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Austin Cline

Christian Right Objecting to Hindu Prayers in Senate

By July 13, 2007

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For the first time in history, a Hindu chaplain has delivered the opening prayer at the start of session of the U.S. Senate. Rajan Zed of Reno, Nevada, had already given opening prayers in the Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate. His intention for the U.S. Senate was to give a prayer that was "universal in approach," but it's hardly surprising that he would include references to Hindu beliefs and scriptures.

While such references may not be surprising, they are infuriating — to the Christian Right, that is. All the questions and objections which secular atheists raise in reference to Christian prayers delivered under government auspices and which the Christian Right rejects are now being raised against Hindu prayers. Apparently these arguments are unacceptable when used against bringing Christianity into the government, but appropriate when used against bringing non-Christian religion into the government.

Three Christians in the gallery disrupted the prayers and shouted "Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. We shall have no other God before you" as they were taken away. One told a reporter that they were "Christians and patriots." Can you imagine the outrage that would have ensued if secular atheists had disrupted a Christian prayer in the same context? Can you imagine the howls about "militant" atheists and the insistence by some that this is why atheists have a "public image" and "public relations" problem? When Christians do this, however, they aren't hounded by fellow religious believers for being "militant' and there isn't suddenly a "public relations" crisis for Christians in America.

It's likely that the Christian protesters were inspired by articles like this:

WallBuilders president David Barton is questioning why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god. Barton points out that since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto "One Nation Under God."

"In Hindu, you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods," the Christian historian explains. "And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration [of Independence] when they talked about Creator -- that's not one that fits here because we don't know which creator we're talking about within the Hindu religion."

Barton says given the fact that Hindus are a tiny constituency of the American public, he questions the motivation of Senate leaders. "This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world," he observes. "You look at India, you look at Nepal -- there's persecution going in both of those countries that is gendered by the religious belief that is present there, and Hindu dominates in both of those countries."

Source: One News Now

David Barton is a strong representative of the foolishness of far-right Christianity in America. First, notice how he uses the phrase "In Hindu, you have..." It's as if he's unaware of the word Hinduism. Second, notice the factually incorrect claim that Hinduism has not "produced great things in the world" — insofar as a religion is at all responsible for anything produced in the surrounding culture, it's as responsible for great things as Christianity.

Third, notice how "One Nation Under God" (as Patrick points out, the national motto is actually "In God We Trust") is used as an argument against having Hindu prayers on an equal level with Christian prayers. It's sometimes alleged that the promoting narrow monotheism in the motto is not an important issue, but here we have an example of why it is: things like this are used by anti-secular activists as a foundation for attacking church/state separation and religious pluralism.

And while Barton acknowledges there is not constitutional problem with a Hindu prayer in the Senate, he wonders about the political side of it. "One definitely wonders about the pragmatic side of it," he says. "What is the message, and why is the message needed? And will it actually communicate anything other than engender with folks like me a lot of questions?"

David Barton has to say that the Hindu prayer doesn't create any real constitutional problems — if he did, his arguments would apply equally well against Christian prayers which are usually said in Congress. Barton is smart enough not to fall into that trap, but he manages to fall into another trap that is almost as problematic. Barton worries about the "message" being sent by having Hindu prayers, but what about the "message" being sent by Christian prayers?

If, for example, the message being sent by Hindu prayers is that the government officially approves, endorses, or encourages Hindu prayers or even Hinduism generally, then isn't the message of Christian prayers that the government official approves, endorses, or encourages Christian prayers or Christianity generally? It's certain that many Christians believe so and take comfort in this, but if they admit that this is the case then they accept the legal argument against them: the government has no authority to approve, endorse, or encourage any prayers of any religion.

It is also being implied that the Hindu prayer is "starting a countdown to judgment":

"It is a watershed day in that it brings to mind some of these precedent-setting events like the day that we took prayer and Bible-reading out of school in our country [and] the day that we legalized abortion," [Buddy Smith, a spokesman for American Family Association] offers. "I fear that while God has been so merciful with our country in the past, events such as are about to happen, like this in the U.S. Senate, is angering a just God. I fear that we bring judgment upon our country with such acts."

Smith says he hopes that for conscience sake -- and avoiding what he terms "endorsing a pagan ritual" -- senators will choose to wait for the Hindu chaplain to finish his prayer before coming to the Senate for the day's business.

