"L'enfer, c'est les autres."
("Hell is other people.")
Regardless of the doctrine of "Separation between Church and State," faith has always been a guiding force in our nation's tradition. As a part of it, religion, and in particular, prayer is often offered at events -- Elk's Club dinners and locker room pre-game pep rallies, and the like, or tacitly with public displays of Yuletide crèches. To most, it hardly ever seems relevant to what party or religious affiliation they belong -- such proceedings are just a reason to gather and to silently (or noisily) speak with a higher power -- but then again, they are usually homogeneous gatherings condoned by the mores of the dominant community.
Through spirit and shared purpose, throughout our country's history, prayer breakfasts have drawn friends and neighbors (and political parties) together through times of hardship and trouble -- OK, there were those pesky Witch trials in Salem, but I digress. Since the first "official" prayer meeting of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Presidential Prayer Breakfasts have been occasions to bring together specific, powerful individuals for a moment of peace, goodwill and unity -- usually for those with similar backgrounds, ethnicities, gender and political beliefs of the serving President.
As our newly elected leader, Obama's hope and promise has been to unify rather than divide, and to get us all to understand (and put into practice) that -- regardless of our religious differences -- we can and should, through our direct actions, each give something of ourselves for the benefit of others, the betterment of our country, our world or our environment, and to promote a greater common good -- religious or otherwise. In addition to his political promises, these may in fact, also be his personal prayer for our nation.
As a response to his predecessor's religious-right pandering, and his "your either with us or with the terrorists" divisive tactics, and his unaccommodating, unyielding and non-introspective world view and policy-making, one might have thought that Obama would slant more towards the Constitutional First Amendment of Separation of Church and State, and forgo 60 years of Beltway Insider "Prayer Breakfasts" on principle alone. But instead, he attended the traditional prayer breakfast and said, "The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another, or even religious groups over secular groups...and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state." (Isn't the image of our President attending a prayer breakfast somehow also blurring that line? But then again, he's the first President I can remember who ever publicly embraced those who do not embrace any religion at all, so who knows? Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows!)
As a result of our former President's being delusional enough to proudly tell us out loud that he had a direct line to Jesus, and peppering his speeches with religious extremist jingoisms, isn't the US the country where, for eight interminable years, extreme fundamentalist religious groups gained a Karl Rovian foot-hold on the Republican Party in an attempt to push our government and anyone among us who didn't fit their mold ("Love the sinner; hate the sin!") back to a more Puritanically-influenced world of America's past.
If I remember what I learned in my high school civics class correctly, in a democracy, the people -- whether they pray or not, and if they do pray, then no matter to whom -- have a voice through their elected representatives. So therefore, rather than speaking to one God at a prayer breakfast, Obama needs to be a voice that can speak to thousands of Gods (as well as no God) to truly represent the diversity of Americans that elected him. (Is anyone equipped or able to do that? Now that's a change I would hope for!)
Until Obama is able or willing to pray with those who follow Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Sufism, Bahá'í, Confucianism, Jainism, Shinto, Scientology, Rastafarianism, Neopaganism, Wiccanism, atheism, agnosticism, etc., I hope that he'll break with the Prayer Breakfast tradition, and not do it at all. He came to change, not reenact, and he came to bring hope, not follow political traditions that have brought this country the closest thing I've ever seen to Hell.
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