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A Multitude, Maybe Missing

Via CNN:

It’s likely not the response Rick Perry was expecting.

Earlier this year, the Texas Governor called on Christians across the U.S. to come to Houston for a prayer event aimed at bringing God’s help to a “nation in crisis.” Organizers of the religious gathering, dubbed “The Response,” say only 8,000 people have registered on-line to attend this Saturday’s event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, a venue with a seating capacity of 71,000.

Eric Bearse, a “Response” spokesman and former speech-writer for the potential GOP presidential candidate, says attendance numbers are a non-issue.

“Not concerned whatsoever. We think it will be a powerful event whether it is 8,000 or 50,000. The only people concerned about numbers are press,” Bearse said.

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More God please!

Obama Doesn’t Mention God Enough, Says Prayer Caucus:

President Obama doesn’t mention God frequently enough in his speeches, a group of religious House Republicans said in an open letter to the president, chastising him for skipping over mention of the “Creator,” especially in a recent overseas address.

Forty-two members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus complained in a letter sent to the White House Monday that in a speech delivered last month in Indonesia, the president substituted the U.S.’s religious-themed national motto for a more secular alternative.

The letter suggests the speech was not an isolated incident but part of a series of remarks that “establishes a pattern” of the president intentionally excluding talk of God from his public remarks.

The prayer caucus members who signed the letter, however, neglected to mention that in the Indonesia speech, Obama mentioned God four times.



Are you a “great American”?

What does a “great American” who disagrees with President Obama do?  Pray for him.  Peggy Noonan, who has already informed Obama about her own prayer-activities on his behalf, says that the Right to Life march prayed for the president during the inauguration–“as great Americans, which is what they are, would.”   Readers have criticized me for being too prickly about public announcements of prayer, so I will assume that Noonan merely means to say that “great Americans” wish their president well and that she is making no claims about the relationship between good citizenship and religiosity.

Noonan warns Obama that “radical movement on abortion” would rouse the “sleeping giant  that is American conservatism.”  Maybe so.  But many conservatives are just as worried that a Democratic Congress is about to give government an all but permanent role in the economy, thus impairing the dynamism and entrepreneurship that is America’s greatest economic asset.

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Neither a borrower nor a lender be

It all comes from you, it all belongs to you.

(Pastor Rick Warren’s inaugural prayer.)

The Christian world-view holds that all human virtues are a loan from God.  The secularist responds: “Quite the opposite.”  Compassion, love, and mercy are human predicates; we confer them on God. Human beings are the sole source of meaning in the world; history is our story, not God’s story, as Rick Warren has it. 

Many believers assume that this human-centric sense of life must lead to nihilism.  “Secular humanism  . . . founders on its own perception of the meaninglessness of human life,” writes Michael Novak in No One Sees God.  I’m puzzled by this stance.  The world is awash in meaning, more than anyone can possibly take in.  I don’t need God to be slain by the exquisiteness of Don Giovanni or a Chopin nocturne.  If life’s beauties, conflict, and cooperation leave believers looking elsewhere for significance, it is they, not skeptics, who live in an empty world.

But Warren’s speech reminded me of one important power of religious rhetoric that is not easily replicated in a secular setting: divine petition. (more…)

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God as Mid-wife

I just caught a glimpse of the grotesque reality show (a redundancy, I know) “17 Kids and Counting,” which chronicles the “family values” of Arkansas evangelicals Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 17 children.  The segment I saw was shot during the final weeks of Michelle’s 18th pregnancy and included discussions of the medical precautions being taken to meet the obstetric challenge presented by a 40+ woman with 17 previous births.  The hospital and medical sequence concluded with Jim Bob announcing unctuously: “Ultimately, we’re just putting our faith in God,” or something to that effect. 

The heck he is.   I would love for once to see someone really put his faith in God and forego the fruits of centuries of patient scientific work based on empirical proof, not faith.  Jim Bob cloaks himself in the superior virtue of the pious, and yet his actions in seeking out the best medical advice and care are indistinguishable from a heathen secularist. 

One might say, “Well, what’s wrong with a belt-and-suspenders approach?  Take advantage of medical science, but it can’t hurt to throw in a little prayer as an extra insurance policy.”    What’s wrong is the implication when announcing your prayer policy that you are morally superior to those of us without such a policy, even as you behave (rationally and understandably) just like everyone else. 

The baby was delivered safely on December 18.  I can guess who will get the ultimate thanks.  It’s unlikely to be the unsung generations of empiricists who have triumphed over the childbirth mortality of mothers and infants, a condition that has been the human race’s God-given fate for most of history.

And another guess: in those countries still plagued by high rates of childbirth mortality, parents pray with as much fervor as any Arkansas congregation.


Heather’s post about Democratic prayers for the bailout made me wonder about differences between the parties. The photos in the article show a black church, so I was skeptical that Democrats prayed as much as Republicans overall. I looked at the PRAY variable in the GSS. The N’s were huge, PARTYID and PRAY were asked of nearly 20,000 people.


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How Much Religious Falsehood Is Acceptable?

 I am returning to the Ed Feser exchange because it relates to a question I have been pondering about sophisticated Catholics and other Christians.  

 I had asked Mr. Feser if he could suggest an experimental design to test the efficacy of petitionary prayer, in light of his claim that religion is “scientific.”  He pointed me to his book, where I will find sophisticated arguments for the existence of God as the “uncaused first cause,” he says.  

The answer was nonresponsive, and not only for the “courtier’s reply” problems so ably set out by Bradlaugh and several readers.  I’m not asking for a logical proof of God, but simply for a way to verify an oft-praised sign of his love for mankind: his response to believers’ prayers.   “Rational arguments” for God’s existence answer the question of how to test the efficacy of prayer only if answering prayers is a necessary attribute of God’s existence as the “uncaused first cause.”  That assertion strikes me as an even more imaginative leap of theology than usual. 

Mr. Feser displays an impatience with the practice of religion, so I will remind him of one of the most frequent topoi of Christians: If someone recovers from a devastating heart attack, say, it’s because God answered the prayers of friends and family (we won’t ask why the cardiac patient in the next hospital bed, equally prayed-over and–we should surely assume–equally worthy, died).  After nine miners were pulled from a collapsed mine in Pennsylvania in 2002, believers posted a sign:  “Thank you God, 9 for 9. (Either God was busy or the prayers were defective in 2006 when twelve miners died in a West Virginia mine explosion). 
 I was not asking for an empirical test of God’s existence, but just of his effects in the world, which are claimed to be real.  The Templeton experiment, while crude in its details, was at least a start.


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