home
RSS
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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.

Sincerely,

Steve

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. Joseph

    Jesus is the way, the truth, the love. Nobody comes to heaven except thru Christ.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Who are you trying to convince? Sounds like yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • David Hill, Jr,

      enough said. arguing doesn't help. a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. good post

      May 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • David Hill, Jr,

      He is the only way...HE proved that 2000 years ago when He rose from the dead (unless you are of the opinion that never happened and you believe all the martyrs of the centuries died for nothing and Christ splits time in half because He was a 'good man' : )

      May 3, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      No need to argue.

      Just explain what "thru Christ means"

      Usually when someone says the only way in here is though me they are challenging you to knock them on their a$$

      May 3, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  2. One one

    "“There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell… An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse — and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.”- Sam Harris

    May 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Everett Wallace

    In The United States the Black Onyx Mansion will be built.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Onyx had some good raps but I don't think they ever got enough record sales to build a mansion in the U.S or anywhere else.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  4. :)

    Science = Religion

    America towards Christian theocracy

    May 3, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      They allow computers in your padded cell?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  5. Blasphemy

    Muslims ca easily see how deluded Christians are.

    Christians can easily see how deluded Muslims are.

    Why is it so hard for Christians to see how deluded Christians are and why is it so hard for Muslims to see how deluded Muslims are?

    May 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • perryw

      You have ADD don't you?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Blasphemy

      God appeals to the submissive mind.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  6. Frank

    If there truly is a God, then he is everyone's God, not just Christians. Christians follow the teachings of Christ, including that he is the only Son of God and through believing this people are saved from going to hell. You can be a Muslim and be a monotheist and pray to the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

    Even Hindus believe in a single God, but name is many aspects by different names, Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva, all aspects of same underlying divinity.

    Buddhists are more complicated as they eschew naming God at all, but only because they don't believe the mind or language capable of articulating or encapsulating God with words or concepts, as fruitless. This may be the most reverent approach when you think of it. Taoists call it The Way and also believe words destroy God by naming he/she/it.

    Atheists and agnostics merely believe that the traditional concepts of God as an angry ruler and/or magical being in the sky are absurd and therefore worthy of rejection, but when you ask a true believer of God if they see him as either of these or any concrete concept such as that, they would agree, preferring to describe God as beyond conception in human terms.

    At the end of the day, God is just a three letter word and most find comfort in prayer, particularly when no other means of expressing our desire for peace and reconciliation in an often turbulent, harsh and unfair universe is available, so why not have a day of prayer. Prayer is an extremely human habit and one that is nearly always comforting and who could deny anyone who is sincere that avenue of comfort.

    I would also like to see a national day of meditation, as meditation is equally comforting and healing and resembles prayer in many respects.

    Namaste.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Frank, it's because of the separation of church and state. No one is asking you to stop praying. I don't know why you people keep pretending someone is trying to persecute you.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Henry

      Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through me.”

      May 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      So Jesus is like a glorified bouncer. Maybe Patrick Swayze was the second coming and you all missed it.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Frank

      I don't feel persecuted and rarely pray. I prefer meditation. I don't see the harm in recognizing that prayer is something Americans like to do with a national day recognizing it. We recognize romantic love on Valentine's Day, even though not everyone is in love. We recognize Christmas, even though many people are not Christians. The list is endless.

      No one is persecuting anyone.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  7. n8263

    It should have been mentioned that including atheists and agnostics nearly 20% of Americans are non-religious and this segment is growing much faster than any religious segment.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • sortakinda

      But only 1.6% don't believe in God. You and a few other sad, bitter whiners, hopelessly trying to convince believers of your lost, empty cause.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • n8263

      There are many agnostics and other non-religious people who would say they do not believe in a god. Also if you want to get a number that includes all people who do not believe in a god you would have to include religious people like Buddhists who also do not believe in a god.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  8. David Hill, Jr,

    There are many things that divide Americans. There are many things that unite us also too. I would NOT say that a national day of prayer unites us in a common belief. SO...it is a good thing that God's kingdom is higher than and wider than our nation.

    I pray to the only God who hears, because He has changed my life and filled me with His love and grace. I cannot see oxygen, but I believe I need it and it is there, simply because it fills my lungs with life. I cannot see the Holy Spirit, but He is more real to me than the air I breath and He has revealed His truth to my heart: Christ died for my personal rebellion against God (sin) and He is alive forever.

    All who are open to God will come to the same conclusion... God does not have a multiple-personality disorder. He has a name, just like the world He created, 'earth,' just like you and just like me. He is a personal, all-knowing and all-powerful God. And He sent His Son to heal, save and deliver. Open your heart America, pray to Jesus Christ, He will listen and He will answer the sincere cry for help in this sin-sick world!

    Dhilljr, Cincinnati, OH

    May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      If you made some sense it would be sensible.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • David Hill, Jr,

      the sun makes sense, once your eyes are open. God is love...understand that and you can see. God forgive me for the many years I spent selfishly, blind the the truth and saying it didn't make sense. We never understand what we won't accept.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  9. Cheryl Jefferies

    Well, one way to start is to have the guts to address God as God.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Please explain.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • momoya

      Yes, explain.. Because when I say, "Hey God!!" - ain't nobody sayin nuthin nowheres...

