Believers Anonymous

Q: Did the Pentagon do the right thing by disinviting evangelist Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event … Continued

Q: Did the Pentagon do the right thing by disinviting evangelist Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event next week? Should government officials decide who can or cannot speak at such an event? Should the government proclaim a National Day of Prayer? Was a federal judge right to rule it unconstitutional?

America’s National Day of Prayer raises important questions about the role of religion in public life and how our various faiths can unite individual citizens and organized groups of widely differing beliefs.

To measure the worthiness of a National Day of Prayer, let ‘s take a look at one of the most important and worthy organizations in the world. I speak of one that succeeds tremendously at bringing people together from all walks of life in gratitude to a higher force in the Universe, to achieve the seemingly insurmountable. I refer to Alcoholics Anonymous. Untold numbers of people and their families have been saved by this organization through its simple dictates and its rootedness in divine supplication. Though the 12 Steps require a devotion to some form of
God, there are no shortage of atheists who join the program while defining that word in their own personal way. AA is non-racial, non-religious and respects no difference in age, class, gender or orientation. In other words, this highly spiritual movement is thoroughly American.

Of course, we Americans are not all alcoholics, but we all have problems that seem larger than our ability to fight. We all need help, we all need each other, and AA provides the model and proves the importance of a National Day of Prayer. Its process unites and elevates people through faith and fellowship at times that science and medicine have failed.

If there were a truly National Day of Prayer which involved schools or government institutions, some Jews, for example, might object to standing with those beseeching Jesus and Allah. I am confident, however that shared prayer will cause people to look into their own faith more intensely. Moreover, this country needs to be more honest about what individual religions teach and how those teachings can be exploited by fundamentalists, so that the rest of us can marginalize the radicals of every faith. A National Day of Prayer will help create a consensus of what we Americans consider healthy religion, and the leaders of any faith whose God teaches love and mercy should be welcome to lead a service which reaches out to every American; even those who strive for goodness without theistic belief.

The recent ruling of a National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional speaks, incorrectly I believe, to the great American tradition of separating Church and State and protecting dissent. It is an overreaction as long as the Day of Prayer is rooted in and represented by the tolerate and moderate beliefs of all the major religions.

America has always been a religious country. As long as it says “In G-d we trust” on our dollar bill, we may as well talk to him.

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  • Athena4

    The AA model, which I understand from my AA history was the thing that differentiated AA from the entirely-Christian Oxford Group, is that they caveat God “as you understand God”. Several of the early AAs were non-Christians, and that’s what kept them from being turned off by the “God thing”. Atheists and agnostics generally use the power of the group to get sober/abstinent/clean.

  • WmarkW

    I’m an atheist, and for the most part treat the National Day of Prayer with apathy. But I think Rabbi Hecht’s justification is actually a reason to more actively oppose it.The reasoning behind AA’s invocation of God is that an individual alcoholic is not by himself strong enough to overcome addiction and requires an intervention by a higher power to achieve strength. It’s an important part of MY secular worldview that the human mind is all we have to work with, and that any advancements in society we must achieve ourselves. Invoking higher authority, in the mind of believers, might help improve the clarity of their own thinking, but could just as well be a window into which superstition comes in.Believers consider atheists to lack one important source of knowledge, which atheists think believers are admitting that which need not be. If a National Day of Prayer comes from the same premise as AA, we’d be admitting our own thinking needs sources unavailable except through mysticism.

  • tsfmails

    One important principle of Alcoholics Anonymous is that of personal anonymity. No one person speaks or even prays on behalf of AA. No one person represents AA. AA has no opinion on outside issues.

  • haveaheart

    While I applaud Rabbi Hecht’s enthusiasm for AA, there are a few misconceptions in his essay.He characterizes Alcoholics Anonymous this way: “Untold numbers of people and their families have been saved by this organization through its simple dictates and its rootedness in divine supplication.”First and most important, AA doesn’t have “dictates.” There are no rules to follow, no beliefs to ascribe to; advice is not given. Instead, suggestions are made. Lest anyone think that this is a distinction without a difference, ponder this: There is a reason why each of the twelve steps is stated in the past tense and from the perspective of the first-person plural.Take Step 1 — “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—-that our lives had become unmanageable.” Notice that it doesn’t say “You need to admit that you are powerless, etc.” That’s because AA doesn’t instruct; it simply shares the wisdom accumulated over the years by other recovering alcoholics. This was a critical distinction in Bill Wilson’s mind, and it’s this distinction — with all of its ramifications — that makes AA the single most effective treatment for alcoholism.The other misconception in Rabbi Hecht’s commentary is the notion that the AA program is rooted in the notion of “divine supplication.” While it’s true that one of the steps (7) says, “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings,” the spiritual concept at work from literally the first step is that of “surrender.” One surrenders first to the idea of being powerless and then to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves that can help us. Supplication without a foundation of surrender and personal self-examination is meaningless.I cannot agree with Rabbi Hecht that “AA provides the model and proves the importance of a National Day of Prayer.” Alcoholics Anonymous has endured for 75 years precisely because it offers no dicta. Its brilliant core idea is that fellowship can help drunks to not drink — one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time…and definitely one drunk at a time. Each person’s recovery is individual and unique; organized observances are a threat to sobriety.

  • cecil4

    I am not very knowledgable about AA, but it obviously is a very effective organization and method for many people. It also is (I believe) a totally non-govermental agency, not controlled by or sanctioned by any federal law or resolution. It is here, it stands on its on, and anyone who needs it may participate.I think I am for a National Day of Prayer (one or more), sponsored by individuals, a church or mosque, or a coalation of religious groups. However, the current law establishing such day is fortunately un-constitutional and in the hands of religious extremists this law can become a dangerous thing.The government should protect the right of every individual and group to participate in prayer and other non-hurtful religious activities. It should also respect and protect the right of citizens and groups NOT to participate.As things now stand the National Day of Prayer is an event organized and controlled by fundamental evangelical groups and endorsed and suported by the national government. This is wrong, not helpful, devisive, even dangerous.