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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Purpose of Prayer, the Texas School Board Drama, and George Carlin

Another problem I have with evangelical Christianity is the purpose of prayer. What purpose could it serve to ask God for anything when his will is sovereign? George Carlin has a great shtick on this:
Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn't it seem a little arrogant? It's a Divine Plan. What's the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and screw up Your Plan?

And here's something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren't answered. What do you say? "Well, it's God's will." "Thy Will Be Done." Fine, but if it's God's will, and He's going to do what He wants to anyway, why bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn't you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It's all very confusing.


If you haven't seen his whole routine, I placed the video at the bottom of this post. I think it is hilarious.

But now to the Texas School Board, it seems that today before the board continued their waste of tax payer dollars by arguing over what should be in textbooks, they had to have an opening prayer. Now what is the purpose of prayer for evangelicals? Perhaps to ask for the ability to be honest with the facts and to treat others with dignity and respect? Oh no, the purpose of Boardmember Cynthia Dunbar was to lecture the crowd on her view of history. She was informing God, I guess, of the Christian history of the United States. I often saw this when I was a Christian. Public prayers most of the time were a pretense to preach to those who were in attendance. It was an opportunity to tell people things that you wanted to tell them without them interrupting you.

Listen to Ms. Dunbar's prayer:



In typical P. Z. Myers' fashion, he calls Ms. Dunbar's prayer for what it actually was--an arrogant act of cowardice.

Of course she wasn't actually lecturing god — that entity doesn't exist, and if you believe he does, then it would be an act of hubris to stand there and tell him what to think — but she was instead taking a moment to harangue the committee and audience with her far-right revisionist baloney without risk that someone might challenge her. In a room full of god-fearin' folk, she didn't have to worry about anyone interrupting a prayer to tell her that she's full of crap. It was an act of outrageous cowardice.


George Carlin on Religion and Prayer:

14 comments:

  1. I TOTALLY agree. This is one of my hot-button issues. Public prayers are not prayers. They are speeches to the audience. If there is a god, he must be mightily unimpressed or annoyed by such absurdities.

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  2. George Carlin was one of the great atheist minds of our time. It takes a lot of intelligence to use that kind of sharp satire.

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  3. "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

    The Treaty of Tripoli, 1797

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  4. "Another problem I have with evangelical Christianity is the purpose of prayer. What purpose could it serve to ask God for anything when his will is sovereign?"

    I have now heard you make this statement on numerous occasions: chiefly that because God’s sovereignty is absolute (obviously made tongue in cheek from your perspective), therefore prayer is futile.

    How can someone who claims to have as much Bible knowledge as you, represent this as a legitimate derivative of biblical doctrine (insomuch that it is seems to be one of your primary criticisms of evangelical Christianity)? Your conclusion fails to acknowledge a very clear teaching of Scripture concerning the temporal limitations of God’s rule in the domain of this world and mankind.

    On one hand, the Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign: Yahweh is King (1 Samuel 12:12; Psalm 24:10; Isaiah 33:22; Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah 14:16-17).
    He rules over Israel (Exodus 15:18; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5; Isaiah 43:15). He rules over the earth or the creation (2 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 46:18; Psalms 29:10; 47:2; 93; 96:10; 145:11, 13). He possesses a royal throne (Psalms 9:4; 45:6; 47:8; Isaiah 6:1; 66:1; Ezekiel 1:26). His reign is ongoing (Psalms 10:16; 146:10; Isaiah 24:23). Rule or kingship is His (Psalm 22:28).

    On the other hand, God has delegated a real measure of his authority for ruling over creation to mankind (Genesis 1:28-30). God’s kingdom rule over creation was designed to work within the framework of a divine-human cooperative. It was a framework with boundaries (Gen 2:15-17). Outside of this framework, God would take care of everything else providentially (matter, solar systems, etc.—Col. 1:17, et. al.).

