Thursday, August 28, 2008

Invocations & benedictions at the DNC - bad religion

It's too bad that the Democrats decided they had to try to outdo the Republicans in the god bizness. We're not electing a pastor or pope or any other religious potentate. Furthermore, it should have been obvious long ago that there is no way a few pious nods to god would satisfy the rabid religious right. They want your soul!

Nods to god are frequently somewhat humorous in that the preacher or another of god's representatives on earth stands before the crowd mumbling imprecations to the deity while the crowd is mumbling among themselves, the great majority neither listening to or giving a rat's ass about what is being said at the podium.

Secondly, every one of these pious reflectors belong to one form of religion or another and they just can't seem to help themselves. They've got to try to push their beliefs on the rest of us. It's like an addict who can't stop himself from reaching for just one more cigarette.

So, at the opening invocation, former Colorado state senator, Polly Baca, started the DNC off plying god's good graces, mentioning, of course, her favorite savior, Jesus Christ, and finishing the whole thing by crossing herself "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

That's probably not a good way to set the mood for Jews, Muslims, non-practicing Catholics, non-believers, Wiccans, Buddhists, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and all the other assorted systems which claim to have a different "truth" about deities, sons of deities, mothers of deities, heavens of deities, or hells of deities.

Monday night's benediction followed the same pattern as set by Ms. Baca, except it was given by an "evangelical," the writer Donald Miller. State of Belief Blog noted that Miller started out well, praying for "education, healthcare for all and a living wage ... Near the end of the benediction, [he] prayed for unity, acknowledging the vast diversity in America."

Then, incongruously, he blew it, saying, "I make this request in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice. Let him be our example."

I'm sure Miller thought he'd done a good deed. But as State of Belief Blog says, "...prayers need to be reflective of the audience, not just the person leading the prayer. In that convention hall there were Christians, yes, but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Unitarians, and many others who do not have a faith tradition. Closing a prayer in such a sectarian fashion sends the wrong message to those who are different."

Two things:

1. Most prayers at secular, public gatherings end up as sermons, telling the crowd what they should believe or should do and reflect the pray-er's own theological understandings. They should be banned for that reason.

2. Secondly, as State of Belief Blog noted, prayers should reflect the audience. But that is simply impossible. One prays only out of a particular religious tradition. Religious traditions, by nature, are exclusive, not inclusive. A prayer cannot, under any circumstances, be reflective of a large, diverse audience!


Let those who pray do so privately or in their church, temple, mosque or wherever their deity lurks behind the scenes. There is absolutely no valid reason whatsoever that we need prayers said at political conventions, public school graduations, at meetings of state legislatures, or in the halls of Congress.

And if you think you can manipulate god by praying in public or if you think that somehow your prayer rises to the deity like sweet incense, re-read your holy book!


Anonymous said...

Since most candidates publicly pray to win or something, do the election results tell us which side God is on? Why does God switch parties so often at every level of government? There is at least one Muslim Congressman, a number of Jews, many agnostics and some atheists all serving within both houses of Congress. Did God favor any particular denomination or religon and how can we tell which is His favorite?
Bob Poris

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that Donald Miller wouldn't consider himself an "evangelical." Fact check. Just because you pray in Jesus name doesn't make you an evangelical. Jesus actually existed before all Christian denominations and sects. Just sayin.

Jacob said...

Dear Anon...

Somehow you, also, totally missed the point of the post which was most definitely NOT whether or not Donald Miller was an "evangelical."

You might also wish to read some of the latest biblical scholarship which raises, quite impressively, the notion that Jesus is a figment of the imagination...


Anonymous said...

No, I appreciate the point of your post. I was just making a side tracked comment. Sorry. I just get all weird when people label other people they don't know...especially in the area of their personal faith. And that really hurts: "imaginary Jesus." ;)

Jacob said...

Dear Anon...

Thanks. I appreciate your writing. Actually, I don't know Donald Miller at all...I remember years ago there was an "evangelical" Miller who wrote books about new wine or something.

The "evangelical" label was in a report I read about the convention. I saw the label as fairly innocuous and was not implying anything negative at that point.

