Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Praying for Hate

Millions, if not billions, of people do something every day.  They turn their thoughts to heaven and they pray.  What do they pray for?  Good health? Winning the next $600 million lottery?  Success at work?

All good ideas, but religion teaches that all anyone should do is praise God.  That’s what prayer is for.  Of course, that’s not what people really think.  We’ve all read prayers published in newspapers, both thanks to God for some benefit or requests to a saint for assistance.  They used to be very commonplace. 

Praying to harm someone?  You may not do that, but according to a ruling by a Texas judge, it's perfectly fine to ask God to smite a neighbor you don’t like. In fact, if someone hears your prayer and instead of waiting for God to act actually smites your neighbor for you, the judge said there’s no connection to the prayer.

Don’t tell that to Mikey Weinstein a lawyer who founded a group called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which opposes religious intrusions into the military.  His audacity outraged a former Navy chaplain, Gordon Klingenschmitt, who posted an invective-filled prayer against Weinstein, his family and home on his website.

Michael "Mikey" Weinstein
Weinstein, who calls himself an agnostic, testified that he has been threatened and had swastikas painted on his house.  Windows were shot out, and dead animal were left on his doorstep.

"We are disappointed in the ruling because we believe the judge made a mistake in not understanding that imprecatory prayers are code words for trolling for assassins for the Weinstein family," Weinstein said in an on-line story by the Religious News Service. "I don't think the judge understood that these are not regular prayers.”

Weinstein compared “imprecatory prayer” to Islamic fatwas declared against an opponent.  Author Salman Rushdie, for example, was targeted by a fatwa and had to hide for 10 years because some Muslims take such requests for revenge very serious.

On the other hand, District Court Judge Martin Hoffman does not.  In his ruling, he said “there was no evidence that the prayers were connected to threats made against Weinstein and his family or damage done to his property.”

Gordon Klingenschmitt
Believers cheered.  "Thankfully, the district court recognized that if people are forced to stop offering imprecatory prayers, half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country will have to be shut down," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a legal advocacy group that supported Klingenschmitt.

Really?  All this time I thought parishioners prayed for things like peace, health and things like that.  Nope, all wrong.  A lot of them want their neighbors smitten.

Klingenschmitt and his cohorts cited Psalm 109, a biblical ode that has a particularly vicious tone. 

7  When he shall be judged, let him be condemned:
and let his prayer become sin.
8  Let his days be few;
and let another take his office.
9  Let his children be fatherless,
and his wife a widow.
10  Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg:
let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11  Let the extortioner catch all that he hath;
and let the strangers spoil his labor.
12  Let there be none to extend mercy unto him:
neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
13  Let his posterity be cut off;
and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

Strong stuff.  It actually gets worse.  The author wants God “to cut the memory of them from the Earth.”

Of course, the author plans to sit on the sidelines and let God do the dirty work:

26  Help me, O LORD my God:
O save me according to thy mercy:
27  that they may know that this is thy hand;
That though, Lord, has done it.

Actually, as Judge Hoffman conceded indirectly, prayers actually have no meaning.  God isn’t going to act.  That only leaves the people who read or hear the imprecatory prayer to do something.

In this case, apparently, they did.

Too bad Klingenschmitt didn’t consider some other prayer, say:

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord, my God, I called to you for help and you healed me” in Psalm 30; or “… in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” in Psalm 5.

Of course, when someone who is a “true believer” like Klingenschmitt who, along with so many others, wants to impose religious views on someone else, people such as Weinstein simply don’t have a prayer.

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.  You can also follow him on Twitter.

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