5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of
a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
Ambrose Bierce - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Ellen Johnson at the Supreme Court
Photo by Rick Wingrove
Public prayer is not only embarrassingly inappropriate, it is direct defiance of the alleged words of the alleged son of the alleged Creator of the Universe.
Horizontal v. Vertical Prayer
Public displays of religion are just that - public displays. They have less to do with petitioning god than with impressing bystanders.
Public prayers are known as Horizontal Prayer. It is meant entirely for public consumption by whatever audience is at hand. Seems to me that it is the height of pretension to publicly assume the lead in a demeaning exercise in power-groveling, tacitly implying in the process that you are the most worthy person present to conduct a direct face-to-face with godhisownself. It also seems highly ironic, and more than a little hypocritical, that no one present actually expects anything to happen other than for the game to start.
Vertical prayer is when believers take a request directly upstairs without a master of ceremonies. These prayers are less bothersome to the public and, as they are frequently triggered by crisis, are usually much more sincere. A lot of the sincerity is attenuated, however, when the prayer has to do with new cars, not getting caught, or point spreads.
The further I get from religion, the more surreal it is to watch human
beings begging favors from the alleged creator of the universe - a creator
with a known penchant for either ignoring the pleadings of groveling supplicants
or for "answering prayers" in ways that can charitably be characterized
as ironic. Three things are odd about the 'answers': the answers seem to
correspond exactly to chance; they appear to affect atheists in exactly
the same ways as believers; and the answers never, ever diverge from the
laws of physics.
Every once in a while you can still find yourself in a public situation when someone will announce their intention to petition the lord of the Universe. The room will suddenly go quiet, partly from those who are on board for a little touchup with the godhisownself, but largely from those who are trapped and embarrassed. You can tell by the rolling eyes and the almost inaudible groans. But no one is ever likely to challenge or veto such a social blunder. It just isn't done. Even I am not sure exactly how that could even be done without coming off like a lunatic.
What is the proper etiquette in that situation? It seems to me that proper etiquette is not the burden of the offended.
But the religious do not seem prone to consider the feelings or philosophies of others present. Anymore, Jews, Hindi, Muslims, and Atheists are likely to be present. It is indefensibly insensitive to bring ones love of the baby geezus into a conversation when you do not know the mix. Or worse, to just arrogantly assume that such witnessing offends no one. Rather they seem to think that it is their unbridgeable right to bleat such inanities in any and every public or secular gathering.
So, my advice to those who feel that they just have to publicly profess their undying devotion to the alleged son of the alleged creator of the Universe is this: Please don't. No one cares, no one wants to have to deal with it, and it is no less rude than farting in an elevator.
Oh yeah, and praying in restaurants ? Even Robertson knows not to pray
The One Good Thing
There is only one good thing to be said for public prayer: you can easily locate all the other atheists. We are the ones unabashedly looking around and trading hand signals. There are way more of us than you think.