School Prayer: The Wrong Hill to Die On Explore More Content
We can fight this battle, and we may win, but at what cost?
Some have suggested that there is a causal relationship between taking prayer out of school and all the other bad things that happen in our society. I'm not sure that it's valid. The rooster crows and the sun comes up. Does that mean that the rooster causes the sun to come up? Because the sun comes up after the rooster crows, does it mean that if we killed the rooster we'll be perpetually in darkness? The point is that just because one thing happens after another doesn't mean that the second is caused by the first.
One could imagine a big town meeting. A guy wants to eat his rooster and there is a big hue and cry because they are afraid if he kills the rooster they will be in perpetual darkness. Now we know better because we understand about roosters and the solar system enough to know that this is kind of a silly thing, but this does depict the problems that can come from making an incorrect causal inference.
I suspect that may be the case here. It may be that the thing that has caused our decline was not pulling prayer out of schools, but there is a third thing that caused both the decline and the pulling of prayer out of schools. The reason that's important is that if we try to fix the problem by putting prayer back into schools, and taking it out wasn't the thing that caused the problem, then we are kind of fixing the wrong part of a machine that's not working. But in the process of fixing we could do more damage, and this is a big concern that I have. You have to be careful of making decisions based on what appears to be a causal relationship if there isn't in fact a causal relationship.
This brings me to my second point. You have to decide what hill you are going to die on. There are a myriad of issues that we may end up becoming embroiled over in a controversial head to head conflict with our culture. Abortion would be an example of one of those things. We can't be head to head with our culture on everything we believe. We've got to focus on the things that are most important so we focus on the things that are most critical and also the things so that we can have the greatest benefit for good.
We can fight this battle on prayer in schools, and we may win, but at what cost? It may end up alienating a whole bunch of people from Christian people, from other Christian thinkers and believers on Christian values just to get prayer back into school, and then we lose the battle on abortion. And I'm deeply concerned about that.
Basically my position is that it's not clear to me that prayer in school itself is a significant cause of our societal problems. Therefore, it isn't going to solve the problem to put prayer back in school, and it may actually create a greater problem. It may cost us quite a bit and it may give us little in return. We have to choose the hill we're going to die on. We have to fight aggressively for issues that really matter in the long run, and I'm not convinced that this one does.
There are other problems. Who are you going to pray to? You can't put prayer back in school the same way it was before it was lost. I do think it is tragic that prayer in schools led by the teacher to the God of the Bible was lost. I don't think it hurt the separation of church and state. We did it for almost 200 years and nobody saw a problem. I think it is tragic that it was lost because that gave the impression that religion is something that is by nature a private thing and has no place in the public square. Now it's gotten to the point that it seems you can't even pray privately in school. Your body cannot be in a public building while you are saying a prayer because it is some kind of violation of church and state. That's ridiculous. However, now that it's gone you will not be able to get back in the schools what was lost because if we reintroduce prayer in schools in any sense it's going to be kind of a benign civil religious prayer that satisfies everyone and offends no one.
This reminds me of a letter once written in the local paper in response to a letter I had written to the editor. This person was upset about the narrowness of Christianity and she ended her letter this way, "May God, Buddha, Krishna, Cosmic Consciousness and all that is, bless you." Apparently she didn't want to offend anybody so she included them all together. I think this is what we'll end up with if we do get prayer in schools.
What Christian can give an amen to that kind of prayer? Are we inclined to believe that this is the kind of prayer that the true God of the universe would be interested in listening to? I don't think so. I don't think we can approve of such a prayer.
So what are we going to end up getting? I think it may end up doing more harm than good by teaching people that as long as you have a kind of a benign, broad-brushed reference to some kind of deity then you are doing okay, and the details don't really matter that much. That would be a terrible message to send to young people.
For all of these reasons I am against the idea of reinstituting prayer in school. I think that we can't really get back what we lost, and I think that it may cause damage in terms of the relationship with Christians to culture than it actually solves, even though it is a well meaning thing.