July 19, 2012

"It sends the wrong message to distraught farmers when the Agriculture Secretary suggests that the best response is to pray."

"For a Cabinet official to recommend prayer as a solution or call attention to his own devotions may violate the Constitution’s prohibition against establishment of religion. Most important, though, is that prayer doesn’t work. But if you want to test the power of prayer yourself, consider this. Apparently Secretary Vilsack’s been praying for rain every day; how’s that working out?"

Says the Council for Secular Humanism. They're wrong about the Establishment Clause, and I think the phrase "may violate" indicates that they know it. But they do have a point about government officials talking about prayer... or is that nothing more than the same point you could make about anybody praying? All that praying for things that don't happen generates evidence that prayer doesn't work.

I know the religion-based answers to that last point. (God answers prayers in ways other than granting the thing prayed-for, etc.) But I think it's different when a government official bandies religion about. A short, respectful reference to God or to prayer is standard rhetoric that isn't out of place in politician-speak. Did Vilsack go too far with "I get on my knees every day. And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it”?

It's not like he's trying to excuse himself for failing to do something he could do. I know government officials frequently act as though they could control the great forces of nature/human behavior/the economy, so I'd rather see the open acknowledgment that there's nothing to be done, which is basically what Vilsack is saying.

Now, if that means praying is nothing, maybe religionists should be offended. Also, "rain dance" might be offensive to Native Americans. Come on, everyone, let's get offended.

37 comments:

bagoh20 said...

OMG! It's just like Jim Jones ordering Kool-aid for everyone. Stop him before it too late and everyone is on their knees.

TMink said...

"For a Cabinet official to recommend prayer as a solution or call attention to his own devotions may violate the Constitution’s prohibition against establishment of religion."

He keeps using that word. I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

Establish: to found, institute, build, or bring into being on a firm or stable basis: to establish a university; to establish a medical practice.

Nope, that definition doesn't work. Maybe they are using an archaic form of the word. Let's check the 1828 Webster's. To enact or decree by authority and for permanence; to ordain; to appoint.

Nope.

Their problem is correct usage and understanding of English. Must be products of the American public school system, the one where you can't pray.

Fitting, as they are apparently without a prayer in terms of understanding the word establish.

Trey

Chuck66 said...

Why are Atheists always trying to force their religion on me?

Chuck66 said...

By banning Christian/Jewish/Muslim prayers, then you have established Atheism as the state religion.

Hagar said...

But he certainly could do something about Pigford II.

wyo sis said...

What would the right message to distraught farmers be?
Maybe he should say "It's OK you didn't build that farm someone else did, and now they've decided you have enough money."

AllenS said...

It rained at least 3" here in west central Wisconsin yesterday. Thank you God. Thank you Vilsack.

david7134 said...

This is a better response than that offered in Louisiana and Texas last year when they didn't even acknowledge a problem, and it was worse than what is happening now in the mid-west. Right now, we are getting needed rain, but last year was a horrible one.

the wolf said...

It's notable that they focus on the word "pray" also. He could just as logically cite the call for a rain dance. What are these two actions but different manifestations of beseeching a mystical power for Earthly intervention?

hombre said...

And the praying for things that do happen, however improbable, is just coincidence, right?

West Town said...

"Establish: to found, institute, build, or bring into being on a firm or stable basis: to establish a university; to establish a medical practice"

It is also wrong in that the Establish Clause applies only to Congress in creating law.

Christopher in MA said...

All that praying for things that don't happen generates evidence that prayer doesn't work.

If you view God as a supernatural slot machine, then yes. Prayer is a number of things - worship, appeals for strength and appeals for assistance, among other things (Simon would have a much better answer than I do). But just because you pray Oh, God, don't let professor Althouse call on me and you call on the student anyway, doesn't mean prayer doesn't work. God knows what you need; which desires will bring you closer to Him and which will not.

If you believe in Him - as many do not - yes, He does answer prayers. But He's not a vending machine.

BarryD said...

Here in the civilized world, we this thing called "irrigation", which has been working reliably since 1909. Works a lot better than prayer, or rain dances.

I'm an atheist, but not an evangelical one. Religion has some really great points, and it can be the source of the best, as well as the worst, in humanity, I think. I just don't believe the mystical stuff that religions teach, after years of consideration and plenty of education about it.

Bottom line? Religion doesn't scare me any more, but these "secular humanist" types sometimes do. Like this time.

I mean, yeah, praying for rain won't help the farmers. But the Agriculture Secretary isn't going to help them either, and it's about time he admits that.

Bryan C said...

Step back, nonbelievers!

rhhardin said...

