Sunday, June 7, 2015

What is the Point of Praying over the Supreme Court?

            With the Supreme Court getting ready to rule on marriage equality, we’re starting to hear calls for prayer prayer rallies to affect the outcome. And I have to ask: what’s the point?

            Seriously. I really, really do not understand these things. What is supposed to be accomplished by this? Oh, sure, the organizer of the event in the link says what they are hoping for. It’s this: “…we're going to totally focus on Justice Kennedy, we believe he is the swing vote, and we're just going to ask the Lord to forgive us of our sins and turn the heart of Justice Kennedy that he might see the error of his ways and protect marriage." But what does that really mean?

            I’ll tell you what it sounds like to me. It sounds like Coach Dave believes that if Christians ask really, really hard, then God will mind-control Justice Kennedy to decide the way they want.

            To which I can only say… “huh?”

            Doesn’t Christianity believe in free will? Many, in fact, argue that the entire reason evil exists in the world at all is that God will not interfere with free will under any circumstances. Of course, that’s clearly contradicted by the Bible itself, but Christians claim it anyway. Or, as per the usual caveat, some versions of Christianity claim it. And if it’s the case that God won’t interfere with free will, what possible good could it do to hold rallies asking him to do just that?

            It’s also part of common Christian rhetoric that God’s will cannot be altered by us piddling human beings. That would suggest that, no matter what Justice Kennedy decides, whether God intervenes in that decision or not, it’s exactly according to the plan that God always had and was always going to have. Praying about it is… superfluous at best, isn’t it? Either God was going to allow Kennedy to decide for himself, or he wasn’t. Either God intends for marriage equality to happen, or he doesn’t. The prayer can’t move him to change his mind, so why bother?

            But let’s suppose these people have some reason to believe that God will actually change Justice Kennedy’s mind, but only if they pray for it. I suppose there’s room in the many variations of Christian belief for that particular theology. But then… isn’t that, well, really unethical? They’re essentially claiming to believe they have access to the power to control other people’s minds, and are willing to use it to achieve their political aims. That’s comic book super-villain territory. If they actually had that ability, it would be scary as hell. And yet ordinary, seemingly decent people not only don’t bat an eye at these public calls for magical mind-control, they actually feel virtuous about participating in them!

            If such a power existed, I’m sure it would be pretty tempting to use it. I’m sure there are uses to which many people could justify putting it. And it doesn’t say much about the people who believe they wield this power that this is the use to which they believe it ought to be put: preventing gay people from getting married. They’re not focusing their mind-control thought rays on preventing ISIS from beheading and raping people, or asking God to “change the hearts” of child molesters, or seeking to violate the free will of corporate CEOs for the purpose of getting them to pay their employees a living wage. Or, hell, if they’re really that convinced that being gay is so bad, and they’re already convinced that the solution is to ask God to violate the sovereignty of people’s minds, why aren’t they just asking him to make people stop feeling attracted to others of the same sex? At least then, they’d be using this power to alleviate suffering. But no, they pray to mind-control folks into perpetuating a situation where large numbers of people are in love and restricted from fully expressing it. They really, really think they have the power to alter people’s minds, and the use they choose to put it to is perpetuating misery? While at the same time crowing about their own virtue? That is really kind of messed up.

            Now, it may seem like I’m getting a bit worked up here. And maybe I am, a little. But there are limits to how upset I can really get. After all, as contemptible as I may think it is that people calling for these sorts of prayer rallies think they have the power to violate the minds of the Justices and choose to use it in this way, the fact is that I don’t believe they have it. These rallies are nothing more than religiously themed protests. And as such, the “power of prayer” the organizers go on about focusing on our government’s decision-makers is nothing more than the same power any protestor has in our democracy: the power to have their voices heard by the government.

            And I think we should all be very glad that we don’t appear to live in a world where there’s any more to it than that.

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