Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the second of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

The institution itself would have to promote the ceremony and/or deny or discourage any other religious view. The institution would also have to know that a religious ceremony was an integral part of the event.
(R) A public prayer is made such by association with a public institution, nothing else.
(MB) A public prayer is one that is spoken in public (i.e., in the presence of others), where the participation of others is requested, and where the proceedings are interrupted until the conclusion of the prayer. If an individual prays silently or without asking for an interruption in the proceedings, that would not be a public prayer.

(R) The first factor you mention above would have the effect of making it an *illegal* public prayer, at least in the U.S.
(MB) Granted. That's why I mentioned it. Someone can offer a public prayer without it being sanctioned.

(R) The second factor is basically not germane. If the public institution doesn't know a prayer is going to be said and an individual simply jumps up and starts praying, it's not a public prayer. It's an individual prayer spoken aloud in a public place.
(MB) You forget that the public prayer is accompanied by a request for others to participate and that the proceedings are interrupted by the prayer. The individual just doesn't "jump up and start praying".

In the case I made reference to, none of this was the case. It was one particular individual who demanded an interruption in the proceedings for his prayer to be offered. That makes it a "public" prayer. Why couldn't he have prayed in private prior to filling his plate? Instead, he forced his beliefs upon everyone in attendance.
(R) The incident as you relate it doesn't appear to meet the criteria of public prayer. You describe an individual who ill-manneredly burst into prayer to the complete surprise and displeasure of all others in attendance.
(MB) You're not reading what I'm telling you. He didn't "burst into prayer". He demanded an interruption in the proceedings and that the other join him in his prayer. How does this not make it a public prayer?

(R) If this happened at a private function it would be rude. At an official function, it would be wrong.
(MB) I agree in both cases.

(R) Basically, if this hail and farewell took place in a government office, during duty hours, and you were directed to be there, it was an official function and you should complain about the individual (but only about him/her, since under the circumstances you describe, the institution cannot be held accountable.) If it took place under other circumstances, it probably wasn't an official function and it's unlikely you can do anything about it.
(MB) I've already explained the circumstances. It was in a government office. It was during duty hours. Attendance was mandatory. The commander was present and did not prevent the prayer nor did he take any action against the instigator. This is an Equal Opportunity issue, but the EO office says that it is not a concern since "most of the attendees are Christians". Funny, they're mighty quick to defend the rights of all other minorities.

The "vast majority" don't mind prayers because they tend to share similar beliefs. However, simply being in the majority doesn't make one's beliefs or actions acceptable or "right". That is the rationale behind most anti-discrimination laws. Also, there doesn't need to be any "intent to harm" involved.
(R) I agree, the majority needs to respect the rights of the minority. However, most people, even the non-religious, don't mind generic prayers because such prayers are not inherently offensive or intended to harm or belittle others.
(MB) You've just repeated the same argument here. If you really believe that, you'll need to explain the rationale behind the sexual harassment laws that can get somebody busted for things like having a non-explicit swimsuit calendar hanging on his office wall. I can certainly understand banning "titty mugs", Playboy centerfolds, and other R-rated objects even if most people aren't bothered by them.
    You also have reintroduced the concept of "generic prayers". When somebody offers a prayer "in Jesus' name", how can that be "generic"? In fact, I can't say I've ever heard a prayer that wasn't addressed towards a specific deity. Certainly, Christians don't offer them.

(R) One very important point on anti-discrimination legislation should be mentioned here. These laws are aimed against actions which can be demonstrated to cause harm. For an action to be ruled discriminatory, it must be shown to cause harm to an individual or group. You can't cry discrimination simply because you don't like something, at least not and have it hold up in court. You must demonstrate that you've been harmed by the action or that it created an atmosphere in which you feared harm.
(MB) That's easy. A believer in another religion and/or deity could rightfully feel himself to be in an ethical dilemma if a Christian prayer is suddenly offered. To honor the prayer may be the equivalent of committing a severe heresy towards his religion or deity and he may feel that he risks the wrath of his deity. To openly challenge the prayer on theological or intellectual grounds may subject him to adverse actions from his supervisors or the scorn of his peers. This last point applies to non-believers, as well. In fact, I have been on the receiving end of such things in the past. So, the definite potential for harm exists and cannot be brushed aside just because it wouldn't affect everybody.

(R) And as you've pointed out, intent is irrelevant to claims of discrimination, other than its normal application to considerations of negligence vs. purposeful wrong doing.
(MB) Correct. So, doesn't this apply to public prayer issues, too?

