Freethought NOW!

My years of forced school prayer

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A grainy image of an older school classroom with children. Overtop the image is the title in cursive "my years of forced school prayer."

During my school years, official prayer was always there.

No one was granted any right to object. God was incessantly called upon to bless assemblies, school ceremonies and sporting events. Teachers seemed to claim the power to compel God’s attention, or to change his mind for him in case he hadn’t been planning to bless their occasion in the first place. They gave the distinct impression that they had God’s ear.

This impression is one of the hidden motives of school-prayer advocates. They feel that children should be made aware of the apparently direct line adults have to the mind of God, a little step up from the threat “I’ll tell your father on you.” No matter how trivial or dire the subject, God was listening. Whether you feared failing a test, or your little brother had a serious case of rheumatic fever and might die, in either case you were supposed to get help if you were sufficiently and properly abject. If it didn’t work, well, it wasn’t his will. This always made me wonder: Why bother with prayer at all, since God was going to do whatever he wanted to do anyway?

And I was always bemused by the implication that God was malleable, so open to manipulation by humans. Along with Omar Khayyam I wondered, “Who art thou to teach, and he to learn?” If God had made up his mind to do things a particular way, to lead us into temptation on that particular day for example, who are we to talk him out of it? Was he really so weak and malleable that a few words from some insignificant humans could change his intentions? And if he was not so, whatever was the point of all the prayer? It was an insoluble puzzle.

School prayer served little purpose other than to bore me, and for me to hear those sonorous voices of praying school officials with something like pity because I thought they might be trying to convince themselves that they were being heard by someone other than an audience of itchy, impatient children who were just waiting for it to be over.

Of course, as churchmen through the ages have known, God must be presented and presented and presented ad nauseam to children in their formative years, if they are to become truly believing adults. What sinks into the child even through boredom can become fixed, and the resulting adult never really knows the origin of the concept that he thinks self-evident. School prayer is really belief manipulation. Advocates think children ought to hear grown-ups expressing belief in God and never wonder where the concept came from, or how there could be so many portraits painted of the bearded man in the sky, when no one had ever really seen him.

In thus brainwashing children by rote and repetition, we have forgotten how evil a dominant, domineering, legislated religion can be. Separation of church and state was one of the best ideas put forward by the Founders of the United States, who knew all too well the horrors perpetrated by European theocracy. Unfortunately, many Americans today have lost touch with this history.

Children need to be protected from forced beliefs. Instead of training them to call on an outmoded emotional construct, they should be taught to trust their own foresight and responsibility, to change what they can change, and to accept what they can’t — and, naturally, to possess the wisdom to know the difference.

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5 Responses

  1. First off, I’m the same age as Barbara, so I’ve seen & heard a few things. I grew up in a moderately religieous Jewish family, and was
    forcibly required to endure the bar mitzvah ritual at age 13. By that age I was already secretely questioning the concept of religion.
    In the Jewish religion, a boy automatically becomes a man at age 13 after he’s been bar-mitzvahed , and usually makes a speech at
    the ceremony thanking his parents, his rabbi, etc., for making this moment possible. He often ends his speech something like,
    “In the tradition of our religion, today I am a man.” In those days, the traditional bar mitzvah gift was a fountain pen. At the end of
    my speech, I said “In the tradition of our religion, today I am a FOUNTAIN PEN”, and held up a fountain pen someone had given me.
    I was promptly banished from that synagogue and never returned. After that, hallelujah, I saw the light and started my career as an

  2. I, too, had to say the prayer everyday. My Rabbi said the we shouldn’t recite it, so I stopped, although I sat quietly. My teacher sent me to the principal. The principal, Joe Goldberg, a member of my synagogue, just sent me back. I could not understand why mother thought it was hilarious when I told her. I can now, and I laughingly give to FFRF and others in fond remembrance.

  3. I am always fascinated to hear others’ tales of religious immersion, followed by the deliberate choice of a different path. It is so good to know I am not alone!

    I knew something didn’t make sense when I was initially brought up in a mainstream Protestant church in the 60s, until my family switched to a “born-again” fundamentalist church. How could two Protestant churches be so different in the sorts of things that were believed and taught from the pulpit? That eventually got me thinking and questioning.

    For instance, why was there such castigation in the evangelical church of anything to do with science? I was so puzzled and flummoxed. Had nothing been learned from the church’s initial rejection of Copernicus’ heliocentric model, to name just one instance of the church’s sparring with science?

    Also, I understood the idea of misogyny before I became familiar with the noun. The thing is, in the evangelical church I heard and read a lot of what’s actually in the “good book” and many passages didn’t strike me as good or loving or, in many instances, moral.

    As a young adult, I left religion behind and studied science. I would be happy to go back to simply going my way and letting others go theirs — if only religious radicals were not trying to force their beliefs and way of life on the rest of us. Their path is very dangerous. I see a through line from the sorts of things I was hearing in church as a child to the frightening political situation in our country today.

    One last comment, a bone to pick: No, evangelicals are not being persecuted because some may abbreviate the December holiday as Xmas rather than spelling it longhand. A prevalent theme at the evangelical church was the idea that they, as “true Christians,” were perpetually being persecuted; it was a badge of honor to lay claim to persecution.

  4. I am so glad that I never had to go through such irrational mumble jumble, I am very grateful to my parents who could think for themselves. And both my grown sons are very happy without the „Man in the sky“, and so are our grandchildren!

  5. My thoughts exactly! I too went through all the motions with the result of becoming a staunch atheist!

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