Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.
This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.
Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.
A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.
Several weeks ago, Polly and I were in Fort Wayne to attend a baseball game. Polly made a wrong turn and we ended up driving by The Church on Fire, a United Pentecostal church. United Pentecostal churches are also called oneness churches because of their denial of Trinitarian theology. Here’s a few photographs of the church’s sign and its unique roadside prayer box.
Thursday, May 7, 2015 is the annual National Day of Prayer. On April 17, 1952, “President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer (NDP) must be declared by each subsequent president at an appropriate date of his choice.” In 1988, the law was amended, setting the first Thursday in May as date for the NDP. While the NDP is supposed to be a day when people of all faiths come together to pray, it has been co-opted by Evangelicals. While certainly people of various faiths will gather to pray on Thursday, it will be Evangelicals and conservative Catholics that get all the media attention. Instead of following the command of Jesus to pray in secret, Evangelicals will gather at county courthouses and government buildings and metaphorically expose their 13.316 inch prayer penis for everyone to see. On this day, Evangelicals want everyone to know that the United States is a Christian nation, that the one true God is the Christian God, and that they are God’s chosen people.
…whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.
Shirley Dobson, wife of Christian fundamentalist James Dobson, is the chairwoman of the Task Force. In a recent letter to NDP volunteers, Dobson stated:
“We are contending with threats from those both here at home and abroad who aim to do us harm, and immoral practices and unsound principles run rampant throughout the culture. With this in mind, there’s an especially urgent need for God’s people to ask for His guidance for the days ahead.”
For those not schooled in the fine art of Evangelispeak®, immoral practices=abortion, homosexuality, sex before marriage, and same-sex marriage. Unsound principles=evolution,humanism, atheism, secularism, and socialism.
“This is an American thing; this is not a Christian thing. Congress solidified a tradition of the Founding Fathers, who fought for religious freedom to gather in churches and groups. We encourage Americans to get out and pray for your nation, if you are a person of faith. We realize some people aren’t, and we’re not trying to force it on them.”
Really? An American thing? What section of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights mentions the NDP as an “American thing.” While ONE of the reasons the Founding Fathers fought the British was religious freedom, it certainly wasn’t THE issue that drove colonialists to pick up arms and rebel against Britain. In fact, in many of the original 13 states, anti-religious freedom founding documents and laws were adopted, often enshrining Christianity as the state’s official religion. The notion that the United States was founded on religious freedom is a myth, as any cursory reading of American history will show.
The chairman of the 2015 National Day of Prayer is Jack Graham, fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a mega church located in Plano, Texas. Graham suggests that Evangelicals Christians, at 12:00 P.M. EST, recite the following prayer:
We come to You in the Name that is above every name—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.
Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God—the One we trust in times like these—we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.
We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You. Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.
We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.
Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope. Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free. We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.
In Jesus’ name, our Savior. Amen.
Why is it necessary for millions of Christians to utter the same words at exactly the same time? Perhaps God has a busy schedule on Thursday and can only spare one minute to hear the repetitious prayers of his chosen people. How will success be judged? How will Evangelicals know that they got through to the Almighty? I guarantee you that there is ONE thing that every praying Evangelical wants under his prayer tree…the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman.
According to Randall Murphree, editor of the American Family Association Journal:
The late Leonard Ravenhill spoke these sobering words, startlingly apropos for contemporary America: “The self-sufficient do not pray, the self-satisfied will not pray, the self-righteous cannot pray.”
We have become self-sufficient, depending on our own abilities. We hold aloft our trophies, proclaiming, “Look what we have earned!” We neglect the gracious Giver of all gifts. We have become self-satisfied, prideful in our meaningless, material accomplishments. We rest pampered and apathetic in the arms of affluence. We forget the One who offers true satisfaction.
We have become self-righteous, basking in the sunlight streaming through our stained glass windows. We ignore the God of whom Paul wrote, “[T]hey did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own”…
…If we do not confess the sins of our critically ill culture, the illness could be terminal. Time and time again, God has judged nations by the character of His people. When His people failed to repent, their nations fell. America’s believers – preachers and plumbers, janitors and judges, editors and educators, broadcasters and brick masons – must spend time before God Almighty, confessing and repenting…
As you can see, lots of generic theological words hide the real reason for this year’s National Day of Prayer. There will be few prayers uttered about the wars in the Middle East, global climate change, immigration, starving children, or the homeless. Little will be said about most of the perplexing problems facing 21st century humans. None of these things matter to most Evangelicals. What does matter is outlawing abortion, criminalizing homosexuality, and banning same-sex marriage. What does matter is re-instituting government sponsored prayer in public schools, posting the Ten Commandments on classroom walls, and teaching school children the earth is 6,019 years old. What matters most of all is taking back the United States from Kenyan-born, socialist negro Barack Obama and those who are Democrats, socialists, atheists, humanists, pagans, and liberal Christians. Theocracy remains the ultimate goal and they will not rest until the Christian flag is hoisted over the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that Sharia,Biblical Christian law, is the law of the Land.
