“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.” – Dan Quayle
(I dare you to read this entire thing without falling asleep. I double dare you to read it aloud in a public place. If pressed for time, best to leave it alone, as it might get you arrested in some places.)
Sometimes I think folks ain’t got a lick of sense. You’d think modern people should’ve moved a bit beyond the superstitions of the Dark Ages, or at least a step or two past the invention of the stone ax. There is a rare group of human beings that are good people of faith. Their faith leads them to want to be helpful to others, to be kind, understanding, and set worthy examples of behavior for the rest of us. I’d like to think you are one of those.
Imagine the way it must have been sitting around some ancient campfire long before even the most rudimentary scientific methods were contrived. One man looks into the sky and sees something he has not noticed before. So he points and asks, just as you or I might do:
“What is that?”
A clever one in the group, feeling the call, answered saying:
“That is the god of flea infestations. I know a magic chant that will make him leave you alone. It only costs a dollar.”
Well, with the exception of your religion which I’m sure is the correct one, that’s pretty much how the rest of them got started. More and more, people were easily tricked this way, and after a while, most of the visible stars and planets had been franchised. Then the simple fee of a dollar was translated into a percentage of gross, so most of the franchise owners began to do quite well.
Over the last six thousand or so years of written history, man has catalogued and believed in perhaps a little less than four thousand supernatural beings, most of which were considered to be gods at one time or another. From time to time, heated and often violent arguments would break out between franchisees. Venus and Aphrodite were both the same planet, and the Greeks and Romans fought about it for centuries. Both claimed she was the goddess of love, and they brutally killed each other to prove it.
We know various sects, religions, and denominations have been disagreeing with each other about their ideas of God throughout recorded history. And, it is likely to have gone on way before that since different cultures developed a variety of methods for dealing with their own dead for thousands of years before anybody found it necessary to write anything down.
Archeologists have found evidence of pre-historic burials including flowers and personal items. Besides a sense of loss and a show of respect, it strongly indicated belief systems of some kind were in place even though there were no words written at the time to verify it. It’s hard to get around the idea of a strong indication that there must have been a belief in the continuance of the personality or spirit that might be eased into an afterlife. Later on, the earliest forms of writing would give evidence it had likely been commonly believed for a long time.
With the advent of writing, which lead to taxation and the need of prison systems, we now have evidence that man has not always been as sophisticated as he is today with his concepts of the supernatural. According to textbooks, and statues made in honor of deities throughout antiquity, it may shock you to know that many of them ran around completely nude all the time. Some never had as much as a stitch on at any time, or thought about it. The expression: “keep your shirt on” is a mortal one, and at no time has anyone hearing it thought it was being directed at the Deity. No sane person would intentionally wish to aggravate a higher power that they believed could cause them to burst into flame or be turned into a toad, now would they? Of course not!
Even when people were expected to wear at least a wide belt or a hat, these gods could run around naked as jaybirds without any condemnation whatsoever. But for some reason, several of these blatantly unadorned guardians of irreproachable righteousness would go completely psychotic at the very sight of various and sundry mortal human body parts, including faces, hands, and ankles, not to mention belly buttons and other stuff, and particularly if they are parts belonging to females not still nursing their mothers.
As odd as this may seem, throughout ancient times and even today, this prejudicial practice has been particularly good news in the garment trade in some regions perhaps more than others. Furthermore, even if the god might be naked, to come into a worship service often required mere humans to put on even more clothes than they might otherwise. Go figure that! Now there is the widely held assumption that dispensations for relaxing the rules are allowed at the beach or swimming pool, as long as there are no glass containers, horseplay, or running.
Everything imaginable including rot and decay has had some kind of supremacy monitoring activities as if by department and precinct. Some were thought to be powerful beyond limit as long as you’d stand where they could see you. Yet some of the others were noted to have less substantial dominions. A spirit of mirth might be able to conjure a laugh, but had no rightful place to help with harvesting grain.
