The Honeymoon’s Over
Any other sprinters out there? I used to be a sprinter. I’d jump into new projects and commitments with joy and zeal, until I encountered difficulty, discomfort, resistance or boredom. I’m not like that anymore. I have stamina, discipline, willingness and tolerance for setbacks and dry spells. I’ve found these are necessary for many worthwhile activities. When I joined my church last November, our minister said (as he does at every new-member ceremony): “Welcome, but you’re really a member when you become disappointed with us, and stay anyway”.
When I joined, I had no problem committing my time, energy and money to what they were doing in the community. I still don’t, but this morning’s sermon ended the honeymoon. Our minister spoke about prayer. Not just prayer, but an idolatrous, “what-harm-can-it-do-if-I-bury-a-St-Joseph-statue-to-help-sell-my-house-in-a-depressed-market-ahead-of-other-equally-needy-sellers?” prayer.
That’s right. Our progressive, liberal minister, worried about selling his house, succumbed to the “what can it hurt?” rationalization and actually voted with his $8.95 by buying a St Joseph statue (pictured). He buried it and said the prayer. Everyone laughed, including him. He told it like, “I know it’s silly!” It’s not just silly. I’d like to say I was horrified, but to object in this liberal environment just makes me look humorless. But this is one way that bad ideas in religion survive. They are packaged to appear innocuous. Cigarette advertisers have nothing on religion.
I’ve written about prayer before. The problem with prayer boils down to “how do we relate to the powerful, but unfair, figures in our lives?” My view is that, even if God exists, it is wrong to seek his aid because he doesn’t treat people fairly. Further, should my request really jump to the top of the list? I can’t find a way to pray that is consistent with my other values, like social justice.
I ran this by two Unitarians today. They saw my point, but said, “Then why do you come to this church?” Their question sounded odd in a Unitarian hall. Unitarians like to say everyone is welcome, but the sectarianism is there. We are more inclusive than other churches, but not entirely inclusive. For one thing, we don’t like exclusivity, even in the realm of ideas. I asked these people how they would react to a person who thought that 2+2=4 AND 2+2=5. I never get over being surprised, but they gave the standard Unitarian answer: “I would respect their right to believe it.” My reply was, “They can’t believe it. If they embrace contradiction, they lose all credibility. The next time we meet them, they could say the opposite and we would have to embrace that, too. Claims should make sense or we can’t even communicate without willful ignorance.”
They nodded. It seems that Unitarian-style tolerance includes ignoring obvious problems with ideas. Now, it’s obvious that certain problems bother some people and not others. This is a matter of values. I admit that many people embrace contradiction, but I don’t accept that it is tolerant or loving to ignore it. In areas other than religion, it is a crime to ignore contradictions. When we do our taxes, we can’t turn in two different versions and say they are both correct. We shouldn’t hold our beliefs about God to a lower standard.
So, my view is that our minister is openly holding a contradictory position. On one hand, he is a tireless and effective worker for social justice. He is rightly proud that he has officiated at many gay weddings, including the first one in Iowa. On the other hand, he won’t repudiate prayer. He said something like this:
Did saying the St Joseph prayer help sell our house? I won’t say yes or no.
He went on to say that prayer might have something to it, no matter what we believe. I can go along with that. But we must part ways with gods who play favorites. And that means we shouldn’t give credence to prayer or say it is harmless when the implication is that it will somehow divert power to our pet project.