If I put a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar on my office wall, I'm certainly not intending to disrespect women, but I would still be subject to sexual harassment claims by any female who didn't like it.
(R) I wouldn't hang an SI calendar in the office because of its content. Not because I feared a sexual harassment suit, but out of respect for the sensibilities of others. I might put up tasteful pictures of appropriately clothed supermodels, though.
(MB) What would be your definition of "tasteful"? I find nothing whatsoever that is offensive about a woman who is wearing a swimsuit (at least one that covers nipples and pubic areas). If one believes that the human body is the creation of God, how can that person consider his creation to be "offensive"?

(R) (I don't consider a string bikini appropriate clothing for a picture hung in a business office.)
(MB) What's wrong with it? If it's not illegal for a live person to wear such clothing in public, why should it be illegal to hang a picture of that person on an office wall? I realize that some people may be offended by it. I also realize that some men are offended by women who wear pants and/or suit jackets and that others are offended by men who wear earrings or have long hair or women who wear makeup or have tattoos. Obviously, there's a line that has been drawn somewhere.

(R) Using the same reasoning, I wouldn't want openly Christian prayers at an official office function. However, I wouldn't mind inoffensive generic prayers at an unofficial gathering. That's because a prayer, like a picture, is made offensive or non-offensive by its content, not by the simple fact it is a prayer.
(MB) Agreed. But, once again, we're back to the concept of a "generic" prayer. I have no problem taking a moment to reflect on the good things in life, but Christian prayers always invoke God and/or Jesus. No such prayer can be called "generic".

"Deeply offended"? I doubt it. Actually, it seems to depend more upon who else might be around. In small and private groups, people tend to say what's really on their minds. These same people most often toe the line of political correctness in larger groups.
(R) I don't much care if you doubt it or not.
(MB) Why am I not surprised at this?

(R) It is a fact.
(MB) A few anal-retentive people does not make a general "fact".

(R) The people I associate with most closely, my family and friends, do not make or approve of racist and sexist remarks and are deeply offended by such. We don't merely toe the line of political correctness in either private or public, but instead try to be fair and just in all circumstances.
(MB) You must hang with a really fun crowd, eh? Seriously, though, I've heard many people express "outrage" or "offense", but it's usually whenever somebody says or does something against *them*. These same folks often make what could be considered to be offensive remarks against others and don't seem to have any problem with that. Just don't step on *their* toes! I think this is more an indication of insecurity than any real principles of behavior.

(R) Of my other acquaintances, I won't presume to know their private behavior, but I find their public behavior in this area to be good and prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.
(MB) This is in accordance with my earlier comment.

(R) From your disbelief in this area, I can only infer the reverse is true of you and your associates.
(MB) You can infer that I don't take offense at anything as simple as a careless or crude remark. You can also infer that I don't have a lot of anal-retentive friends.

When's the last time you heard a truly generic prayer offered? While it's certainly possible to do this, almost all prayers specifically refer to the deity whose favor is being sought. If it is truly generic, it's difficult to see how it could even be called a "prayer".
(R) I've been to dozens of military banquets over the years. The base chaplains' office always provides open and closing prayers at these functions and I can't remember ever hearing a specific deity mentioned in such a prayer. Generally, they open with "Almighty God" or simply "God," and include no mention of any specific of any religion in their prayer. No mention of Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Brahma, or any other deity is made. Is that generic enough?
(MB) This is a scream!! When a prayer opens with a reference to "God", it can't possibly be "generic". It certainly wouldn't apply to any religion or belief system that doesn't believe in a supreme deity or in a deity that is all-powerful or in a deity that answers prayers. It also wouldn't apply to any religion who must use the specific name of their deity when they pray and that name is not "God". It also wouldn't apply to polytheistic religions. In fact, it's hard to see how it could apply to any non-Yahvistic religion.
    There's also the question of why the prayer must be offered at all or why the banquet couldn't just open with a moment of silence where one could pray privately in his own way if he so chooses. This would all but eliminate any problems.

(R) All-inclusive, generic prayers such as these are offered because it is understood that the military, just like America, has significant numbers of Jews, Muslims, and other religions among its ranks. I see no problem with such prayers and don't see why they would offended anyone.
(MB) Since you've already demonstrated an insufficient understanding of the meaning of the word "generic", I can see why you wouldn't find any problems with those prayers. The presuppositions inherent in the belief in God are just too strong.

(R) People who don't believe in God can simply stand silent, which is exactly what most of the people who believe in God do.
(MB) Once again, there is the problem of the ethical dilemmas that can be produced by forcing a non-Christian to honor the prayer. Why must the non-believers stand or be silent during the prayer?

(R) It seems to me that anyone who complains about such prayers is, in effect, saying, "I don't want to pray and I don't want anyone else to pray either!" Since such prayers do them no harm, this is pure selfishness.
(MB) It is presumptuous to say that the prayers can do no harm (as I've already demonstrated). Also, the question is not whether *anybody* should pray. The question is why the non-believer should be forced to honor the prayer. It is pure arrogance on the part of Christians to assume that their prayers won't do anybody any harm.

