My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?
President Barack Obama praying at a White House Easter event in April.
May 3rd, 2012
09:51 AM ET

My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Dear Deity,

In the Milky Way, on planet Earth, in the United States of America, Thursday is our National Day of Prayer, so I am writing to ask You how to pray.

Seventy eight percent or so of U.S. citizens are Christians, so should we pray today to the Christian God? This seems to be the conviction of the folks at the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which pops up first if you Google “National Day of Prayer.” (By the way, do You Google, God? And if so do you ever Google "God"?)

The NDP Task Force refers to itself as “Judeo-Christian,” but it sure looks evangelical to me. It has been chaired since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder (and evangelical stalwart) James Dobson. Its site quotes liberally from the New Testament, and one of its goals is to “foster unity within the Christian Church.”

A NDP Task Force press release begins: “Americans to Unite and Pray on Thursday, May 3rd, for the 61st Annual Observance of the National Day of Prayer." But will their sort of prayer really unite our nation?

Twenty four percent of Americans are Catholics, and God knows they don’t pray the way evangelicals do. Nearly 2% are Mormons and another 2% are Jews. And neither of those groups talks to You with the easy familiarity of born-again Christians.

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And what about American Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists?  Muslims agree with their Jewish and Christian neighbors that there is one God. But how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?

As You obviously know, the 1.6% of Americans who call themselves atheists and the 2.4% who call themselves agnostics refer to today as the National Day of Reason. On their web site, they argue that our National Day of Prayer represents an unwanted and unconstitutional intrusion of religion into the workings of the U.S. government.

In his various proclamations of the National Day of Prayer, including this year's, President Obama has referred to prayer as an important part of U.S. history. He speaks of the Continental Congress and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. being driven to their knees by the force of the tasks set before them.

But when our national icons have prayed on our behalf, they have done so in generic terms. Washington addressed “the Almighty”; Jefferson called on “that Infinite Power.” They did so because they wanted prayer to unite us, not to divide us, and they knew from the start that different Americans call You by different names.

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But addressing “Providence” in vague pieties will not satisfy everyone either. The evangelicals at the NPD Task Force reject efforts to “homogenize” America’s many different ways of praying into one common prayer.

I see their point. Like language, religion is a specific sort of thing. If you are going to speak, you need to choose a language. If you are going to pray, you need to choose a religion (and a god). So if they want to pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, more power to them.

But what happens when that particular prayer language is put forth as our collective national language? What happens when we pray, as Rick Warren did at President Obama’s inaugural, “in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus”? Then prayer turns into a wedge, dividing those who call you Christ from those who call You Krishna (or do not call on You at all).

So I return to my original question: How should we pray on this National Day of Prayer?

But while I have Your attention (do I?) I have one more.

This year the NDP Task Force has chosen for its theme “One Nation Under God” and its Bible quote is: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 33:12). Is our god You? Since 1954 we have bragged in our Pledge of Allegiance that we are "one nation under God." Are we?

All too often, it seems to me, we use You rather than following You. Democrats ask You to shill for them on tax policy and immigration. Republicans claim to speak in Your name on abortion and gay marriage. Does this annoy You — playing the pawn in our political chess games? Don't You sometimes just want to smite us?

Finally, before I let you go, I must ask You about the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. Perhaps You have more important things on your plate, but while I have Your attention (do I?) I must ask: What portion of their income should millionaires pay to the U.S. government? When President Kennedy came into office the highest income tax rate was 91%. Was that too high? Today it is 35%. Is that too low? (Just curious.)

This prayer is already too long, so I should stop. But if You are still there (are You?) maybe you could just tell me whether You follow the Roman Catholic Church. If so, could you comment on the recent fight the Vatican has been picking with American nuns? Do you think our nuns should be spending more time fighting contraception and less time caring for the poor and the sick?

And do get back to me on that how to pray thing. We’re all supposed to do it on Thursday, together.