Source: One News Now

So, Buddy Smith is telling Christians in America that if Hindus are treated as equals to Christians by the government, then the Christian god will become angry and deliver "judgment" upon America. These are theological concepts which mean, in effect, that the Christian god should be expected to punish America for the equal treatment of Hinduism — and not just punish Hindus or those who treat them equally, but also "innocent" Americans.

The implied solution to this problem is to cease whatever behavior Christian leaders tell us is "angering" their god. In this case, the behavior is to invite a Hindu religious figure to deliver prayers on an equal basis alongside Christian religious figures. In effect, what Buddy Smith is arguing is that American Christians should sacrifice the equality, equal treatment, and equal dignity of their Hindu neighbors in order to appease their angry god.

This is the same mentality behind calling for the sacrifice of a virgin on a bloody altar in order to appease the angry gods of ancient tribes. Christian leaders aren't calling for the actual murder of Hindus, but they are calling for their equality to be sacrificed in order for Christians and Christianity to be privileged by the government.

Some of the comments made to the first article may give a real indication of what conservative Christians are thinking. This is just a small sampling:

Any "Christian" who supports this blasphemy needs to read the Old Testament (For you liberal pseudo-Christains - it's in the front of the Bible.) and find out what happened to Israel & Judah when they allowed the filthy worship of foreign gods in their nations.

Pray for this apostate country.

So, it's wrong for any Christians to "allow" the "filthy worship" of gods other than the Christian god. Such a position can't just apply to a Hindu delivering a prayer before the Senate, but the freedom of Hindus across America to worship as they see fit. It's difficult to believe that people such as this truly believe in religious freedom for all, as opposed to simply religious freedom for themselves and those who think like them.

It’s not about being a diverse country. It’s about the fact that there is only one GOD and this person’s ‘prayer’ is an insult to the one true God and all that he has done for our ‘diverse country’.

Christian Supremacists object strongly to religious diversity and pluralism. Christian Supremacy envisions a nation under the total control of Christianity.

I would ask my Congressmen to delay coming into the Senate until after the Hindu "speech" by Zed. The people in this country may be diverse, but there is only one God -- and he's not Hindu. And I want my Congressmen to represent my voice by being absent when Zed is speaking.

We don't hear a lot in the media about Christians be persecuted for their beliefs: praying in public; voicing their opposition to deviant behavior and a host of other things. But some people are offended if a Hindu can't pray in our Congress.

Americans, stand up and let your Congressmen hear from you!

I wonder what sort of outcry would ensue from elected representatives deliberately refusing to be around to hear Christian prayers. Do you suppose Christians would treat that as an insult? I think many would — but it's OK for them to be insulting towards other religions. It's OK for them to be insulted at non-Christian prayers in Congress, but it's unAmerican to be insulted by the presence of sectarian Christian prayers.

Dear Lord Jesus please stop this, this must not happen to a country founded on Chrisianity, the Word is clear, thou shall have NO other Gods before me!

The Lord, I am sure will not be pleased.

Well, Lord Jesus didn't stop the prayer and it went ahead as planned. Does this mean the Lord wasn't so displeased after all?

The invocation of idolatrous gods is inherently offensive to members of the Judeo-Christian majority of the United States. The Second Commandment states, "You shall not make for yourselves and idol." Therefore, we should let our senators know that while we defend the right of others to practice their religions, we do not accept the imposition of minority religious practices upon us and our elected representatives.

"God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). The same goes for a nation.

So we've moved from "some people are offended" by Hindu prayers to such prayers being "inherently offensive." The very presence of such prayers is completely intolerable, and since Christians are a "majority," they should use their power to deny equal rights and treatment for non-Christians.

Notice that a Hindu praying in Congress is an example of the 'imposition of minority religious practices" upon the people. By that logic, a Christian praying in Congress is an example of the imposition of Christianity upon the people — and specifically the form of Christianity followed by the person praying.

This is the reason that our country is having so many difficulties. We are ONE NATION UNDER GOD. Not one nation under many gods. As christians we are the majority, why are we letting all these sects to do what they want in our country??????????????

Here we have a clear expression of the idea that because Christians are a majority, they should be able to do whatever they want in America. Many Christians are under the mistaken impression that in a democracy, being a majority means being able to do whatever you like — even if that includes trampling over the rights and equality of minorities.

Inclusiveness NEVER was a part of God's will for His people. When the Israelites assimilated other religious beliefs, God turned a deaf ear to their crys. It cost Solomon his soul. Christianity likewise is an EXCLUSIVE religion. There is One God and One Savior. He is the Creator.

