A lame public prayer

I recently attended an exhibition of the Pro Bull Rider’s tour. This is not my sport, BTW, but my wife and kids like it, and I went along thinking it might be a good chance to drink some beer and be mildly entertained.

As the event started, it was no suprise to hear the national anthem (USA, this is common, and I’m all for it). But what did suprise me was that a prayer was offered over the public address, with the bull riders circled in the arena, some kneeling.

Now, I’m a confessed atheist, but I try to be tolerant of other’s beliefs, and am usually genuinely curious about religion, and religious practices. But in this case, I was a paying customer to a public competition, and prayer was the last thing I expected - so I was taken aback.

But then, what really bothered me was the lameness of the prayer. It was obviously watered down to some kind of “ecumenical Christian” form that was designed to offend no one. To me, it came off as being really stupid, and I can’t see how it would please anyone either.

I can’t recall the exact words, but they did pray for “the safety of our PBR fans, riders, and livestock”. It was a Sunday, and there was mention of “gathering on Your Day” - (I guess that leaves out the Jews and 7th Day’ers). But the topper was the ending, it went something like “we pray in Him whose name is above all others, Amen”.

I thought, “name? what name? I heard no names at all. What god were we just praying to?”

I mean, come on here - the “in the name of Jesus” is the typical Christian prayer-ending. They just omitted the “Jesus”, I suppose, out of “respect” for the attendees who might not be Christian. But then, how can you possibly be serious about a prayer addressed to no god in particular? It sounded like a kind of “prayer in a bottle” tossed into the great supernatural, maybe somebody’s god will pick it up.

As a serious question, if you’re a Christian, standing shoulder to shoulder with, let’s say a Hindu, or a Satanist, and the two of you share a prayer of the exact same words, but addressed to no god in particluar - would you be comfortable with that? It seems to me to be a crazy idea. (well, from what I know, maybe a Unitarian might be okay with it, but I can’t imagine anyone else, Christian or otherwise).

I would have felt better (maybe, I don’t really know) if they’d offered an honest “Hail Mary” or Lord’s Prayer - at least I’d have known what the hell was going on.

As it was, I was left with the idea that the organizers of the event were making a lame appeal to make folks “feel good” about the event, purely for commercial purposes (that is, everybody had bought a ticket, and might come to another event). As for the folks in the crowd who went along with it, here, I don’t really assume to know the reaction - it could be that the “real” Christian Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, whatever - may have been just as taken aback as I, but obviously, nobody was going to do anything about it. But if anyone took it seriously, I can’t understand what they must have been thinking.

There are always prayers before PBR events - they get televised even - and before NASCAR events - although those usually don’t get on the air, partly because the television commentators are busy rambling about something or showing the starting lineup while all the tens of thousands of people in the stands are being forced to listen to the head of the Motor Racing Outreach program drone about God. It’s basically the same prayer as you describe in the PBR event. It’s accepted because, well, the main fan basis of those two events is Christian, and so nobody bothers to complain about the prayer.

The use of “Him” instead of “Jesus” or “Christ” or what have you isn’t really that unusual. When I get dragged into church on holidays by my parents, the pastor will often end prayers with “In the name of He whose name is above all others, Amen,” like you described. I guess “In Jesus’ name we pray” is getting cliché. :wink:

IMO I think they say those prayers the way they do as to not offend anyone and to make it so you can pray to whatever God you want. Now, if that were me up there saying the prayer I would want to say who I was praying to and end in that “cliche” ending …In Jesus Name…only because it wouldn’t feel as if there was much meaning behind it without recognizing who your praying too. I mean isn’t that the point of praying aloud?

On the other hand it is good to know some people out there still have public prayer, and what better places to have it than an event where tragedies do happen.

I should think Jesus and God would know who you were praying to no matter whether you said “In Jesus’ name” or “In the name of Him etc.” I prefer the Him, myself, just because I like the way it sounds.

And, in fact, wouldn’t the God postulated by Christians know that you believed in Him and wanted to do what He expected of you even if you didn’t make a public spectacle of your devotion?

Pretty insensitive to those who might worship a Her, don’t you think?

Not to mention the polytheist…

“we pray in Them whose names are above all others, Amen”

I’m a Unitarian - we have some pretty funky prayers to get around the whole non-creedal thing - but they tend to be a lot more well thought out than this (of course, I think so, I’m a Unitarian).

Not to mention that the “whose name is above all others” bit is typical Judeo-Christian-Islamic “my god is better than your god” arrogance.

