US Billboards Attack Prayer: Pete Greig RespondsPete Greig - 7 Jul 2009
Prayer is pointless! At least, according to a massive billboard campaign launched on 1st July in five American States.
Hot on the heals of the recent atheist bus campaign in London, these new billboards, sponsored by the American Humanist Association, read: “WANT A BETTER WORLD? Prayer Not Required!” and they’re being erected this month in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Idaho, and Arizona (where churches prayed continually throughout last year). But before we pack up our 24-7 Prayer Rooms, shut down this site and wave goodbye to thousands of years of Judaeo-Christian conviction, let’s just think about this claim a little…
In America the vast majority of people pray – even on the West Coast where, according to Gallup, 25% of the adult population is now either atheist or agnostic. Meanwhile in supposedly secular Europe, 60% of people pray regularly and in London that figure rises to a whopping 73%. These statistics alone eloquently challenge the premise that prayer is a waste of time.
In my book God on Mute, I describe an old Russian Orthodox believer, called Anatoly Emmanuilovich, who was persecuted all his life by the Secret Police. In a letter from prison he testified that: ‘The greatest miracle of all is prayer. I have only to turn my thoughts to God and I suddenly feel a strength which bursts into my soul, into my entire being…. It is not psychotherapy, for where would I, an insignificant, tired old man, get this strength which renews and saves me? It comes from without and there is no force on earth that can even understand it.’
When I read testimonies like this one, I wonder what is achieved by attacking something as wonderful as prayer. Why would anyone spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convert people to the terrible news that we are merely highly evolved animals marooned on a giant rock, spinning meaninglessly in space, doomed to a purposeless existence, without moral consequence and without recourse to any higher power, meaning or hope? Why didn’t they just throw a massive party, or buy millions of mosquito nets for Africa, or install a wall of plasma televisions at every morgue in the country?
The Russian novelist Dostoevsky argued that, ‘without God there is no morality’. Think about it! If there’s no God, there’s no such thing as the ‘better world’ to which the billboard aspires. In purely evolutionary terms, a serial killer is merely proving his supremacy over weaker individuals and asserting his right to dominate the gene pool. And even if there was meaning and morality in a godless universe, unless humanism can change hearts, restore marriages, break addictions, heal painful memories, rewire motivations, erase guilt, inspire great art, and ignite vision the way that Jesus Christ can, its utopian ambitions are naïve to put it mildly.
When it comes to social transformation, atheism’s track record isn’t good. In fact it’s downright terrible. In Cambodia, the atheist dictator Pol Pot killed more than a million of his own people in four years. In Russia, Joseph Stalin was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions – yet he failed entirely to make things better. Meanwhile, Jesus who never hurt anyone and who centered his whole life in prayer, instructing his followers to ‘always pray and not give up’ (Luke 18:1), has changed billions of lives down thousands of years… unquestionably for the better.
As we celebrate the holidays, let’s make the most of moments of leisure to enjoy God’s presence and to re-align ourselves with his plan for a better world. Whether it’s expressed in whispered words of gratitude lying on a sun lounger, or singing our hearts out in a 24-7 Prayer Room, let’s continue to pray like it all depends on God and live like it all depends on us. Why? Because YES we want a better world but NO we can’t wish it into being, and we can’t think it into being, and we can’t rebrand it into being, and we certainly can’t work it up by trying our hardest to be nicer little ‘humanisms’! The better world we long for cannot be found in the mirror. That’s why we ask Jesus Christ to displace our selfishness and sadness with his unparalleled grace and joy.
The world got a little better when the Roman Empire ended its ritual of human sacrifice, an event that can be traced back to a 24-7 Prayer Room in Jerusalem in AD33. The world got a little better with the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, an event that can be traced back to a 24-7 Prayer Room in South-East Germany in 1727. The world also got a little better with the rise of the American Civil Rights Movement, a great consensus that can be traced back to a 24-7 Prayer Room in Azusa Street, Los Angeles in 1906. Yes we want a better world, and yes, that’s why we pray!
It has been true for millennia that the laboratory for all positive social transformation and spiritual formation has always been the place of persevering prayer. One day, according to our scriptures, even members of the American Humanist Association will join us in confessing Christ, acknowledging that the hinge of history is the bended knee.