The Government Just Got out of Your Prayer
No tradition existed in 1789 of Congress requiring an annual National Day of Prayer on a particular date. It was not until 1952 that Congress established a legislatively mandated National Day of Prayer; it was not until 1988 that Congress made the National Day of Prayer a fixed, annual event. - U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb
This is not just about atheists - all Americans should be celebrating this:
The "National Day of Prayer" has just been ruled unconstitutional, finally. This law required the President of the United States - required him, mind you - to declare a national day of prayer. Americans have the right to pray anywhere at any time, even in school. What is at issue here is publicly required, collective prayer, especially since this is an overt effort to push Christianity.
Go to the National Day of Prayer's website and take a gander at all the references to God as "Him," the invoking of Jesus, and the quotes from the Bible. Do a search for Buddha or atheism as I did, and see what comes up. It stands to reason as one visits this site that, if the government can tell you to pray, it can tell you how to pray - and that is not what the Founding Fathers intended. This organization most certainly tell you how to pray: to Jesus Christ.
Look at who is the "chairman" of this organization: namely Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. This is a Christian organization, started by Billy Graham in 1952 in an effort to innoculate our nation against "communism" by intruding upon the private lives and thoughts of American citizens. This is not an ecumenical organization. Even if it were, it still excludes atheists, as well as Buddhists and Taoists who don't worship or conceive of a god at all, and is still an endorsement of a certain kind of religion (deity-centered, monotheistic religion). There is no such thing as a "generic form of God" in the world.
It's interesting that Christians seem to be rushing to the government to favor their religion. During the 1970s, when I was exposed to a great amount of very conservative religious radio on the AM dial while riding in a car (Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were years in the future), these preachers often railed against public prayer, and certainly against "vain repetition." Even as a young girl I was never comfortable with collective, repeated prayer in church, aside from the issues of what was being said (which later I was also uncomfortable with).
The evangelical fervor of the time was filled with predictions of the immanent End of the World, various speculations as to who the Antichrist was (since to believers' disappointment it had turned out not to be Lyndon Johnson), and even dates - Hal Lindsey had predicted the Second Coming of Christ by 1986, whereas another preacher received a lot of press for predicting it in my junior year of high school. Christians were to hold apart from the world in preparation, not get involved in politics. Some of these preachers - and I don't remember their names (they sounded all the same, anyway) were openly contemptuous of the National Day of Prayer as a form of Mammon.
What a change today! Clinton turned out not to be the Antichrist, and so did Gorbachev, and so did Saddam Hussein. 1986 passed, and Hal Lindsey's theology got replaced with the even more laughable Left Behind series, that seems more interested in branding and profit than judgment. (No one writes about the people who supposedly were raptured - why is that? Well, we know whose name is being bandied about today as a candidate for the Antichrist, don't we?) Now, the government is asked to put its Caesar's touch upon everything religious - especially evangelical Christian - as if it were Midas.
It's almost as if Christians want the government to help them pretend to believe what they really don't anymore - as if, because they're afraid God really doesn't exist, they want to either rule the world (via National Prayer Breakfasts) as if they were Jesus, or help the world end itself - not so much in order to get somewhere, not even to get to heaven, but to escape where they are now, to leave behind things as they are, and not deal with the meaninglessness of their lives.
Since when did government become a shortcut to heaven for the evangelical Christian? When did Caesar become Jesus for them? Step by step - by demanding that reality conform to their fantasy; by demanding that science look like their theology; by demanding one's own facts in the fact of facts; by lying to oneself to the point that one's own belief in god became one's own contrivance, and this god a mere symbol of their own narcissism. As Eric Hoffer points out, the essence of the true believer/extremist is not that he believes something deeply, but that he deeply believes nothing. He is a nihilist.
The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness or holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold onto. - Eric Hoffer
Appeal to the government to enforce one's religion is the ultimate form of nonbelief, of distrust, of nihilism in one's religion. As I said, real believers should join atheists in celebrating this long overdue ruling. After all, I would be the first to be outraged if the government called for an Atheist Day, as I have ruffled many atheist feathers and would not make a great "mainsteam" or spokesperson atheist. As an atheist, I run with scissors; I do not always play well with others. I want the government to stay the hell out of my atheism, and I cannot fathom why any believer would not similarly demand the right, and the freedom, to be left alone.
What are we when we are alone? Some, when they are alone, cease to exist. - Eric Hoffer
UPDATED: Besides, considering the crap that the right wing has said about Barack Obama (he's the Antichrist, he's the "Messiah" which means the same thing, he's a foreigner not constitutionally our President, he's a Muslim), you'd think that the right wing would be relieved that he is no longer federally mandated to call us to pray, maybe (being a Muslim and all) to Allah, or maybe (being the Antichrist and all) to him! Am I right? Am I right? Come on people, you cannot have it both ways: either Obama is completely untrustworthy to act as President in this fashion, in which case you should be celebrating this ruling, or he is, in which case, cut out all the fearmongering. Make up your minds!
SECOND UPDATE: This is interesting - Franklin Graham was disinvited from the National Day of Prayer (which, I add, is now voluntary rather than mandatory for the President to declare. The ruling did not declare the NDoP itself unconstitutional, just the federal law requiring the President to declare it, as it was essentially a religious test for the President to "prove" that he was not a "communist").