Yeah, but think how many would be offended when they prayed to the one true god, OG!!!


Man, I’m typing something similar to what I recently put in the 10 commandments thread. I am a secular humanist (atheist if you must.) I firmly deny the existence of the supernatural. My preference is not to encounter organized public displays of devotion. But if they are going to happen, I far prefer that they be done in a manner that is the least offensive - potentially most inclusive - as possible.

For example, my devoutedly atheist son is a Boy Scout. (Some may consider it hypocritical. Well, for that matter, he doesn’t discriminate against gays either. But he does like camping!) I am glad that when they end their meetings they say someting like “May the great master of all scouts look over us until we meet again.” I find that less offensive than the lame-ass benedictions and blessings they have at the start of some meals and ceremonies.

I just don’t understand why believers are so insecure that they feel the need for organized public demonstrations of their beliefs. Each of these bullriders is incapable of crossing themself and saying a silent prayer before mounting up? My beliefs are a private matter that I do not try to flaunt before others. I wish they felt the same.

**kellymccauley wrote:

But then, what really bothered me was the lameness of the prayer. It was obviously watered down to some kind of “ecumenical Christian” form that was designed to offend no one. To me, it came off as being really stupid, and I can’t see how it would please anyone either. **

This is probably the one objection that everyone could agree with regarding public prayer at non-religious events. In the effort to please the greatest number of people, yet not offended anyone, the prayer has to be so generic you begin to wonder if you’re even really praying and to Whom are you offering these prayers.

**struct wrote:

Not to mention that the “whose name is above all others” bit is typical Judeo-Christian-Islamic “my god is better than your god” arrogance.**

Exactly! Christians, no matter good their intentions still seem to think that everyone is worshipping their god, just by a different name. My personal experience shows otherwise.

In my experience, that assertion is far more likely to be made by those who are not Christan than by those who are.

The “name above all names” is a paraphrase from Philippians 2:9, and I have heard that phrase used to close prayers many times in prayers so I do see it as being used with one God in particular. Also I do not automatically think of it as being used to sanitize the prayer for those who may be Christian (however, I was not at the even that kellymccauley attended and I can see someone making a deliberate choice to use that phrase for such reasons.)

Perhaps they were following the Jewish practice of not saying the name of God.

Ah, I think Bull Riding (and Nascar) continues to be a very dangerous sport. Why do tragedies happen at the events where god’s protection is routinely envoked? Maybe god doesn’t care? Isn’t listening?

I can take this comment a couple of ways - I’m not sure what you mean.

But let me presume that you’re saying that you think Christians at these public prayer offerings are truly aware that there are non-Christians in the audience, who are praying the same prayer to another god (say; Vishnu, Baal, Gaia, or what have you).

Doesn’t this make the prayers a little culpable in a violation of the 1st comandment (you shall have no other gods)?

I mean, if I was angry at someone, and you handed me a loaded pistol and said, “go ahead, shoot him”, and I did - you might not be guilty of murder, but you’d at least be an accessory.

In this lame prayer scenario, the (presumably) Christians are saying “here’s a neat prayer, why don’t you take it and send it on up to your god?” Doesn’t this cause you to feel like you’re participating in worship of a false god?

IMHO, the praying should be done silently or elsewhere. I bought a ticket to see tobacco-spitting cowboys attempt to stay aboard large, powerful, mean animials for 8 seconds, not to worship or invoke protection from some non-specific deity.

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment… I can imagine some Boy Scouts (or their parents, concerned citizens, whatever) objecting with almost the same words as your last sentence there but a whole different attitude: “I just don’t understand why believers are so insecure that they feel the need to water down their organized public demonstrations…” What comes off to some as insecurity for even having the demonstrations, comes off to others as insecurity for not going all-out with them.

For many Christians, offering a sort of ambiguous prayer like that in the OP would seem to denigrate God: a) It would be as if the thoughts and feelings that were offered and meant to go to the God they believe in were not being offered to Him but to just anybody; and, more concretely, b) It would seem like a cowardly way of backing out of a public testimony of one’s faith. Many Christians would feel like cowards issuing a prayer like that because it would seem like they were not owning up to their faith. In a passage in the New Testament, Jesus says that in Heaven He will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of Him on Earth.

