Even Memorial Day finds Americans fighting over religion and its practices.
Late last week, for instance, as the result of a court battle, a pastor on Houston was told that -- despite earlier instructions to the contrary -- he'd be able to mention Jesus Christ in a prayer today at a public event in Houston National Cemetery.
I loved the judge's smackdown of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which had reviewed the proposed prayer and ordered the pastor to remove any reference to Jesus:
"The government cannot gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat's notion of cultural homogeneity."
As the Houston Chronicle reported, the pastor had actually done a good, sensitive job of recognizing that people hearing the prayer might include non-Christians:
Rainey's prayer, less than a page long, includes the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and closes with one reference to Jesus: "While respecting people of every faith today, it is in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that I pray. Amen."
If I'm asked to pray in similar situations, I usually end this way: "We pray in all the names by which we know you." Sometimes I'll say, "I pray in Christ's name but we pray in all the names by which we know you."
Getting to fight about this religious stuff is one more blessing of being an American. Good for us. That's partly why the people we remember today died.
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A PAPAL MENTION OF HITLER'S RULE
I've been reading a new book (I'll write about it here later) in which the author is critical of Pope Benedict XVI for, among other things, not speaking much about his youth in Nazi Germany and what he did then. Then, just a day or two ago, B-16 mentioned exactly that period in a meeting with German Catholics. I hope everyone who lived through World War II will leave a record of their deeds and memories to help the world remember what happened and how to avoid repeating it.
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THE BOOK CORNER
On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence, by Peter Atkins. You may wonder why, on a blog about faith, I would introduce you to a book by one of the more aggressive atheists now writing. Good question. One answer is to point out again how such atheists -- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others -- so often misunderstand what they're criticizing. That's what Atkins does in this nonetheless intriguing, small book. (Which, by the way, is engagingly written and full of proper disclaimers about what science so far can prove.) For instance, quite early in this book, Atkins -- properly famous as a chemist and writer about chemistry -- dismisses the creation stories that religions tell. In fact, he says that "science has made more progress with elucidating the early moments, if not the inception, of the universe in the past 300 years than religion has made in the last 3,000." Do you see the problem? Religion's creation stories -- especially those in the Bible -- are not meant to explain much of anything about how the world got started. Rather, they are meant to tell us about the nature and character of God and about humanity's relationship to the divine. Now, that doesn't mean that people of faith haven't misused these stories as scientific accounts. Indeed, they have. And thereby they have caused all manner of problems. But in truth the Bible is not meant to be a scientific or historical textbook. It is meant, as I say, as a window through which to catch at least a glimpse of the divine and divine purposes. I hope Atkins is right that science will continue to dig into the mysteries of creation and tell us all it can about the origins of the cosmos and the origins of human life. People who understand what faith is really about should not be troubled with what science can prove, though we might be a bit troubled by the arrogance of some of the scientists, including Atkins, who speaks in rashly military terms in this book about "conquering the unknown." Atkins, by the way, has said elsewhere that religion is "completely empty of any explanatory content" and even "evil." So you know where he stands when he writes about our "being." I want him and other scientists to succeed in unraveling mysteries of our world. But spare me from attacks on straw men.