Take your pick.
Or take both.
How is that possible, you ask? If you’re not a believer then obviously you wouldn’t choose Prayer Day and if you’re not an atheist then why would you want to observe a Day of Reason?
I believe you can.
National Prayer Day was created by an act of Congress in 1952. It was around the same time “One nation ‘under God’” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Both of those things were, in my view, a breach of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Surprisingly there hasn’t been all that much resistance to National Day of Prayer until recently when the National Day of Reason was introduced by secularists as an alternative.
I never understood the point of National Prayer Day. People of faith presumably pray every day and most have places of worship where they can pray with like-minded people. Why do we need a special day to do that? I feel the same way about the Day of Reason. Shouldn’t we try to be, above all, reasonable every day?
This year, though, the National Day of Prayer supporters went over the top. They have as their honorary chairman, the founder of Harvest Crusades, the Rev. Greg Laurie.
In his prayer day statement, Laurie wants us to know that “everywhere we look in America, we see signs of decline.” That’s because we have largely forgotten God, he says, but “God has not forgotten us.”
How does he know? Because it says so in the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
That’s us God is talking about.
“In other words,” Laurie concludes, “America has two options: judgement or revival.” Which would you choose?
He says that when he studies Scripture, “I can’t find America in the End Times.”
As an example that “America’s days are numbered,” he says “we don’t like the idea of a family of a man and a woman married for life.” (Certainly there are many Americans who don’t like that idea, according to polls showing divorce numbers)
There are a lot of people, even people of faith, who might think that the pastor has gone too far. Certainly D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Michael Honda of California don’t think that kind of talk is reasonable. They support the National Day of Reason. It “celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity,” Honda said.
The National Day of Reason was created by the American Humanist Association, a member of the Secular Coalition and The Washington Area Secular Humanists. The coalition lobbies for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, etc. They take offense at the idea that a government endorsed “day of prayer” has been set aside in a country where 20 percent of the people , according to a Pew Foundation poll, are “nones” or those who are not affiliated with any religion.
Today, the U.S. Army has invited David Barton, an evangelical Christian minister, former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party, to speak at its prayer breakfast at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Barton has said of President Obama, “The hostility of President Obama toward biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American president.” He is also well known for espousing the view that the constitutional separation of church and state is a “myth.”
The military is obviously different from the rest of the country. In the military, the subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to attend a prayer breakfast is enormous and a person’s career can be seriously hurt by not participating.
It’s hard to believe that this was the basis for having a National Day of Prayer. This country was founded on the idea of religious freedom. But shoving one’s beliefs down the throat of all Americans is just the opposite. Laurie and Barton are so far from the mainstream that they are only representative of a very few Christians in this country, not to mention those of other faiths and no faith.
Whatever happened to inclusiveness and pluralism?
If we are to have a National Prayer Day, we need to redefine prayer. Carol Zaleski, who wrote the book, “Prayer: A History,” with her husband, Philip, says “prayer comes in many forms (verbal, wordless, spoken, sung, danced) and has many registers including petition, thanksgiving, adoration. Almost always prayer has an I-thou” structure, even when it is wordless contemplation.” Zaleski says that “prayer is a fundamental human activity, found in every human society at every period in history, and weathering all the changes in the religious landscape. Prayer gives human beings, in [Blaise]Pascal’s words, ‘the dignity of causality,’ a sense of being in a meaningful communion with the powers that give life shape and direction. It links human to divine, and, (in many kinds of prayer,) the living to the dead.”
My feeling is that we really don’t need a National Prayer Day, no matter how inclusive it is. Nor do we need a National Day of Reason.
Laurie says that his most fervent prayer today “will be for a spiritual awakening. With all of the problems in our country – political, economic, moral and social – the only lasting solution is to run back to God.”
My most fervent prayer is that people of differing faiths pray to their gods and not try to proselytize to the rest of the country, which has no place in the public square, especially with government sponsorship. I also pray that whatever we do, we do it reasonably.