Here is a guest post by Godless Monster about his recent trip to Lebanon and the National Day of Prayer. This is a well written and thought out piece. Godless Monster has a number of pictures from his trip that are on his website. It's worth checking out.
Sometimes stepping outside of ones normal environment puts issues into a sharper focus…
On April 15th 2010 a hitherto unknown senior US District Judge (Barbara B. Crabb) from the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional as it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function". All hell is now breaking loose, and calls for the impeachment of the judge have come from every Bible thumping pundit in the nation. The Obama administration, in an ill-advised attempt to appease the far right, intends to support the concept of a National Day of Prayer. On April 22nd, the Justice Department filed an appeal to have the ruling overturned.
Let’s hit the rewind button and go back several weeks, to March 31st. Several of my siblings and I accompanied my father on what will most likely be his last trip to the old country (Lebanon). The first night in-country was rather uneventful. After the long drive from Beirut to my aunt’s home in the small town situated next to the Israeli border, I quickly settled into my bed and tried to sleep. Between the time difference and my brother’s snoring, it proved to be a challenge.
I finally dozed off around 4:25 am when I was suddenly wrenched back into the land of the living by a familiar noise - the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer. “Same shit, different place”, I thought as I pulled my pillow about my ears in an attempt to drown out the piercing wail emanating from a distant minaret in a neighboring town.
It had been nearly 7 years since that sound had stirred me from my sleep. Back then, I was operating in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where I was employed as a private military contractor doing “force protection”.
After my morning ablution I stood at the back of my aunt’s home overlooking the valley and was surprised to hear another familiar sound – church bells. A tiny minority in this town, the Maronite Christians seemed determined to show the Shia majority that they are still alive and kicking and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, even in this Hezbollah controlled area. Even though I’m an atheist, I couldn’t help but mutter, “Good for them.”
It occurred to me at that moment that this was a sound I would never have heard in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the state religion and the practice of all other religions is expressly banned. The law of the land (Sharia law) is derived (more or less) from the Quran and is enforced by different agencies, including the Mutaween of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
One of the Mutaween’s duties is to ensure compliance with store closing requirements when the call to prayer goes out during the work day. Unlike Lebanon, the call to prayer in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a state supported function and compliance is not an option. All businesses, with the exception of medical facilities and transportation must shut their doors and close for approximately 30 minutes while the population scurries off to hide and avoid being herded to the nearest mosque by the bearded, whip brandishing Mutaween.
In Lebanon, there is no state religion. No one leader lays claim to their country being founded upon the principles of this or that religion or sect. The call to prayer that I heard that morning wasn’t the result of some governmental decree or law. It was a voluntary act from a private concern. No government, party or militia intervention whatsoever. Despite their name (Party of God), Hezbollah seems pretty intent on staying out of people’s private lives, at least when it comes to religion.
“Same shit, different place”? No, absolutely not. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What in the hell does any of this have to do with a ruling by some judge in western Wisconsin? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.
“Surely”, some may ask, “you aren’t implying these wholesome American Christians pushing for the NDP are cut from the same cloth as the nasty Islamofascists of Saudi and Iran?” Indeed I am. The difference between the two is not one of kind, but of degree. Given enough time and power, the Christian right would pull us down into a new Dark Age, just as the Muslim extremists have done with Saudi and Iran.
A common defense put forward by proponents of the NDP (or more correctly, the mandatory Christian Day of Prayer) is that it is open to people of all faiths. This is a complete and deliberately propagated falsehood. Even a cursory look at the groups and individuals behind this movement to usurp the Constitution shows quite clearly that this is a fundamentalist Christian effort to establish Christianity as the official religion of the land. Their own literature and public statements betray their real position, and have done so consistently for many years.
The two groups that deserve special attention are the National Day of Prayer Task Force and the Family Research Council.
In regards to the National Day of Prayer Task Force, it has gone to great lengths to ensure the NDP is an exclusively conservative Christian event. The following information was gathered from religioustolerance.org.
• During and after 1999…events and the Task Force appear entirely Christian based, with the vast majority from the conservative wing of Christianity.
