A little light of reason shines in Indiana

The Indianapolis Star has been running a pointless little prayer on page A2 of the newspaper for years. Not any more; the editor has decided to discontinue it. It isn’t because it has suddenly become a mouthpiece for militant atheism, though:

We appreciate that this has been a long tradition in The Star. But we are re-evaluating our mission and all that we do. I believe that prayer is a very personal thing and that offering prayers is something for individuals and their churches. We are a newspaper, not a church.

Also, we do live in a society in which there are many, many different beliefs. We respect all religions, and the prayer was written only from the Christian perspective.

Because of those issues, we have decided to drop the prayer. I’m confident that people will continue to offer their own prayers reflecting their own lives and faith needs.

Good for the Star! As you might guess, this decision has triggered lots of complaints. Here’s one that I thought was very funny.

Very disappointing decision. If you are able to print the horoscopes, then you should print a prayer …please reconsider.

They are on a par with horoscopes, aren’t they? Just as ineffective, and just as ridiculous…but that’s not an argument for keeping either of them.


  1. David Marjanović, OM says

    That comparison of the Christian religion to horoscopes (a part of the Babylonian religion) is actually great. You shouldn’t have put it in Comic Sans.

  2. Blondin says

    I find myself in complete agreement with that letter writer. All newspapers should drop the silly horoscopes.

  3. tripencrypt says

    “They are on a par with horoscopes, aren’t they? Just as ineffective, and just as ridiculous…but that’s not an argument for keeping either of them.”

    Well said PZ, cheers!

  4. says

    They are on a par with horoscopes, aren’t they? Just as ineffective, and just as ridiculous…but that’s not an argument for keeping either of them.

    No reason not to interpret it that way, but of course there are other ways of seeing it. I mean, I could tell them that they ought to have more science, since, after all, they’ve been devoting column inches to prayers and to horoscopes. That is to say, the person is almost certainly arguing that if something as useless as horoscopes are being printed, why not something good, like a prayer?

    So again, I like PZ’s interpretation well enough, but I would not pretend that the person was actually suggesting anything like that.

    Glen D

  5. Blondin says

    This interesting comment is from one Father Robert Lyons:

    “I don’t really have an issue with this. The Newspaper is supposed to be there to serve the entire community with facts, not to evangelize them. Leave the evangelizing to the Church.

    Besides, a vanilla prayer is basically a ‘bone’ thrown to pacify a particular sect or group. Genuine prayer is deep, specific, and heart-felt; and I can’t ever recall seeing a vanilla prayer that met those particular criteria.”

    Quite a practical view, I thought, for a member of the clergy.

  6. says

    It isn’t because it has suddenly become a mouthpiece for militant atheism, though:

    But at least it’s quite in line with secularism, as a kind of compromise with various religions and with the non-religious.

    Maybe even better is the fact that they’re recognizing that, even in Indiana, prayer is a poor product to try selling.

    Glen D

  7. Bostonian says

    Pity we won’t see horoscopes going the same way. In a sense they deserve to get the boot even more than prayers do. Praryers are generally passive: they’re recited in an homage, an offering, or a pleading to one’s deity. Horoscopes are far more insidious because they’re taken seriously as offering advice and prescribing actions.

    Sadly they’re also a selling point of many newspapers, to the bizarre extent that their authors are often well paid for their snake-oilyness. They’ll stick around as long as there’s a market for them.

  8. Faithful Reader says

    Our local paper just downsized considerably, dropping stock reports, some national & international coverage, and some other news and features. The only thing the editor really got clobbered for, causing him to bring it back: The horoscope, of course.

  9. Don in Rochester MN says

    >At least horoscopes are amusing once in a while…

    As are the preyers. Put them all in the comics section (FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY of course).

  10. says

    I was about to comment that surely those complaining are just doing so over losing symbolic support for Christianity and that nobody would actually ever let the local newspaper tell them what they should say to their god. Then I read this:

    Robert Rose wrote on January 5, 2009 2:18 PM:
    As one who prayed the prayer from the paper along with my grace at breakfast, I do miss that portion of the paper. I found the prayers to be something anyone could pray for (peace, good health, wisdom for legislators, help for those with addictions, etc. The prayers seemed to be quite timely for the Nation, State and quite uncannily often, myself. I don’t profess to have a clue what God thinks and Jesus tells us that God’s ways are not man’s ways. However, being shunned never helped with relations with God and I personnally can’t see this as a good move. At this point, I would have to agree with anonymous above and would suggest that in the Star’s situation, more prayer, not less, would be the answer.