Charlie Brown: I've made an interesting theological discovery. If you hold your hands upside-down when you pray, you get the opposite of what you pray for.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

For a Cabinet official to recommend prayer as a solution or call attention to his own devotions may violate the Constitution’s prohibition against establishment of religion

OH Bullshit! He isn't establishing a religion. The mere act of working for the government and mentioning religious feelings does NOT mean the government is "establishing" a State or Federal religion.

If the government official begins talking about bananas, does that mean he is establishing a banana plantation?

People are so stupid.

BarryD said...

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is "Probably because of something you did."”

Jack Handy

BarryD said...

"If the government official begins talking about bananas, does that mean he is establishing a banana plantation?"

Quite obviously not. Obama has been talking about jobs throughout his entire term.

Peter said...

If religious references by government officials is a constitutional violation, we sure have a long history of it.

To choose an obvious example, consider Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address:

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Of course, some may claim we as a nation are far more enlightened now then we were in Lincoln's day.

So, does our "enlightenment" make it all but impossible that schoolchildren might hear this read aloud in a public school classroom?

BarryD said...

"Of course, some may claim we as a nation are far more enlightened now then we were in Lincoln's day."

Well, we do get to the point a hell of a lot more quickly than Lincoln did in that address, but otherwise... And we do have the benefit of Hemingway's writings as examples, which he didn't.

Jim S. said...

I think part of the problem is that people want to treat God like a cosmic vending machine. You say a prayer, cross yourself, do a pirouette and out comes the result you wanted. It treats God like a law of nature rather than like a will or mind that can choose what to do.

tim maguire said...

I think the "rain dance" line makes it ok. He's not saying, "go to church and pledge your life to Jesus," he's saying "we're doing everything we can, everything we can think of."

BarrySanders20 said...

Vilsack's praying probably won't help.

But it won't hurt and don't cost nothin' neither.

Can't say that about many government programs.

traditionalguy said...

Interestingly, in scripture the one thing God does claim control over is the rain. He either sends it on the just and the unjust to show his mercy and fairness. Or He withholds it to get His people to pray more.

Elijah's prayers once withheld once rain and he became a public enemy.

The D-Day call to prayer read that morning on the radio by FDR in his sonorous voice was as sincere a government sponsored prayer as you will ever hear. I believe he also called for fasting. A failure at Normandy would likely have meant death for many sons of Americans.

So God answered and sent them George S Patton who was a traditional Episcopalian who prayed every GD day that God make the Germans fall by the sword and be a portion for jackals.

Patton continued his traditions when he used the Weather Prayer to God to stop the snow, mud and overcast that was hindering his attacks on Germany and his drive to relieve the 101st surrounded at Bastogne.

But I agree that prayer for rain would have about as much affect as Tim Tebow being put in at quarterback for Denver.

edutcher said...

Like Inspecteur Renault, I'm shocked that one of Zero's Cabinet Secretaries would do such a thing.

It's so... Republican.

Wonder how it went over in the Oval Office

Christopher in MA said...

rhardin - nitpick. It was Linus Van Pelt who said that, not Charlie Brown.

Shanna said...

It's notable that they focus on the word "pray" also. He could just as logically cite the call for a rain dance.

Yeah, I think in this context saying 'pray for rain' is as much a figure of speech as anything religious. Government can't control the weather (yet).

TMink said...

West town, you are correct sir! Thanks for the cogent addition.

Trey

ndspinelli said...

"Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain."

Obama, Vilsack and pray for Romney.

The Crack Emcee said...

Now, if that means praying is nothing, maybe religionists should be offended.

I notice religionists getting a clue isn't an option.

That would be offensive if I thought anyone else was thinking,...

Balfegor said...

Did Vilsack go too far with "I get on my knees every day. And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it”?

"If?" He's, well . . . a kind of ruler, isn't he? If the Old Gods demand a sacrifice before they unleash the rains, isn't the solution obvious?

Revenant said...

then you have established Atheism as the state religion.

Atheism isn't a religion, although you could call it a religious belief inasmuch as it is, after all, a belief about a religious question.

That being said, I think "prayer" is a useful metaphor for "there's nothing we can do that will work".

ricpic said...

It's the malaise in the sky gambit. God refuses to cooperate - that ingrate! - with duh 'Bama 'Min'stration.

jimbino said...

Hey, in this country, praying is as effective as voting, and you don't have to leave home.

caplight45 said...

The Council for Silly Secularists would be more like it. Reminded me of the Ministry of Silly Walks in a Monty Python episode.

Anyway, when Mitt becomes prez there will be mandatory prayers or so I am told on good authority by the left.

Balfegor said...

That being said, I think "prayer" is a useful metaphor for "there's nothing we can do that will work".

Yes, but joking about rain gods is more entertaining that just admitting that the government is powerless to help.

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