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Q. Frank Bruni wrote Sunday that when it comes to fixing our country’s problems, “faith and prayer just won’t cut it. In fact, they’ll get in the way.” Is he right?
A. More than 90% of Americans pray. We pray in good times and in bad times. We pray in different ways and places – some of us preferring structured liturgies in overtly religious institutions and others praying spontaneously when and as they are moved to do so. Most Americans actually opt for a hybrid approach, sometimes choosing the former and even more often, the latter. Like it or not, prayer is a real part of our lives and ignoring that fact, or diminishing its significance is certainly foolish and may actually invite disaster.
No, I am not suggesting that if we don’t pray enough or do it properly — the definition of which is something upon which we happily, dare I say blessedly, do NOT agree – we will be punished by an angry God or gods. No, that’s not the disaster to which I refer. The disaster I have in mind is the one which comes by refusing to meet people where they are and take their beliefs seriously, whether we share them or not.
Frank Bruni is not wrong to suggest that prayer alone will not “cut it” when it comes to our current economic woes. In fact, I shudder to think what would happen if that approach guided us. Bruni is very wrong however when he suggests that prayer at this time is foolish or otherwise misguided.
Saddly, in the midst of his piece inviting greater nuance and more inclusive thinking Mr. Bruni rigidly defines prayer and arrogantly excludes its potential value. Ironically, his attitude is not so different from the religiously presumptuous tone of “The Response” this past Saturday.
The only real difference between Frank Bruni and Gov. Rick Perry, on that score at least, is that their absolutism is channeled in opposite directions. Neither however, makes much room for those with whom they disagree. And in their approaches, we see the co-dependency of absolutism which gives rise to real disaster, or the very least the dynamic through which each of them nurtures that to which they most object in the other.
Rick Perry and Frank Bruni need each other. But, do we really need them? Do we really need more voices which polarize our nation and demean those with whom we disagree?
Rick Perry and his allies mobilize not only around faith, but around the felt feeling of millions that their faith is seen as unimportant or even backward. Frank Bruni’s approach to faith and prayer fuels that fire and provides ammunition to precisely those people about whom Bruni claims to be concerned.
If people, including Frank Bruni, are genuinely concerned about over-reliance on prayer and the absence of nuanced thinking about how to approach the big challenges we face as a nation, then they should approach the challenge with nuance. Not even Rick Perry suggested that we could pray our way out of our current woes. He simply tapped into the sense that prayer can and does help – not necessarily by manipulating God, but by allowing people to express their deepest hopes and fears in ways that otherwise they would not.
Ignoring the power of anything to which so many Americans are devoted, including prayer, invites disaster. So too does relying on any one approach to anything, including prayer or faith. The bad news is that neither Gov. Rick Perry nor Frank Bruni seems to really understand that. The good news (no double entendre intended), is that most American do.