve heard some people claim that the only requirement for salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Savior. This would seem to suggest that prayer is, in itself, not necessary to salvation. It would also seem to condemn to Hell a bunch of infants who die having no idea who in the Hell Jesus is.
All that aside, there may well be a cause-and-effect thing going on here. One could argue that if one truly accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Savior, he or she will then automatically be motivated to engage in prayer as a result of this acceptance. Indeed, if this is true, it might well be impossible for a school to stop a true Christian from engaging in prayer whenever his or her faith demanded it.
All of this causes me to descend into the confusing world of predestination and Antinomianism and unconditional election. Christians can’t even agree on this crap:
Universalists argue that God would be motivated by His love for His creation to save all souls from eternal damnation. They posit that there is no Hell, Satan, or sin that lies beyond the redeeming power of God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus. Continuing this line of reasoning, Universalists argue that, having purposed to save everyone, God, as the omnipotent Creator, shall certainly succeed. Hosea Ballou wrote that a God who did not want to, or was unable to save everyone, was not a God worth worshipping.
Calvinists agree that God is sovereign, and will save all those whom he has purposed to save. Calvinist theologians however, along with the majority of Christian theologians from other traditions, believe that Scripture clearly indicates that not all will, in fact, be saved. They point to another characteristic of a sovereign God: his divine justice. Calvinists contend that God extends mercy and grace to whom He will according to His plan (Romans 8), and administers justice (which, by its very nature is the punishment for sin, and thus in every way good and holy in concordance with the character of God) to all others.
In other words, mumbo jumbo.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit off topic, as I really wanted to focus more on this Illinois legislation thing, for it raises another question I have about Christian prayer. That is, what is the necessary frequency and duration of prayer that defines true Christian belief?
The article I referenced above does not answer the question of how long these silent sessions are to last, and merely suggests that these sessions occur once a day. The link provided in the article might well have answered my question, but the link requires registration and, personally, I would rather risk my personal salvation than register for anything online.
But let us say, for the sake of argument, that this break will be provided once a day for a ten-minute period. Now, where do we find Biblical support for the necessity of a prayer period of ten minutes during the seven or so hours a child would be in school each day?
I have to admit that I don’t know if there is an answer to this. Unfortunately, I have no friends who are Christian scholars as I have always ended up pissed off at any potential Christian scholar friends I might have encountered. Nor am I quite sure how to Google my way to an answer to this one.
Since the early church was made up of many with a Jewish lineage and history, a large part of the private prayers of its members followed typical Hebrew format. Praying three times a day became the daily office of the person, though, instead of a community encouraged practice. This adaptation was largely due to the problem that Christianity had not yet become a country-endorsed religion. While the Jews were able to communally close shops and trade for the sake of their Sabbath, the ability to maintain such a discipline among Jewish and Gentile Christians wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm. This private practice would later develop into family devotions and personal “quiet times.”
That’s all I’ve got. The Muslims are much better about this prayer schedule thing, apparently having developed such an elaborate system that a calculator is required to determine the times of prayer on any given day. Apparently, Allah has a pretty busy schedule and is only available for supplication during strictly defined periods of time.
Still, the Christian Right has somehow managed to determine that neither a child nor God can make it through the school day without one devotional pause (and apparently the lunch break is not enough). Or else what, I ask? Will the child resort to paganism or agnosticism if not allowed this quiet moment to check in with the Leader? Do heathens walk among us today because as children we were deprived of ten minutes of silence during our school day?
In reality, the Christian Right is askeeerrrd. For these folks, there are some disturbing trends in religious worship. The dominance of the Church is threatened as both science and secular beliefs are making headway. Indeed, education may well be the great enemy of the Christian Right. It is only natural therefore that the Fundamentalists want more influence in our schools, and an opportunity to divert students from the accumulation of that great evil, Knowledge.
I have no idea if I’ve written anything worthwhile here. For me, metaphysical ruminations usually result only in migraines, and my epistemological epistles usually spiral downward into a preposterous pit of nonsense. And that’s the main reason I would rather that these Christian loonies would just leave me alone.