The Banality of Ceremonial Prayers

(Via Bene Diction)

Here’s a piece on the sort of public prayer that one hears at sporting events, civic ceremonies or, for today’s purposes, at inaugurations. Money quote:

“[A] prayer that reflects a particular religion has no place at a public event, and prayer that has no specific theological content is not prayer at all.

George Washington probably had the best idea. There were no prayers offered during his inauguration ceremony. Instead, after being sworn in as president of the United States, his entourage marched over to St. Paul’s church where the chaplain of the Senate read from the Book of Common Prayer.

Apparently Washington understood that authentic prayer requires a proper setting, substantive content, and willing participants. Anything less is not prayer.”

It reminds me of something that Philip Yancey said once at conference where he was asked about prayers in public schools and whether the church ought to promote such an idea. It was along the lines of, “I wouldn’t want to say a prayer that was approved by the local school board anyway.”

I get the impression that many in the church would be upset with the idea of doing away with public prayers of this variety and that many more like the idea of prayer in public schools. What for? We can all pray silently and privately for the same things – something that Jesus seemed to encourage even. So what is this for? Is it hoped that a vague or inauthentic prayer will somehow convince everyone else of the merit of Christianity? Is it just a power play, “look, we can get our guys to say this prayer, Christianity still has a critical mass in North America!” Is it supposed to make the faithful feel good, “aw, isn’t it nice that they’re praying.” Why bother with this?