I wish Evangelicals would be honest and stop couching their agenda in flowery, generic, non-offensive theological terms. Forget Jack Graham’s suggested prayer and get to the point:
Dear God, Dammit, we want our country back and we want it back now. We beseech you oh Lord, please kill all the homos, transvestites, abortion doctors, Muslims, atheists, and anyone else who refuses to bow a knee to Jesus and admit that the United States is one nation under the Evangelical God. As in days of the Old Testament, send a plague upon the heathen and kill them all, sparing the Koch Brothers, Waltons, and all the other job creators. Enrich hell with their flesh, and may the smell of their burning flesh be a sweet Uncle Ray’s BBQ savor in your nostrils. Oh Lord, burn down every house of worhsip except those where the one true Evangelical gospel is preached. You know which one that is, right Lord? I know you kind of got confused when you wrote the Bible. As in the days of the Old Testament, send fire from heaven and burn alive all the false prophets, especially atheist false prophets. Lord, what we really want is a Disney Park country just for true red white and blue Republican Christians. Please Lord, we need your help because no one is paying attention to us. Let the world know that you are still the same bad-ass God who drowned the entire human race in a flood and that we are your oh-so-special children.
A few years before I left the ministry, the music group Casting Crowns were one of my favorite groups.Songs like Does Anybody Hear Her?, Who am I, American Dream, and If We are the Body spoke of the dysfunction and incest I saw in Evangelicalism. Both Polly and I cried many a tear as we listened to Casting Crowns. Their music had a way of working its way down to the pain and emptiness that had engulfed us. While I think they have, in recent years, become enamored with their success, I do appreciate the help and encouragement I found through their songs.
I said all of the above so I could hopefully blunt any criticism over what I am going to say next. Mark Hall, the lead singer for Casting Crowns, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer. Hall went though surgery to remove the cancer and now the Evangelical community is abuzz with reports of God miraculously healing Hall.
Mark Hall, the lead singer for Casting Crowns, asked his fans for prayer earlier this month when doctors found a solid mass on his right kidney.
God answered those prayers. The doctors successfully removed the cancerous growth and he’s heading back home again.
“The pathology report is in and the news is just as we expected and also an answer to the prayers we have all prayed,” said Melanie Hall, Mark’s wife. “The pathology report confirms that the tumor was indeed kidney cancer but it was fully encased. The findings of the report confirm that the cancer had not spread to the kidney or anywhere else. Glory Hallelujah!!”
Melanie said the cancer was classified as the nuclear level 3 cell type, which is aggressive. That means it was active and ready to spread to other parts of Hall’s body.
“This just makes all of this even more of a miracle,” Melanie said. “I wish that I could explain in words how much of a miracle it was, but it would take too many words. And to be honest, I am too tired.”
Melanie pointed to three circumstances that allowed doctors to find the tumor. First, Casting Crowns is normally never off in March—but was this year. Hall was not experiencing any tumor-related symptoms—gastric problems took him to the doctor. And doctors don’t routinely order CT scans with contrast for physicals.
“God was at work in this before we had any idea. He is good that way. We are thankful for His mercy and grace. We are thankful that He chose to answer our requests in this way,” Melanie said.
“I know that not everyone’s stories have the desired ending. But I also know that God desires us to trust Him with it all anyway. Even still, He says He will work it all together for our good. Thank you again for your continued prayers. For us, in this, the war is won but we still have to fight the recovery battle.”
Is Mark Hall’s successful cancer surgery a miracle? Where’s the miracle component? A competent, qualified radiologist performed the CT scan, a competent, qualified anesthesiologist put Hall asleep, a competent, qualified surgeon removed the cancer, and a competent, qualified nursing staff assisted and took care of Hall before, during, and after his surgery. Pray tell, where’s the miracle? Just because countless Christians prayed doesn’t mean that the Big Man upstairs stopped filling out his March Madness Bracket so he could answer all these prayers and “heal” Hall.
The fact is, it is trained doctors who successfully treated Hall. But, But, But, the Christian says, WHO gave the doctors the skill to successfully operate on Hall? By all means, please prove to me that you can know the Evangelical God gave the doctors their skill? Which is more likely: a deity giving someone a particular skill set, or hard work, training, genetic disposition, upbringing, education, and desire giving some a particular skill set? I’m going with the latter.
There’s no miracle to be found here. Hall was lucky. Let me deconstruct Mark Hall’s wife’s explantion of the miracle.
First, Casting Crowns is never off in March and Melanie Hall sees this as providential. Providential, as in God giving Mark Hall aggressive kidney cancer so he could then miraculously “heal” him? Providential, as in God having Casting Crowns take the month of March off so he could miraculously “heal” Mark Hall? Isn’t amazing that any string of events and circumstances can be strung together as “proof” of God’s providence.
