Thursday, February 22, 2007
Does Prayer = World Peace?
On Monday, my wife and I finally went on our postponed Valentine's date, and on our drive home saw a billboard that caught our attention. The billboard featured pictures of different people from obviously different faiths - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, etc. - all praying. The caption read, "A World at Prayer is a World at Peace." This is a well-intentioned sentiment from the well-intentioned Family Theater Productions, but it also happens to be a fatally flawed one.
On the face of it, in fact, this statement is patently false, if one takes "peace" here to mean the absence of war and aggression, or harmony and concord between individuals and groups (which I think is what they are getting at by globalizing it to the "world"), rather than a kind of individual inner peace. For example - Islamic suicide bombers pray fervently before strapping the bombs to their bodies. American soldiers pray fervently before entering the battlefield. (Note: I am not not necessarily drawing any moral equivalency between the two, but merely noting the presence of prayer in each scenario.) It doesn't seem to me that there is anything inherent in prayer in a generic sense that in any way ensures peace.
This also seem to view prayer from an anthropocentric, pluralist perspective. In other worlds, the focus seems to be on the human activity of prayer, rather than the object of prayer (God, Allah, etc.). Implicit in this statement and graphic, it seems to me, is the idea that it really doesn't matter to whom or what you pray, because really its the human psychological effect of prayer played out in the socio-political arena that makes for a state of peace in the world.
There certainly is a sense in which prayer can have a transforming effect on the one praying, but as a theist I can never lose sight of the fact that I am praying to someone independent of my own psychological state. The focus of prayer in my worldview is theocentric (God-centered), not anthropocentric (man-centered). And peace's common denominator cannot be prayer; the things that make for peace lie outside of this particular human endeavor. In fact, I believe a worldwide state of peace is by nature unattainable for a fallen world - the strife between each other stems ultimately from our own strife with our Creator.