  11. Daveau says

    “Very disappointing decision. If you are able to print the horoscopes, then you should print a prayer …please reconsider.”

    I rather like the way the writer basically admits that prayers and horoscopes are of the same ilk. Unfortunately, he probably really believes in both.

    I wonder if your horoscope says that it’s your lucky day, and you pray real hard, will you win the lottery?

  12. strangest brew says

    Point is that astrology is mostly harmless and quite amusing and no one runs their day to day lifestyle depending on the predictions for that day …(except the obligatory few nutty exceptions as there always are)…religion is 100% toxic…is followed in the minutiae by confirmed nutters and is… without a shadow of a doubt… extremely dangerous in the wrong hands and not very funny at all!

  13. Zifnab says

    Someone crunched the numbers and discovered that Page A2 has valuable real estate space. Shove an ad for JC Penny in there and you make up more than the difference in lost readership.

    That said, if the Indi-Star wanted to be really savy, they’d have put out a note saying that they couldn’t afford to keep it up unless good Christian fundies paid the standard advertising price. Silly newspaper, there’s gold in dem der hills. Mine it.

  14. Jim says

    As a resident of Indianapolis, I am very pleased to hear this (kind of funny that I check the blogs before I do my own newspapers)

    Good day

  15. Bill Dauphin says

    I think there’s a better argument for horoscopes in newspapers than prayers:

    If it were in fact what it claims to be, the horoscope would provide readers with predictive information they could use to plan their day, in the same way they use the weather forecast or the movie showtimes.

    The prayer, OTOH, would serve no such informational function even if there were a god who listened to prayers. You need not even disbelieve in prayer to think it’s a waste of space in a newspaper.

  16. rayceeya says

    The difference is that of course the horoscopes have a disclaimer specifying that they are for “Entertainment Value Only” while I doubt the prayer ever did.

  17. Spinoza says

    What about Horoscopic Prayers?

    “Libra: You will face challenges tomorrow that only prayers to Jehovah can solve.”

    “Leo: Your love life will take an unexpected turn this week as the moon is waxing in Uranus and Jesus loves you.”

  18. Henry says

    Horoscopes are fun and occupy the same mental space as crosswords and cartoons. I don’t think anyone at all takes them seriously. Prayers are another matter – they will appeal to some, but will be an imposition for many. Prayers should be private.

    It’s hard for me in the UK to understand the rekligious mindset of US newspapers. Once in Kansas City the local paper (the Star, I think) was shoved under my hotel bedroom door. It was a weekend edition, and with all the usual big, weight supplements, one was devoted to Faith. Of course I lapped it up, in the same way that one enjoys sampling the weird anthropology of strange alien peoples. Nothing like this exists in the UK, except …

    … the legal (or quasi-legal) obligation of broadcasters in the UK to have some kind of religious programming. Many broadcasters I know try to get round this as far as I can by having programmes that are philosophical or contemplative rather than overtly religious, and broadcast them in the middle of the night. However, the Today show on BBC Radio 4 – THE flagship news show – has a 5-minute ‘Thought For The Day’ slot at about 07:50, which REALLY gets on my tits.

  19. ndt says

    I think you should de-gumbify the comment. He makes a good point, although maybe not in the way he thinks.

  20. Alyson says

    I don’t think horoscopes are anywhere near as dangerous as theistic belief. When was the last time anyone started a war under the assumption that he had astrology on his side?

    But anyway.

    I do think it’s hilarious, of course, that the letter writer basically equated monotheist prayer with astrology. Though the writer probably didn’t really think it through first.

  21. dead yeti says

    That editor better watch out zombie jesus will come back and eat his brains, he certainly go hungry if he has to live off the contents of most of the paper’s readers heads

  22. says

    I guess this is a business decision, which is an indication that these prayers are becoming less popular, or something.

    Then again, religion is about NOT thinking it through, right?

  23. Quiet_Desperation says

    Can they get rid of the zombie comics (comic strips that are effectively dead but still running) and make room for some new blood and fresh ideas?

    Man, you used to turn to the comics page and get Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom Country and such. Now it’s For Better Or For Worse repeats, 2000 year old Peanuts and The Not Amazing At All Spiderman. Or yet another character dying a slow, painful death in Funky Winkerbean. An then there’s the tired. melon headed abomination in Family Circus. Feh…

    Lio and Pearls Before Swine are the only bright spots these days in the non-web comics world. In fact, here’s handly a relevant example:


  24. Quiet_Desperation says

    They could always print Roger Zelazny’s agnostic prayer:

    “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 your receiving 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.”

