To me, one of the clearest evidences of the mindlessness of Christianity is the so-called "Lord's Prayer" spoken by Jesus in the gospels, and repeated endlessly around the world. During my pilgrim's progress through the Roman Catholic Church (yes, I was an altar boy, though undefiled) and through fundamental Christianity (yes, I was a Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Superintendent, etc.), I found myself uttering this "prayer" many times, both by myself and in unison with entire congregations. Yet, until now, I never stopped to think about what I was saying.
Priests and preachers have extolled this "divine utterance" as either the exact words we are supposed to pray (Catholic), or as a model of the way we ought to pray (Protestant). Either way, the only serious intellectual controversies I ever faced with respect to this prayer have been: 1) whether to ask god to forgive my "debts," or my "trespasses" (I preferred "debts" because it seemed silly to ask god to forgive me for walking on other people's lawns) and 2) whether I'm supposed to add the meaningless "For thine is the kingdom . . ." coda after "Deliver us from evil."
It wasn't until after I was "bored again" and left religion altogether that I took a good hard look at the Lord's Prayer, and I can't believe I droned those words for so long before reason and common sense finally kicked in. As priests and preachers have done for me so often over the years, I have taken the time to do a line-by-line analysis of the prayer, but this time with a rational twist:
"Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name."
Did you ever notice that no matter what church you are in, or what version of the Bible they use, the Lord's Prayer is always said and taught using the King James version of English, with "art" instead of "are" and all the fancy "thys" and "thines?" Why is that? Nowhere else in life do we find people suddenly reverting to seventeenth-century lingo to express their deepest inner feelings. And yet when it comes to this prayer they think it appropriate to address god as if they were an Elizabethan court jester. Do people feel that using an antiquated version of their language sounds more like what Jesus would have said in his day? I suppose the King James sounds more formal and to some people that must make the words more reverent or more appealing to god. In reality, it’s nothing more than an outdated carryover from an outdated version of the Bible, but people continue to recite, by rote, the King James translation of this prayer.
I find it very strange in this introduction that we are instructed to remind god that he is in Heaven. First of all, he is supposed to be omniscient, so his whereabouts would come under the category "things he already knows." Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that by putting god in one specific place, i.e. Heaven, are we not denying his omnipresence? He is supposed to be everywhere, but Jesus seems to be saying he is, at best, only semi-omnipresent. Wouldn't a more accurate version of the prayer say: "Our Father, who art everywhere?"
I think what drives me the craziest with respect to the prayer's introduction is people who turn "hallowed" into a three-syllable word. They raise their hands to heaven and say "Hal-oh-wed be thy name." Do they think they get extra credit or additional indulgence for adding a syllable to this adjective? Check the dictionary, geniuses; it’s a two-syllable word. While you’re there, note the definition, so from now on you’ll know what you’re saying.
"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven"
Get out your U.S. History books, folks. Didn't we leave England to escape the whole idea of kings and kingdoms? Suddenly we're praying for a kingdom like it's a good thing, even one here on earth? This whole "kingdom of god" thing is such a throwback to the days when kings and church leaders controlled people's lives and took their money, but modern Christians don't seem to understand that. Of course those who edited and assembled the Bible would make a kingdom out to be a good thing; after all, it was good for them!
Also, this phrase sounds like we are giving our permission for god to bring his kingdom to earth, and to do his will on earth. Why would we say this? After all, the god we have created is supposed to be one who does what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. Why would we waste our time praying for things we believe are going to happen anyway?
Here again, the prayer refers to god living and exercising his will in Heaven, a specific place, so maybe he's omnipresent only on a part-time basis.
"Give us this day our daily bread"
Didn't Mary ever teach Jesus to say "please." To me it seems pretty arrogant for us to command the creator of the universe to do anything, and yet that's exactly what this phrase does. We need bread, so give it to us. And why just bread? Wasn't it Jesus himself who said "Man does not live by bread alone"? And yet the only thing we command god to give us is bread. The whole "daily" thing is probably a throwback to the days when the Jews received daily manna in the desert, but even they had a little quail as a side dish. OK, I realize the word "bread" likely symbolizes overall sustenance, but still, if I were a praying man, I certainly would not tell a god what to do.
"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us"
Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that forgiveness of my sins is contingent on how I behave toward others? What about all that "salvation by faith alone" stuff? What about unconditional grace? What happened to being washed white as snow the minute we accept Christ? There's heresy in that there prayer! Jesus is telling us that the god he talks to takes our actions into consideration when it comes to forgiveness; that just having faith isn't enough. Maybe he was a closet Roman Catholic?
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"
This is the most ridiculous line in the entire prayer. Why would we have to ask god not to lead us into temptation? Is Jesus saying that god is prone to encouraging us to sin, so we better ask him to cease and desist? I was under the impression that we had free will, and that the whole salvation problem and its resolution are based on free will decisions. And yet there’s Jesus instructing us to beg god not to drag us into potentially sinful situations. To me it almost sounds as if he’s saying god has a devilish side in him and may, on occasion, toy with us like Satan did with Job. I mean, this is a pretty short prayer, and if every item in it is so important, then this one must have been a big concern of Jesus. Thus, I think Christians better be worried about a god that has a tendency to lead them astray and then punish them, sometimes eternally, if they succumb to a temptation. Wouldn't that be divine entrapment?
And why, in god's name, would we ever have to ask him to deliver us from evil? Is it just me, or isn't that something that any "Father" worth his salt would be expected to do automatically, without our asking? And yet we have to ask this over and over again, because god seems kind of picky when it comes to which evils he delivers us from. Somehow the Holocaust managed to slip by him, in spite of the prayers of "his own" people. We are apparently stuck in a world crawling with such evils as fanatic Muslims and drive-in theaters, and the only realistic way god could fully "deliver us" from it would be to take us out of it. Since "ascensions" and "assumptions" into heaven seem to be restricted to selected first-class fliers, we're essentially asking god to kill us. So now we have a prayer with a built-in death wish; just what we want our kids to memorize.
"For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen."
It was very strange for me to begin adding this line to the Lord's Prayer after I became a Protestant. Had I been saying it wrong all this time, and none of the shortened versions "counted?" All those rosaries up in smoke! A longer stint in Purgatory? Heaven forbid!
So why would Protestants tack this on? In context, it follows the "deliver us from evil" line, so the word "for" actually means "because." Thus, in effect, we're saying god should deliver us from evil because he has the kingdom, the power and the glory. Well, if it's his kingdom, shouldn't he have a little more control over it? Evil seems to be winning. If he has all the power, how about tossing just one tornado, tsunami or even a hungry hyena in the direction of Osama Bin Laden? If he is supposed to be getting all the glory, how about showing up once in a while and giving us a little help here? So far, however, god’s attempts to deliver the world from evil (e.g. flood the whole place, use holy wars to kill infidels, the ever-popular plague strategy, etc.) have been pretty lame.
So there it is; the prayer you were taught to pray as a kid, exposed as a silly, meaningless, and even heretical bunch of words. And don't get me going on the "Hail Mary."
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