As a minister I am often asked to do the kind of vacuous prayers that serve as numbing agent for public gatherings. For example, I am often asked to pray for world peace. Here is why I refuse to do so:
I do not think of God as an absent minded ruler who has dozed off and must be awoken with prayers and sacrifices. Instead, I agree with Marx that a religion that does not liberate the masses is merely decorating their chains with flowers.
Any prayer asking God to change our conditions pretends we are not creating them in the first place.
So when I am asked to pray or meditate for peace I must refuse for two reasons. First, I must refuse because I do not believe God is the one who needs to change. Secondly, I must refuse because I do not believe most war springs from hatred. Most war is born out of an unconscious pride and greed. And so, when a self-indulgent nation comes together to pray or meditate for peace, it is a dangerous act of self-deception.
The Bible talks about the “Age of Jubilee” when the nations of the world will hammer their weapons into tools. The Bible speaks of a day when the mighty will be removed from their places of privilege, and the wretched of the earth will be lifted up to a place of equality. The Bible speaks of a time when the wealth that has been hoarded will be taken from the rich and redistributed fairly with all. The Bible speaks of a day of liberation for all those who live in economic slavery, which of course would put an end to the American Empire, and every other empire as well.
Peace will not come without justice. It will not come until enough people consecrate themselves to work for Jubilee. If anyone ever wants me to give that prayer, let me know.
There it is exactly, Jim, in your last paragraph! I like to pray for the strength of faith and character to oppose all injustice and oppression and war, and then start naming those injustices and oppressions and wars. Funny how no one is asking me to pray. In 1989 I was asked by the American Legion to give a speech on Memorial Day at a public ceremony. They were expecting me to praise the heroism of all our veterans, especially mentioning those who fought in the debacle of Viet Nam, and stir people to be vigilant against all those who would dare to be the enemies of our righteous republic. Instead I recalled my mother’s never-ending grief over losing her brother in WW 2, and my father’s lasting injuries in that same war that was supposed to be the “good war”. I said that war victimizes all of us, that there is no one who has not been diminished by it, and that the highest good we can do to remember the fallen is to be a friend to all nations and to work to end all wars before they start so that no more will fall. Pretty mild by my standards. Afterward, the legionnaires groused at me. They did not ask me back.