By the way, what would you call him - just out of curiosity?

Sorry about Jesus. It's a great legend, though, for the most part. One hint: Try to read Paul's genuine letters from a new perspective. How many times does he refer to the historical Jesus -- his person, his miracles, his teachings, or anything about him? About the only reference is the one in Corinthians re: the "last supper," and that surely is a liturgical piece interpolated at a later time.

Whenever Paul needs scriptural backing, he refers to the Septuagint version of the Bible. Which makes no sense if he knew of an historical Jesus who lived and died just a few years previously.

Even when Paul visits Jerusalem, he cares nothing whatsoever about the historical person...we hear nothing about the places mentioned in the gospels, nor about clothing Jesus wore, nor about the other disciples, nor about the trial, etc. Nothing whatsoever.

The gospels would not be written for a number of years, of course, but that doesn't mitigate Paul's utter lack of interest...

So...that's just one piece of the puzzle...

Question: Paul's Christ is a heavenly figure come down to the first heaven from the 7th heaven to deal with the "powers of the world" - Paul's Christ is not related to the Jesus of the gospels. Does that destroy the Christian faith?



Anonymous said...

I don't know Don Miller at all either. But as a recovering evangelical myself, I kind of get the sense that he wouldn't particularly wear that mantle. So, maybe I shouldn't have opened my big fat mouth. I like Miller's writing a lot (Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What, etc.) and didn't like to see him "sullied" by the label. I'm pretty sure he would say he follows Christ. I'm pretty sure.

Your arguments for "imaginary Jesus" were confusing for me. Clearly, you and I don't read the same material. But I am sure that Paul's letters (and the story of his conversion in the book of Acts in the N.T.-although written by Luke),overwhelmingly are Christ-centered. You mentioned Corinthians. I or II? Again, replete with references...which is an understatement. Remember, Paul was quite the lawyer and was making his case...for Christ,as it were.

Ok,enough from me. I'm no theologian and won't even begin to try to convince anyone of anything. It is clear to me that you are a very scholarly person with great points to make. So, I'll be a wuss and call a truce. Of course, you can have the last word. It is your blog.

(I was just googling Don Miller's prayer at the DNC to see what the religious right would say so that I could get all worked up and fire off a couple of pissy comments. A bad habit of mine) Thanks for being kind and letting me waste space.

Jacob said...

Dear Anon...

Thanks for writing and expressing yourself. I appreciate your kindness and spirit.

Perhaps we can take up the historicity of Jesus at another time.

Best wishes and please, keep reading and writing...


Anonymous said...

Interesting that this post got so many replies. There are over two thousand different Christian denominations in the USA. Evangelicals do not have a monopoly on truth. They have their views and the others apparently have some differences. Jesus either did or didn’t exist. We do not know as there are no contemporary records that mention Him. There were many prophets and people thought of as Messiahs before Jesus’ time. It doesn’t matter though as long as people believe in Him. The teachings attributed to Him are what people believe in. They are told us by people that came after his lifetime.. People choose to believe or not.
I am not sure most people wish to read current biblical scholarship. It might shake their faith or destroy their illusions. There are centuries of rules and sayings invested in the current variety of faith. It is hard to suddenly decide the one each believes might not be the truth. It is possible that everything is not as it seems. Some preachers tell us what they believe. Some have been shown to be terrible people and not worthy of our trust. Others disagree with others and we have no way of knowing which is right. We have faith or we do not.
Jacob seems to know a great deal about the Bible. I assume he is a biblical scholar at the very least. I am not, so I do not venture an opinion about “the facts”. I think belief should be quite simple. One believes and tries to at accordingly. Doing good is its own reward. Doing good for rewards is selling oneself for gain. We should be held accountable for our deeds, both the good and the bad. As for the after life, we will not know about it until someone returns and tells us, or until after we die. In the meantime, do as much good as you can, for you might be held responsible.
I am not a fan of most organized religions as people did the organizing and made the rules to suit themselves. I do not believe a church is needed to communicate with any version of God.
Bob Poris

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