Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hindu Prayer in the Senate

I have not seen too many op-eds from Christian news papers on the three Christian activists who shouted down a Hindu prayer in the Senate recently. On July 12th a Hindu chaplain prayed a Hindu prayer in English, albeit it was worded very generally, to make it acceptable and relatable to all. Three protesters shouted out protests before this began saying, "there is no God but Jesus Christ", and "this is an abomination."Organizations like American Family Association deemed this prayer unconstitutional because the Constitution says we are one nation under God, not "gods". Messages on an online news site were filled with believers protesting this prayer. Similarly sometime ago there were protests about Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison taking oath of office with his hand on the Koran and not the Bible. The Christian community was aghast at this. On WMBI (Moody Radio), anchors that I respect spoke against this.
While I largely agree with the opinions of the Christian conservative community here is my opinion on all this:

1. A Hindu prayer offered on the senate floor is not unconstitutional. The founding fathers may roll in their graves if this news reached them, as one protester put it. But given the spirit of the constitution, which is one of letting the definition for God remain as was known, the prayer is not unconstitutional. Islamic and Jewish prayers have been offered before, so this is not unprecedented. Some Hindus claim Hinduism is monotheistic as well. Perhaps it could be considered monistic, but that is neither here nor there.

2. Protesters compare this event to Biblical Judah and Israel losing their way after the reign of Solomon, when kings offered sacrifices to foreign gods and idols. While as a Christian I believe that Hinduism is not the Truth, I do not see this parallel between ancient Israel and modern day America. Israel was specifically founded as a nation set apart by God for his chosen people. America had its roots in pilgrims crossing the ocean to practice their faith in liberty but the nation itself was not founded for Christians only. There were freemasons and atheists among the founding fathers, but in general the United States was birthed during a period of religious fervour which deepened with the Great Awakening, and many prominent thinkers and leaders were Christian. Some were Mormon. But the US is not a theocratic state.

3. Secularists abuse the concept of the separation of the church and the state. They want to purge all religion from the public arena. Thus they do not want Jesus' name to be mentioned in a Senate prayer because that would mean identifying a particular religion. Going by Ravi Zacharias' definition, secularism is when "religious ideas, expressions and institutions have no right to influence society." In that sense, the US was not formed as a secularist state. The separation of the church and state does not prohibit Christians or any other religious group to practice their faith in the public square or in Government buildings, offices and so on. Claiming that it does goes against the spirit of the Constitution.

4. Protesters claim that allowing the Hindu prayer would ensure the downfall of the US. This is a tricky argument. The converse of this is that if this prayer were not allowed on the Senate floor the US wouldn't fall. This borders on the ridiculous. Whether this prayer is allowed or not, the US will be dealt with according to its faith. As of now I do not believe the US is a Christian nation. This is not due to immigration or foreign missionaries from other faiths being allowed to preach here. This is because Americans have lost their faith as well as their morality. Hedonism, materialism and indifference to the faith of their fathers have made this country (albeit not to the extend to which Europe has fallen) a pagan country. Each person will stand before Christ to give an account and the collective effect of fallen and unredeemed lives will be felt on national life as well. The Hindu prayer in the Senate was simply an expression of the social milieu- that of a pluralistic society. In the past, when the US was mostly Christian (truly or nominally; we won't debate that), such a prayer would be out of the question because the social milieu did not warrant it. Today there are Hindus in the US, and there are also people who don't care whether a prayer is said on the Senate floor or not. In that social milieu such prayers will be said; and nothing in the Constitution argues against it.

5. Respondents in this online blog mentioned that India wouldn't allow Christian prayers in the Lok Sabha, the Caste System is evil, how Hinduism has bred so many social evils, and so on. None of this is germane to the issue. Regardless of how badly some of its adherents behave, the religion as such is practices by around a billion people, 2 million of whom live in the US. Many of them behave quite normally. This is the kind of argument which uninformed opponents usuallu use against Christianity, and I've often reminded them that a religion cannot be judged by its abuse. Even if you point to Hindu writings that point to sanctioning of the said evils, modern Hindus practise a different religion that what was written by obscurantist writers of the past. Some are violent, some are nationalists, some are inclusivists, some exclusivists, some simply peace-loving and interested in being left alone to go on with their lives. Just like us.

6. One respondent mentioned that we need to make sure that people who come to this country are Christians. That's interesting. Besides the fact that such a policy would make this little different from Saudi Arabia, I was wondering how one could ensure that only Christians remained in this country. If someone doesn't accept Jesus as their Lord by, say the age of 20, what happens? Does he/she get cast out? Christianity is about taking the message of salvation to the unreached, not shutting them out!

After all of this is said and done, am I happy that this prayer was recited? It's a tricky question. Let me put it this way. I'm happy the Senate upheld religious freedom by allowing the prayer. But I'm unhappy about the social milieu that led to this being a practice in the US. I'm unhappy about the shift in American culture.

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