September 4, 2020

Public Prayer

pages in a book book

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." 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 their preferred 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 it provides an important source of guidance. So why is it that so many self-identified Christians ignore what their bible says about public 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. For those who truly regard this book as "holy," that seems like a surprising choice.

The Bible Condemns Public Prayer

The book many Christians seek to elevate above all other books might not be clear about much, but it seems fairly clear in discouraging 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 is discouraged while 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 or that prayer should be a key part of public school graduation ceremonies? Hypocrites. Senators who begin their meetings with public prayer? Hypocrites. Christian athletes praying together on the field before the game? Hypocrites. Children tormenting each other with prayer circles? 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?

This is a revised and expanded version of a post that first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2007.