I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get to participate much in the Day of Debauchery and Gluttony, the so-called day created on Facebook (and elsewhere, maybe?) as a reaction to Rick Perry’s Day of Prayer and Fasting. But, I have several good reasons. First, it’s too damn hot for much debauchery, unless you count soaking in a cool tub of water or de-icing that old garage freezer that doesn’t self defrost.
As far as gluttony is concerned, I still pay a monthly fee to Weight Watchers for my online account that keeps me honest and losing a bit of weight. That’s why I must report that on Saturday I ate a serving of mayonnaise-y cole slaw costing me a bunch of valuable points. But that’s certainly not the essence of true gluttony. Us gluttons-in-abeyance know better.
But, I did have some thoughts about a prayer fest called to urge the attendees to call on the Christian god to step in and help us solve the various ills of the country. As one woman explained on NPR, “We deserve bad leaders, we deserve economic downturn . . . we turned away from Jesus.” A punishing Jesus? This strikes me a bit primitive, more like the response of ancient people beset by famine, drought, hard times. I’m reminded of the scene in Mel Gibson’s movie, Apocalypto with the Mayan priest at the top of a pyramid surrounded by thousands of people cheering on as human beings were sacrificed, assembly-line fashion as the civilization in decline sacrificed to appease the gods and reverse its fortunes.
Although I’m no student of religions, primitive cultures have always been characterized by religious beliefs that included recipes for problem-solving involving the sacrifice of virgins, goats, crops, liquor, first-born sons, etc., to appease angry and/or resentful gods. Reading Hamilton’s Mythology in 8th grade, it was impressed upon me how the Romans and Greeks had a veritable soap operatic system of gods who, depending on their humors, became resentful, jealous, needy, vengeful, etc.
But regarding the prayer event in Houston, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to pray for strength in the face of our daily problems, or to try to find more tolerance and love for others through prayer. Like meditation, prayer can help you find those things within yourself, whether divinely inspired or not, depending on your beliefs. But how did we get to a place where a governor (supposedly a leader with ideas about running this country) is urging folks across the country to come to a big prayer meeting to call on Jesus to come up with solutions to our social and economic problems? It would be better to pray for a vision of how to make all the players in our legislative bodies and other institutions get along like adults and act as if we were all in this together (which we are, by the way). Learn to negotiate instead of demand and take home your toys if you don’t get your way. I wouldn’t think, however, that you need Jesus to guide you to that path. After all, it’s kind of the way we’ve been governing ourselves since dumping George III (i.e., all years B.T.P. [Before Tea Party]).
But, I’m probably the least qualified to critique this event and the goals of the Governor in joining forces with the Christian evangelicals to stage this happening. Reverend Jim Rigby, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, however, is qualified and offers up his response to “The Response,” which makes a lot of sense to me. In his local contribution to the Austin American’s op-ed page Friday, August 5th, he characterized the government endorsement of one religion in a country with such rich religious diversity as unhealthy politics. Significantly, he made five points based on scripture, which the organizers of this event have ignored. In his words, more or less:
1. Don’t make a show of prayer. Jesus, he said, spoke out against public displays of religion. In other words, ‘Don’t rub it in other people’s faces.’
2. God doesn’t withhold rain because we’ve done something wrong. Jesus said that God sends rain on the just and unjust. Our love, he taught, should be equally nonselective.
3. God doesn’t have favorites. When the Bible says that God is not a “respecter of persons,” it means that God doesn’t have a favorite country o religion. The idea that God wants Christians to be in charge of other people violates Jesus’ teaching that we are to take the lowest place, changing the world by humble persuasion and good example, not be messianic coercion.
4. Worship by those who neglect the poor is offensive to God. The prophet Amos, he notes, chastised the religion of his day for praying to God while mistreating people. Texas leads the nation in residents who are uninsured, who work for minimum wage and who die from unsafe working conditions on construction sites. Our state has the widest gap between rich and poor of any other state.
5. The heart of Christian ethics is being a good neighbor. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, scapegoats of the day, to teach humility to a rich young zealot who thought he was approaching moral perfection. The merciful Samaritan, he explained, was an example of ethical perfection. In contrast, the American Family Association, one of the sponsors of the event, is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group for their stand on homosexuality and Muslims.
As the Reverend concludes, “The ‘prayer’ that is most needed at this time is for each of us, believer or not, to go into our own heart and find the humility and empathy that is at the core of righteousness, political and spiritual.”
Amen, Reverend. As I consider that we haven’t heard the last of Republican congressmen trying to slash more jobs from the government payroll, dismantle entitlements, and eliminate the programs that help the least advantaged, I wonder – not for the first time – how they ignore the intellectual disconnect and call themselves followers of Jesus, rather than the high priests sacrificing the least among us at the altar of More Wealth for the Few. Maybe if I pray a little bit harder, I’ll find a way of understanding these people. I will never, however, be able to pray hard enough to find a way to forgive them.