A few had control over the kinds of fruits that make wine, but were useless in a barroom fight resulting from excessive use of the wine, much less a war. Still others had title to specific activities such as hunting or fishing, but couldn’t help you if you cut your hand on a sharp rock or stumped your toe. Some were particularly burdened with fertility and rationed it with agonizing intensity until the inventions of automobiles and drive-in movies.
Other divinities got to play with lightning, fire, wind and rain, and hold court over the changing of seasons. Some were beyond reproach, while others were capable of outright stupidity resulting in being chained and placed in time out. All of them were thought capable of messing with mankind, and were often given credit for it in ways you would not believe if I had two months to explain it to you.
As time went on, and with the cost of building temples escalating like everything else, it seemed preferable to latch on to the ones that kept an open playbook. More and more, societies wanted their deities to be able to run decathlon type events, and control the outcome of elections as well as other duties. So the herd was thinned by ceremonial consolidations, but usually not without bloodshed among outspoken mortals resistant to change.
Mankind has always enjoyed killing each other as long as some supreme being was responsible for authorizing it. Whenever things got dull, a holy man would always be available to receive some new rule authorizing homicide, especially if one of the chiefs or high priests didn’t like the intended recipient of this new honor.
For some reason, many cultures around the globe had gods that had it in for two kinds of women: those who were particularly credited with innocence, and those who might not be. The political ramifications of such beliefs have throughout most of human history maintained women as mere property similar to cattle. Chieftains, kings and high priests could own as many as they wanted, and could kill them or have them put to death for so much as a hangnail or any reason that might cause a chief to feel inconvenienced.
In time, most of the earlier fearful spirits that instructed virgins to be cast into active volcanoes have had their licenses revoked. Today, most of those kinds of gods have been sentenced to a lifetime in the chronicles of mythology, and to linger there without bail. The severity of this is intensified by the mere fact that immortality is problematic to a life sentence, especially when there is no hope of parole.
Some are of the opinion that since a few of these ancient deities were a bit weird, it’s likely that superstitious people may have made them up to explain phenomena like thunder, snow melting, flying squirrels, identical twins, albinos, hiccoughs, and various other diseases. Over time, stories of them merged with the stories of others, and those who couldn’t get a good seat in proper mythology were relegated to the department of redundancy department.
Now, none of this is intended to throw disparity on the one true religion, that being the one that you believe in. The aforehand is to simply point out that not all human beings are as smart as you, and their beliefs might come up short when compared to yours, that is all. But this does not take away from the fact that many folks to this very day still believe all kinds of things. Statistics suggest there is no consensus or majority. No matter what a person believes, most of the rest of the human population thinks they are wrong. While I often question statistics, I see evidence that this observation may be true.
In many places, such diversity would be illegal, but not in The United States. The freedom to believe whatever you want to is protected by a contract called The Constitution as long as you don’t believe you’re entitled to speed in school and hospital zones, or park in front of a fire hydrant.
This freedom was not extended to the native Americans. Since it was assumed all of their gods were underdeveloped, the natives had to be converted to a more civilized religion which required killing about ninety-five percent of them to ensure their salvation. I’m sure some soldiers felt frustrated when ordered to murder small children and pregnant women, but since it was done to promote charity and forgiveness, and had been prayed about ceremoniously before going into battle, it was okay. After all, they had to uphold their duty, and uphold the values of the God of mercy. Besides, real-estate was involved.
Today in this country, membership in a religion is not required by law which seems to upset some who would want freedom of religion annulled, and all citizens made to come under their rule. I know you find that hard to believe, but it’s true. In the meantime, religion and government are expected to keep separate checking accounts, though neither seems to be any good about balancing them. Governments and religious groups all seem to be constantly clamoring to solve revenue shortage issues, and no matter how much they pray about it, any hope of a solution always seems to evade them, as if it were some immutable law.
There is often a noticeable difference between what folks say they believe, and how they act. Though it might be noticeable to me and you, most folks don’t seem to notice it at all. It may come as a surprise to you, but all over the world and even in our own country, people have committed all kinds of atrocities against each other in the name of brotherly love, charity, honor, fairness, peace, forgiveness, unselfishness, respect, kindness, and dignity. They’ve killed each other’s children over differences of how their mothers taught them to pray, and do not seem to be ashamed of it. As a reward for such behavior, they expect to go to Heaven, but of course I will not ask you to pass judgement or render an opinion on that at this time.