Congress, our so-called leaders has clearly chosen to put this entire nation outside of God's care. Bible believers know the prayer will only be empty words that may reach the ceiling of that shameful house.

This comment is easier to understand if you remember that for Christian Nationalists and Christian Supremacists, America is a "New Israel" and Americans are God's "chosen people." This means that "inclusiveness" should not be permitted in America. Christianity is an exclusive religion — and is the exclusive religion for America.

Our government is supposed to represent us as AMERICANS! We are American and any who come to the United States should be Americans, too. They come to America for the opportunities and freedoms that they are not allowed in their own countries. If they don't want to be an American in the United States they should stay in their own country. Our nation has prospered because our forefathers saw the need to worship the one and only true God---not the oriental gods or any other God.

Let us be loyal Americans!

It's difficult to understand how this is supposed to be a criticism of Hindu prayers, but I think it makes a lot more sense if one assumes that "Americans" is being used as a synonym for "Christians." In that case, the government is supposed to represent Christians, people who come to the United States should be Christians too, and if they don't want to be Christians they should stay in their own countries. That's entirely predictable from a Christian Supremacist position.

There is a difference between being "open-minded" and empty-headed. Who is responsible for allowing this travesty against the only nation in history which was founded on Christian principles? To permit such blatant anti-Christian behaviour in our Senate is a slap in the face of every patriotic American and "his Creator". Please let us know by whose authority this breaking of our tradition is permitted.

So, allowing non-Christian prayers is just a "tradition," but it requires special "authority" to break? Curious how a prayer that is simply non-Christian is in fact anti-Christian.

Since there is only one God, this "prayer" to other gods is obviously directed to anti-God or otherwise known as anti-Christ or otherwise known as the deceiver or otherwise known as Satan. Do we want to stand by and allow a prayer for our country to be directed to Satan? I think not. Stop this nonsense.

Now Hindu prayers aren't just "inherently offensive," but are in fact directed at the anti-Christ — so having Hindu prayers in Congress must be an attempt to turn our government over the forces of Satan, right? If it's possible to get any more paranoid than this, I don't think I want to know about it. I'd be too depressed.

There are a few comments which object to all of the bigotry and paranoia above, but they are few and far between. Moreover, it's stated clearly that all comments are moderated to ensure that they conform to the American Family Association's "Acceptable Use" policy. Everything above, for example, has been deemed consistent with "biblical morality."

What it all makes clear is that for so many conservative, evangelical Christians, having more religion "in the public square" simply means having more of their religion; having more prayer in government contexts only means having their prayers, and having the government do more to encourage religion only means encouraging their religion. I've often written that "religion" cannot be thought of as purely abstract in these contexts. "Religion" in government means particular religious doctrines, practices, and beliefs — which in turn means that one religion or other is always being favored over all others. So long as Christianity is being favored, the Christian Nationalists are happy. When another religion is given equal treatment, there are howls of outrage.

July 13, 2007 at 6:04 pm
(1) Aaron Kinney says:

You nailed it again, Austin!

Special pleading at its worst. ITs NOT okay to criticize Xtian/gov entanglement, indeed its proper to entangle them.

But put a non-Christian in the mix, and boy theres HELL to pay!

There is no God but YHWH and Jesus is his prophet!


July 13, 2007 at 7:26 pm
(2) Ron says:

Let it be, Austin. As long as the xtian right is focused on the hindus, they won’t be pointing at us, come the next disaster!

July 14, 2007 at 12:07 am
(3) 411314 says:

Ron, I think that was a little selfish.

July 14, 2007 at 1:38 am
(4) Patrick Quigley says:

Third, notice how the national motto “One Nation Under God” is used as an argument against having Hindu prayers on an equal level with Christian prayers.

I thought you would catch this mistake, Austin. The national motto is actually “In God We Trust.” “One Nation Under God” is part of the pledge of allegiance. Its invocation by these Christians to justify the political supremacy of their beliefs is a testimony to the power of that exercise in childhood indocrination.

July 14, 2007 at 1:40 am
(5) Patrick Quigley says:

And Barton’s misattribution of this quote is further proof that he is the worst historian ever.

July 14, 2007 at 3:46 am
(6) Chuck Rightmire says:

I’m a poor historian. I always thought that it was E Pluribus Unum. And today’s christianity seems to be the reverse of that. Out of one, many. If we read the sermons we find in some local papers, and hear what the religious talking heads say, and what the world faces, it seems to me that the U.S. actually has as many different gods as the Hindus, even if they are all called Christian.