The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Politics • Prayer • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (4,673 Responses)
  1. Confused Theist

    1 Corinthians 13:11 .. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

    See .. even God says you need to stop believing this folklore!

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Joseph

      Thanks for your ridicule. I think the 1st Amendment applies to Christians as well as 'confused theists.'

      May 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Confused Theist

      You're welcome Joseph. I like how a bible quote is ridicule 😉

      May 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Joseph

      The folklore quip. Keep up with your own leftist arrogance and pretense.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • John H.

      Joseph, it is folklore / myth unless you can PROVE it true. Almost every religion that has existed has fallen as myth, why should Christianity be any different? Quoting Matt Dillahunty from the atheists experience on the topic of religions, "They can't all be right, but they CAN all be wrong."

      May 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • nonyabidnes2

      In that verse Paul was speaking to the people of Corinth. The people there were a combination of Jews and Gentile, which were sinners. Paul went to tell them about God...

      May 3, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  2. nonyabidnes2

    Whether you call him Buddah, Mohammed, or others, it is still talking to the one true God. There is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, called Elohim. We are not here to tell others to pray or how to pray. We are here by his grace to show others God's prefect Love. Alot of Religions will debate this, and that's fine. Becasue in reality, we all speak to the same God...

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  3. To all the close-minded atheists that have all the answers

    so I keep hearing alot of why does God allow this and that if He loves us, because this is Satans world and God lets unfortunate events happen to ultimately crush and humble people to call on Him. Im not going no where I love to stand up for my God because He uses me to answer you people. Keep em coming

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Lilith

      Ahhh ... Gods mouthpiece.
      If you hear voices you need medication ... just saying.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • n8263

      Your alias is about as backwards and untruthful as you could possible get.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • It's all Mythology

      Its the deists that are closed minded.

      'Today's religion is tomorrows mythology'

      May 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Jamie

      You're so ignorant that it is sad.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • JC in Western U.S.

      Why do you think He needs to be "stood up for"? What makes you so special that He would need YOU to answer for HIM? What makes you think you have the Right Answers?

      May 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • John H.

      Actually you have it wrong. Atheists are the open minded ones. If you can prove scientifically that god exists I can guarantee nearly all atheists would believe. However, if science proved god could not exist how many theists do you think would become atheists? Now who's closed minded!

      May 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  4. migeli

    Let's pray for less money in the hands of just a few.The wealthy are ripping us all off with their power.Tax the rich as they were taxed before,you remember maybe when this country was not in all this trouble financially?If you don't remember that all was well when the wealthy paid their fair share, then your too young or Fox News has succeeded in scrambling your brains.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  5. Bobby Uppot

    God has revealed himself in many ways thus many religions. God is clear in all religions to say that there is one God. Where you see many Gods it is but many manifestations of the one Holy God. God is known as Yaweh, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna and many other holy names.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Eric G

      And yet, no verifiable evidence has ever been presented to support any claim that any god or gods exist? This fact is what gives all religions solidarity.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  6. Dave

    A lot of it depends on your faith. Some will not pray, and many will, and I think the object of prayer is OK with that. Pray, or do not pray – it is your choice, but do not be offended that others do not pray or that they do – it is their choice.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  7. JC in Western U.S.

    I think we're all agnostic. Agnostic just means not knowing or thinking that it is not possible to know. I grant to anyone the freedom to have FAITH in whatever they want to have faith in. Let them worship how, or what, or when they want. As for me, I don't know. I don't claim to know. I don't think any human can know. If there is a God, a creator, then obviously that God surpasses all of us, exponentially, in every possible way. So, whether or not there is a God, I think that anybody who claims to "know" God, or understand God's will, is both astoundingly arrogant and unspeakably insolent.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  8. RegularDude, south bay, ca

    Why can't the headline be "pray for a Muslim God?"
    The news hates Christians thus, the dems are behind it.democrats say they want equal sociallness. Christianity is exepmt from their list

    The left liberal media would not dare offend a Muslim.

