Thursday, May 6, 2010
National Day of Prayer: So What?
Today is the National Day of Prayer. It was originally passed into law by Harry Truman in 1952 and stipulated that the President set aside one day a year as a day of prayer. It been going on for 53 years and is an "American tradition".
As an Atheist, I don't really care that today is National Day of Prayer, so I was just planning on going about my business like I normally do and just treat it like any other day, but it seems like some more "hardcore" atheist people and groups are taking their "anger" at today and taking it one step further. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group which I belong to and generally support its causes, scored a "major victory" on April 15, when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment to the Constitution. The White House quickly appealed the decision and President Obama declared that a National Day of Prayer would indeed continue and issued a very stern proclamation.
See, this is where many Atheists and I start to disagree. While a National Day of Prayer may be unconstitutional, it would be more unconstitutional if it were called a National Day of Christianity and Praying to Jesus. By reading Obama's proclamation, it is clear that the NDP leaves the spectrum of the term "prayer" wide open. While many Christian folk will use today to give an extra shout-out to the "man upstairs", Pagans may take moment to walk with the trees or nature spirits for an extra minute or two, Hindus may spend some free time conversing with Ganesh or Kali, Buddhists may chant for an extra 5 minutes. And Atheists and Secular Humanists may watch an extra episode of Nova or Cosmos and discuss the wonders of the Hubble telescope.
The bottom line is that the term "prayer" can be loosely defined to fit whatever need suits you best. The NDP does not specifically determine WHAT or WHO people should pray to, but rather suggest everyone take a minute to "take it all in". Whether that be as a moment of prayer to whatever higher power suits you, or just maybe taking a deep breath and saying, "Gee Universe, I'm so lucky that the crap shoot that is life and evolution accidentally made me."
So maybe I'm a bad Atheist because I'm not screaming in a picket line that the NDP should be abolished, It doesn't affect me. A National Day of Prayer is not going to suddenly make me believe in a god, start knocking on people's doors at 9am, and going to church (well, only if I'm going into a church to admire the art and architecture). So why bother getting all upset about it? There are more pressing church/state issues that need attention, most importantly the Texas Board of Education's "revamping" of its history curriculum to fit the Evangelical Right's needs.
Sure, many fanatics will use today as a way of pushing their "America is a Christian Nation" ideology, but any intelligent, educated person knows that isn't true. While very religious men, our Founding Fathers first of all were NOT Christians, they were Deists, and they understood the importance of not putting one religion over another. They clearly set out rules and doctrines that outlined this concept. But, with the very strong Evangelical Christian presence in this country, that line between church and state has thinned and I understand why many Atheists may get a little "trigger happy" to start marching and protesting about everything.
But is this really necessary? Who cares if it is National Day of Prayer? It has no effect on my day. Why should it affect yours? It's like the abortion issue or the gun issue. If you are against abortion, don't have one. If you don't want a gun, don't buy one. No one is forcing anyone to go out and pray today, no one os forcing us into churches or temples or mosques, no one is forcing us to change our beliefs.
It's National Day of Prayer today. Do with it what you will. Personally, I hope many people are so hell bent on praying that they stay home and reduce some of the traffic around here!