Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 120- National Prayer day

Dear Mr. President,

National displays of faith, or national calls for prayer make me uncomfortable. I'm not a religious person and I generally feel excluded, somehow, as though these days of prayer are meant to distinguish "real" Americans with Judeo-Christian values from those of us who don't have an easy religious definition. But our country is overwhelmingly religious, and while symbolic displays of faith by our supposedly secular government might make me feel uncomfortable and alienated, it doesn't do any one any real harm. If I can ask religious voters to set aside their discomfort about abortion and gay marriage, I can put up with a National Day of Prayer.

While I don't think this is harmful, and I understand the political benefit of making religious Americans feel as though they have a voice in our government, I wonder at the kind of religious belief that requires support in national policy. I think of spirituality as an intensely personal expression; I do not need my government to reflect, encourage or express my religious beliefs. (I'd prefer that it didn't try to, because there is simply no way for a government like ours to express all the myriad complexities and contradictions of the faiths of its people.) But I've heard the outrage from many Christians at the perception of our government, and especially your administration, as being against religious expression, and I just don't understand it. If people want to pray today, they should do so. If they want some one to lead them in prayer, they should go to a religious leader. Why is that a role for our government? Isn't faith, by definition, an act of personal will?

I think that believing in God should not require any action on the part of any one else. I don't believe the phrase "under God" has any place in our pledge of allegiance, which is meant to be a devotion to our nation, founded on the freedom to be any religion, or none at all. National Prayer Day does not do me any great injury, but I wonder if it does any one any real good, either. I think that any one who prays does so without prompting from their elected officials. In your declaration today you called upon "the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings." I am thankful for our many freedoms and blessings, and even for the goodwill that religious belief generates in people from all faiths. Maybe we look for too many reasons to complain. I'm certainly guilty of this, especially in the face of my relatively blessed existence, but I hope that you know how many of us are thankful to be spared government-imposed religious expression, as well.

I know you are a religious man, Mr. President, and so I hope that you found today to be helpful, comforting or inspiring. So long as you continue to defend the separation of church and state, I will put aside my discomfort at these symbolic displays of a faith that does not belong to me.

Respectfully yours,


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