July 14, 2007 at 7:57 am
(7) Ron says:

Ron, I think that was a little selfish.] Yeah, I need to work on that! When I was a little boy, I always hated it when other kids came to visit, because my Mom and Dad always made me share my toys.

July 14, 2007 at 9:42 am
(8) Tom says:

Excellent article. I’ve been waiting for a situation like this. I’d love to send this article to some friends and family, Austin, but there is one little typo that needs attention. The last sentence in the third paragraph reads: “When Christians do this, however, they are hounded by fellow religious believers for being “militant’ and there isn’t suddenly a “public relations” crisis for Christians in America.” I’m certain this should read: “When Christians do this, however, they are not hounded …”

July 14, 2007 at 11:07 am
(9) Austin Cline says:

Thanks for pointing that out, Tom.

July 14, 2007 at 2:55 pm
(10) tracieh says:

>there’s persecution going in both of those countries that is gendered by the religious belief that is present there…

This from a guy who is freaking out about someone giving an invocation to a god that’s not his? Pot…kettle?

>Third, notice how the national motto “One Nation Under God” is used as an argument against having Hindu prayers on an equal level with Christian prayers. It’s sometimes alleged that the promoting narrow monotheism in the motto is not an important issue, but here we have an example of why it is: things like this are used by anti-secular activists as a foundation for attacking church/state separation and religious pluralism.

Amen to that! (Although as someone pointed out, it should have been In God We Trust.) They can’t have it both ways. Either they’re not trying to promote Xianity with the phrase, or they are. When someone accuses them of doing so, they call the denouncer a whiner—making things up. But when it suits them, they’re throw it in your face and say it means this is a Xian nation.

If it IS a promotion of a specific religion over others, then it is a clear violation of the constitution, in that passing legislation that promotes this motto on our coinage, in our government buildings, and anywhere else tax dollars have to support it, is a government promoting an establishment of religion.

I agree with your point that the message from the Xians who object to the prayer is that religious equality has no place in our culture. And this is a hideous statement to be made in the U.S., where people are supposed to be equal under the law and in the eyes of our government—regardless of their religious leanings. This was one of the most obvious displays of Xian prejudice and hypocrisy I have ever witnessed. And I’m so glad they did this, so that the rest of America could get a front row view of how many Xians really feel about those who have a different ideology. When they call atheists intolerant—they’re totally projecting.

>We don’t hear a lot in the media about Christians be persecuted for their beliefs: praying in public; voicing their opposition to deviant behavior and a host of other things. But some people are offended if a Hindu can’t pray in our Congress.

Is he saying we don’t hear a lot about the tribulations of Xians in a nation where the huge majority of people profess to be Xians? If so, we don’t hear about it, because it doesn’t happen. Telling someone they can’t oppress someone else isn’t oppressing the initial oppressor. Why can’t Xians see this?

I’m not offended if a Hindu prays in the Senate. I’m not offended if a Xian does it. But I think it’s unconstitutional to have any prayers at all in there, or to have the legislators dealing at all in religious issues. People’s religions are their own. They are personal and private and people have the freedom to exercise them without government interference. This also means, though, that the government can’t go around promoting one religion over another as far as legislation or legislators. The government must be neutral with regard to religion in order to treat all people equally, as the Constitution demands.

>The invocation of idolatrous gods is inherently offensive to members of the Judeo-Christian majority of the United States.

Again, pot…kettle? Does he not get that it works both ways?

>Inclusiveness NEVER was a part of God’s will for His people.

Again, this is fine as a personal philosophy. I think it sucks, but then, I don’t have to adhere to it. That’s the beauty of freedom and equality. The problem is when this person wants to impose his sucky personal views on the rest of us because he has the majority vote. You’re right that some people think “democracy” is the equivalent of mob rule. Their ignorant people. But in great numbers, and with a House full of vote whores on the hill…they’re also dangerous.

>if one assumes that “Americans” is being used as a synonym for “Christians.”

I’m not sure you have to go so far as “assuming,” I think he makes it pretty clear.

>and allow a prayer for our country to be directed to Satan?

