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Your Take: Comments and responses on National Day of Prayer
Stephen Prothero argues that the National Day of Prayer isn't just for Christians.
May 4th, 2012
01:03 PM ET

Your Take: Comments and responses 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

My public letter to God on how we should pray on America’s National Day of Prayer drew over 4000 comments on Thursday. Many were the online equivalent of the courtship displays the wild turkeys are doing in my yard this week — gobbling on behalf of Christianity or atheism. But some were less driven by impulse and instinct.

Many commenters accused me of irreverence. “Bill” called my letter “a cheap literary trick” full of “sarcasm and disrespect.” “I wonder if you would address Him so flippantly if he were standing in front of you?” “Ron from Jersey” said I showed “no respect or understanding of the personal and loving god of Judeo-Christian belief.”

It seems to me, however, that those who are showing disrespect for God are those who claim to divine precisely what God believes about politics or prayer.

I cut my teeth as a graduate student studying New England’s Puritans, and when they approached God (in prayer or otherwise) they did so with a healthy measure of fear. Yes, they believed God loved them. But they also believed there was a huge gap — an "infinite qualitative distinction" in the words of theologian Karl Barth — between sinful humans and the omniscient God. So out of respect for God's sovereignty they would never presume to know exactly what God was thinking about anything.

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“JC in Western U.S.” channeled the spirit of these Puritans (and of Barth) when he wrote, “If there is a God, and if He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, it would be the height of arrogance for any mere human to claim to know His will.”

Channeling a very different spirit, many commenters claimed that my question had an easy answer. “Me” wrote: “Dear Stephen, Asked and Answered. Look up Matthew 6:5-13.”

For those who do not have a Bible close at hand, “Me” was pointing to the Lord’s Prayer. And many other comments said that the "Our Father" is the prayer we Americans should pray on our National Day of Prayer.

But this very passage from the Sermon on the Mount begins with these words from Jesus:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”

Picking up on this theme, “Maine Liberal” wrote, “Christ taught us to pray in private,” so we should keep our prayer out of schools and legislatures and off of the streets.

One of the most common comments was that Jesus is God so we should pray to Him. Or, as a different “Matthew” put it: “USA is a Christian country and we should pray to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Period."

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But this response begs the question, side-stepping the challenge my piece was written to present. I know how Christians pray. My question was: How should we, as citizens, pray in a country in which some are Christian and many are not?

Assume for a minute that conservative Christians are right. Assume there is one God and that this God is best described in Trinitarian terms as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even if true, this theological reality does not change the demographic fact that millions upon millions of Americans are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and non-believers. It does not tell us how U.S. citizens should pray on our National Day of Prayer.

From its creation, the United States has wrestled with this problem of how to engage in God talk without dividing the nation. And it seems to me that the great generations that preceded us came up with a fairly good solution to this difficult problem.

In other words, while many comments accused me of being a liberal, on this question I am a conservative. I want to conserve what I see as a grand compromise in U.S. history — a wise tradition in which God is invoked yet not explicitly described. Simultaneously, I want to resist two relatively recent innovations: efforts to banish God from the public square, and efforts to turn public talk of God into public talk of Christ.

I understand the frustrations of the atheists who flood the comment boards of CNN’s Belief Blog every day. I sympathize with “Voice of Reason” who called for a “National Do Not Pray Day” and with “William Demuth” who said we should “forget prayer” and do good instead: “Pick up some trash . . . Feed someone who is hungry.”

But a public square stripped of all references to religion has never been the American way. Traditionally, our response to the religious (and non-religious) diversity in our midst has been to allow for God talk in American politics, but to keep that talk generic and to keep it to a minimum.

This grand compromise strikes me as wise. The atheist furor in the United States today is not responding for the most part to this tradition. It is responding to a quite recent anti-traditional innovation—an effort to make our God talk explicitly Christian (or Judeo-Christian) and to place that particular form of faith front and center in American public life.

This innovation strikes me as disrespectful to those in our midst who do not believe in God or who call God by some other name than Jesus Christ. It also strikes me as unwise and impolitic.

Striking a theme of many commenters yesterday, "ambersue" wrote, "Today is National Day of Prayer and it is for those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. This day is for Him, and Him alone." To which "NC" responded: "yep, I guess the rest of us don't exist anymore."

See the problem? If you do, you understand what I was trying to say yesterday in my open letter to God.