    Bee Ess

    May 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Jamie

      Shut up stupid.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      Behold, the Christian persecution complex.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • jackfnburton

      Yes. It's all a nefarious, poorly spelled conspiracy. Boo!

      Very rational.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  9. n8263

    Religion is delusional, prayer is delusional.

    You do not believe in religion because you honestly think it is true, you believe in it because you are afraid of the unknown. It does not take a genius to figure out all religion is man made, so for humanity's sake, please stop lying to yourself.

    Deluding yourself in religion does not change reality.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Joseph

      Thanks for your view! We Christians love you anyway! Hope you work through your empty, meaningless life, but to each their own.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • RR

      My sentiments exactly.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • n8263

      My life is neither empty or meaningless, and yours has no more meaning to it because you choose to delude yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  10. This is a time to mourn!

    Americans, you are really showing in what desperate shape you are! Want to pray, but don't know to which god to pray to!
    Don't you foolish people know that if there is a god who made all things, then He is the only one to pray to! You act as if there is a choice of them to pick from, being afraid that if you pray to one, you may offend another one. This would be laughable, if it were not so sad adn pathetic!
    Your concept of democracy has messed with your minds for way too long. You have cast out the truth you knew long ago, replacing it with garbage you feed on, taking in whatever is given to you, because you have no backbone to stand up for truth and wind that's blowing against it!
    So, one more time...get this straight and digest it while you still have time: JESUS CHRIST is LORD of whole Earth, and there is no God beside Him. Without Him there would be no America.
    Your forefathers knew that, but you have dishonored them AND your country, making it the laughingstock to the world.
    Never forget, that whatsoever man sows, he shall also reap. These are Jesus' words.
    And you are reaping, that is for sure!

    May 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • godoflunaticscreation

      I pray to the one true God, Zeus!

      May 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      The one true God is the Flying Spaghetti Monster !!!

      May 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • It's all Mythology

      Our forefathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were vehemently against organized religion. Both were active atheists. Learn some history buddy.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • The Guy

      Yet, every other religion in the history of man makes the exact same claims of supremacy. Strange how that happens.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • John H.

      And what is your proof that jesus christ even existed, or that he was a god if he did? You speak as if you KNOW for a fact he existed and was a god, but you have no evidence. Only a fool believes something before it is proven.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • This is a time to mourn!

      Only a fool denies his own conscience, because he loves his sin rather then God who has made himself known through all things He created, by imprinting this knowledge of Himself on their hearts, til they shot Him out. Only a fool willingly chooses to follow his own ways, forfeiting his own soul!

      May 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • This is a time to mourn!

      @the Guy
      Satan was there when our first parents sinned, and he knew plan of God to redeem us. So, why is it such wonder that he would scheme false things to imitate God, so that he would appear as Original? See, you fell for it. Just think how many others did!

      May 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  11. Ran (Catholic)

    Stephen Prothero – you time would have been better spent praying rather than writing the article.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Bruce

      The article IS a prayer, Ran.

      Reading is fundamental...

      May 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Jamie

      Ummm, no it wouldn't. Prayer is a complete waste of time. On the other hand, writing promotes brain activity thus enabling a person to become more educated.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  12. It's all Mythology

    Man created God.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  13. Evian Bidet


    May 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  14. CJ

    Most oppressed group in this godforsaken nation is those of us who know god is a joke...we don't get a say, even though we do the bulk of good deeds day by day...

    May 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • JT

      Actually, everybody knows god is a joke but fear keeps them from uttering it out loud and stay imprisoned.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |

      You certainly get your say.You just had yours. That's America. I, on the other-hand, believe – and that is my right.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm |


      May 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Oceans Blue

      You're getting a say right now aren't you? And why would you refer to this nation as being "God" forsaken if you don't believe in a God?

      May 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  15. Gayle

    I pray to God that is ONE is every sense of the word One, not "three in One or one in three." The unseen God... Like in the O.T. of the bible.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  16. J-Pap

    My city as I suspected is not under 2% atheist.

