A Modest Proposal For Public Prayer

“It makes no sense”, the Christian said,
“To ask that prayers be ended—
The atheists do not believe,
Thus should not be offended!”

“The godless think it’s pointless, so
They shouldn’t even care!
When Christians start our praying, just
Pretend we are not there!”

You know, there’s something to that.
There’s a model there that works;
A way to tease inclusiveness
From all the privileged jerks.

When Christians offer up their prayers
I’m sure you’re well aware,
It doesn’t matter where they face
Cos Jesus doesn’t care

And so, to be inclusive (since
To them it’s no big deal)
The Christians should face Mecca
As they’re making their appeal

And maybe wear a yarmulke,
Along with matching shawl–
It doesn’t really matter, so
They shouldn’t care at all—

And if, by chance, it matters—
If they somehow take offense—
They may weigh again their lying
At the atheists’ expense

It’s not a simple matter
Of not caring what we do
But who decides for everyone
The many and the few

It’s hard to have inclusive prayer
While saying only one—
How ‘bout, instead, we compromise:
I’m thinking…maybe… none.

A bit more, after the jump:

When fundamentalists suggested that the school ought to begin each day with a prayer over the intercom, my dad always had an answer for them. “Well now, I suppose we’d probably want to start with Hail Mary on Mondays, since Catholics are the majority here, and…” and that was usually about as far as it got. The notion of “everybody should be free to put up their own banner” in Cranston was never anyone’s serious thought, until the unconstitutionality of their one banner was pointed out.

It seems to me there are three ways out. One would be to allow everything, everywhere–Big Mountain Jesus would be shoulder to shoulder with Big Mountain Buddha, Big Mountain Kali, Big Mountain Xenu, Big Mountain Invisible Statue To Atheism and hundreds more, scattered like confetti, turning the downhill run into an obstacle course.

So maybe option two, which was the topic of this verse. Just one prayer, but as inclusive as possible. Again, no prayer tries to be inclusive unless it is forced to be. Prayers are faith-specific, or at least favor belief over non-belief. I remember saying grace at a large dinner some 30 years ago. I was well aware that there was tremendous diversity in the gathering, so I tried to be as inclusive as I could be, but I realize in hindsight that I was hobbled by my own upbringing. It was a brief blessing, which began with “our heavenly father”, and I was quite happy with it. And then, one of the guests chastised me for not beginning with the more inclusive “our father, our mother…”. Mind you, had I done so, anyone who had grown up in my tradition would have felt excluded. There is no all-inclusive, but it might take actually confronting believers to make that clear.

I would love to see a High School fight for the right to say a prayer before a football game, only to get the approved script… “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a moment of prayer.” [wild, sustained applause, while eyeballing the known atheists with disdain] “First, would you all please face Mecca.” [confusion, while that processes]…

In discussion after discussion, from Cranston to Mt. Soledad, I hear “atheists don’t believe in god, so why should they be offended?” I propose that, since Christians don’t care which direction they face while they pray, they should have no problem being required to face Mecca, just to be inclusive of Muslims in the audience.

At about that point, option three begins to sound better and better: Why don’t we keep the government out of the prayer business completely?


  1. machintelligence says

    As a modest inclusive proposal, I suggest replacing In God We Trust with In Gods We Trust and under God with under Gods. Who could object?

  2. Stéphan, haijin geologist says

    Or that one from futurama: in one or more gods, and possibly even less we trust…

  3. The Ridger says

    Here’s the school song from Lanark Primary School in Thurloe (courtesy of Fry & Laurie). Let’s try it!

    We worship you, o god or gods,
    Whoever you may be.
    We realise that you operate
    We thank you for the birds and bees,
    For creatures live or dead.
    But if you actually don’t exist,
    Then ignore what we’ve just said.

    Or, of course, the prayer from Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness:

    “Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.”

  4. Brianne Bilyeu says

    I love the flow and imagery of this one. In my mind I saw a Shel Silverstein-esque drawing of the Mecca-facing, yarmulke- and shawl-wearing Christian, hands clasped in prayer, maybe with a few other religious symbols about his or her person.

  5. Mimmoth says

    They’d have to have a prayer to every god–from Ahura Mazda to Zeus. That would take a while, but it would be very educational for them–broaden their perspective a bit, I have no doubt.

  6. Azuma Hazuki says

    I recall there being a rather important Christian figure, whose name escapes me, who said something about not praying in public. Joshua, or Joseph, something starting with a J…

  7. says

    I was reminded of the Generic Prayer from a Frantics (Canadian comedy troupe) sketch, “The Church of All Denominations”:

    “Please open your generic prayer books and pray along with me as you stand, sit, kneel, face Mecca, or dance:

    “Oh large person or persons of whatever gender or branch of the animal kingdom, who did something great and is now someplace that we aren’t. Please forgive us for whatever you deem bad, and please help us to do whatever strikes you as good, whether that be to work hard, eat no pork, or wage a holy war.

    “Grant us whatever you tend to grant, unless you don’t interfere in earthly concerns.

    “Watch over us, or save us from evil, or let us find out for ourselves, or damn us randomly. Amen, praise Allah, have a nice day.

    “May the being as you define Him, Her, or It be with you.”

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