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

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Culture wars • Opinion • Politics • Prayer • United States

soundoff (266 Responses)
  1. b4bigbang

    Hey everybody, this scientific survey says that the younger top scientists are more likely to attend religious services than the older ones and the researcher thinks it could be a trend ind icating a future increase in religious top scientists!

    http://phys.org/news102700045.html

    Right there – last paragraph.

    May 5, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • HotAirAce

      This paragraph says that brainwashing at an early age remains the fundamental driver:

      "Among scientists, as in the general population, being raised in a home in which religion and religious practice were valued is the most important predictor of present religiosity among the subjects."

      And this one:

      "Results from the study also show that the more children in a scientist's household, the more likely he or she is to adhere to a religion."

      suggests more brainwashing is going on – this time by the subject scientists. They are merely behaving as they were raised. Too bad they cannot break the cycle of stupidity.

      I didn't read anything that suggests scientists are turning to religion as they grow older. In fact, there was nothing in the article to suggest that the trend of moving away from religion as a scientist ages will not remain.

      I suggest you are grasping at straws to support your dying mythology.

      May 5, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • mandarax

      Amazing yet typical!
      b4bigbang has gone on and on about how science is wrong and can't be trusted, and then the minute he/she finds a "scientific" survey that supports what he wants to believe, he jumps up and down and waves it in the air as evidence. You can't have it both ways.

      May 5, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • b4bigbang

      "Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious ident ities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to inst itutional pressure to conform," Ecklund says.

      May 5, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • mandarax

      b4bigbang, that's an interesting quote to chose. It indicates, contrary to popular anti-science claims that scientists are brainwashed to not believe in God throughout their education, that the smartest people in our country had given up on the idea of god before they got into their careers. You might look again at that article on analytic thinking...

      May 5, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I think b4bigbang forgot to change his name to Chad before he posted so foolishly.

      May 5, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  2. Sam Yaza

    there should be no national prayer day the government cannot respect any religion it violates the 1st it makes allot of pagans fell uneasy when our government does things that respect Christians they are our persecutors and you wonder why were discouraged from voting and even calling the cops

    May 4, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  3. AGuest9

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father.”

    So, as much as they claim to love their Jesus and believe in him and "listen" to his "word", they go against his directives. Again, the irony!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Well, what do you expect? They're not praying because they want God to hear; they're praying because they want OTHERS to see and hear them. It's nothing short of advertising.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  4. Seriously

    Consider these quotes, and how you might feel if you lived in a country where these sentiments were mainstream:

    “Our leader was not elected…he was appointed by Allah.”
    “Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of Allah…must be denied citizenship."
    “I, your Provincial Governor, do hereby proclaim… a day of prayer and fasting for our country.”
    “Allah called me to this government position…my family fasted for three days to make sure it was true.”
    “"I would not put a Christian among my advisors, or in my government."
    “(our founding doc.uments) are quite clear that we would create law based on Allah of the Qur’an and Sharia Law, it’s pretty simple.”
    “I hope I will live to see the day when…we won't have any public schools. The Mosques will have taken over them over again and Imams will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"
    “There will never be world peace until Allah's house and Allah's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world."

    These statements should rightfully alarm you. Now consider this, YOU DO live in that country, and these are not Taliban quotes. In the above quotes the religious references have been changed. They are quotes from prominent, politically powerful Americans who would establish religious control over America’s government. Here are the actual quotes:

    “George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States, he was appointed by God.” –Lt. General William Boykin, US Army
    “Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church's public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship." –Gary North, Inst.itute for Christian Economics
    “I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, do hereby proclaim August 6, 2011, to be A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation.” –Rick Perry, Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate
    “God called me to run for this office, and my husband fasted for 3 days to make sure it was true.” –Michelle Bachman, US Senator and Republican Presidential Candidate
    “"I would not put a Muslim in my cabinet, or in my administration." –Herman Cain, Republican Presidential Candidate
    “(Our founding doc.uments) are quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 commandments, it’s pretty simple.” –Sarah Palin
    I hope I will live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken over them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" - Jerry Falwell
    There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world." –Pat Robertson

    These statements should be no more frightening in an Islamic or a Christian context – this kind of rhetoric is a serious threat no matter who it comes from. Theocracy is dangerous no matter whose God is invoked. We hear these things from pious politicians every day and are likely desensitized to them, but even momentary consideration reveals them to be un-American to the core. Religious fundamentalists make no secret of their goal of controlling our government and establishing their narrow beliefs as law. We must not let that happen – not here, not in our country.

