Never Trust a Viral Prayer
A reader recently forwarded a rip-roaring e-mail titled "In Defense of Prayer." It circulates widely on the Web, is attributed to CBS commentator Andy Rooney and apparently originated as a defense of team prayer at football games.
"Keep this going around the globe," read one of the forwarding messages.
"Folks, this is the Month that we RE-TAKE AMERICA!" read another.
Seeing as I don't think America is being held hostage by anyone, this e-mail seemed like a warning: The Christians are mad as hell, and they aren't going to take it anymore!
Which is a little confusing for this happy-as-can-be Christian, but never mind.
"I don't believe in Santa Claus," the essay begins, "but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December."
You see where this is going.
"This is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles. ... Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect — somebody chanting Hare Krishna?"
"If I went to a football game in Jerusalem I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer." Ditto for Muslims praying over soccer in Baghdad, Buddhists praying over pingpong in China. Because, you know, they all get along in those countries and nobody ever fights about religion.
Crescendo: "Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights. ... Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.
"God, help us. And if that last sentence offends you, well, just sue me."
Pretty powerful, coming from Andy Rooney and all.
There's only one problem: Andy Rooney didn't write it. Nor did Paul Harvey, who also is often misidentified as the author.
Snopes.com, a great Web site for debunking rumors, explained that most of the essay was written by Nick Gholson, a sports writer for a small newspaper in Texas. Most people don't know Gholson, so — poof — buh-bye, Gholson, hello, Andy Rooney.
Sort of an upgrade for God, except I'm thinking he doesn't need it.
The e-mail arrived just after I'd read writer Zev Chafets' thoughtful article about prayer in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
It's a challenging piece, in part because Chafets quotes so many religious leaders with different ideas about how to pray.
Is a prayer stronger in a group? Does God hear traditional prayers better than those of our own creation? Is prayer intuitive, or do we need the "experts" to guide us?
My favorite observation came from Rabbi Marc Gellman: "But really, when you come right down to it, there are only four basic prayers. Gimme! Thanks! Oops! and Wow!"
Chafets cited a recent study by the Pew Forum showing that 75 percent of Americans pray at least once a week.
But only 39 percent of those Americans attend worship services once a week or more. I wonder whether stuff like the bogus Andy Rooney "prayer" is part of the reason.
Religion has become the weapon of choice for many people in this country, particularly the far right, and it's alienating a growing number of Americans. A lot of us don't buy into a version of God who picks sides, not between good and evil, but between Democrats and Republicans. We don't believe God cherry-picks religions, either.
On Monday, I talked to a pastor who is also a dear friend. I bombarded her with questions, including this one: "Do we really need a set of rules or an intermediary for God to hear us?"
She smiled and shared a version of a Jewish tale about a simple farmer who failed to get to temple on time for prayers he could not recite on his own.
He bowed his head and prayerfully recited the alphabet.
"God," he said, "I trust you to put the letters in the right place."
For me, that's far more inspiring than an e-mail that never was written by Andy Rooney.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, "Life Happens" and "... and His Lovely Wife." She is a featured contributor in a recently released book by Bloomsbury, "The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's 'A More Perfect Union.'" To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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