  25. abb3w says

    The reason for including the prayer, the horoscopes, Dear Abby, and the comics is the same: it helps sell papers.

    Don in Rochester MN: Put them all in the comics section (FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY of course).


    To deal with the exclusively Christian nature of the prayer, ask a Rabbi and Mullah to take turns writing the “ecumenical” prayer for the next year, and then rotate the regular roster back thereafter.

  26. Barry says

    Does that reader’s comment not sound like a tongue-in-cheek joke? Sounds like something I would say in a joking manner.

  27. catgirl says

    I completely agree with everyone above who said that horoscopes should be removed too. Or at least include an article about the Forer effect next it.

  28. akshelby says

    They should get rid of the horoscoped. I know quite a few people who really do base their day off the horoscopes. If it says they will have a bad day, then they expect that bad day and, of course, get it. It’s sad, really. I try my best to avoid those discussions with them. I, in fact, try to avoid interaction with them at all.

  29. Mike says

    Re: Henry #23

    “I don’t think anyone at all takes [horoscopes] seriously.”

    Not to be condescending, but BWAAAAAhahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!

  30. Aquaria says

    Heck, not even the serious astrology buffs believe in the horrorscopes, which reveals how worthless they are.

  31. dean says

    #16 ended with:
    “I rather like the way the writer basically admits that prayers and horoscopes are of the same ilk. Unfortunately, he probably really believes in both.”

    I doubt he does believe in both. I know people who view horoscopes as representing some
    other religion, sometime not very well described, sometimes relating to “Satanism”. I am betting this gentleman’s view could be summarized as “If you print material for another religion, why not for mine?”

  32. BobC says

    I was going to congratulate the backward state of Indiana for joining the 21st century, but then I read they have a Bible verse on the top of the front page and they have no plans to remove it.

  33. says

    Oooohhh, self burn.

    Though, FYI, he probably meant it like this (While just as stupid.):

    “You’re reasoning for discontinuing the Christian prayer is unfair while you continue print the Witchcraft of Astrology. Please reconsider.”

    I’l bet I’m right.

  34. SASnSA says

    I fear the day when Christians decide fortune cookies should have prayers in them as well: “If you are able to print the fortunes, then you should print a prayer”

  35. says

    Oooohhh, self burn.

    Though, FYI, he probably meant it like this (While just as stupid.):

    “You’re reasoning for discontinuing the Christian prayer is unfair while you continue print the Witchcraft of Astrology. Please reconsider.”

    I’l bet I’m right.

  36. mr P says

    The poor people will have to THINK up their own prayers now. I see why it is such a burden it has been removed.

  37. Qwerty says

    Oh, oh. Dropping the prayer means the Colts will lose in the playoffs. Oh, wait, they already did.

  38. Chili Pepper says

    Should’a run the prayer from The Frantics sketch “Worshipers R Us”:

    “O large person or persons of whatever gender or branch of the animal kingdom, who did something great and is now someplace where we aren’t, please forgive us for whatever you deem bad, and 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 with 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.”


  39. PrivateEffortsShouldBePrivatelyPursued says

    I like this decision very much, not so much for the outcome as much as I think that is correct, but the reasoning used. I have come to similar conclusions that religion has long been considered a private thing and has not been a general “public” thing for some time and with that in mind a number of religions efforts, publications, etc (almost exclusively Christian) need to be curtailed as they related to private matter but are being presented in a public manner than is inconsistent with their private nature. (But consistent with pushing a private agenda.) This is, of course, consistent with secular society too in that the fairest way to accommodate all religions is to have all of them pursued privately without anyone favoured publicly.

    As a different example, a university in New Zealand last year appointed a new chair heading a “Centre for Theology and Public Issues.” I have several problems with this. I won’t go into all of them, but one of which is that religion is a private thing, and thus has no connection with “public issues” in the manner I believe it mean to imply. Likewise, I can’t see any special reason for researching “social issues such as poverty, social welfare and the environment from a theological perspective“. (You could research relationships between religion and social issues such as poverty, social welfare and the environment, but that is not from a theological perspective, but from a neutral perspective, as a social scientist or historian might.) It all sounds rather like pushing a particular barrow to me.

    To me, religion is a private thing and it hasn’t been a “public” thing in New Zealand for a long time. So, why is public money and a public institution being used to support what, as best I can tell, appears to be a private agenda (theology) under the guise of “public issues”? At best, it seems inconsistent to me.

    If you continue with this line of thinking you may, as I did, end up raising the question of if present-day universities should have theology departments at all, for similar reasons as to the issues of prayer in that newspaper: theology, as far as I can tell, is about a pursuing private issues; it is inconsistent that a public institution and public funds should support some person or group pursuing private issues.

    I agree with Henry that few people will really take horoscopes to be other than a bit of fun. I would think that is part of the reason their established “home” is the puzzle page the world over. Prayers seem to have (had?) a home near editorial comment or letters to the editor, effectively giving them some gravitas. (In some papers I’ve seem them near the advertisements, which perhaps it saying something!)

  40. ndt says

    Posted by: Alyson | January 7, 2009 2:50 PM

    I don’t think horoscopes are anywhere near as dangerous as theistic belief. When was the last time anyone started a war under the assumption that he had astrology on his side?

    Do some reading on the junta that rule Myanmar. They seem to make important decisions based on astrology.

  41. Lance says


    First my home state of Indiana votes for Obama and now this. I’ll have to temper those “Hoosier bible belt back-water” outbursts.

  42. CaptainKendrick says


    This is just another example of Christians being persecuted!!!!

  43. CrypticLife says

    What I find somewhat amusing is that the commenters to the news article complain that the newspaper is being deceptive by portraying it as a business (presumably, they mean financial) decision, but the newspaper itself doesn’t present it that way.

    They present it as: “We are a newspaper, not a church.”

    So, one wonders why they retain a daily Biblical verse, which the pastor Lyons also indicates he dislikes because of a distaste for taking isolated verses out of context. Bright guy, Mr. Lyons.

  44. says

    Aquarius: Your gullibilty gives you away. You read this tosh on a daily basis, after all. Don’t eat the salad.

    Taurus: You’ve gone twenty years having never, ever read any of the other star signs, never realising they all say the same thing. Don’t eat the salad. Aquarius has spat in it.

  45. And-U-Say says

    “Horoscopes are fun and occupy the same mental space as crosswords ”

    What? Have you ever tried to work a cross word puzzle? They are hard. Takes an hour or more.

  46. MarkusR says

    That’s my paper! I spend way too much time on their forum and op/letters pages…under a different user name though.

  47. SEF says

    @ Alyson #25

    When was the last time anyone started a war under the assumption that he had astrology on his side?

    I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or are genuinely unaware that that’s exactly what people used to do (and probably haven’t entirely stopped doing in some places).

    PS I see ndt (in #46) wasn’t sure of you either.

  48. SEF says

    they even had someone plug PZ in the comments section

    Presumably not full of lead (like a bad gangster movie or meejah version of Cluedo). ;-)

    They should link back to PZ’s own version of horoscopes too … eg Pisces

  49. Rieux says

    Alyson @ 25:

    I don’t think horoscopes are anywhere near as dangerous as theistic belief. When was the last time anyone started a war under the assumption that he had astrology on his side?

    I agree with your general point, but in fact news reports in the 1980s had it that Ronald and Nancy Reagan made sure to consult Nancy’s astrologer before making major decisions. When the story broke, I believe the administration claimed that it was only Nancy doing the consulting, and only with regard to non-political matters–but I’m not sure how much credibility that excuse deserves. (Also, considering Ronnie’s later-publicized Alzheimer’s, the contention that it was Nancy doing the consulting isn’t all that comforting; quite possibly she was doing a fair amount of governing. Anyway, someone was.)

    The late, beloved “radical atheist” Douglas Adams threw in a reference to this mini-scandal in his last completed novel, Mostly Harmless. His narrator contemplated whether a recent (unnamed) U.S. President had consulted an astrologer before deciding when to “bomb Damascus.”

    So it’s not totally unthinkable.

    All of that said, I agree that the Indy Star‘s prayer was a bigger problem than its horoscopes, because of the power that religion has, and astrology generally doesn’t, in the U.S.

  50. says

    “They are on a par with horoscopes, aren’t they? Just as ineffective, and just as ridiculous…but that’s not an argument for keeping either of them.”

    Two stupids do not make a smart.

  51. Jeanette says

    There actually are people who take horoscopes extremely seriously, and run/ruin their lives all around them. I had a friend who wouldn’t date a guy she liked if he was one of the “wrong” signs for her, but would stay in destructive relationships forever based on star signs and horoscopes. She made every decision in her life, related to romance, work, finances, whatever, based on her horoscopes. Disaster.

    But yeah, at least so far they’re not organized and powerful, and that’s what makes religion dangerous, not just the stupidity of it.

  52. Insightful Ape says

    PZ, are you going to repost some of the parody “horoscopes” that you yourself cast last spring(or even better, come up with new ones?). I thought they were very funny.

  53. Bad Albert says

    How could any “god” worthy of the name consider a form-letter prayer to be sincere? For maximum effectiveness, those complainers need to switch on their brains and compose their own. On second thought, maximum effectiveness in this case means no effect at all. Never mind.

  54. Levi in NY says

    Brian’s Mom: What star sign is he?
    Wise Man #2: Capricorn.
    Brian’s Mom: Capricorn, eh? What are they like?
    Wise Man #2: He is the son of God, our Messiah.
    Wise Man #1: King of the Jews.
    Brian’s Mom: And that’s Capricorn, is it?
    Wise Man #3: No, no, that’s just him.
    Brian’s Mom: Oh, I was going to say, otherwise there’d be a lot of them.

  55. says

    I say put the prayer on the horoscope page. Daily prayer along with the daily horoscope. Just more mindless entertainment.

  56. Jeff D says

    I work in Indianapolis but live more than hour west of Indy. I haven’t spent much time looking at the layout of the print edition of the Star in quite a long time (I read the on-line edition occasionally). But now I see that the verse from II Corinthians (“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” — a stretch if there ever was one) will keep its prominent place at the upper left of Page A1, just below the masthead. That has been and will remain a larger concession (or wide-but-shallow lip service) to religion than the daily prayer, which I had forgotten about.

    For about 80 percent of the Star’s readers, lip service to religion (and specifically to Christianity — the Indianapolis metro area has a large nominally Roman Catholic population) or “believing in belief” is paramount. The guy who used the Star’s daily prayer as a sort of theistic Cliff’s Notes for his breakfast blessing is in the minority, I suspect . . . perhaps a smaller minority than the secularists and non-believers in the Star’s readership.

  57. Geoff Rogers says

    My local rag, The West Australian, doesn’t have a prayer, but it does have a daily Bible verse on the letter to the editor page, and horrorscopes (on the same page as the crosswords).

    Both of them shit me, because those two pages are ones that I read most days.

    That being said, I live in hope. I’m not sure of the current editor’s stance on all things woo, but there does seem to have been an interesting trend in the last year or so: he seems to be running a sort of poe-by-proxy angle.

    There have been an outstanding number of examples of religious loons having their letters published. And these letters are prime examples of lunacy. In counterpoint, there has been a gradual bleeding-in of anti-religious or secular viewpoints being published… and the interesting thing is that such letters have always been the ones written in measured, calm tones. In essence, the religious letters are all obviously written by lunatics who you’d cross the street to avoid (or run down), and the anti-religious letters are written by people you’d quite like to have a friendly beer with, even if you disagree with their viewpoints.

    To test this idea, I’ve written a few rather scathing responses to various letters, and comments on issues that were, shall we say, less than complementary to certain viewpoints (describing the Catholic Church as “the world’s biggest and most successful criminal organisation” being one small snippet)… and you know what? None of them published.

    Now, my reasoning is this: if the goal of the editor was to get people fired up (boosting sales, or what-have-you), surely he’d ensure the publication of more incendiary anti-religion letters, rather than the calm, measured ones. He doesn’t.

    There’s an additional point, which is that Archbishop Barry Hickey sued The West Australian and the editor for publishing a piece by an academic, Michael Levine, which took the Archbishop to task over the Catholic Church’s stance on women, in the light of Hickey starring in television advertisements praising women and telling people to treat them like the awesome that they are… despite the fact that the Catlick Crutch refuses to admit women into the priesthood and all the other misogynistic fucktardery they have historically indulged in (and continue to indulge in).

    So, I retain hope. I think the guy’s on our side.

  58. Christopher says

    Now we Hoosiers just need to get rid of those blasted “In God We Trust” license plates…

  59. Die Anyway says

    If I were editor… I would print 20 or 30 prayers every day. One from each of as many different religions as I could find, especially if they were contradictory to each other. Dear God (w/Jesus), Dear God (w/o Jesus), Dear Vishnu, Dear Allah, Dear Xenu, Dear FSM, … but then I’m known to be an agitator and contrarian.