    It happens in small steps – the Ten Commandments in courthouses, prayer and creationism (“Intelligent Design”) in schools, revising science, history, and civics textbooks in Texas, State-endorsed prayer rallies, faith-based initiatives, and on and on – and because these steps may individually seem harmless, many people underestimate their consequences. That is why we must stay alert and fight to keep church and state separate. We should shudder whenever a politician or policymaker alludes to his or her religious beliefs as a justification for public policy. We should be deeply suspi.cious of anyone who claims to be chosen by God to lead us. We should aggressively defend our free society against any religious group who would hope to gain control over it.

    Do not underestimate the importance of defending the separation of church and state. Stand up for it at every opportunity with your voice and your vote.

    May 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Seriously wrote in the last two sentences stating, "We should aggressively defend our free society against any religious group who would hope to gain control over it. Do not underestimate the importance of defending the separation of church and state. Stand up for it at every opportunity with your voice and your vote."

      We do not live in a society as free as we think so! There are mundane workers and upon these workers' backsides are the wage-givers while on the very topmost pinnacles are thw wagers most highly tormented and piously disturbed! Why then is it that many high-end wagers attend the church of their chosen accordances?

      May 4, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      yup scares the sh.it out of me

      May 4, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  5. God's Oldest Dreamer

    The equatorially beleagered missed representative are collar bound with egoisms vilenesses! The curtailing of churches emulating Godly virtues is nowadays the triumphants slaughterings of its' flocks thru unneeded perfumes such as books and Tv evangelists doing the cornerstone marketings of other than the Bible! How can the Truth not be subverted when subvertionalisms are most churches common denominators?

    Why should any atheist be bothered one bit that God either exists or doesn'T? Can't one just get along lil doggies,get along? Or is it that hate still boils over and continues corrupting the up and coming newbies on the benches? Is one not but a part of the wholeness or are we ever to continue the splintering of? Where does one stop the malignancies of sociological fermentations' laments?

    Only but one needs to seek faithfully the mercy for us all! Who in the now-times will it so be? You? Your best friend? A neighbor? We all stand upon and towards our own cliff's edge! Will one await one's end by living it out? Should one walk over and passed one's edged cliff? In summation I have sought mercies for my stained Life by letting other's shoulder my past sins! I was wronged for so doing it due giving the imbecilic attention getters their indignascious and malignant thrustngs of their tongued word of contempualisms sarcasms! Live and be let to live in one's sinfulnessed indignations!

    May 4, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  6. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Steven Prothero,,,,,, ,,,,,, ,

    Only but one needs to seek faithfully the mercy for us all! Who in the now-times will it so be? You? Your best friend? A neighbor? We all stand upon and towards our own cliff's edge! Will one await one's end by living it out? Should one walk over and passed one's edged cliff? In summation I have sought mercies for my stained Life by letting other's shoulder my past sins! I was wronged for so doing it due giving the imbecilic attention getters their indignascious and malignant thrustngs of their tongued word of contempualisms sarcamss! Live and be let to live in one's sinfulnessed indignations!

    May 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  7. Human Ape

    Only idiots pray.

    darwinkilledgod dot blogspot dot com

    May 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • dilberth

      And all Christians are idiots. Praying is talking to your hands and that's all it is.

      May 5, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    May 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  9. Rebel4Christ

    Ha nope pretty sure there's only one God and that is the Christian God! Never heard of miracles happening in another's Gods name!!! I have seen so many miracles it's hard to count. For all you atheists I just don't know how you can believe in something so blindly! Even richard dawkins says there's no perfect proof that says there's no God!!!!

    May 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Lol

      Your tiresome feeble trolling is feeble and tiresome. You are a below-average specimen of the human race.
      Begone, you mediocre twat.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • dilberth

      HA! A cook, a bartender, or a truck driver could have muttered such drivel. I bet by toaster cost more than your education.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      There is no proof that the axiomatic system underlying our understanding of basic arithmetic is consistent and it has been definitively shown that there CANNOT be any such proof. From this you would blithely assume that it is inconsistent?

      Or to take a more directly pertinent example: There is no perfect proof that Valhalla does not exist or that Odin is not king of the gods. SO we can blithely assume that Valhalla is real and Odin is the god king?

      May 4, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Bizarre

      Rebel4Christ,
      " Never heard of miracles happening in another's Gods name!!!"

      You are quite uneducated, naive and gullible. All sorts of "miracles" are attributed to various gods here and there.

      Here are some for Allah:
      http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina40928.htm

      And some for the Hindu gods:
      http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=3461

      Even Satan is supposed to do them.

      People claim that their oh-so-special coins, horseshoes, rabbit's feet, pets, etc. are responsible for lucky "miracles".