That’s a sentiment I agree with, actually; a Christian who doesn’t want to be labelled a Christian isn’t much of a Christian. However, I don’t think that it necessarily follows that offering a prayer which leaves off the specific name of God is therefore wrong; it would be wrong if the motive were selfish (fear of a loss of popularity with the crowd, for example), but doing so with a motive of respect for those who are not Christians in the crowd is actually somewhat understandable.

The organizers of these events might be Christian but probably know that they draw a crowd from places other than the Christian segment of society as well, and so they may offer an open-ended prayer as a simultaneous personal show of respect to God, a public acknowledgement of Him, and yet a show of respect to the people as well. In any congregational prayer, the only one whose intentions the speaker can be sure of is himself. Others in the congregation might not share his sentiments, but in offering a public prayer, he invites them to if they wish. Those giving the prayers at events like rodeos, etc. may be thought of the same way: offering their personal respects to God through what they say in their hearts, offering others to join them through their words spoken in public, and yet offering respect to those in the stands by not forcing their specific religion (if not some religion at all) on them when all they’ve really come to do is see a bullfight or a race or whatever.

Those who feel like they are backing away from a commitment they have as Christians by not proclaiming the name of Christ may find this persuasive: while many non-Christians would feel left out or disaffected (or in some cases offended, although this shouldn’t really be the case—rodoes are private enterprises, after all, and Christians have the right to run private enterprises in a Christian manner) by public prayers to God, a prayer that shows respect to them may be thought to honor God in another way: respect is a virtue that stems from love, and is probably the best way that Christians can fulfill the commandment Christ gave us to love one another. While trying to convert someone can be a labor of love, refraining from doing so in order to show someone respect can be as well. (Some Christians may disagree, but it’s something to think about.)

A Boy Scouts’ troop is a different story, however, and if it really is the case that they give open-ended prayers like that for any reason other than to add emphasis to the Name of God, I find that really surprising. The Boy Scouts are a declared Christian group; I don’t see why there would be any need for euphemism in a group like that. Then again, never having joined Boy Scouts, I wouldn’t know how much emphasis they place on the Christian aspect of their activities.

Originally posted by kellymccauley

That’s a pretty good point. I actually don’t think that if someone offers your prayer to a “false god” that you are in anyway responsible for it; you could take a prayer that explicitly mentions God and offer it to whoever you want, too. The reason being is that any prayer that means anything has to come from you; when a preacher offers a congregational prayer, he’s just praying by himself using words everyone else can hear, and it’s up to each of them to choose whether or not they want God to know they mean the same thing.

But, one wonders, how useful is a prayer that doesn’t name God and does so purposely for the sake of ambiguity? While I think people may have reason for doing it, and while I think that it might not necessarily be wrong, really why wouldn’t you offer a prayer to your God if you were going to offer one at all? Sure, you can leave an open-ended prayer for anyone to take up, but if your sole reason for doing so is to avoid offending anyone, why not just refrain from praying and let each person choose to do so on her own? That way there’s no question of pretense.

One scenario that might be plausible is that, since the prayer is often given for the safety of the racers or bullriders or whatever, the prayer might reflect their beliefs; using a euphemism might well include those from different Christian denominations who pray differently. Just a thought.

Hopefully the nested quote thing will work here.

What I meant is that in my, perhaps limited, experience - most of the Christians I know do not believe that we’re all worshipping the same god, just using different names. That it is those who are not Christian who tend to say that everyone is worshipping the same thing, no matter what name or title they use. Am I making sense now? Also, to further clarify, to me, “name above all names” is an explicit reference to Christ (though context, though not everything, is very important - and I didn’t hear the rest of the prayer, so I don’t know how it came across in the prayer that you heard.)

I am not sure what the Christians who offer up public prayers in those types of scenarios are thinking - some possibly are truly aware that there are non-Christians in the audience offering up the same prayer to other gods. Some are possibly thinking that the non-Christians in the audience are just standing around, waiting for the prayer to end and whatever is next to start. And I do know, based on experience, that sadly, some are totally oblivious to the fact that there might be non-Christians in the room.

In my experience, most Christians believe that they’re worshipping the same God as Jews and Muslims… or at least one-third of the same God…

I’d have to say that’s my experience as well - with the added comment that many - if not most - Christians forget about other religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism) when talking about “we all worship the same god.” I noticed this alot this fall, with the national conversation about religion. Some of the “we all” was certainly targeted to mean Christians and Muslims (or the expanded version, where we include the Jews as well) - but some of the “we all” was certainly meant to be completely inclusive. IIRC, the atheists around here noticed it, too.