The National Day of Prayer came and went today without much of a whimper. It never has caused much interest since it was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. Some 36 years later, President Ronald Reagan assigned the annual observance to the first Thursday in May.
Not many people noticed. President Barack Obama’s Presidential Proclamation had no impact either. It certainly didn’t have much impact when I used to invite folks to pray during the couple of years I worked as information director for the city of Daytona Beach Shores.
Then, I often had to ask ministers to avoid insulting non-Christian participants by pushing their faith, but to offer ecumenical prayers instead. Most complied. I actually had to uninvited one minister who didn’t get the message. Not that it really mattered to the 10 or 15 people who came each year to city hall and gathered on the front steps. The Jewish cantor who sang during the ceremony merely shrugged and said diplomatically that the minister’s strident religious comments didn’t bother her.
Nevertheless, I thought the day was worthwhile – and not for religious reasons. After all, I don’t believe there’s a God. And, as everyone knows, even believers don’t agree on much, including names (Yahweh, Allah, Jesus etc.) or even how to pray properly. Still, I figured there’s a value to such a day.
For example, I thought it would be nice to have a quiet moment when one religion wasn’t trying to claim supremacy over another. However, just recently, Islamic extremists attacked a church in Nairobi, Kenya.(left) That followed previous attacks on churches in Nigeria. Then, too, an Islamic leader has called on governments to demolish churches throughout the Middle East.
Clearly, a holy war is underway. Getting people together to pray simply makes them a more convenient target. They’d be better off in their own home with their eyes wide open, watching for trouble.
I also liked the National Day of Prayer because it allowed different religious representatives to share the same platform and appreciate alternative faiths. I thought the concept would enhance understanding and reduce tension.
When outspoken religious ministers can insist that everyone must believe as they do or leave the country. Not when seemingly normal people can insist that since Mitt Romney, the apparent Republican Party presidential nominee, is Mormon that he can’t possibly be Christian. Really? He simply has a different prophet of the Christian faith, a person not recognized in other sects. That’s hardly unusual, considering that prophets like Zarathustra, Mithra, or other would-be prophets carry no weight outside their own believers.
What is the pope (left) to a non-Catholic? Just an old guy wearing a strange headdress.
The National Day of Prayer also seemed like a great way bring the nation together, at least for a brief moment. Our country contains such diverse cultures and religious beliefs that, for one “brief, shining moment,” to quote a line from Camelot, we could stand as one – regardless of ethnicity, belief, age, country of origin, gender or any other factor.
That seems like an absurd view now, too, especially with the ongoing, vicious attacks on the gay community, the virulent political charges where politicians call each other Nazis and Communists simply because they disagree, the neo-Nazi paramilitary drilling in the isolated reaches of the West and the rancid attacks on immigrants spreading inland from border states.
Prayer would be nice. These days, however, it’ll take far more than prayer to overcome the deep fault lines fracturing our society. If we pause to bow our heads, we are likely either to be run over or pushed into the deepening abyss.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.