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. Jon Mincieli

    Mr. Prothero, your piece was interesting until you chose to throw in a jab about the Vatican that didn't even flow with the point you were making.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  2. Tom

    Religion is the cause of almost all wars. Ironically it will cause the destruction of mankind. I believe that as America declines into a 3rd world country more and more people will turn to Religion as this is the crutch that humans use to try cope with evil things that happen in the world. The future is bleak and God will not come to the rescue.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      "The future is bleak and God will not come to the rescue."

      Because....? There is no god!

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • James PDX

      Actually, greed is the cause of almost all wars. Religion is just the most common excuse.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  3. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    Remove "one nation under G_d". Who's G_d?? My nation is not under YOUR G_d!!!

    May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • silly religions..

      agreed

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Mark

    The national day of prayer offends me, the government has no business praying to anyone or anything. Keep god & church out of government.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Absolutely 100%

      May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • jimtanker

      I’m staging a National Day of Irreverence. My goal today is to break every one of the ten commandments in Exodus 20. For those of you who don’t know what the ten commandments are (xtians mostly) go look them up. I AM NOT suggesting that anyone go out and break the law but using the infamous “Way of the Master” version. Lust after a woman to commit adultery in your heart, covet things instead of stealing, and hate (someone who cuts you off in traffic or a minister who says that you should beat your kids if they are gay) instead of murder.

      Enjoy your National Day of Irreverence and pass this on to as many people as you can.
      .

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • silly religions..

      better yet,, I treat religion as p-o-rr-n and keep it away from children. At 18, they can now decide. Then again, the religious, don't like that since brainwashing sticks longer when you start with children. <–THAT's child abuse..

      May 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • blahblahblah

      Or you could just close your ears. You do not have a right to not be offended.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Bernie

      @jimtanker – Are you seriously planning to murder someone today? Maybe you should look into what you're signing up for before spouting off like that.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • James PDX

      There's no real point in breaking the 10 commandments. Jesus invalidated them when he died for all of our sins. We are now free to sin all we like since our bill has already been paid in full.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  5. jennymay

    I'm not an athiest, but I am not affiliated with any particular religion nor do I belive there is one being called 'god' watching over every action and thought and just waiting to punish us for questioning religion. Here is the problem with religion: This universe is enormous, nobody knows everything there is to know about the universe and nobody probably ever will since it it constantly expanding in all directions. But religion tells you that they have all the answers. How can they possibly know this? People then shut off their brains and refuse to learn anything else or explore other options. And that my friends is how you end up with an irrational society stuck in the dark ages.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Mike V

      If you lack belief in a deity, then technically you are an atheist. Atheism doesn't imply a denial of the existence of a deity; just a lack of belief.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • jennymay

      No friend, not knowing and accepting all possibilities makes me agnostic. Thanks for trying though.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  6. MyTake

    This is all BS

    May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Roger in Florida

      In other words it went over your head?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  7. Ed

    Good question Stephen and here is the simple answer. All you have to do is go to Matthew 6:5 through 6:13. There, Jesus made it very precise on how to pray. It's simple. No "group praying" no praying with another person. Nah, none of that. In fact it could be reasoned that Jesus (God) would be offended when people pray in a way other than how Jesus instructed. Does anybody wonder why soooooo many "prayers" go unanswered? When we pray we are not supposed to ask for anything according to Matthew and Jesus' precise command. This NDP thing is for individual self-gratification ..... all a part of the "show". I have little chats with God all the time, not prayer. When I do pray I do it in accordance with His instructions I have been blessed many times and my prayers seem to be answered..

    May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • BOB

      tHE BIBLE IS A STORY BOOK WRITTEN BY MEN.yOUR BELIEFS ARE JUST THAT... NOT FACT... AS IS THE KORAN. AND THE BOOK OF MORMON, AND KRISHNA. aLL INHERANTLY FLAWED D/T BEING WRITTEN BY FALLABLE MEN.... YOU TOO ARE FLAWED, YOUR THINKING IS IRRATIONAL AND DOESN'T GENERALIZE TO THE MASSES AS AUTHORATATIVE AT ALL. LIVE THE WAY YOU WANT, BUT DO NOT PURPORT TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS SHOULD DO.... HYPOCRITE. sORRY FOR CAPS. HAVE NO FEELING IN FINGERS. GUESS i SHOULD PRAY?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Dude

      The reason so many prayers go unanswered is because there is nobody there to answer them. 1 person of action will accomplish far more than 1000 people of prayer.