I think this is an even heavier point than you made it—but you were going long, so maybe you just didn’t have the time/space to address it. Many Xians, especially the literalists, believe that if you’re not with them, you’re Satan’s agent, either wittingly or unwittingly. You’re in Satan’s grasp, doing Satan’s will, if you’re not a Xian—sometimes specifically a Xian in their specific denomination. This is a highly dangerous attitude. These people are literally claiming that if you’re not in their club, you’re an agent of pure, literal, evil. How much of a leap would it require for such a mob or an individual in such a mob to be convinced they’re doing god’s work by eliminating you? In this case, they’re basically claiming to be doing god’s work by trampling your rights. Doesn’t that step precede the prison camps?

I know that statement is alarmist. Luckily I think most Xians are more tolerant than these people. But “these people” have a lot of sway with Bush and most of the members of our government (right OR left). That’s scary. It’s scary our government cares what bigots and haters want them to do to the people they want to oppress.

To Chuck: I wish it was E Pluribus Unum. I think that is a far more inclusive motto that celebrates the diversity of a nation that is made up of so many different views. The fact is that the world is getting smaller, with so many new ways to exchange information. And the divisive attitudes of people such as Barton are being severely threatened. To that I say, “good!”

July 14, 2007 at 5:00 pm
(11) Mike says:

“The only nation founded on Christian principles…”?

Hello… Rome after Constantine and subsequent Medieval and Renaissance Europe?

July 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm
(12) Ron says:

Shortly after the 2000 election, I became alarmed, and became a supporter and member of Americans united for seraration of church and state. Some of my friends tell me that I am paranoid, but my opinipon is that if there is no opposition to christian dominionism, it will happen. You can do just about anything if there is no opposition. Mike is right about Rome after Constantine and Eusebius! They need to be opposed, or it will be Rome all over again! Complete with the book burning. Read about christian historical revisionism Re: the founding fathers of our nation

July 20, 2007 at 9:40 pm
(13) John Hanks says:

Picket the appropriate church. Ask them to give up idolatry.

July 21, 2007 at 12:06 pm
(14) Uncle Sparticus says:

It’s great that Christians can say as much bad about Atheists as they want, and not get so much as a slap on the wrist for it, but yet, if I say something bad about them, I’m labelled ‘militant’, and considered a threat.

November 23, 2007 at 5:40 am
(15) manoj says:

Autin, if you have not read the bible yet it’s about good time you do so. Remember one day you will have to face the Lord Jesus.So I beleive you should surrender your life to Jesus as there is still time …..

November 23, 2007 at 6:11 am
(16) Austin Cline says:

Autin, if you have not read the bible yet it’s about good time you do so.

I’ve read the Bible several times. In several translations. In several languages. How about you? How many religious texts from other religions have you read? How many books by atheists have you read?

Remember one day you will have to face the Lord Jesus.

No, I don’t think so.

So I beleive you should surrender your life to Jesus as there is still time …..

No, my life is quite good the way it is, thank you.

November 12, 2008 at 2:45 am
(17) Allen Thomas says:

I am from India.By justifying Hindu prayer in Senate you are putting nail to your own coffin.Remember,this same thing is done by majority Hindu fundamentalists in India,towards Christians.Hindu fundamentalists in India are of Aryan origin,they consider themselves and their Hindu religion Superior,they want a Hinduism based system of governance,never tolerate other religions,and they are proud of Hitler !!!They try to spread Hinduism in U.S. so as to make sure favourable U.S. policies to India,through religious influence.It is a crystal clear fact that Hindu wealthy class in U.S. funded Hindu religious violence against Muslims and Christians in India.Hindus outside India,like those in U.S., plead for the interests of India, not the country they live.Hindu fundamantalism is rapidly gaining influence in India.India is quickly growing in terms of economic and military power.Once the Hindu fundamentalists parties like B.J.P. become single majority party in such a powerful India, they will attack Pakistan, China, and won’t hesitate to attack even U.S. to become the world Superpower.Because that is the fundamental aspect of Hindu fundamentalism – Hinduism is Superior, so India must be Superior.Most Hindu Indians in U.S. are active followers of Hindu fundamentalist forces in India like R.S.S., B.J.P.,V.H.P. etc.So you are actually supporting Hindu fundamentalist forces, that want to see Hindu India conquering over U.S. in terms of economic and military power.So please work to bring together Christian,Muslim and Jewish countries against menace of Hindu fundamentalism.Otherwise,the U.S. will be the greatest sufferer in future.

August 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm
(18) Jane says:

Hindus believe in one God, only they see him as both the mother and father. And unlike christians, muslims, and Jews they believe that God is everywhere, not just one place on high or temple. The gods amd godesses are represented as the many aspects of the divine of both the male and female.

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