Ambrose Bierce, diabolical lexicographer, defined "pray" as "to ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy."
Or in Rick Perry's case, confessedly presidency-worthy.
Bierce makes it sound like rather a pointless exercise. But these days, it seems as good a strategy as any.
Glance at a newspaper and you wonder if Harold Camping wasn’t right about the incipient apocalypse. “There are riots in London. The stock markets are plummeting. They're letting 10-year-olds audition for ’Annie’ without even showing up to the audition in person! What's the world coming to?"
And no one seems to have any clear, actionable ideas about what to do about it. The ideas that are actionable aren’t clear — who’s serving on that bipartisan committee? — and the ideas that are clear — let’s build those shovel-ready roads tomorrow! — aren’t actionable.
So (I say this with fear and trembling) maybe Rick Perry was right to rally the troops in prayer.
Church and State have been acrimoniously separated for far too long. Maybe they ought to get back together for the sake of the kids. One Nation Under God? God needs to pick up some of His slack if he wants to keep His name on the currency.
True, this did not use to be the way campaigns began. Once, before running for office, you prayed, quietly and in the privacy of your home, to your lares and penates.
Instead, Perry gathered together with 20,000 of his closest friends and spoke to God in a rally called The Response, asking God fairly bluntly to fix the economy.
And somehow this seems to enhance his chances.
It used to be that if you claimed to be endorsed from on high, the political establishment would pillory you if you were lucky and crucify you if you weren't. But in Perry's case, the Rumbling Voice From On High (or perhaps the speaker system at Reliant Stadium was malfunctioning) has been a positive boon. Everyone predicts that as soon as he steps out of the boat of quaking non-candidates into the roiling waters of the Republican presidential field, he’ll be able to walk confidently across the waves to the Shores of Victory, unless the metaphor collapses under its own weight before he can make it across.
“I worship the water Rick Perry walks on!” everyone exclaims.
“When Rick Perry walks on water, it turns into wine!” others add.
If you squint, it’s hard to tell if he’s using God for Politics or using Politics for God. But what’s the difference, anyway?
This rally was supposed to be the answer to The Call, a Detroit-based rally which posits that “When there is no hope for a nation, when there is no remedy, GOD HAS A HOLY PRESCRIPTION.”
Take two of these, God saith, and call Me in the morning.
In the book of Joel, which inspired all this Calling and Responding, the Response Web site reports that “God wanted His people to understand that their internal threats (moral decline) were far greater than their external threats (economic crisis and military invasion).
“In gathering together,” the site continues, “God wanted the people instructed so that they would know why their nation was in peril. God wanted the people — from the children and nursing babes to the leaders and priests (Joel 2:16) — to all completely understand both the nature of the crisis at hand and the only solution that would deliver them from their great crisis: God Himself. God ordained in that hour of history that prayer would serve as the only way of escape from the mounting trouble. Why? Because only God had the power to solve both the internal moral decline and the external economic and military threats. All three were unsolvable by human means and human solutions — but God had a solution that could be found in His great mercy.”
Ah. That doesn’t sound like a particularly coherent recovery plan, but what God hath joined together, let not man rend asunder.
There's something woefully passive about all this praying. It's like the cartoon of two scientists. Between two sets of equations one has written "Then a miracle occurs," and the other points at it and says, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."
I wish step two were a little more explicit.
But it seems as though we’ll get it on Saturday. Step Two is “Elect Rick Perry.” Based on what I’ve been hearing from God, or at least a vivid daydream that I had during church last week, Rick Perry’s election will usher in a new Millennium when people develop a better understanding of incentives, gain just enough productivity without hiring too many more robots, and Europe resolves its debt crisis.
I don’t presume to know what God wants. But Rick Perry seems to have a pretty good working relationship with the Lord. Look what they did together in Texas. It’s a pity President Obama hasn’t been returning God’s Calls lately. That’s probably the root of our current crisis.
I may be exaggerating the position slightly, but I also worry that I may not be.
What happened to giving unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and giving unto God the things that are God's? Shouldn't Caesar be the one having to deal with the economy? God has Planets and Time and those arsenic-based bacteria to worry about.
And less flippantly, what happened to being united around an idea that we had the capacity to fix things on our own? Yes, Faith can move mountains. But generally Faith takes the form of groups of men with complex machinery, possibly employed by the TVA. All this apocalyptic thinking that Divine Assistance Is Just Around The Corner is a strange way of taking responsibility. The tension between Faith and Works has long lain at the heart of Western Christianity. Perhaps your soul will be saved by Faith alone — ask Martin Luther. But your mortgage won’t.
I don't know that everyone who gathers together to pray over our crisis has given much thought to the form that the Divine Assistance will take. It's not as though a Great Invisible Hand will reach out of the sky and fix things. There may be an invisible hand involved, but it doesn't work that way. Cancers of the body occasionally vanish under mysterious circumstances. Cancers of the polity tend to be more intractable.
God helps those who help themselves.
At any rate He used to. “And the best way to help yourself is to elect Rick Perry!” God points out.
I think it’s in Joel somewhere.