Nothing fails like a National Prayer Breakfast

Statement by Dan Barker
Freedom From Religion Foundation

The reactions of outrage to President Barack Obama’s remarks at the so-called National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Thursday show once again that mixing religion and government is a terrible idea. He should have taken his own advice, stated at that very event: “[W]e need to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments—between church and between state.” When the elected leader of a secular nation oversteps his authority by injecting personal religious views into a quasi-governmental event, it not only ignores that important distinction, it invariably highlights the divisiveness of religion.

Triumphalist Christians objected to Obama’s truthful but uncomfortable assertion that while violent Muslims have been in the news recently, Islam is not the only religion with a history of atrocities: “[R]emember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” His point, of course, is that you can’t judge a religion by the crimes of its extremist fringe. While that is certainly true, Obama seems to be trying to deflect the blame from religion itself to those alleged few bad apples who “distort” faith, even claiming, “No God condones terror.”

But the god Obama professes to believe in explicitly condones terror, according to “the Good Book”:

“I will bring terror on you . . . I will bring the sword against you . . . I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands. . . . I will devastate the land.” (Leviticus 26:16-32)

“You shall worship the Lord your God. . . . I will send my terror in front of you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come.” (Exodus 23:27)

“I will heap disasters upon them, spend my arrows against them . . . In the street the sword shall bereave, and in the chambers terror, for young man and woman alike, nursing child and old gray head.” (Deuteronomy 32:23–25)

“For thus says the Lord God: Bring up an assembly against them, and make them an object of terror and of plunder. The assembly shall stone them and with their swords they shall cut them down; they shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses.” (Ezekiel 23:46–47)

When Job was being unjustly tortured by God, he complained: “For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.” (Job 6:4) Obama’s own deity is a terrorist. He cannot simply blame religious violence on a few extremists. It is religion itself that is the problem.

Thomas Paine, a true founder of our secular nation, eloquently summed up the violent, retributive, bloodthirsty character of the biblical deity in the Age of Reason:

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

Obama deserves credit for attempting to mitigate religious violence and divisiveness, and his reference, in his National Day of Prayer talk, to those of us who “practice no faith at all” is praiseworthy. But his failure to condemn religion itself helps perpetuate the myth that only good can come from “true” religion.

By what authority and right does our president lecture the nation about the nature of a deity? We elected a secular leader, not a “spiritual” leader. His religious views are irrelevant. Barack Obama is not America’s national pastor or priest.

The name of the National Prayer Breakfast and its near-obligatory attendance by members of Congress and the president give the appearance that it is an official U.S. government function. It is nothing of the sort. It is a private event hosted by a shadowy Christian organization dedicated to “the teachings and precepts of Jesus.” This group, of course, has the freedom to invite whomever it chooses to its meetings and rituals, but our secular president should not be involved, giving the appearance of endorsement to one religion. (Unfortunately, since its inception in the 1950s, the invitation to attend the event has become a political “gotcha” that presidents, or their delegates, boycott at their political peril.)

Toward the close of his remarks, Obama pointed out that America is successfully religiously diverse because “our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.” Yes. Bravo. But the best way to honor that separation is for the government not to embrace private religious rituals like the National Prayer Breakfast.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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