Friday, August 12, 2011

What if the answer to your prayer is "No!"?

"I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, 'God: You're going to have to fix this.'"
                                                          - Rick Perry, Governor of Texas 

Our esteemed governor has announced that he's going to announce that he's going to run for the presidency, so I think it is fair for the country to take a look at how he would handle the nation's most serious problems.  Based on all the evidence that we have, he would handle them with prayer.

In April of this year, Texas was suffering from a six-month-long extreme drought and thousands of wildfires that had been brought on by that drought.  Perry decided it was time to pray.  He issued an official proclamation that the three day period from Friday, April 22, to Sunday, April 24, would be "Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas." The governor then ostentatiously prayed, publicly and often, rather like the Pharisees of Jesus' time.

It's now four months later and Texas has gone from an extreme drought to an exceptional drought which may prove to be the worst in the state's history.  Not only is it dry, but for the last couple of weeks, we have suffered through daily triple-digit temperatures.  Lakes, creeks, and ponds have dried up.  The landscape is littered with dead, brown trees.  Farmers are unable to produce any usable crops.

But Perry hasn't lost his faith in prayer to solve our problems.  Last Saturday, he led a prayer-fest of some 30,000 evangelicals in Houston's Reliant Center.  Among other things, they prayed for economic recovery for the country.  Two days later, on Monday, the stock market suffered its worst one-day collapse since the 2008 crisis, dropping by 635 points.

Perhaps next Mr. Perry will attempt to pray away Texas' pollution for ours is one of the most polluted states in the country. The prevalence of dirty air and dirty water everywhere in the state has serious implications for  public health.  (And, oh, yes, our state has more people without medical insurance than any other state.)

While he's at it, he might also pray to God to fix our educational system - an educational system that doesn't serve the interest of actually educating children, but only teaches them to pass the standardized tests on which schools and teachers are judged.  Relying on standardized tests as the sole indicator of whether "our children is learning," as George Bush would say, is a relic of the Bush era in Texas government but the torch has been carried forward and relit repeatedly by Mr. Perry.

I do not mean to mock anyone's faith in prayer.  Perry, in his private life, is certainly free to pray how and as often as he feels the need, but as someone who wants to lead this diverse country, his insistence on "Jesus prayer" to the exclusion of all other beliefs is troubling to say the least.  There are many ways of praying in this country and it is inappropriate for anyone representing the government to favor one of them over another. The country was founded upon the principle of separation of church and state and the day that it forgets that principle and elevates one religion as the designated state religion will be the day that the idea that was America begins to crumble.  

Anyway, it seems that God is not too impressed with public, ostentatious, and self-serving (to enhance one's bona fides with the religious right) prayers either.  So far the answer to all of Perry's very public prayers has been a resounding "NO!"  I suspect he might receive the same answer to his prayers to become president.

(For more on "Rick Perry's Unanswered Prayers," read Timothy Egan's excellent column in today's New York Times.)

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