• A regional index of events for the 1999 NDP listed 2 events sponsored by United Methodist Churches, one each by a Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Presbyterian congregation. Among the many dozens of events, all of the remainder were either sponsored by Evangelical/Fundamentalist/ Pentecostal groups, or were organized by groups of unknown affiliation. There do not appear to be any events organized by Jewish groups. Event sponsorship by other religions appear to be absent, although some events welcome persons of all faiths to their gathering.
• One reference to the National Prayer Committee describes it as "a 25-year old non-profit corporation whose members represent a coalition of respected Christian leaders committed to mobilizing united prayer among U.S. Christians."
• One reference to the National Day of Prayer Task Force describes its purpose as "calling America back to God by calling the Church back to prayer."
• All of the speakers at the 1999 Concert of Prayer broadcast appear to have been Evangelical Christians, with the exception of Lloyd Ogilvie, the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He is a Presbyterian.
• The Task Force's FAQ page states: "Americans of all faiths are encouraged to participate in the NDP according to their own traditions. However, the NDP Task Force [only] provides promotional materials and sponsors several events in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition." In fact, they are not Judeo-Christian; they promote conservative Christianity only.
• The Task Force's printed bulletin inserts refers to participants in the NDP "are to be a refuge that attracts the needy; a central point to which those from all walks of life can receive comfort, sustenance and protection as you point them to the all-powerful Savior. Because of Christ's radiance within you, people and situations surrounding you should be changing for the better."
• The Task Force's bookmark cites 7 religious texts, all from the Bible. It also recommends that individuals follow "the example of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:39)"
• No religious text other than the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) have been used to create the yearly theme.
• The NDP "Application for Volunteer Event Coordinator" asks for:
• A personal testimony "How did you come to know Jesus as your Savior."
• The "local church or fellowship" that the applicant attends.
• "Ministries" that the applicant has served in.
• "Ministries" that I have served in.
One gets the distinct impression that only conservative Christians need apply for the post.”
Copyright © 2005 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Accessed on April 24th, 2010
The leadership of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is a dead giveaway as well. John Bornschein , Executive Director of the NDPTF is a Christian minister and member of the fundamentalist Focus on the Family. From the Task Force website we get this description of John’s “calling”:
He and his team have been charged by Mrs. Shirley Dobson to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.
Accessed April 24th, 2010
And, of course, there’s Shirley Dobson, the Chairman of the NDPTF and wife of pop Christian psychologist and author Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see a hint of religious inclusiveness here.
The other group that deserves some scrutiny is the far right Christian fundamentalist Family Research Council and its president, Tony Perkins.
Undeniable proof of the exclusively fundamentalist Christian slant of those who are pushing for a National Day of Prayer is the following quote from Perkins:
“Under this Administration's watch we are seeing the First Amendment, designed to protect the religious exercise of Americans, retooled into a sword to sever America's ties with orthodox Christianity.”
Accessed April 24th, 2010.
Nope, no Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist representation here, either.
As surely as literacy requirements for voter registration in the old “Jim Crow” South provided a back door by which whites could maintain an exclusive hold on power, so, too does the National Day of Prayer act as a back door by which unsavory types can establish their extremist version of Christianity as the exclusive and official religion of the United States of America. This isn’t conjecture. As I have shown; their own words conclusively convict them.
A nation under the yoke of religion can never be free, as has been demonstrated by every theocracy that has ever existed. Technically, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, but it cannot survive without the support of the Wahhabi clerics. It is, de facto, a state operated by a religious elite and run by fear. Iran is the other example of what can happen when too much power is concentrated in the hands of religious fanatics.
Apologists and accomodationists have stated there is no harm done in letting the Christian neo-fascists have their one day a year.
My answer is an unqualified “No!” There are principles at stake which are greater than any one group’s collective ego. Whether a man rapes once a year or 5 times a day, he’s still a rapist. Besides, we all know that once he’s tasted success, the rapist won’t stop at once a year.
In the end, it’s not about religion anyway. Like the rapist, it’s about an insatiable and all-consuming desire to exert power and control over others. And power is exactly what the Christian extremists of this country have been attempting to grab for the last 30 years. A National day of Prayer is a validation of their ambition to control the citizens of this great republic.
There’s cause for concern when Hezbollah starts looking like the voice of reason on the issue of separation of church and state.