      All are superst'ition or misreading or misunderstanding natural processes.

      There is no verified evidence for supernatural beings or events.

      May 4, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Cq

      The Roman Emperor Vespasian is also recorded to have performed miracles. All of the Greek hero demigods could do superhuman feats, like Jesus supposedly could. Jesus closely resembles heroes like Hercules. Given a difficult task by his father god he struggles, but eventually succeeds. There is as much evidence for a historical Hercules as for a historical Jesus, right down to Josephus. How's that for putting things in perspective?

      May 5, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  10. stephensonbillings

    In these difficult times I think it's wrong for America to waste tax payer dollars promoting Islam and Hindu and those other so-called religions. Many in fact are just radical political activism shrouded under the name of "religion". If you read Osama Bin Laden's playbook, this is exactly what the terrorists intended. Tney want to take advantage of our liberty to promote extemism and hate.

    Simply put, America wouldn't be what it is today without Christianity and our Christian founding fathers. Make the national day of prayer something wonderful and pure. Purity is very important. Keep out the negative and foreign influences which just mask terrorism and worse.

    May 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Crom

      I hear you like being around kids a lot. A lot.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You are right. Without religion, the USA and any country would be better off.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ

      You do realize Atheists that our country would not even be hear without Christianity!!!! LIterally our country was founded by people seeking religious freedom!!!

      May 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Someone would have discovered and settled the USA perhaps with different beliefs. North America might have been initially settled becuase one or more sects were running away from the dominant cults in Europe but that does not mean their beliefs were/are any more correct than others, or even true. The american revolution, the act that actually caused the creation of the USA, was economic not religious. You must also rememeber at the time of the initial settlers and the formation of the USA, almost 100% of the population believed in some form of bullsh!t superst!tious religion and it was very dangerous, if not deadly, to oppose the ruling shamans of the day. Each day, more and more people realize religion, god, jesus are all crap.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • captain america

      @hotair
      USA is none of your f'n business

      May 4, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • captain america

      @hotair
      There's your sign you canadian sob.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Given the number of religious idiots in the US, yourself included, everyone should be keeping an eye on the USA. If the right wing religious wingnuts get into power, the USA will be become the most dangerous country in the world. So carry on with your childish responses it you wish, but nothing you can say will stop me from commenting on anything I choose to. In other words, please fuck off!

      May 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • captain america

      Bottom line as a butt in foreigner your opinion on the USA is less important than day old dog crap. Tend to your own F'n business we will handle US. There's your sign

      May 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • ambrosedm

      Have you ever ehard of Jamestown? it was the first permanent settlement of europeans in north america and it was settled by people primarily interested in profit – the "founding fathers" at plymouth came 20 years later

      May 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  11. dilberth

    This is a excellent video that should be of great interest to everyone concerned about religion. Enjoy.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries&w=640&h=360]

    May 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      While I don't disagree with what he says, he's really working against his own cause by being arrogant. Do you think he's going to convince people by calling them dumb and ignorant? No Christian will respond positively to his tone, they won't even remember what he said, they'll just remember that he's a d.1ck.

      He's just solidifying the perception that all Atheists are like him. Which is not true.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  12. Crom

    With that said, just let me add take a moment to point out to all and sundry that the laws of this land are secular laws, not religious ones, with many clear violations of our Constltution mixed in to the detriment of all.

    This "National Day of Prayer" is ILLEGAL and UNCONSTlTUTIONAL, and is legal grounds for a Federal law suit, but only because it is promoted, declared, and signed by the President.

    If this "National Day of Prayer" were entirely promoted, declared, and otherwise followed by private citizens and ONLY private citizens, then it would NOT be illegal or unconstltutional.
    It is when our government becomes the religious preacher, even in a general way, that the people involved find themselves in violation of the First Amendment.

    It is fine if people want to do something religious amongst themselves without intruding into the lives of others and are willing to leave the government out of it.
    Religious activities should never be a problem, per se, unless the religious believers end up completely losing track of the fact that they are still legal Citizens of this great country and forget they need to follow all of the laws, especially the First Amendment that protects their religious freedoms.
    Many religious people take this even further and deliberately violate the First Amendment and subvert our government in the name of some personal religious belief, ....yet they are forcing these things on everyone, even those who are not religious at all.
    It is outrageous and intolerable that this country should be constantly warring internally and filled with religion-oriented corruption simply because some religious people claim to speak for all when they clearly do NOT!