      May 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  8. Michael

    Treaty of Tripoli... Negotiated under George Washington, passed unanimously by roll call vote of the Senate of the United States and signed into law by John Adams, WITHOUT CONTROVERSY OR DISENT...

    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    WHAT PART OF "is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" from our founding fathers is not clear to you evangelicals???? STOP trying to rewrite history to suport YOUR LIE! The Day of Pray is not nor will it EVER be a unifying influence. It is devisive and it is descriminatory and it is designed to promote your fraud upon the gullible.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • really

      PLEASE check your history - with an open mind - there is WAY more evidence AGAINST your argument than for it - SO PLEASE STOP trying to force your none religon on me - WE STILL HAVE FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN THIS COUNTRY not FREEDOM FROM RELIGION

      May 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  9. becool

    Why you stir troubles? The whole world know that the majority of the Americans are Christians by a way or another; what your problem? If the President and and the majority of his people are Christians, why should they pray for a heathen god? Cut us some slacks and don't start to make troubles.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mike V

      Google: "Tyranny of the majority."

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Roger in Florida

      Might want to lay down the bible and pick up English 101.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  10. BUMBYE

    I dont hate you...did you take a person worldwide poll of Christians (: Or is it your opinion?

    May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  11. Karen Chang

    Stevn, you're a tool for CNN (are you?).

    May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  12. Phillip Anthony Biondo

    God of the Universe is cool and not inappropriate.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Dude

      There is no god – of the universe or anything else.

      May 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  13. 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 12:29 pm |
  14. Mary

    We are a Christian country that is rapidly losing its Christianity due to other groups wanting equal "time". The faith that has kept the country anchored for centuries is being challenged by newcomers who have no understanding of the Christian values that have made our country the greatest in the world. Christianity has come under attack and there appears to be no end in sight. We're being asked to respect everyone else's religion, except our own.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • n8263

      People are losing their religion because we are becoming a society based on rational thought. Even Mother Teresa lost her faith.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • MyTake

      you know nothing of religion in the US. You are embarrassing yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Mary

      Have you ever picked-up a science book?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • jimtanker

      We are not and never were a xtian nation. We were founded as a secular nation by diests who knew the problems that religion cause.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Robert

      Actually we're a secular country with a large christian population.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @n8263

      Mother Teresa was a very evil person.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • erik

      I am starting to believe that satan created religion to ensure there will never be world peace, let alone peace among the same faiths.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Ben

      Yes, Mary. Christians are truly persecuted in the United States. It's unbelievable how subjegated and restricted they are. No Christian has ever been promoted to CEO of a major company, and how many of our Presidents have been Christian? I think only all of them in a row, but my math might be off. Someday, Christians will rise up in spite of how the cards are stacked against them and they will find their rightful place in society where they will not have to hang their heads in shame and fear. They will be free to admit their religion to their closest friends, colleagues at work, maybe even reveal it in their Facebook status if they are particuarly emboldened. The days of this country being ruled by non-Christians is near an end, priase Jebus.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Dude

      Christianity kept the world in the Dark Ages for centuries. Do you seriously want to repeat that?

      May 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  15. BUMBYE

    Seventy eight percent or so of U.S. citizens are Christians, so should we pray today to the Christian God--NO YOU DO SO IF YOU BELIEVE JESUS IS CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD--IF YOU DONT ...RAMBLE ON LIKE STEVE UNTIL YOU FIND THE TRUTH--ISNT THAT WHAT STEVE IS TRYING TO SAY IN A RAMBLING NONSENSICAL KIND OF WAY??

    May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • jimtanker

      I’m staging a National Day of Irreverence. My goal today is to break every one of the ten commandments in Exodus 20. For those of you who don’t know what the ten commandments are (xtians mostly) go look them up. I AM NOT suggesting that anyone go out and break the law but using the infamous “Way of the Master” version. Lust after a woman to commit adultery in your heart, covet things instead of stealing, and hate (someone who cuts you off in traffic or a minister who says that you should beat your kids if they are gay) instead of murder.

      Enjoy your National Day of Irreverence and pass this on to as many people as you can.
      ..