Second, Hall went to see the doctor for gastric problems and he was not showing any signs of having a tumor. Yet, the doctor supposedly ran an unneeded CT scan and viola! found the cancer. Here’s the problem with this scenario. Doctors do order CT scans for gastric problems. How do I know this? Last December, I went to the doctor for gastric problems. What did the doctor order? A CT scan. What did they find? Enlarged lymph glands, a lesion on my pancreas, and a gallbladder filled with stones and sludge. I then had an endoscopic ultrasound. My doctor feared I had pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, the lesion was benign, but I will soon have my gallbladder surgically removed. There is nothing miraculous about a doctor ordering a CT scan on a 45-year-old man complaining of gastric problems.
So then, miracle or luck? Luck. A miracle would have been a CT scan showing Mark Hall’s cancer and then when the surgeon cut him open the cancer was gone.
Melanie Hall’s parting comment to those hoping to be healed like her husband reveals the bankruptcy of praying for miracles:
“I know that not everyone’s stories have the desired ending. But I also know that God desires us to trust Him with it all anyway. Even still, He says He will work it all together for our good.”
You see, most Christians who pray for divine healing from cancers, illnesses, and diseases find out that their God, who supposedly never leaves or forsakes them, is on vacation and can’t be bothered with their petty requests. For every Mark Hall “miracle”, there thousands and millions who will die without their God ever giving them a thought. In their dying hour, they find out that the Great Physician is anything but.
According to Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, the Christian God is a Seahawks fan, at least for this week. Wilson had the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions and was suffering four sacks. Wilson practically handed the game to the Green Bay Packers. But, Wilson had a secret weapon that Aaron Rodgers didn’t know about, God. Yes, Wilson called on the big man upstairs to give the Seahawks what they needed to defeat the Green Bay Packers.
Eight hours before game time, Wilson put in a praise order to Jesus:
After the Seahawks stunning comeback win, Wilson and some of his Christian teammates knelt on the field and thanked God for their victory. Wilson later said:
“Just making the plays at the end. Keep believing. There was no doubt, I just had no doubt. We had no doubt as a team. The funny thing is I was on the sideline right before we went off that last drive and I told (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell, ‘be ready for the check’, for the play that we just ran through the touchdown. I said ‘I’m gonna pull a touchdown and win the game’. And sure enough man. I just believe that God prepared me for these situations. God’s prepared our team too as well. Like I said, I’m honored to be on this team. I’m going to the Super Bowl again.”
You see, there’s the problem. God was too busy helping Wilson prepare to beat the Seahawks to devote any time to rape and pillage going on in Nigeria. God was too busy helping Wilson understand the Packers’ defensive schemes to concern himself with children going to bed tonight without eating. What a mighty, mighty God Wilson serves, a God who can’t be bothered with the pressing needs of his creation because he’s too busy fixing a football game in Seattle.
Wilson tweeted out after the game:
As an atheist, I am amused by these kind of masturbatory displays of Christianity. Since Wilson’s God is a fiction, I know that the game was decided on the field. Green Bay had it in their grasp and let it get away. Wilson found a way to put off his horrible play and bring his team down the stretch to victory.
What troubles me is how many Christians are thrilled when a player or musician makes a public display of God affection. They are almost beside themselves when they hear their God, not just any God, THEIR God, mentioned on TV. Rarely do they consider how such things cheapen not only their religion but the God they worship.
Do they really want to speak up for a God who takes time out of his busy schedule to help a football team win a game? The same could be said when people praise God for helping them to find their keys. Is this who the Christian God is — a divine bellhop who stands by waiting to meet the every whim of self-indulgent followers of Jesus?
Christians of every stripe should be offended when players such as Russell Wilson attribute their victory to God, the deity who loves every sport. It seems God helps football teams score the winning touchdown, baseball teams score the winning run, and golfers make the winning putt. I suppose God’s team even has some bowlers on it and he helps them get the 7-10 split to win the game. Is this what the Christian God has become, a genie who grants wishes to those who call upon his name?
If that is so, why then is he silent when millions of people will call on his name asking him to save them from starvation, torture, rape, calamity, and death? Is God so busy with American sports players that he has no time for no account starving children in Africa? Is he so tuned in to helping Russell Wilson grab victory from the jaws of defeat, that he has no time to help those who are being raped, abused, and murdered by ISIS and Boko Haram?
So, I ask you dear Christian, is THIS the God you want me to worship and serve? Is Jesus really little more than Russell Wilson’s touchdown Jesus? If so, count me out. I want nothing to do with such a petty, heartless deity.
The good news is, God is fixing to get an ass-whipping two weeks from today. The Seattle Seahawks will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. And here’s one thing I know: Tom Brady the Patriot quarterback and his coach Bill Belichick? They won’t spent any time in prayer meetings beseeching God to help them defeat the Seahawks. Instead, they will be doing what consummate professionals do. They will study film, they will cook up schemes to help them win, and then Tom Brady and Co will go out on the field and play as smart and as hard as they can. And if and when they win? You can count on one thing, neither of them will be praising Jesus for the victory.