The liberal blogger Hilzoy has a good line:

I would think that people of faith, in particular, should be wary of politicians holding ceremonial observances of National Prayer Day. For one thing, one’s communications with God are intensely personal. If you think of God as a person, and not as a political weapon, the idea of having a ceremony of this kind would be like observing National Have A Serious Talk With Your Spouse Day by having such a talk in front of TV cameras.

Well … yeah. You wouldn’t even have to think of God as a person, just as a force, the Prime Mover, whatever. You would just have to be thinking about God, not how you could PR the masses into having the right attitude toward God.

As a nonbeliever (I settled the question here), I’m always surprised by how easily God slips from the minds of people who say they believe in Him/Her/It. If I believed in Him/Her/It, I’d believe 24-7. He/She/It would be a really big deal to me.

Good thing I don’t, because who needs the hassle. But to say you believe in God, and then to figure that praying ought naturally to be a photo op, or that you’ll follow this injunction of your faith but not another … it sure looks lame from the outside.

UPDATE:  A commenter at the site where Hilzoy posted (it’s the Washington Monthly, no permalink that I can find; the commenter is named Racer X) says the following:

Obama may just be trying to do what Jesus supposedly told us to do; pray in private and avoid the ceremonial prayers of the Pharisees. The bible is extremely clear on the directive, and yet the churches always have violated it. 

Okay, but is it ceremonial if everyone is just praying at the same time? And is it in public if they’re at their place of worship and not somewhere in front of nonbelievers? And where did Jesus say whatever Racer X claims he said?

But I’d like to believe Racer X is correct. To me the most interesting thing about religion is the way people can think they believe in it while choosing which bits to ignore.

UPDATE 2:  From comments, the Jesus quote and Bible cite. Thanks, Naomi.

Matthew 6:5-6:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: 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. 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.”

Wow, that seems pretty open and shut. So for 2,000 years, or close, Christians have been gathering together to do what Jesus expressly told them not to do. That’s bizarre. There’s got to be an explanation here. UPDATE 3:  Or I would think there had to be an explanation if I hadn’t just said in comments that the “whole thing is weird and inexplicable.”

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