April 21, 2014
When teams like the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder offer pre-game prayers, is it a form of worship, witness or showing off?
I think I'm sympathetic to your basic point here. I'm definitely a big proponent of recognizing God in all things, to the point that several years back I actually ate only kosher food because I found it a good way of sanctifying my diet choices. (Which is not to say I think it's obligatory.) I agree that many things we don't think of as "sacred" can point us to God in a very meaningful way.
The thing that bothers me is the question, will offering a public invocation actually do this for people who wouldn't see that kind of message anyway? On the one hand it may be a useful reminder for some, but I think it is more likely to draw a division between those comfortable with God-talk and those to whom explicitly religious language seems foreign. I know some people, whether they're minority religions or explicitly atheist or just not really exposed to religious life on a regular basis so it sounds cultish or just odd to them - they have been in situations where public invocations were offered and they said it made them feel like they were different from everyone else around them and not really welcome. Kind of like coming to Christmas dinner and being the only one without a gift to open, as one friend put it. (Yes, the irony wasn't lost on him.)
So I worry that invocations like this don't reach the people who aren't already thinking along those terms and make it hard for us to come together as fellow humans and neighbors even if we aren't all religious. I'm not against the basic point you're pointing to, but it seems like there should be a better way to accomplish it.
Marta, thanks for the thoughtful comments. One theme I didn't have the space to explore was the role of public (and religion-specific) prayer in public space. I guess I would question whether or why religion-specific prayer is an obstacle to coming together in our common humanity. I think Americans should be willing to cultivate a principled pluralism in our public space. When we remove all faith-specific practices from public space, it seems that we are taking a default position about what "allows us to come together." Religion is seen as inherently divisive while other things are not. I'm not sure that does justice to how many specific faiths function as contributors to the common good nor to how many non-religious aspects of modern life (including politics and sports) divide and divorce us from one another.
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