Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Sad Bye: No National Day of Prayer

This is a sad development. President Obama has canceled the traditional National Day of Prayer in the White House. In stark contrast to the past first Thursday every May, this year is a year where there will be no official day of prayer at the office of the President. So on the 6th of May 2010, the White House will not be bowing their heads, officially, that is. If the leader of the White House is not going to lead by example, does he expect others to follow? Even if the proclamation of the Day of Prayer will continue, his very non-observance of a significant day of prayer inside the White House is already of some concern.

By canceling this significant event beginning with his own office, Obama is sending a message that his change campaign is not done yet. There are still more sacred cows that need to be slaughtered, and he is going to embark on this aggressively and non-apologetically.

Three Reasons Why This is Wrong
Unfortunately, I think this time, he has made a wrong step. It reflects an attitude that bases its foundation on humanism, which in its essence imperfect and sinful. As a leader of the most powerful nation in the world, he is sending a message that his country has better things to do than to pray. He is telling the atheists that it is their time to be heard. He is telling the religious groups that his government is a secular government, and does not need to hang on to religious practices. I have three problems with his decision to cancel this significant day of prayer. This is despite the huge, enthusiastic preparation for that day. See this site. According to the history,

"The National Day of Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history, including President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress, signed by President Truman, declared an annual, national day of prayer. In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May. Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Last year, all 50 state governors plus the governors of several U.S. territories signed similar proclamations." (NationalDayOfPrayer History)

Firstly, it removes one more item in the long process of remembering the tradition of the ancestors. The National Day of Prayer has a long history. History is important, more so especially in a society that is increasingly run by technology and techniques. According to Neil Postman, if we do not know our past such as history, instead of man controlling technology, technology may control man instead.

"I don't think any of us can do much about the rapid growth of new technology. However, it is possible for us to learn how to control our own uses of technology. The "forum" that I think is best suited for this is our educational system. If students get a sound education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, they may grow to be adults who use technology rather than be used by it." (Neil Postman, Technopoly)

Secondly, it is an erosion of an identity of a nation. The moment anybody forgets their roots, it is the beginning of an end. When any people group do not expressly believe in something, the alternative is worse: they believe in anything.
"Because of the faith of many of our founding fathers, public prayer and national days of prayer have a long-standing and significant history in American tradition. The Supreme Court affirmed the right of state legislatures to open their sessions with prayer in Marsh vs. Chambers (1983)." (National Day of Prayer History)

For a quick understanding of this matter of identity, imagine children taking on different lastnames or surnames from the parents. Without a family name, the kids are on their own as far as their ancestry is concerned. A 'Smith' gives birth to an 'Anderson.' A 'Lee' gives birth to a 'Ho.' A 'Subramaniam gives birth to a 'Swaminathan.' Any relation, any remembrance is limited to the memory banks of the computer system. Our society is already challenged with identity crises at different points of one's life. We do not need to throw another monkey wrench into the works.

Thirdly, the National Day of Prayer is a day to remember our limitations of humanity. It is a day to remain humble, and avoid shaking our fists at others to say that we can do it ourselves. Our society's infatuation over increasing self independence are increasing the problems of society at large. Excessive independence breeds unhealthy individualism. Unhealthy individualism breeds loneliness. Loneliness breeds indifference. Indifference destroys the fabric of community building. It is when we come together to pray, we recognize that not only we need the help of a Higher Power, we need one another.

It is not just the recognition of the importance of religion that matters. It is a recognition that man alone cannot help themselves. They too depend on Someone beyond themselves.When any people group believes in nothing, they believe in everything. Is this the beginning of the end of America?

Do Not Fret
So, is there any hope? Is there anything positive to take from here? I do not think we need to fret too much. At this time of writing, there are gathering of people all over the world. If the American government does not want to continue a National Day of Prayer, this should not prevent religious institutions and groups from holding their own prayer houses and prayer gatherings. Maybe, without an officially sanctioned day of prayer, religious groups can sieve out those who WANT to pray, from those who simply felt FORCED to pray.

If we believe that God is higher than any legislation, we need not worry. We ought to continue to speak up and urge for the reinstatement of the National Day of Prayer, for reasons of history, identity and humility among other good reasons. We ought to continue to avoid becoming so critical of Obama's decision that we cannot pray. Most importantly, we must not stop praying. Maybe, it is indeed a more pressing moment to pray for our leaders. May Americans pray for their leaders, especially those in the White House.

May leaders lead by example.



Rosie Perera said...

That is not quite the full story. See

YAPdates said...

Thanks Rosie,
I think there is a lot of misinformation going on when the news was first released. I'd initially thought that the whole even was to be cancelled. When I checked, there is no such thing. It is only in the White House where the traditional prayer ceremony will not be held. My main concern is "Why will the President continue to proclaim a National Day of Prayer without doing the same in his own office?"

For me, it is not merely a religious concern. It is leadership.

Thanks for your input.

Rosie Perera said...

My understanding is that the official White House prayer services have not been as long-standing a tradition as the National Day of Prayer itself (which only goes back to 1952 and was only fixed as the first Thursday of May by Reagan). According to this Fox News article, "Reagan hosted a Rose garden event in 1982, and President George H.W. Bush scheduled a breakfast in 1989. The annual East Room events didn't begin until George W. Bush was in office." So Obama is merely going back to what most presidents since the National Day of Prayer was established have done, which is observe it with a public proclamation and then pray privately as he does every day. I'm sure there will be other organized events to honor that day going on in Washington, DC, and in particular among Christians on Capitol Hill.

Obama is sensitive to the fact that he has a responsibility as president of all Americans, not just Christian ones, to publicly represent the strengths of our country (I speak as an American). One of those strengths is freedom of religion, which in the Constitution is worded as "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Nothing in there implies that the president should show leadership in publicly organizing the White House staff who share his faith to have a prayer service. That would exclude those who don't. We Christians who voted for him and like his approach know that he is a man deeply shaped by his own prayer life and do not need him making a public show of it to please the Religious Right, who don't like him anyway and wouldn't suddenly come over to his side if he did do a White House prayer service. It seems to me that this campaign of misinformation over the supposed "cancelling" of the National Day of Prayer was mounted by people who have political reasons to want to paint Obama as anti-prayer, anti-Christian, pro-Muslim. He is sensitive to the multi-religious nature of our population, of course, but that doesn't make him anti- his own faith or pro- another faith. He is a wise leader, in my opinion, to reach out to people of all faiths, and to also treat those who have no faith at all with dignity.

YAPdates said...

I am with you with regards to those groups you mentioned trying to paint Obama unfairly. If prayer is strictly reserved only for fundamentalist -conservative- evangelical-Bible thumping kind of a person, then what you say makes a lot of sense.

I think it is the essence of prayer that is the main point. Obama could have used this as a chance to promote a faith beyond oneself. Leaders have to believe in something bigger than themselves, and not to be shy about it. So the Muslims can pray. The Buddhists can pray. Anyone can pray. It can be a deeply unifying opportunity. The ecumenical service within the White House is an excellent way to allow people to express their faiths in prayer. You cannot find such an opportunity in a church, or a mosque, or a temple. After-all, like you say, America is still a very multi-religious society. Secularism itself can behave religiously.

It is more like an opportunity lost to me. Put it this way. Even secularists need to have faith in something, even if it is themselves.


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