Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quote of the Day: Amy-Jill Levine on Public Prayer

I have been reading Amy-Jill Levine's, The Misunderstood Jew, and toward the end where she gives some ideas of Jewish-Christian dialogue, she talks about public prayer. I thought it would be appropriate given the recent discussions of prayer, especially Rick Warren's prayer, at Obama's inauguration:

A similar situation prevails with public prayer. Some Christian ministers resort to a watered-down, generic invocation that satisfies few. Some insist on praying in the "name of Jesus," which prevents Jews and other non-Christians from saying "Amen." Atheists are ignored in any case. More cynical biblical readers, finding dissatisfactory public prayer from high-school students gathered around flagpoles to senators representing the American people in Washington, might cite the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus states: "Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners [and around flagpoles, and at legislative assembles, and on television broadcasts...], so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they ahve received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:5-6). But since public religiosity is not going to go away, then the person offering the prayer needs to find a way of invoking the deity in a way that both affirms distinct confessions and recognizes the existence of alternative truth claims. Ending a prayer "in the name of Jesus" keeps the prayer parochial. Ending it "as I pray in the name of Jesus" is a bit of an improvement. "As I pray in the name of Jesus, and we all pray to the God who has many names and many children" is even better. The fundamentalist Christian should ahve little objection, since the God of the Bible does have many names: El Shaddai, El Elyon, YHWH, Elohim. In turn, Jews may choose to pray in Hebrew, but then they should provide a translation so the people in attendance know to what, exatly they are saying "Amen." Atheists, of course, are still left out, but at least the theists in the group are all included. (Amy-Jill Levin, Misunderstood Jew, 222-3)

Still...the "cynical" view has a point...

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