This squabbling does go on, even today. In some places, in the attempt to be civil and keep knives sheathed and guns holstered, compromises have taken place so that public ceremony will be open to all, and not offend anyone. This is always expected to result from standing still while a member of the group steps forward to say something. Whether what is said be intelligent or not doesn’t matter. The presumption that a speech of some kind will anesthetize everyone’s brain has some precedent for those of you who might remember taking advanced algebra.
The squabblers have attempted to come up with a speech that will be acceptable to everyone regardless of what they believe. Further, they believe this speech will also be acceptable to all deities without exception. That it has never happened at any time in human history doesn’t seem to make the project seem the least bit problematic, and so they march on as if they do this sort of thing every day.
They will call this speech a prayer but it will not be a prayer; it will be a speech. If it were a silent prayer, it might be sincere, but since it is to be given in public, it will be more like hair tonic: it won’t grow anything, but it tends to allow folks to feel better about themselves momentarily. And towards this worthy end, the speech writers begin their noble task.
There are three kinds of speeches: a speech to persuade; a speech to inform, and a speech to entertain.
Deities who are without error in their willfulness cannot be persuaded to change their thinking about anything, nor would they need persuading. To be able to change one’s mind under those circumstances implies it possible to improve upon perfection. That would be like dropping a frog into a barrel of fine whiskey expecting to make the whiskey taste better, though it would surely improve the taste of the frog.
Those who are believed to be omnipotent and all knowing would have no need of being informed. To think you could come up with a single thing they have not already thought of would be foolish and conceited. If anything new needs adding, the all knowing should be able to come up with it without our help, I’m fairly sure of that.
That leaves the speech to entertain. I challenge you to tell a joke to your neighbor who has heard it before, and expect him to laugh. If he does, it is a kind deception intended not to humiliate you. That you will have entertained your neighbor is not likely to be true. So with that, you cannot pull a fast one over on the all knowing. One believed to be all knowing should by definition be able to predict everything you are going to say even before you say it. Have you ever heard a high priest or rabbi face the alter and say:
“Pick a card.”
No, I dare say you have not. There would be no point in it.
Having used up all of the real categories for legitimate speeches, it only leaves the false speech–the speech to impress. There is no such thing, because it doesn’t work. Well, I say that, but it does work during election years, but only for those who’ve already made up their minds to be impressed in spite of anything that might make sense to you or me.
Since rhetoric usually fails to impress mere mortals of any high intelligence, I suspect it would be practically impossible to expect the trick to work on any of the world’s current deities, and certainly not on the one true God that you happen to believe in. Besides, for anyone who says they believe in God to actually think they could produce a single piece of work that would be the least bit impressive to their concept of the cause of all creation, would be a kind of admission of being a mental pauper–in fact, bankrupt without so much as enough rational thought left over to step inside during a thunderstorm.
So that leaves us to come up with a new variety. A speech not to persuade, inform, entertain, or impress, but one to simply…satisfy. That you can satisfy everybody for very long is a bit of a stretch. It would be a monumental task, and rare. But evidently it should be easy enough, since humble public servants will look about expecting to find such a thing laying around with no price tag on it. It would be similar to expecting to find a new no smoking policy that smokers will be happy about.
That coming up with a speech that is compliant without complying to anything in particular except that it be a speech of no substance whatsoever be a worthy project, is close to the kind of idiocy the general public has come to expect from those they elect to hold the sacred trust of public office. It is consistant that coming up with such a speech that will have a benefit to it of any lasting value, will rank with the kind of brilliant thinking that gave us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of Thalidomide to ease morning sickness.
Why is a public speech necessary at all? If folks demand it have a part on the program, and their motives be sincere, why not allow a moment for “personal business” during which time each individual has the freedom and privacy of thought to sincerely pray whatever they wish to pray, to whomever they wish to pray it? For that matter, some might wish to do some Yoga, Taekwondo, or just stretching exercises, and some might want to practice their multiplication tables or foot positions for their upcoming ballet recital.
Why not just declare a brief time of no eye contact for anyone who doesn’t want to look at anybody else. You could pass out large paper bags the people could use to put over their heads to hide their faces. Ask everyone to put cell phones and other audible distractions on mute, and no texting. You could also ask folks to keep bodily contact at a minimun unless a few friendly folks standing close to each other would wish to hold hands? That wouldn’t be so awful, would it?
You can’t call it a moment of silence for some orders require a little humming, chanting, clanging and rattling objects, and outright yelling intended to either wake their deity up from a nap, or otherwise at least get some attention. Now I’m not all that big on making up rules, but it would seem sensible for anyone who’s deity is that hard of hearing be asked to take care of business outside before coming into the meeting.
Such racket as may be required to keep congregations awake will not be necessary at municipal meetings like you might expect during regular religious ceremonies. Folks attending civic events are likely to be hopped up on adrenalin and wide-awake mad as a wet hen about something, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place. The exception here would be elected officials. They can sleep all they want since whatever might concern the individual citizen will be of no interest or importance to them.
So what might be the proper and civilized behavior of taking a moment of silence or pause for personal thought and reflection just won’t do for everybody. I don’t doubt that you and I could do it, but the vast majority of folks will have issues with it.
If you really want a sincere honesty in keeping with how a lot of people really feel deep inside, it would be better for you to call for a moment of noise. Folks would whip out kazoos, harmonicas, tambourines, small drums party horns, and ipods. Those without forethought to bring an instrument might hit the panic button on their keyring; snap their fingers, bark and meow like dogs and cats, imitate bird calls, blow their noses, stomp their feet, or yodel. Such a thing as that might be followed by a moment of laughter, which wouldn’t hurt most people to try once in a while.
Why have I said all this? Are people really having problems about how to deal with their belief systems in mixed company? Well, yes they are.
As a matter of fact, they are having this very problem right now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina which as you know is an absolute haven for righteous people. I am not making this up. It has been brought to my attention that Myrtle Beach has approved a deity-free prayer to be offered at all their public meetings.
If you wish, you may read the newspaper article for yourself:
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports the prayer is supposed to include people of all faiths. They’ve previously used local clergy, but as a government, they cannot ceremoniously give preference, or call on any one specific deity, while ignoring the other deities that may be represented among the belief systems of the citizenry. Some did not like the idea of adopting a standard invocation, especially some of the preachers who resent anybody telling them how to pray, including Jesus. But folks also agreed they did not want unnecessary litigation with various sects and denominations suing each other. That could run into money.
After reading the prayer, I found it falls short of perfection if it is to cover the entire spectrum of beliefs and faiths. It may be fine for me and you since we are willing to go along with some concessions out of the spirit of cooperation, but some others are certain to take issue.
After checking with several other highly refined theologians, scholars, and taxi drivers (who have in fact heard everything), I think it might be especially unacceptable to the Universal Paranormal Universalists, The Cosmic People of the Light Poles, The Himalayan Missionary Chorus of Zen, The Unreformed Reformationists of the Babylonian Captivity, The Revived Newburg Pastafarians, The Blessed Women of Contrived Destiny, The Free-For-All Apocalyptic Deacons of Charitable Wrath, The Primitive Church of the Subterranean Genius, The Divine Apostles of the Shirley Temple, The Iambic Pentametered Sanctimonialists, The Rejuvenated Nectarine Revivalists, The Janitorial Holiness Saints of the Rectified Sanitary Communion, and of course The Evangelical Black Robe Dudeists. So I decided to write one myself, and submit it now for your consideration.
Under considerable pressure and emotional strain, I have struggled day and night to come up with a one size fits all prayer that isn’t protected by trademark. It had to be generalized, and work with all operating systems. It must have no recognizable face. The wheels cannot be designed to fit the tracks of any specifically unique railroad, but the “clickety clack” should resonate well with all who hear it, and assume some simple common track is sufficient for all destinations, which of course is not now, nor has it ever been true. Additionally, it is to be served without salt, pepper, or gravy of any kind.
