National Days

A reason to pray, and a prayer for reason

Haslam

 

And all religious practitioners should remember that about 30 million Americans, or almost 15 percent of our populace, claim no religion at all. Those are not second-class citizens. Their rights are not to be trampled or diminished or demeaned because they do not pray to one God or another. A fundamental part of freedom of religion is the right to practice no religion at all.

Today, Thursday, May 5, is both a National Day of Prayer, as proclaimed by Congress, and a National Day of Reason, as proclaimed by a host of other entities, including (coincidentally) the city of Maryville.

They are billed as competing observances by some of their backers. Prayer people warn that secularism is a growing danger, while explaining that an official observance of a prayer day is not a church/state issue. Reason people decry such an observance as unconstitutional and say flatly that their day of reason is in reaction to that religious observance and call it an "appropriate response" to the official, governmental recognition of the day of prayer.

In a nation where 75 percent of the population identifies themselves as Christian, in some form or fashion, there is always the possibility of a dictatorship of the majority arising along religious lines, Constitution or no Constitution. So, it isn't altogether surprising to find the non-religious among us reacting against official sponsorship of religious activity.

There has always been some pressure to introduce religion into government in the United States, to tear down the "wall of separation," as Thomas Jefferson referred to it, and it is with us today under the Bush administration's financial support of "faith-based initiatives," among other incursions into the perceived gray area of the First Amendment's establishment clause. It doesn't seem ambiguous to me: "Congress shall make no law..." is clear enough, and the Sixth Amendment's proscription is even clearer: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." That is strong evidence the nation's founders wanted to keep religion out of government and vice versa. But the argument rages on today.

In Knoxville, the Rationalists of East Tennessee, an organization of about 60 persons who see the separation of church and state as an inviolable aspect of our government, are holding a Day of Reason rally. It's a picnic at Tyson Park from 5 to 9 p.m. today. All are welcome, says Daryl L. L. Houston, the group's president, although food is somewhat limited. The organization plans to show off its proclamation, obtained from the city of Maryville. Houston says the cities of Knoxville and Oak Ridge were also asked for an official proclamation, but declined. Mayor Bill Haslam of Knoxville told Houston through a spokesperson, Houston says, that the mayor couldn't endorse it.

That illustrates how the prayer vs. reason competition plays out. It seems so unnecessary.

Prayer is not to be trifled with. It is practiced, publicly and privately, by more than 175 million Americans across a wide scope of religions and their various denominations. It is an important part of the spirituality of religious people. But they also practice reason, and they need plenty of it.

It is one thing to pray to the Prince of Peace for peace, but if it does not come forthwith, it is the duty of reasoned and reasonable men and women to seek it through mundane thoughtfulness and influence and persuasion. 

And all religious practitioners should remember that about 30 million Americans, or almost 15 percent of our populace, claim no religion at all. Those are not second-class citizens. Their rights are not to be trampled or diminished or demeaned because they do not pray to one God or another. A fundamental part of freedom of religion is the right to practice no religion at all.

So it is that the Day of Reason is well founded. Non-theists, which the Day of Reason organizers define to included freethinkers, humanists, atheists and agnostics, may "view such government-sanctioned sectarianism as unduly exclusionary," in their words.

Many devoutly religious people, to their everlasting credit, doubtless agree with them on that point. The organizers' goal, they say, is "to celebrate reason—a concept all Americans can support—and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship."

Reason is not to be trifled with, either, any more than prayer is. Reason is, among other things, how the founders of our country worked out our Constitution to begin with.

Years ago, I became friends with an elderly Korean woman who had converted to Christianity. She embraced it with her soul and body. Each evening, she knelt and prayed to God, she said, for the sake of herself, her family, her little country, and the world at-large. Afterward, she paid homage to Buddha at a little shrine she kept in her room. She said she put Buddha second so as not to offend God and break the commandment that told her she should not put any gods before Him. "If God doesn't answer my prayers," she said, "perhaps the good Buddha will." That was her reasoning, and it was her religion.

Pray for reason. It is required of all of us all the time, religious or not.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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