    Here is the law: Your private religious beliefs are yours and yours alone, no matter how many people you can get to march alongside you in the street!
    Our government is required, absolutely required, to respect your private beliefs as long as they violate no other law, and to protect your private belief against the tyranny of any other religious belief.
    That First Amendment is your only protection. If you violate it and refuse to respect it by shoving your beliefs into how this country is run, how our government is run, while making illegal legislation, executive orders, or even in how those laws are interpreted by the Supreme Court, then you have no legal defense for your actions. You have clearly violated the First Amendment.

    If I were an ACLU lawyer, I would file suit against President Obama and anyone who was behind this clear and aggravating violation of the First Amendment in having Pres. Obama sign an illegal docu.ment calling for a "National Day of Prayer".

    It is unacceptable, reprehensible, immoral, and ILLEGAL to have our President sign such an illegal, for him, docu.ment to sign.
    But if a bunch of pastors, priests, reverends, etc, want to have an interfaith activity, they can do that. It's OK.
    But THEY have to be the ones doing it. Our government is completely and utterly BARRED from taking part in this "interfaith" activity from top to bottom. I am not against the activity itself, I am against the inclusion, in any way, shape, or form, of our government in that activity.
    The case is very clear, but most religious people do not study the law, our Constltution, or how it protects them. They have other things on their mind, I guess. They would rather scream "there's a war on religion!" instead of asking anyone what's going on.
    They take the words of the ignorant or criminal-minded religious leaders and fearmongers and drive right off a cliff into no-no land. This is yet another reason why religious laws should never be enshrined in a secular system of government that uses the rule of law to function. Wild and insupportable, not to mention illegal, legislation is produced by such a mindset.
    We don't need that. We need to work together and respect each other's rights and freedoms and private beliefs.

    So there it is. My take on the whole thing. Who agrees with me? Who disagrees and why do you disagree and where?

    May 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  13. PerceivedReality

    I have some other quandries with which I would like Athiests to respond.

    1: I witnessed a spirit with my own eyes and it was in my sight for at least ten seconds while it moved like a human.
    I will concede that I awoke suddenly at 2-3am when I was 13yo. When I opened my eyes he was there. I was stunned and watched him go from standing to sitting on a chair. After I saw him sit for a sec I hid undercover untill I was out of air. When I came out from undercovers he was gone. I got up and watched TV for three hours shocked at what I had seen then went back to sleep. I know that this is completely on my witness but I assure you it is no lie, I saw it there plain as day and it is the only time I ever saw a spirit.

    2: I lived through hurricane Andrew. Three days before the storm hit, the family cat hid under the sink and WOULD NOT come out. It would shred the crap out of your hand every attempt. How do you account for the cat's foreknowledge of the storm? barometric pressure? I dont know I dont think the pressure drops 3 days out.

    May 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • momoya

      1. No idea, could have been any number of phenomena
      2. No idea, probably confirmation bias
      3. "I've seen some weird sh!t" =/= proof for a particular god

      May 4, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "It would shred the crap out of your hand every attempt. How do you account for the cat's foreknowledge of the storm? barometric pressure? I dont know I dont think the pressure drops 3 days out."

      The same reason that the animals ran up the hill in Thailand before the tsunami and none of them died, animals have very refined senses. In many species, they have sensory abilities beyond ours. animals can hear and feel things that humans can’t, doesn't mean it's a god.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "I witnessed a spirit with my own eyes and it was in my sight for at least ten seconds while it moved like a human.
      I will concede that I awoke suddenly at 2-3am when I was 13yo. When I opened my eyes he was there. I was stunned and watched him go from standing to sitting on a chair. After I saw him sit for a sec I hid undercover untill I was out of air. When I came out from undercovers he was gone. I got up and watched TV for three hours shocked at what I had seen then went back to sleep. I know that this is completely on my witness but I assure you it is no lie, I saw it there plain as day and it is the only time I ever saw a spirit."

      It's called lucid dreaming. I do it all the time but doesn't prove there's a god.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Crom

      1. Visual hallucinations that strong mean your brain is malfunctioning in some way. See a doctor immediately.

      2. You cat did not have "foreknowledge" that you can point to at all. You are not telepathic and cannot read what the cat is thinking or why it stayed under the sink.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      1. What you experienced was either a hypnagogic (just after falling asleep) or hypnopompic (just before waking up) hallucination. It's the same sleep anomaly that people experience when they think they are being abducted by aliens. Since this happened when you were young, you were sure that it was real, therefore your brain tried to find reinforcements to remember it as true. This is called belief dependent realism, where your belief in something comes first, and then you find patterns (even ones that don't make sense) to try and confirm it as true in your brain. It's been studied and explained.

