Enough Already with the Political Prayer

In case you hadn’t heard, the Louisiana senate unanimously declared Sunday, June 20th, a “Statewide Day of Prayer” for those affected by the massive oil spill. Really, you have to read full text of Senate Resolution No. 145 to get the full flavor of foolishness. Did you know that “in times of great distress and need, we, the people of this land, have always turned to private, public, and corporate prayer”? (Italics mine.) Did you know that “prayers woven together through common effort can themselves become an awesome and powerful force”?

Louisiana Senator Robert Adley was quoted as saying, “Thus far efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail. It is clearly time for a miracle for us.” The precise nature and extent of the expected miracle hasn’t been spelled out, so anything or nothing can subsequently be interpreted as the answer from on-high.

Lest you scoff at this as “bid’ness as usual” in a Republican-dominated Southern legislature, consider the words of our supposedly super-liberal President Barack Obama at the end of his first address to the nation: “Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.” What a disappointment. 

Of course, none of this is news, really. In 2007, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue organized a public service on the capitol steps to prayer for rain in the midst of a devastating drought. (Nothing happened. It did eventually rain, as one would expect, and the faithful took due credit.)

And by sheer coincidence, today I was reading “The Ghosts,” one of the great speeches by the criminally forgotten 19th century orator Robert Green Ingersoll. After detailing the superstitious atrocities of the past, Ingersoll cautions: “Let us not pride ourselves too much on the progress of our age. We must not forget that some of our people are yet in the same intelligent business. Only a little while ago, the governor of Minnesota appointed a day of fasting and prayer, to see if some power could not be induced to kill the grasshoppers, or send them into some other state.”

“The Ghosts” was delivered in 1877. Ingersoll was referring to Minnesota Governor John S. Pillsbury, who issued a call for prayer in April of that year, urging businesses to close and for the citizenry to pray for relief from the swarms of grasshoppers (locusts, actually) that had been ravaging crops in the Midwest. Skeptics scoffed, but a freak sleet storm killed off the newly-hatched insects, and the faithful gloated that their prayers had been answered. To celebrate this “miracle,” Father Leo Winter built the Assumption Chapel (commonly called “The Grasshopper Chapel” in Cold Springs, Minnesota. The wooden chapel was destroyed by a tornado in 1894, and only rebuilt (with granite) in 1951.

The faithful have not bothered to advertise their thousands of subsequent unanswered prayers…

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