I was watching clips this weekend of the Florida performance of King America’s Eternal Attention Tour, when I noticed something weird about Melania Trump’s opening act. I checked, and I was right: almost word for word, she was reciting a speech from one of God’s town halls from 2,000 years ago.
—Do these people not know we have Internet?
I’m not about to flame Melania. In one discussion about her recitation of “the Lord’s Prayer” around the net, someone asserted that it was always right to pray, and someone answered (I’m paraphrasing) the hell it is. I want to take up the ideas of being Christian in public and of pretending to be Christian in public, and a few other things.
God’s kids, the Christian ones at least, are instructed to be mindful of why they’re doing the religious things they’re doing. Jesus taught this in terms of rewards.
Take the man praying conspicuously on the street corner. Why is he doing it? If he’s doing it so that other people will see him and think of him as, maybe, “deep,” he is collecting his reward as fast as people see him and think of him as deep. If he’s a politician and wants “the evangelicals” to vote for him, he’s receiving his reward as fast as those votes are cast. The alternative is to pray and receive a reward from God. To reiterate that distinction: people do the religious things they do to receive something either from the world or from God.
It’s interesting that this idea is so bound up with the Lord’s Prayer that Melania recited. In the Bible, in Matthew, they’re presented together. The highlights are mine (I suppose that’s obvious), to carry the idea through the quote; I hope they’re sparse enough and not too distracting:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called “Rabbi” by others.
The Bible provides an unusual number of examples for this idea, but there is one straightforward point to them all:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I don’t agree that praying, in public at least, is always right, not if “right” includes “appropriate.” But I do think praying in public to shore up political support among religious people is always wrong.
Here we stand, weighing things in our hands. On the one hand, should they be Christian, many of us Christians want our elected representatives, including the President of the United States, to publicly, from time to time, acknowledge the existence, nature, and sovereignty of God, acknowledgements that seems to become more important as they become more difficult; and on the other hand, we don’t want the insincere theater. In this world, though, we apparently can’t have the real thing without the counterfeit. Is it worth it?
I think so. Allowing the real thing means no more or less than allowing the full practice of Christianity (which means allowing the practice of Christianity). And that means, among other things, being able to convene a consequential meeting where asking God for guidance is the first order of business. Or being able to recite the Lord’s prayer at an inconsequential rally.
“Separation of Church and State!!! Eleventy!!!”
Please stay calm.
Forcing Christianity into second place, forcing its suspension to make way for an ad hoc atheistic structure from time to time, is a mistake. Elected officials, the argument goes, should take their religious beliefs off like overcoats, and hang them at the door; then, they should conduct their public meeting on religiously neutral ground, atheistic ground; and then, as the officials leave, they can put their religions back on and go about their private business.
This is a bad idea for many reasons. It supposes religious beliefs can be “second things,” for one. They can’t. Actually conducting a meeting this way is conducting it dishonestly from the beginning. All the unsaid things are still in the room, they’re still influencing the decisions, and, in the category of significant, unintended consequences: they can’t be debated. Think of a particularly bizarre judicial ruling, one where the opinion doesn’t make any sense. It might be that it would make sense, if only all the unsaid things the ruling was actually based on were typed out. Another reason that this is a bad idea is that atheism is not philosophically neutral ground. Like any religious belief, it comes with its own unproven assumptions, and the conclusions it reaches from there are necessarily its own. Another reason is that the last thing anyone should want is a nation of Christians who have been taught a superficial version of their religion that can be put on and taken off at will. For evidence of the damage that can do, I invite you to look out the window.
This topic is huge and a step OT. I can only touch on it here. For this post, I’m just assuming a generally Christian population generally wants to have a generally Christian culture (I know: that’s totes cray-cray).
It allows us also to intellectually acknowledge the morality — the understanding of life, the universe, and everything — that forms much of the basis of our law and social order, and to explicitly consider that basis when weighing new cultural components. Sharia law, for example, is inconsistent and incompatible. Following arguments down the ladder, we eventually reach rungs where we say things like, “because that’s just how we define rape.” The next rung down, we hear something that has become more of a dare than a question: “And why is that?” And from there, in recent times, we just fall off, stuttering and tongue-tied with false guilt.
For fun, let’s just walk it once:
Because Jesus and Judeo-Christian tradition teach one thing about this matter, while Mohammad and Islamic tradition teach another; because these two teachings are incompatible; because our civilization has chosen sides and accepts the Judeo-Christian teaching as the right one.
It’s worthwhile to back up and look it all over from a distance. A completely straightforward political calculus scripted that show. And that’s all it was — a show. The opening scene of the show was the first lady, Melania, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Politicos that script things like that call them “red meat” and talk about their “targets.” The crowd of shadows behind Donald Trump’s throne will resolve when we walk up to it like all the others: there will be uncomfortably cold-blooded people there (uncomfortable if you’re a mammal), and there also will be surprisingly naive “patriots” and “true-believers” there. Anyone in no mood to give Donald Trump any sort of pass can stop here and frown down the undeniably manipulative lizards.
It didn’t look to me like Melania Trump led that prayer to look religious or even to make Donald Trump look religious (or even to be personally adored; she still has an air of reluctance about her, like she’s being dragged into it all). It looked like she was leading that prayer solely for the benefit of the people that she was leading. And, maybe because I had just seen tape of the fan that Donald Trump brought on stage and still had that man on my mind when I saw the tape of Melania, I had the strong impression that, for the crowd, her leading them in prayer was an act of defiance against suffocating and overwhelming powers that have been brooding over them for years, openly hostile to their god, their religion, even their existence.
I’ll take up King America again later. But for just this one, tiny, tiny, tiny, brief moment:
† † †
Note. I wish I could credit the first person to post the one-liner I used as the post’s title, or even just the first person whose post I saw; as it is, all I can do is acknowledge that it wasn’t my invention.
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