Freedom From Religion Foundation
During my school years, 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 adults’ apparently direct line 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 conclusion always made me wonder: Why bother with prayer at all, since God was going to do whatever he wanted to do anyway?
I was always bemused by the implication that God was malleable, and 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 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.
In my case, school prayer served little purpose other than to bore me, and to hear those sonorous academic voices 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, never wondering 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 teach them the wisdom to know the difference.