      May 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  16. The Dude

    It was easy to become an atheist, I read the bible, went to church, saw the hypocracy that is religion, and made a conscious decision to not be like "them". Man am I a happy dude. I do charity work, I love everyone even Christians, I just do not believe in the BS that religion spews out. Yet most Christians hate people like me. That is why they are hypocrites.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • silly religions..

      catholics are among the worst.. pope lies.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ancient Curse

      Yep. Yep. All around yep. I find more examples of Christ's teachings in the people that do not follow the modern-day interpretation of Christ's teachings, including the realization that people that tout Christ's teachings are not to be trusted. So it is written...

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  17. JB

    We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. – Gene Roddenberry

    May 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • James PDX

      I'd rather pray to Gene than a God who didn't know that if you put a couple of unsupervised children in a room and tell them not to do one thing, and don't give them a reasonable explanation why, that they are eventually going to do that very thing. Every parent knows this. They also know you don't allow your children to play with evil serpents unattended.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Rhubarb

    Father God,

    I am truly sorry for wasting 5 minutes of the precious life you have blessed me with, reading this article. I will try to use more discernment in the future. Thank you for all the blessings You have bestowed upon me. I pray this in the Holy name of your Son, my Lord, Jesus Christ.

    Amen.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Ben

      Don't you have a more direct line to him? Why do you need to post it on CNN comments to read? If he's here, why does he never post? Stop lurking, Lord.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  19. Truth

    Since when did atheists become the "smartest" people alive and all believers "delusional?"

    Pretty comical and ironic how atheists claim to be so intelligent and only they are the ones who were smart, strong, rational, and great enough to break free of the horror that is Christianity as they say. The truth, which is far from what they claim, is painfully obvious no matter how many times they yell and scream otherwise.

    Believe whatever you want, I could care less, just know that you're ultimately responsible for the decisions you make and the things you say.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Truth
      "Since when did atheists become the "smartest" people alive and all believers "delusional?""

      Statistically, atheist's have a higher IQ and the word "delusional" defines religion and belief in a god. So one could assume that the people with a higher IQ will find the idea of the supernatural totally unrealistic.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      Actually, Helmuth Nyborg's National Longitudinal Study of Youth has established that atheists do statistically have higher IQs. Feel free to google that if you'd like.

      Also, the phrase you were looking for is COULDN'T care less. It's OK though, you're a believer, so you're not all that bright. 😉

      May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • silly religions..

      Voice of Reason, poster didn't see that coming.. Show me a conservative whose a religionists –> you've now hit the bottom of the dumb pot.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Robert

      I would have thought the answer to be quite obvious?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Shadowcandy

      100% agree with you. It's a shame people can't be humble about their opinions. Instead, they're filled with pride and hate. The saddest part is that they're too blind to see it for themselves.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Pokydoke

      I think a reasonable response would be "I could say the same thing about believers". Most of you stalwart religious folks have us already in a non existent hell damned by a loving God because we don't believe in a magic sky daddy who is also his own son and an apparition at the same time. A son born of a married virgin, c'mon man, whose fooling who?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @silly religions..
      "Voice of Reason, poster didn't see that coming.. Show me a conservative whose a religionists –> you've now hit the bottom of the dumb pot."

      I guess I have because you do not make any sense.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • jennymay

      because you immediately cease to be intelligent the minute you decide you have the answer on a topic and therefore quit learning about it and exploring different opinions. You will never know everything about anything. But many people belonging to a particular religion tend to live their lives as though they have the answer and they do not.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  20. Jake

    I wonder what the true percentage of atheist + agnostic Americans is. The article says 4%, but there's no way that's anywhere near reality. I would guess the real number has to be somewhere between 25 and 50%.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • silly religions..

      my guess is that most catholics are not catholic anymore.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • J.W

      I would not say atheist and agnosticim is that high. Perhaps people who are irreligious, such as those who believe in God or other deity but really practice any religion. If you add all of that together it may be that high.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Bernie

      Maybe 25% – 50% of your friends are atheist or agnostic. That doesn't necessarily hold true for the population at large. If I studied at Seminary I could perceive that 100% of Americans were Christian. If I studied at a Yeshiva I could easily perceive that 100% of Americans were Jewish. You raise a good point, though. Where are the numbers in the article coming from?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:38 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.