      2. Different animals sense different things more clearly for different reasons. Cats have a higher frequency range for hearing allowing them to be able to hear there prey more clearly. Whether this has to do with weather patterns or not is not my place to say.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      You know, I don't know how many zeros you need in the exponent of the answer to the correct formula for the probability of intelligent life and a universe correct to support them before you give in and say its impossible. But yet here we are. Add to that the forces we have no comprehension of. Is it really that hard to believe there is an "intelligent force" that perhaps exists inside the theoretical extra-dimensions of theoretical physics? If in those dimensions a force or energy could exist in every or any particle of the universe at the same time.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • momoya

      @Drew

      Have not heard of the hypnopompic before today; I only knew of the hypnogogic!. Thanks!

      May 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      DrewNYC thanks for the answer on the spirit, I will look that up.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • momoya

      Percieved Reality misspelled

      So you don't care about your #1 and #2, anymore?. Why?

      Life keeps on coming at you with a lot of mystery mixed in.. We don't know everything.. Just because we don't know certain specifics does not mean one imagined phenomena is responsible versus another imagined phenomena.. What don't you get about this?!?! If you don't have proof, you don't just a.ssume whatever you want to..

      As to the rest of your questions and implications: Theorizing is fun, aint' it?

      May 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      No problem, for some good reads on this subject, check out some of the books Michael Shermer has written.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Crom

      @PerceivedReality
      You are arguing from ignorance.
      You have merely moved the goalposts further down the field in an attempt to justify your beliefs, and not the other way around.

      Were you to argue from knowledge, your uber-theoretical "god" creature is entirely unsupported by any real facts you care to point to.
      Were this space-time continuum "created" by some action on the part of some intelligent being, there is still no sign that it was done on purpose, for a purpose, or that this "being" interacts with this continuum in any way.
      Let's say some 5-dimensional creature was doing a 5-dimensional science experiment and created this continuum as a byproduct or untouchable result of its experimental equipment.
      We would see what we do now: a continuum that shows no sign of being affected beyond the initial conditions of the event.
      Remove the bias from your perceptions and try to see clearly what you remain blind to in your subjective fantasies.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Science 2.0 - from Dave Deamer

      "You know, I don't know how many zeros you need in the exponent of the answer to the correct formula for the probability of intelligent life and a universe correct to support them before you give in and say its impossible."

      "In living cells, most catalysts are protein enzymes, composed of amino acids, but in the 1980s another kind of catalyst was discovered. These are RNA molecules composed of nucleotides that are now called ribozymes. Because a ribozyme can act both as a catalyst and as a carrier of genetic information in its nucleotide sequence, it has been proposed that life passed through an RNA World phase that did not require DNA and proteins. The chances of that ribozyme assembling are then 4^300, a number so large that it could not possibly happen by chance even once in 13 billion years, the age of the universe. But life DID begin! Could we be missing something? The answer, of course, is yes, we are. The calculation assumes that a single specific ribozyme must be synthesized for life to begin, but that’s not how it works. Instead, let’s make the plausible assumption that an enormous number of random polymers are synthesized, which are then subject to selection and evolution. This is the alternative hypothesis, and we can test it.

      Now I will recall a classic experiment by David Bartel and Jack Szostak, published in Science in 1993. Their goal was to see if a completely random system of molecules could undergo selection in such a way that defined species of molecules emerged with specific properties. They began by synthesizing many trillions of different RNA molecules about 300 nucleotides long, but the nucleotides were all random nucleotide sequences. Nucleotides, by the way, are monomers of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, just as amino acids are the monomers, or subunits, of proteins, and making random sequences is easy to do with modern methods of molecular biology.

      They reasoned that buried in those trillions were a few catalytic RNA molecules called ribozymes that happened to catalyze a ligation reaction, in which one strand of RNA is linked to a second strand. The RNA strands to be ligated were attached to small beads on a column, then were exposed to the trillions of random sequences simply by flushing them through the column. This process could fish out any RNA molecules that happened to have even a weak ability to catalyze the reaction. They then amplified those molecules and put them back in for a second round, repeating the process for 10 rounds. By the way, this is the same basic logic that breeders use when they select for a property such as coat color in dogs.

      The results were amazing. After only 4 rounds of selection and amplification they began to see an increase in catalytic activity, and after 10 rounds the rate was 7 million times faster than the uncatalyzed rate. It was even possible to watch the RNA evolve. Nucleic acids can be separated and visualized by a technique called gel electrophoresis. The mixture is put in at the top of a gel held between two glass plates and a voltage is applied. Small molecules travel fastest through the gel, and larger molecules move more slowly, so they are separated. In this case, RNA molecules having a specific length produce a visible band in a gel. At the start of the reaction, nothing could be seen, because all the molecules are different. But with each cycle new bands appeared. Some came to dominate the reaction, while others went extinct.