Nice evasion of the question. I'll assume that you agree that I have a valid point.
(R) Yeah, it was, wasn't it? And you do have a point. But my counterpoint is, that unless a prayer is openly biased toward a specific religion, there is no reason for offense.
(MB) And, the evasion continues unabated. Let me restate the original question and give you another chance to give me a straight answer. Put yourself in the situation of finding yourself as the only Christian at a party where the others are all members of, for example, a Satanic cult and they start offering prayers prior to the food being served. Wouldn't you rather that they had observed a moment of silence instead?

BTW, "Father" is hardly neutral -- especially when combined with "in your name". That is making reference to a specific deity. Also, consider that many belief systems direct prayers to female deities or to deities who are not "male" or "female" in the human sense of the terms.
(R) I agree with you, "Father" isn't neutral, but that is an unfortunate fact of modern English. Perhaps someday, English will be gender neutral, but it isn't now and opening a prayer with "Parent" sounds stupid no matter who's doing it.
(MB) It's not a matter of any failings of the English language. It's a matter of using a specific personal pronoun to refer to a deity. By necessity, such a reference must narrow down the range of possible deities that the prayer could be invoking and would disqualify such a prayer from being "generic".

(R) If you think English is bad, try one of the Romance languages. Yo tengo que apprendar el espanol para mis estudios de la historia. In Spanish, everything is male or female and there is no other way of doing it. Even a refrigerator or a boat is a he or she. You can't say "parents" in Spanish, except by using the word for "father" (padre) with the proper number and context.
(MB) It's the same thing with many languages -- to include Hebrew. The only way to refer to a deity without using a gender-specific pronoun is to use the name of the deity. But, that would make the prayer even less able to be called "generic".

(R) But perhaps that's not what you mean by neutral? Are you saying that referring to God as "Father" is biased toward a specific religion?
(MB) It's biased towards religions that worship a male deity, isn't it?

(R) I don't agree, but even if it's true, the Satanists in questions should try to choose a term which won't offend the non-Satanists at their gathering. "Father" works well for both them and Christians.
(MB) Do you really think that the Satanists would be primarily concerned with not offending any Christian that might be in their midst? In addition, it would make no sense for a Satanist to use "Father" since Satan is *not* their creator or "father" in any sense of the term.

(R) Finally, why does putting "Father" together with "in your name" make it particularly biased? Don't Satanist pray in the name of Satan? Muslims in the name of Allah? Hindus in the name of Brahma? Please explain.
(MB) Aren't all of those entities different? If you pray "in the name" of one of them, you can't simultaneously be praying to any of the others. Since this is the case, any such prayer can't be considered to be "generic".

Perhaps, although it strains the imagination to think that somebody might feel bad if their sneeze wasn't acknowledged or "blessed" by somebody who might have been within earshot of it.
(R) I don't feel bad if I sneeze and no one says anything, but I do feel good if someone around me shows a bit of concern for my welfare when I sneeze. And because it gives me a good feeling when people do this for me, I like to do the same for them.
(MB) How would you feel if somebody responded to your sneeze by saying "How wonderful that Lord Satan has sent a demon to possess you!"? Have you considered that saying "God Bless You" would offend somebody who considers it a serious heresy to invoke the name of another deity other than the one he worships?

(R) Such small courtesies help make life pleasant. Like saying thank you to the checkout clerk when they hand you your change.
(MB) Common courtesy and religious beliefs are not the same thing.

OK, what "important issues" might these be and why are they important? Is there some reason why a sneeze requires some specific (and often religion-based) response instead of just being treated the same as any other non-event? Must we retain old superstitions?
(R) What important issues!!?? The existence of God? Public prayer? Any of the other things we've been discussing before you took us off on this odd tangent about a simple custom which seems to really bother you for some reason which I can't quite grasp.
(MB) I didn't say that it bothers me. I wondered why people do it or consider it to be necessary. As far as I'm concerned, it's meaningless. But, it seems to have some importance to you. What that might be is the whole point here. Can you just answer the question, please?

(R) Here's what I suggest: the next time someone says "God bless you" when you sneeze, calmly say to them, "I don't believe in God and I'd rather you didn't say that to me when I sneeze. If you must say anything, please say Gesundheit." This should resolve the problem. Then you can quit complaining about something which doesn't matter.
(MB) Why go that far? On the rare instances when I feel like saying anything in response to "God Bless You", I simply ask "Why?". You'd be surprised at how many people are completely buffaloed by that. It just points out how people just blurt it out without thinking about it or even understanding what they're saying. Does that fact offend you?

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