      May 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  10. Henry

    “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Jesus Christ

    May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Huh?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • David Hill, Jr,

      well, that is certainly not very helpful : )

      May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 3, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • elvisisallah

      Nothing fails like prayer.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Lilith

      I crossed my fingers that my prayer would be answered .... both failed. 🙁

      May 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Ya it steals a chromosome.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      If you ask the Catholic church, it makes you touch Altar boys.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • One one

      Atheists don't tell children that god will send them to hell to be tortured forever if they don't follow their beliefs.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  12. jetman

    96% Where did he get his facts? Was the poll taken at Sunday School?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197

    May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  13. Dena Kelley

    This article seriously over-complicates a simple issue. If you believe in a higher power and wish to pray, then pray. If you don't, then don't. It's not religion specific, and it's not compulsory.

    Group hug?

    May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Not for the government, period.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • n8263

      The problem is that this is being sanctioned by a government that is supposed to be secular.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  14. John

    Hey I have a giant invisible rabbit that walks next to me all the time and calls himself Harvey. He protects me when I am crossing the street or when someone tries to do something bad to me.. but the last time I asked him if he wanted mt to call him God he just looked at me and wiggled his nose.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  15. The Prince of Common Cents

    So, you guys mean to tell me that this perfect world that we live on (Earth) and the perfect sun that rises and sets upon it faithfully for millions (if not billions) of years and the perfect moon and stars that illuminates it at night and the perfect birds that sing a perfect song everyday and the perfect flowers that bloom everyday was caused by some BIG BANG THEORY?!?

    There is a GOD and He lives...

    May 3, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • John

      What makes you think the Universe is perfect?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You have it backwards. The reason these things seem perfect to you is because they existed before us and we survived because we adapted to that "perfect" environment. You people are really so brainwashed it's scary!

      May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Religious people are so egotistical that they think the universe was made for us instead of us from the universe.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Mopery

      The Sun does not really "rise" or "set", as the Sun does not revolve around the Earth. Galileo was persecuted by the ignorant leaders of the catholic church 500 years ago for pointing this out. Hell, the church didn't even apologize for their actions until the mid 1990's. Seriously, learn some science and find out just how imperfect this universe is. Maybe then you'll realize that you don't need to conjure up an invisible friend to take away your fear of an imminent and permanent death.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Umm...

      ..which god, exactly? What makes you think it's "your" god?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • The Prince of Common Cents

      @ John: What makes you think it's not?

      May 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • The Prince of Common Cents

      @ Godoflunaticscreation: Tell me, friend-if we were created FROM the universe....who created the universe?

      May 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  16. dbrock010

    As much as BHO would love to get rid of NDP, I think it should stay. If we can have a National Earth Day (which doesn't make sense when you think about it), we can have just one day to pray.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  17. sortakinda

    WHAT would VOICE of REASON and n8263 do if there were no "Belief" blog on CNN? Tell their cats how there isn't a God and prayer is like talking to their cats? Sad. Very sad. Maybe someday they won't be so sure of their flawless philosophy.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Bring it on su.cka! Let's hear what you got!

      May 3, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • 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. Lying to yourself is probably the worst possible way to try to find meaning in your life.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Lilith

      "Maybe someday they won't be so sure of their flawless philosophy." Typical lightly veiled threat. BTW, reality is not a philosophy.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • sortakinda

      By my count n8263 cut and pasted the same "delusion" prattle at least three times today. So much for deep thinking rationale. Saying the same thing more than once underestimates your audience and adds no strength to the argument. But you don't have to believe THAT.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • n8263

      You are not my target audience, nor are the other Christians who hang out here and will never change their mind.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Mopery

      By that logic, sortakinda, you must think that people who quote scripture over and over again underestimate their audience, and add no strength to their arguments. Interesting.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • sortakinda

      Get this n8263-your "argument" is from the schoolyard. Your position seems to be "is not" in opposition to the overwhelming majority who say "is so." Then to buttress your argument, you say anyone who doesn't agree with you is "delusional," four or five times. Do you have short term memory deficit, too?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • sortakinda

      People who repeat the same scriptural references over and over again, are not name calling, but they may lack insight-and the awareness of the fruitlessness of preaching to unfertile fields.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • sortakinda

      What "threat" veiled or otherwise? Do you believe the same things you did when you were 10 and will you never change your mind about anything? Sad prospects. But you probably run out of things to say pretty quickly on long car rides.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  18. Lilith

    Psychological conditioning is very difficult to free yourself from, espcially if it's been going on since birth. Once you're free, looking at the still religious is sad, they're like dogs that don't know they're wearing a shock collar.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I like the comparison, good job!

      May 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • One one

      More like a noose around their necks. The irony is that they can remove It any time they want.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  19. Rev. Jason

    If this is what passes as intellectual discourse from a "scholar," our country has sunken far indeed. I have no problem not having a Nat'l Day of Prayer unless it is simply "Pray to what you believe in (including nothing)" or simply doing away with it completely since Gov't and God are incompatible for the most part since time began. What saddens me is the 4th grade level of the essay by a supposed teacher of our developing minds..... pathetic. God help the ones taught by Prothero if this is an example of his depth.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Lilith

      I agree the article is a bit sophmoric, but you need to write to the level of your audience.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • sortakinda

      Amen. What IS a "religion scholar?" Someone who knows about everything but believes in nothing? Claims to be a Catholic but attacks the basic hierarchy of the religion? The pope doesn't need him or the renegade nuns. Can you imagine an army where the soldiers have no obligation to follow orders? They call that anarchy.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  20. One one

    A national day of prayer is a perfect example of intrusion of religious belief into the public space. I wonder how believers would react if the pledge of allegiance suddenly said "one nation without god" or the Dollar bill said "In science we trust". They are just so used to having it their way for so long it's hard to imagine loosing the special accommodations religion has enjoyed.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74
Advertisement
About this blog

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.