      Bartel and Szostak’s results have been repeated and extended by other researchers, and they demonstrate a fundamental principle of evolution at the molecular level. At the start of the experiment, every molecule of RNA was different from all the rest because they were assembled by a chance process. There were no species, just a mixture of trillions of different molecules. But then a selective hurdle was imposed, a ligation reaction that allowed only certain molecules to survive and reproduce enzymatically.

      In a few generations groups of molecules began to emerge that displayed ever-increasing catalytic function. In other words, species of molecules appeared out of this random mixture in an evolutionary process that closely reflects the natural selection that Darwin outlined for populations of higher animals. These RNA molecules were defined by the sequence of bases in their structures, which caused them to fold into specific conformations that had catalytic properties. The sequences were in essence analogous to genes, because the information they contained was passed between generations during the amplification process.

      The Bartel and Szostak experiment directly refutes the argument that the odds are stacked against an origin of life by natural processes. The inescapable conclusion is that genetic information can in fact emerge from random mixtures of polymers, as long as the populations contain large numbers of polymeric molecules with variable monomer sequences, and a way to select and amplify a specific property. – science20.com

      May 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      I had a dog who was afraid of thunder and started showing severe signs of stress hours before a storm. I don't know what exactly she was sensing. Barometric pressure? Perhaps hearing very distant thunder over what are to us subsonic airwaves? Or perhaps she heard the zing of electricity from far away in the ultrasound range? It'd be an interesting scienctific research program to figure it out. Or, if you are a dope, you could say Jolly Old Jehovah decided to tell her and neither me nor my wife nor any of my other dogs when a storm was approaching. Don't think so!

      I have multiple sleep disorders and have experienced all sorts of wild states while in the mental realm between sleep and wakefulness, including auditory hallucinations, lucid dreams, sleep paralysis and sleep terror. Best not to take things experienced in these states too seriously!

      May 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      I am not moving goal posts, thruth is I am the same as everyone else. I am pondering my existence and looking for answers, I do not know if God exists but I have faith. I am not afraid of oblivion so I am not motivated by self preservation. I read the Bible and it makes sense to me motionaly, it makes me happier and I feel more like I always thought I should feel.

      If we are all here to die and rot, and so is everthing else in the universe then it really doesnt matter. Nothing in the entire universe is going to mean diddly squat.

      In a way, if God doesn't exist, and there is no purpose to life, then I think I would rather not exist. I find this meat suit that you push matter down one end and extrude it from the other pretty disgusting. I cannot stand watching man eat man by enslaving each other over greed.

      Sharing space with evil, having it relentlessly trying to infect you. Yea if there isn't anything better than this then I can't wait for this existence to cease.

      Peace unto all you Athiests.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • momoya

      @Perceived Reality

      I appreciate the honesty and humility in your last post.. Thank you.

      You are moving the goal posts, but that's immaterial at this point.. The bible makes sense to you emotionally the same way the koran makes sense to others emotionally.. We are not here just to die and rot.. We don't know why we are here, so we go exploring and asking questions and looking for hard answers..

      Read the bible if it makes you happy.. I still enjoy reading it.. I could still get all the chills listening to some christian song.. We don't know if our purpose serves some higher ideal or adds some significance, but you can certainly hold to your values and make others around you feel special and loved.. I can't think of any reasons not to be moral and try to help and love others, can you?. Let's decide to do that..

      If there isn't anything better than this for me, then I think I should at least give my values a shot.. I can at least spread joy and happiness where I can and help and teach others.. There's much suffering in this existence, but there is also much joy.. Life is a passing illusion so enjoy it while you're here.. Roller coasters are fun and they're over in a mere minute or two.. This is great fun, here.

      May 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  14. Crom

    Now I am proved right yet again! I can feel my hat size getting bigger already!

    See, Mr. Prothero?
    I knew you could write very well when you put your mind to it!!!

    That "Letter to God" was a cheap and lame attempt to say what you more clearly express in THIS article using much better writing skills!

    I take back my insults even though they may have seemed harsh. Maybe they helped get your blood going. I hope so.

    They were only my expressions of my relatively minimal frustration at how you appeared to be low-balling us, your readers, with an article I would not have handed in to a teacher or professor, myself, unless I was not willing or able to try my best that day.

