It is amusing to me that it is news that James Dobson, the guy who founded Focus on the Family, admits that the National Day of Prayer Task Force prayed for Obama’s defeat. The headline ought to be that their prayers were completely ineffectual. Now atheists will be laughing and saying, “duh!” but there are plenty of religious people out there who do not think prayer is a completely wasted endeavor.
We could draw any number of conclusions from the failure of their prayers. Imprecatory prayers have become very popular in right-wing religious circles and they have also been ineffectual. Obama still lives. You can’t pray the man to death.
So either their God likes Obama, their God doesn’t care one way or another about such mundane human concerns, or their God is without any power to effect change with regard to the office of the presidency. Those seem the most obvious answers, though as we shall see, Dobson was able to find one more amenable to his belief system.
The lesson will be lost on conservative Christians, of course. Though of seeming iron-inflexibility on moral and cultural matters, they are as flexible as can be when it comes to explaining or explaining away the actions/inactions of the divine.
The ancients in the centuries before the blight of monotheism thought a great deal about prayer as well, and they continued to think about it through the early, so-called Christian centuries. Marcus Aurelius, a stoic philosopher as well as an emperor, offered these thoughts in the private journal that came to be known to history as the Meditations:
Either the gods have no power or they have power. If, then, they have no power, why dost thou pray to them? But if they have power, why dost thou not pray for them to give thee the faculty of not fearing any of the things which thou fearest, or of not desiring any of the things which thou desirest, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these things should not happen or happen? for certainly if they can co-operate with men, they can co-operate for these purposes. But perhaps thou wilt say, the gods have placed them in thy power. Well, then, is it not better to use what is in thy power like a free man than to desire in a slavish and abject way what is not in thy power? And who has told thee that the gods do not aid us even in the things which are in our power? Begin, then, to pray for such things, and thou wilt see. One man prays thus: How shall I be able to lie with that woman? Do thou prays thus: How shall I not desire to lie with her? Another prays thus: How shall I be released from this? Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released? Another thus: How shall I not lose my little son? Thou thus: How shall I not be afraid to lose him? In fine, turn thy prayers this way, and see what comes.
In another place he wrote, “A prayer of the Athenians: Rain, rain, O dear Zeus, down on the ploughed fields of the Athenians and on the plains.- In truth we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion. ”
We might observe from this two things: that the morality of Marcus Aurelius was superior to that of today’s conservative Christians. There is nothing noble about imprecatory prayer. As he said, why not pray for the strength to endure rather than overturn? And that Macus Aurelius was himself unsure of the efficacy of prayer.
Which brings us to the prayers of Texas Governor Rick Perry for rain to end Texas’ drought. Rick Perry and his fellow conservative Christians are so certain that prayer works that they insist prayer ended the drought even when it is visibly obvious that the drought continues. Other conservative Christians have tried to pray away abortion, which also clearly has not worked, for the simple reason that not enough American voters want to ban abortion.
It isn’t at all about what God wants. The Founders did not factor God into their equations. God, as I have said here before, does not get a vote. You do. I do. Other Americans of eligible age and citizenship, do. God does not.
It is not, in short, part of the American democratic process, to allow God to set aside the voice of the people when it comes to their leaders. The Constitution forbids God this power.
Now of course, conservative Christians will react to this assertion with outrage. No man-made law can set aside the will of God.
How then do they explain the failure of their prayers? Did God abide by the Constitution? Did man-made law pre-empt any action he might have taken to unseat President Obama on Election Day?
And if not that, then why? As Marcus Aurelius said, did God lack the requisite power to act on our presidential election?
We might ask ourselves of these prayers whether, assuming those who pray actually believe in their efficacy, why they vote at all? Isn’t it sufficient to simply pray Romney into the White House, and stay at home, out of the rain and all those long lines?
Why enact anti-abortion legislation? Just prayer it away. The same with Marriage Equality.
Perhaps these prayers just help them cope. It is a form of therapy. Susan Kwelecki writes that “Religions promise relief from the spectrum of human ills – hunger, sickness, guilt, death, military defeat, crime, and so forth.” We can add to that “presidents you don’t like.”
She writes that other religious rituals also mitigate against suffering, “including prayer, worship services, rites of passage, and confessional and purification ceremonies.” She includes magic as well, which ought to make Wiccans happy. Perhaps a nakiehappypagandanceoflove can drive away the evil monotheists and their true/false religious distinctions once and for all.
Eugen Schoenfeld wrote in 1985 of the inhibitory force of religion, which, he says, “produces an opposition to social and political change” but also “a sense of commitment and loyalty to the ruling elite.”
Okay, so we know where the wheels came off for Barack Obama. He represented not only political but social change. Can’t have that. And loyalty promptly went right out the window. Religion, writes Schoenfeld, has been shown to have a “conservatizing” influence, which is ironic given that religion is constantly changing and evolving, and subject to forces of syncretization.
Schoenfeld quotes Durkheim (1947) as saying, “The destiny of the State, was closely bound up with the fate of the gods worshiped at its altars. If the state suffers reverses, then the prestige of its gods declined in the same measure – and vice versa.”
We can clearly see the enduring influence of Pagan thought on modern Christian thought. All we here about again and again is the destiny of the state, expressed in the modern form as American exceptionalism. Obama, being of not only the wrong race to be part of the ruling elite, but allegedly of the wrong religion, affects not only the prestige of the State but the prestige of the Christian God, who supposedly chose America for a special, divine role in the world.
Stark (1966), Shoenfeld further points out, stressed the sacred nature of the ruler, who was either a god himself or a representative of God, “or his steward.” How can Barack Obama be a representative of God, the only God who could possibly be identified with America (!) when he is some sort of Kenyan anti-colonialist Muslim???
No wonder they’re praying their asses off.
What an unhappy muddle for conservatives. And they are locked into their misery with no way out. Their reality bubble circumvents our shared reality matrix and locks them into an endless cycle of derailment. They will never get to where they are going because in order to protect themselves from disillusionment they have taken the train off the tracks.
They cannot vote Obama away, and they cannot pray him away. Cut-off from our shared reality, they cannot cope with or properly analyze the truth of their situation. They are limited to the ineffable workings of the divine will.
The result? They just keep praying.
Their prayers will never come true, just as Jesus will never come back. But they can’t allow for these possibilities. They have been taken out of consideration (the train off the tracks).
And of course, if you are doing God’s will, you can’t possibly be wrong so you can’t even conceive of the need to change anything.
They are left with the unpalatable fact – from their perspective – that, as Dobson put it, “People like that were praying all over this country and the Lord said no.”
What logically follows, according to Dobson, is that because God said no, we are now living in a “time of judgment.” Obama won, Dobson concluded, because God decided he can still make “use of him.”
We can see that nothing they have been told is true, is true. Conservatives can blame Fox News, as has become popular in the wake of the Romney fiasco, but the viewers are as much to blame as the news. Each drove the other. They were mutually dependent in an endless feedback cycle.
Fox News should be seen as much as a form of apologia as a form of propaganda, and, perhaps, as a form of public prayer, endlessly recited. A prayer that reality is exactly as it needs to be, a reality more amenable to belief than the really real, which is the domain not only of liberals, but of Satan.
Be glad, my friends, that you are not conservatives, consigned to a nightmare of their own construction and from which there is no awaking.
 Susan Kwilecki, Religion and Coping: A Contribution from Religious Studies. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43 (Dec 2004), 477-489.
 Eugen Schoenfeld, Religion and Loyalty to the Political Elite: The Case of the Presidency. Review of Religious Research 27 (Dec 1985), 178-188.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.