July 19, 2007

Public Prayer

The Angelus (1857-1859) by Jean-Fran├žois Millet.
The Angelus (1857-1859) by Jean-Fran├žois Millet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christians may squabble endlessly over what it means to be a Christian, and many are fond of claiming that only those who believe exactly as they do deserve to be called "real Christians." However, it seems fairly obvious to this author that there must be some common doctrine shared by all Christians. One of these is the belief that the Christian bible is central to the religion. Granted, fundamentalists are going to take their bible far more seriously than so-called liberal or moderate Christians, but all seem to agree that the Christian bible provides an important source of guidance. So why is it that so many self-identified Christians ignore what their bible says about prayer?

What are we to say about a Christian who prays publicly or crusades to promote public prayer? Here we seem to have an individual who is either ignorant of what his or her bible says about prayer or is intentionally disregarding it.

The Christian Bible Condemns Public Prayer

Matthew 6:5 - 7 says:
5. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Pretty clear, isn't it? Public prayer is compared to hypocrisy, and private prayer is valued.

What Are We To Make Of Christians Who Pray Publicly?

It seems that their own bible, a text which they themselves claim to be at the center of their faith, condemns public prayer as hypocrisy. The family exhibiting bowed heads, joined hands, and audible words about Jesus at the local restaurant? Hypocrites. Christian extremists who believe that all school children should have to recite prayers in school? Hypocrites. Senators who begin their daily meetings with public prayer? Hypocrites.

If you are one of these people and reading this makes you mad, I point out that this is what your book says. If you weren't aware of this fact, I wonder how serious you are about your faith. Perhaps it is time to consider joining the reality-based community. On the other hand, if you knew this was in your bible and simply ignored it, I have to ask what gives you license to selectively follow only those aspects of your religion you like?

H/T to The Honest Doubter (update: link no longer active)