    That you wrote the other article so badly, made me feel disrespected as a reader. You went for some lowest denominator, common or not and it showed. Wild hyperbole was thrown your way because this is a comment section, not a national debate forum with proper oversight. I will toss out any old thing I can find in the junk drawer here at people. But you represent yourself to us. We are only anonymous trolls. I hope you didn't get too worked up or anything. Good for the circulation, though.

    I give you an (A -) for this article.
    The minus is for your one or two small wobbly points among the good ones you made here. Most people will not see them or care, but I see them and I care enough to say something. Enough to make your grade a minus.

    Very good column / article. Good show old chap! Very well done!
    "Go and spin no more".....

    May 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      I don't take back my insults. Prothero is useless. Liberal theologians make a big show of not falling for the worst of the yahoo stuff but still drag useless concepts like god into every issue they examine. It serves no purpose.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  15. Reality

    Steve, Steve, Steve,

    Apparently, you missed this the first time around. (The moderators must be having a slow day seeing they are recycling you and the topic).

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

    There is only prayer that the Christian folk really need.

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

    P.S. Does anyone know about Steve P.'s beliefs. Is he a liberal Christian, agnostic, atheist et al. Tough to tell from his comments.

    May 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • DrewNYC

      I don't know why you would ever ask a question as to what his beliefs are when you clearly have a computer and can research it on your own.

      The fact that you can't tell what his beliefs are shows that he's a good professor. He encourages you to think, not just believe every word that comes out of his mouth.

      I respect him and enjoy his work, and I'm a skeptic.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Reality

      I did "google" the "professor". No information about his beliefs could be found.

      May 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  16. sincere steph thy middle name is 'Ali'

    steph ali prothero mohammad

    May 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  17. jasoncdanforth

    "Flippant"? What makes you think god has any concept of what flippancy is... or even cares. Do you think god is an 81 year old woman named Agnes who yells at kids for not respecting their elders? People have this really funny idea of what god thinks about something. As god said, "Knock it off".

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHsbwY4EPyA&w=640&h=360]

    May 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Are you saying God smells of ELDERBERRIES?

      May 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  18. Wayne

    PercievedReality

    "God hears all prayers, sometimes the answer is "no" or "wait"

    A rock could give the same exact answers if you prayed to it. Wow you are dense.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  19. Nasir Khan

    Actually there is evidence of intelligence in nature beyond human intellect – some people can call it god or a deity. However, it is not manifested in any one place but is all over the universe. There are some very good examples of this – The evolution of species is a great example. The living things on earth have made constant improvements in their design, not by any conscious effort but by the process of natural selection and it is a very high quality intelligence. (In fact there are algorithms in Computer Science based on Genetics).
    The other big power is Statistics – the study of data, its interpretation and projection – this is how you decipher future (or attempt to) and then of course forces of nature – each one of them have their own dynamics and potentially predictable outcome if you can understand it.
    So there are a lot of powers and a lot of intelligence out there which our ancestors mapped in god(s) and began to pray out of fear, but even when you understand it the power and intelligence still remain and maybe you can name it God as a collective term. But to pray to this notion seems redundant.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • jasoncdanforth

      That is a remarkably intelligent comment. ...this is the internet, that's not allowed...

      May 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Kate J.

      Well said Nasir!!

      May 4, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Crom

      What you are experiencing is called "confirmation bias" in favor of so-called "intelligent design".
      All the facts refute your argument. Your subjective and biased wishful thinking does not prove a single thing at all.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Natural laws don't presuppose a supernatural lawmaker. THis is just ridiculous.

      May 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  20. Voice of Reason

    Stephen Prothero said:
    "But a public square stripped of all references to religion has never been the American way. Traditionally, our response to the religious (and non-religious) diversity in our midst has been to allow for God talk in American politics, but to keep that talk generic and to keep it to a minimum.

    This grand compromise strikes me as wise. The atheist furor in the United States today is not responding for the most part to this tradition."

    Mr. Prothero, it's called change, evolution. What would we gain if we didn't challenge and question?

    May 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Crom

      That is one of his wobbly points that do not have a good argument behind them.

      Some people like to elevate a "tradition" to unreasonable heights and will often ascribe unsupportable "authority" to the "tradition" simply because it has been done a few times and they like it. That's not a reason to respect the "tradition" at all.
      Prothero has no support for this notion of his. He is suffering from subjective bias and has left the path of reason on this point when he tries to argue without any reasonable basis for his assertions.

      May 4, 2012 at 6:35 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.