Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Prayer - You're Doing It Wrong

So I'm back from NOTOCON VIII. The convention was great as usual, with lots of fascinating presentations and awesome folks from all around the country. Saturday was our formal banquet, and on that same evening it so happened that Texas Governor Rick Perry was holding a big stadium event in Houston inviting Christians to "pray for the economy."

"Pray for our economy!" says Doug Stringer of Turning Point Ministries. "Pray for our country! Pray for our businesses, for jobs!"

His sermon reverberates from the stage into the seats and bleachers of Reliant Stadium. Thousands of Christians—many of the 30,000 who've made it inside—get up and take his advice. They break into small huddles and start praying about the economy. Walking past them, I hear incredibly specific words like "investments" and "9.2 percent unemployment" and "downgrade." I see people tearing up, dabbing their eyes, praying even more. They have to finish quickly, before the next round of songs and prayers. They've already sat through three hours of them; there are four hours left to go.

The irony of this event going on in Houston at the same time that I was busy celebrating with my fellow accused "Crowley cultists" in Detroit strikes me as rather amusing, though I'll freely admit it's unlikely that the Order is even on Rick Perry's radar.

As a magician I don't see anything wrong with praying for the economy from a technical standpoint. After all, prayer and magick aren't all that different aside from terminology. Calling on spiritual forces to create real change in the material world is in fact precisely what many magical practices are all about. However, this bit gives me pause:

This is a lot like The Call. The promotional material for the next Call rally, in Detroit in November, explains that the city "has become a microcosm of our national crisis—economic collapse, racial tension, the rising tide of the Islamic movement, and the shedding of innocent blood of our children in the streets and of our unborn." But The Response is a little sunnier, says Finn. It's a complement to the 24-hour, 7-days-a-week prayers going on at some of the churches that organized this event.

"They have been praying and fasting for our nation for a decade," she tells me, standing right in front of the stage where Radiant Band is singing about how there's "no God like Jehovah."

The bottom line is that if these folks have been praying for the economy for the last decade they've been doing it wrong. Because from an overall economic standpoint the last decade has been pretty bad. The economy was doing well in 2000, and while some fallout from the tech bubble was expected real wages declined and continued to do so except for those at the very top who made out like bandits. All this culminated in the big financial crisis of 2008, from which we're going to be digging out for some time to come. That's some pretty bad magick right there, because during the period in question the economy went from generally healthy to seriously messed up.

Of course, the other disturbing possibility is that this is the world all these Christians have been praying for all along, though why any middle-class person would want to use their spiritual power to create a world in which their prospects for success are profoundly limited is completely beyond me. The few people who did become very wealthy over the course of the last decade did so at the expense of many of these same people who've been busy praying since most of them aren't upper-class. By any rational standard that's still a wrong application of spiritual power, it's just a different sort of wrong. The magick you do should benefit both you and others, not damage your family's financial prospects just so that you can entrench a wealthy elite that you will never join.

There's a lot to comment on in the article, and you should read the whole thing. Whether these people are acting out of ignorance or malevolence they clearly are not helping most of us. I do want to specifically mention this bit as well, because it reflects the ridiculous paranoia that seems endemic to this movement:

Pete Ortega, one of dozens of people who's come up from San Antonio on buses from John Hagee's church, doesn't go this far. There is nothing political about the event, he says. He just wants to praise Perry.

"If this is successful here," he says, "I think other governors, or other politicians, will come out of the closet. Christianity is under attack, and we don't speak out about it."

Christianity is not under attack in the United States. Sorry, it's just not. Churches do get criticized in the media and by various minority groups, but the idea that any of that constitutes a legitimate threat to its existence is just plain silly.

This diagram shows the percentages of the American population belonging to various religions. Do the math - Christians make up 78.5 percent of the total, and even on their own Protestants are a narrow majority at 51.3 percent. That's not an oppressed group, it's a majority group. In fact, most of the so-called "attacks" on Christianity are simply criticisms of Christians in the public square acting like douchebags, which should be discouraged no matter what your religious persuasion happens to be. I'm sure that most Christians would be pretty unhappy being accosted by me on a street corner waving around The Book of the Law and going on about Babalon and The Beast - which is why I wouldn't do it, even though it might make an amusing YouTube video.

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Anonymous said...

'...there's "no God like Jehovah." '

Ummm, isn't that supposed to be "There is no G-d but Allah"?

I'm confused by these crazy monotheists. And I do mean crazy.

They want the country to fail, because they want the "End Times". It's really, really, sick.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

Yeah, having actually overheard some discussions by people that are praying for the economy, I was forced to come to the conclusion that what they are really praying for is the return of Jesus (aka the end of the world). Based on my slim understanding of the Bible (which may actually be better than theirs because I am an unbeliever of a literature student), things actually have to get a lot worse before he decides to show up.

Ananael Qaa said...

It may very well be that this the missing piece - their goal is to mess up the economy so that (they think) Jesus will return and everything will be wonderful. Given that there's no solid scriptural support for the idea that the return of Jesus has anything to do with the economy, that pretty much would shift these folks from "ignorant" or "crazy" to "evil" in the overall scheme of things.

While I don't believe in metaphysical evil per se, I can't think of any better term to describe the desire to inflict suffering on a large number of other people for essentially no reason. "The governor told me to do it" is not a reasonable motivation, since it's well-established that following orders does not absolve you of responsibility for your actions.