    This divine-human cooperative was shattered when the framework’s boundary was violated. Through Adam’s disobedience, God’s authority was usurped. Satan displaced God as the spiritual “ruler” in this sphere of authority. Mankind fell spiritually and creation now resists the oversight of man’s rule. The evidences of this tragedy occupy the headlines and our hearts everyday. From that point onward, the Scripture represents God as one who is seemingly on the outside of his creation in respect to his will “being done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is not because he does not have the power to demand his way. It is because he established the guidelines and will follow them to the end.

    continued next post...

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  5. continued from previous...

    The salvation-history of the Bible is the story of God restoring the exercise of his rule within the domain of mankind’s authority. It is the story of God being permitted to re-establish his rule through the cooperative trust relationship with believers in ever increasing measure. First through Abraham who believed God, then through Israel and the numerous covenants God made with her (mot which Israel failed to believe). Ultimately, the rule of God was offered to Israel through Jesus, and through the believing remnant the offer was extended to the Gentiles and now is freely extended to any who will repent and believe God’s gracious offer. The benefits of rejoining the kingdom rule of God include, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. These are simply some of the many aspects of the quality of life to be enjoyed in God’s eternal kingdom once it has been fully re-established.

    In the meantime, God’s kingdom continues to break into this world through the voluntary cooperative of the originally designed framework: faith and trust.

    This is where prayer fits in. “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the teaching of the Bible. This is the teaching of Jesus on the matter of prayer. Into the domain of man’s delegated authority, now abrogated and usurped by Satan, God’s will (which Scripture consistently portrays as good, generous, kind, loving, gracious, benevolent) is invited, granted permission in a manner of speaking. The invitation is to extend the “range of God’s effective will” from heaven where it is done perfectly, to the earth where it is resisted and rejected.
    This is the essence and nature of prayer.

    In Jesus’ ministry, the ministry of the early church, and in the ongoing efforts of the church today around the world, healing, forgiveness, and casting out of demons were and are some of the evidences of the re-establishment of God’s kind of rule in this domain. The brokenness experienced as a result of Satan’ rule and man’s rebellion is set right (at least in part in this age). God’s will is still aggressively and vehemently resisted spiritually and physically. There is a very real battle going on.

    Prayer is effective. Prayer gives God permission to bring the bearing of his wise and loving rule into the darkness and evil of this world. Prayer works because God wants to re-establish the good things of his kingdom to the people he created and with whom is longs to be reconciled.

    continued in one final post...

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  6. finally...

    It is a subtle twist and distortion of biblical revelation that represents God as the “cause and source” of the evil that exists in the world today. It is a misrepresentation of its revealed truth to suggest that God is sovereign and therefore the ugliness and evil of this age are an extension of his will, or perhaps a measure of his impotence if he truly is sovereign.

    If you want to represent the Bible as fanciful fairytale, by all means that is your prerogative to do so. If you want to represent evangelical Christianity as a foolish and harmful waste of resources, you have every right to express your opinion. Many of your observations and criticisms are legitimate. I would suggest that evangelicals who read your blog take many of your legitimate criticisms to heart and with wisdom receive the rebuke that is deserved. EC is not without very real problems, morally, spiritually and doctrinally.

    Mock God for establishing the framework and boundaries if you insist. God can handle it. Mock me for believing the Bible and for investing my life in the advancement of God’s kingdom in this world. I’m a big boy and I’m not ignorant of the unbelieving world’s perceptions of the Bible and Christians. But please stop criticizing evangelicals for actually practicing what they profess to believe, the Bible, when they do actually get it right at times. Go ahead and mock the Bible if you want, but misrepresenting the Bible and then using that misrepresentation as an argument against its validity isn’t a legitimate attack.

    Stick to unbelief, at least you’ll be consistent.

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  7. David,

    Thanks for your lengthy comment. At the end of your post you say: please stop criticizing evangelicals for actually practicing what they profess to believe, the Bible, when they do actually get it right at times. Go ahead and mock the Bible if you want, but misrepresenting the Bible and then using that misrepresentation as an argument against its validity isn’t a legitimate attack.

    I am not intentionally, nor do I think I am actually, misrepresenting the Bible regarding prayer. Actually as with just about every other doctrine in the Bible, it is hard if not impossible to reconcile all of its divergent teachings. Nevertheless, I think the general concept of most evangelicals is that prayer involves asking God to change things for them. If his will is sovereign and eternal, as most evangelical theologians would hold, then asking God to change things seems misguided.

    However, the Bible does say in places that prayer can change things (James 5:16). I don't see how one can reconcile this with the Bible's teaching regarding his sovereignty. Many theologians will here play the "mystery card." IOW, we really don't understand how divine sovereignty and human responsibility can be harmonized, it is a mystery, and we have to just accept on faith that it does harmonize somehow.
    You say: The invitation is to extend the “range of God’s effective will” from heaven where it is done perfectly, to the earth where it is resisted and rejected. This is the essence and nature of prayer.

    My question here is: Doesn't God want to extend his will on the earth? If so, why does he have to be asked to do so? Why does the Bible portray God as having to be begged to do something? (Luke 11:8 and 18:5). It is almost like he is reluctant to do so but will relent and do it if enough persistent prayer is offered (there is an even better chance you get God to act if you fast along with your prayer --Mk. 9:29).

    You say: Prayer gives God permission to bring the bearing of his wise and loving rule into the darkness and evil of this world. I am sure you know that your Calvinist brethren would not like your wording here at all. "Give God permission"? A God that has to be given permission by man is subordinate to man and not sovereign. That also seems to contradict the Bible.

    In addition, my point about public prayer is something that I observed regularly when I was a Christian. I am sure you have seen it too.

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  8. Do you think what I wrote is consistent with Scripture, or are you of the opinion that any position on prayer is questionable because the amount and nature of the biblical material?

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  9. David,

    I think its consistent with some portions of Scripture but not all.

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  10. David how many believers have prayed for their loved ones to be saved and they have died not believing in god and the believers believe that their children, husbands, wifes, have been sent to Hell for eternity because God did not see it in his master plan for he/she not to be one of the elect. This was one of the turning points for me to say I can no longer believe in a god who will not answer the prayers of a righteous man or woman and yet he promises to. I begged and begged god to answer my prayers of my loved ones I made promises nothing so I can not and will not believe that those who I have loved most are in hell right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  11. "Nevertheless, I think the general concept of most evangelicals is that prayer involves asking God to change things for them. If his will is sovereign and eternal, as most evangelical theologians would hold, then asking God to change things seems misguided."

    Well I don't know if I'm whatcha call a evangelical or not - I ain't much for philosophical book learnin', after a hard day's sweaty labor alls I want to do is crawl into bed - no readin'! But I reckon I'd say that if God *isn't* sovereign, then why pray? As for me, myself and my six grades of schoolin' I'd also say that I pray out of obedience. And to spend time building a relationship with God in private; you know, not like those ol' hypocrites on the street corner. And because it's proper to offer up thanksgiving to God. And to submit my will to God's will, not impose mine on Him. And to try to learn what it's like to enter into God's compassion for the things that sin does in my life, by offering up prayers for others. And for gettin' forgiveness; cuz even though Christ atoned for our sins past, present, future, I don't live in no eternal state of past/present/future I live in a space/time/sequentially-unfolding present.

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  12. Oh yeah, And I pray cuz God delights in it. And that alone is really enough for a simpleton like me.

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  13. So Chaz it is okay that your love ones are going to spend an eternity in hell despite your prayers? It is okay that you are going to hell?
    You think it is okay that the bible teaches this? Or do you not really believe what the bible teaches? Do you care one way or another what the bible promises???

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  14. cerbaz,

    I'm not sure what yur point is? The blog man axed what was the purpose of prayer. I gave seven purposes. But I will say this, the door of hell locks from the inside.

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