Sunday, March 12, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: praying away bird flu

A piece in the Detroit News starts promisingly enough: when, and if, bird flu strikes, many people will be praying their hardest.
I would be praying as much as anyone if that were to happen, but I'll be darned if I'm going to wait until then. (Marianne Williamson in The Detroit News)
Good. There is much that can be done in advance, I'm thinking. Just sitting on our hands isn't the ticket.

Then it doesn't just go downhill, it goes over a cliff.
I'm praying right now that He will send this thing away. That is what I find perplexing about so much of organized religion today. For all its emphasis on doctrine and dogma, where is its emphasis on the power of prayer when we are confronted with our collective problems?


God can address group concerns as well as individual entreaties: He didn't part the Red Sea so only one or two could walk through. Religious leaders should be exhorting everyone, right now, to pray for God to turn away what could conceivably become one of the most horrific experiences of our lifetime.
OK. I'm willing to give this piece a nod for saying people shouldn't just be thinking of themselves. But the idea that you could stop a pandemic with prayer, even if has global scope, is plain medieval and not exactly the kind of preparation that's going to do the most good for our families, our neighbors or the common good. OK, maybe we tried to raise the Pentagon once upon a time by getting in a circle an chanting "Om" with Allen Ginsburg, but mass prayer is not my idea of smart flu prepping. Mobilizing the community to allow neighbor to help neighbor is what we need, not a bizarre communing with an all-powerful, invisible and allgedly benevolent force. If it/he/she/they were really all-powerful and benevolent we wouldn't be worrying about bird flu, genocide, rape, murder, poverty or any of a zillion other things we afflict on each other. If just all powerful, then this is devil worship.

If Ms. Williamson were suggesting animal sacrifice, magic incantations or Scientology to ward off bird flu we'd recognize it immediately for what it was. But if she counsels an interior monolog with an invisible being it gets published in a big city daily.

Think about it.