In other words, it won’t be a prayer at all. It will be reduced to a kind of circus event. So I’ve come up with just that–a prayer that is in no way a prayer. Since it is not really a prayer, there is really no point in saying it except to know that the intended audience is not the Deity at all. No, it is for the benefit of people gathered in need of hearing what they believe will be “the best we could do under the circumstances”. So here we go:
Our Heavenly to whom it may concern, we rattle our keys in our pockets, yea those who have keys, for which we are truly grateful, or reasonably so in case you had anything to do with it.
Given our inability to know all things, it is our wish that if you do know all things, or even have a good overview of most things, please tell us why many of us were expected to wear a tie to this gathering. Forgive those who did not wear a tie, unless you need to forgive those of us who did–either way, we’ll make no fuss about it.
Oh apparently high, and reasonably presumed to be powerful one, otherwise, why would we come to you begging and pandering, since I’m not allowed to be specific enough to know if I’m even facing in the right direction, much less anything else that you might otherwise expect from ceremony which this is not, under penalty of law.
Thou great consensus, and moderated provider of this and that which we dare not point out specifically as others might disagree, we humbly admit that some of us are probably thinking thoughts about going to the beach later, and even about sex. We ask that no note be taken of those who are now at this time looking around at their neighbors.
But we realize there is a chance that, depending on your mood, this information about our distractions will extremely upset you as history has made so plainly clear, so forgive us, fully assuming you have such authority in this jurisdiction. You may disregard this request if your regular worshippers expect you to be playing a flute.
Even so, if you cannot find it in your heart–some say loving –some say angry–some say jealous, personally I do not wish to pin you down as to whether it matters one way or the other how we might feel about it, spare us of plagues if you want to. But if you don’t want to, we’ll understand, or at least act like we do.
In as much as we raise or redirect our voices in the direction of your habitat, etherial or otherwise, forgive us our non-committal gaze into space as if we knoweth not from whence thou cometh. Although I do have my own suspicions, as do all of us gathered here, protocol restricts our verbal declarations for fear of conflicting geometry. But I’m sure you know what we mean individually though we can’t say it out loud.
Please allow us to seem as one mind in one group even though you know it isn’t quite the way things are. After all, fair is fair, and you know all of us are required to do the very same thing during the choral readings and vespers we feel obligated to join in our own camp.
We grovel and beg that thou help us to appear to overlook the things we would normally hate about our neighbors, for which we’ve all paid good money to be taught. At least allow it to appear so during this time of invocation, we beseech thee.
We humbly ask, inasmuch as many of us present today have no idea what humble means outside of our own individual smug opinions of it, that you make all fines, penalties and other purgatorial conditions fair and equal as some in our midst are on short rations and otherwise limited incomes.
This is not to say we wish that those among us of means are to take the blunt of thunder, either. We just ask you consider our deductibles in as fair a way as you’d see fit.
On now, yet so it is not for brevity’s sake, but that several of our seniors might need to go to the bathroom, we ask that you give note to our contrition as we wrap this up.
Dear, if that isn’t being too personal and forgive us if it is, Oh Ye who art the deep and most high awareness or maybe not, it is our sincere and fervent cry to know if thou doest speak English?
If so, and to allow for the continuing and endless stream of more private supplications, please press one; if Spanish, press two, (additionally insert all languages represented by the group present, and with corresponding digits as may be required). Amen.”
In a 1941 animated film produced by Walt Disney, Dumbo the Elephant could fly. But he would never try until he believed. For a long time, he believed in the magic feather which was just a trick played on his mind by a group of crows and a hapless mouse. The feather never did have a bit of magic in it. The magic was in the believing.
Eventually, Dumbo lost his grip on the feather, which was very frightening at first. Up ’til now, he’d believed solely in the feather, even though there was no real power in it. Now he had to believe in something else; something real that was a part of himself. He did, and that’s what saved him.
By the way, for those of you who will remember, what Dumbo believed became obvious by the course of actions he took, and not by anything he said. As a matter of fact, at no time in the story did he ever say a single word…out loud.