    So are almost half the people in my city supposed to accept this day of prayer? This is the problem with religion. Stop forcing it down people's throat. It's like a pyramid scheme. Tell your friends before its too late other wise they might not be able to join.

    Vancouver BC CANADA religious profile from 2001 Census[5]

    42.2% no religious affiliation, including agnostic, atheist, Humanist, Darwinism, and "no religion"
    19.0% Catholic
    17.4% Protestant
    6.9% Buddhist
    4.4% other Christian, not identified elsewhere
    2.8% Sikh
    1.8% Jewish
    1.7% Muslim
    1.7% Christian Orthodox
    1.4% Hindu
    0.5% other religions, including Aboriginal spirituality, Pagan, Wicca, Unity, New Thought,
    Pantheist, Scientology, Rastafarian, New Age, Gnostic, Satanist
    0.3% Bahá'í, Eckankar, Jains, Shinto, Taoist, Zoroastrian and Eastern religions not identified elsewhere

    May 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Oceans Blue

      Who is forcing anything down anyone's throat? If you choose not to participate, then don't. Nobody is going to harass you about it.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Jamie

      This is why Vancouver is one of the best cities in the world to live in and has such a low crime rate. Like all the other areas in the world that are without religion, Vancouver is also clean & well educated. This is also why you are all going to BURN IN HELL. Just kidding. Seriously though, if you know of any good GIS jobs in your city, please reply to this post. Like most of the godless atheist out there, I am college educated and hove no criminal record.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  17. Joseph

    Yawn. Liberals believe is nothing but the cold, hard present. This is news?

    May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Gotta Love Christian "Logic"

      But we Christians believe in Lakes of Fire and Zombie Messiahs!!!! Aren't THEY stupid!

      May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  18. Mleecarte

    I think this so called pray is a very dangerous thing you are playing with. Do not mock God. As for the questions you asked:
    God asked for 10% of your income. It that is good enough for God, it is surely extremely good for the government. Who is the right God to pray to? I can only answer from my belief which is Jesus Christ, Father the one and only God for me. If other choose a different God to pray to, well that is what this country was founded on. Each can pray to their own God. However, from my belief given to me from The one and only God that I believe in. I am commanded to spread the message of the free gift of salvation to all even those who believe in a different god. If they do not want to listen, then I am to move on. I should keep them in my prayers. But God (Jesus' Father) gave all free will to choose. So it is up to each of us to accept or not. Also remember this is country was also founded on a majority rules. But unfortunatelly the special interest groups have turned this into a minority rules. Which is why we are in the shape we are in now. God asked us to do unto others as we would want others to do unto us. WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH THAT????? What kind of world would this be if people actually practiced that???? Have your fun. But what goes around comes around.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • J-Pap

      please move on. Everyone has heard the word of your GOD. You lost me at 10% of your income. I do unto others as I would like to be done unto me. And I can keep my 10% and Sundays too. Thanks be to me.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • nonyabidnes2

      It appears that Mr. Stephen Prothero religion has interfered with his Christianity. Unless you subscribe to some cookie cutter religion there is no "set" way tp pray. For me I just talk with God like I do others, with love and respect...

      May 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  19. atheist

    Do you know that 84.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot? There are much more than 1.6% atheists in this country. We just don't all go around yelling it out to everyone cause people are too insecure about their own religion and they would try and attack us.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Oceans Blue

      Maybe you don't go around proclaming your atheism because deep down you're not quite sure about what you really believe.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  20. Teasus Chrysler

    . At May 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm me posted the following:
    "No most likely we will raise our children without fear, guilt or shame. We will love them without brainwashing them. We will take care of people on earth and live our lives without worrying about baking in a made up place that a child molesting priest whispered about in our ear. Oh and we will watch you and roll our eyes at your ritualistic nonsense."

    Cast not your pearls before swine 😉

    May 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.