Published on 9/28/10 at Dallas Morning news
Christopher Hitchens is dying. Hitchens is a terrific writer, a bracing thinker and, in recent years, a famous and implacable atheist. He has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which might have slowed his debates with religious figures in support of his book God Is Not Great, but it hasn't tempered his tart observations on life.
Hitchens has, of course, an irreverent take on all the offers of prayer. Why, he asks, should God "be swayed by the entreaties of other sinners?"
"The offer of prayer can only have two implications: either a wish for my recovery or a wish for a reconsideration of my atheism (or both). In the first instance, a get-well card - accompanied by a good book or a fine bottle - would be just as bracing if not indeed more so. (Also easier to check.) In the second one, a clear suggestion is present: surely now, at last, Hitchens, your fears will begin to vanquish your reason. What a thing to hope for! ... My provisional conclusion is that those who practice incantations are doing so as much for their sake as mine: no harm in that to be sure and likely to produce just as much of a result."
So why do we pray for Christopher Hitchens? So he'll get better? So he'll see the light? Or for our own sake, not his? Why do religious people pray for others, even those who don't want the prayers?
Our distinguished Texas Faith panel -- some of whom have crossed paths directly with Hitchens, some of whom have watched him from afar -- reponded in a big way, after the jump:
MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas:
Our altruistic nature nudges us to wish well for others, and thus we pray for Christopher Hitchens for a speedy recovery. Prayers and wishes are the words to express one's desire to include everyone to be a part of the universal energy that we long for regardless of our race, ethnicity, sex, belief or ability. We are simply wishing him well in our own way that we know of, and I am sure he has the capacity to receive the good on its face value.
A few generations ago most people were not aware of the Wicca tradition, met a Maya or shook hands with an Atheist. It was a taboo to talk with an Atheist, and no one dared call himself one. And now, we have accommodated the atheists as a part of the fabric of our nation. Indeed about 10% of the population identifies themselves as Atheist, Agnostics or Humanists. Even the Saint Mother Teresa doubted the existence of God.
Our belief in the creator arrogates us to believe that our prayers "will make him see the light" and "feel good about ourselves" that we have done our duty in praying without realizing that there is not an element of consideration in a prayer transaction.
Prayer is an effortless way to overcome our own biases and pat ourselves for being a Good Samaritan; it is also an expression of our unselfishness. To save other's life, people have jumped into frozen lakes, on the rail road tracks and have risked beatings by protecting the unprotected.
It is rare for an individual to not pray for the other, particularly a public figure. However the exception was Rev. Pat Robertson when he justified Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness to deprivation of God's grace. Despite my difference with his policies, I prayed for Sharon to get well and bring about a positive change for all. My maternal grandfather gave the examples of Prophet Muhammad, who stood up and paid respects to the Jewish and other funerals. There is indeed an inclusive prayer that we recite at least once a day; May God forgive our parents, our teachers, our community, the living and the dead. It is part of bringing the whole humanity into the universal fold. We have come a long way; our language reflects our inclusive attitudes and acceptance of the otherness of other, indeed Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and several others have paved the way for an inclusive tradition.
The pluralism prayers we wrote a decade ago has now become even more embracive; we rephrased it as pluralistic wishes to be inclusive of those who do not believe in the theist version of the creator. Indeed, we redefined pluralism from "respecting the God given uniqueness of each one of us" to "respecting the genetic uniqueness of each one of us." We are one family and one world as the Hindu Scriptures call it "Vasudeva Kutumbakam".
There is something very powerful about inclusiveness, as the Jewish scriptures say Ve'ahavta la'ger, you must love the stranger for that guaranteed happiness which comes from falling the barriers, it feels home. Wishing well restores the positive energy that gets drained with exclusiveness.
So, we cannot fathom excluding any one from leading a good life and good wishes that are due every soul. The word prayer implies invoking God where as wishes reflect one's desire for the well being of other.
Please visit Dallas Morning News to read all the responses: http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/09/texas-faith-why-do-we-pray-for.html
MikeGhouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairs, Islam, India, Israel, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blog www.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily.