• The Power of Prayer to Exclude

    • Posted on Dec 04, 2016
    Today's (12-4-16) Courier column.  The perennial issue of praying at secular gatherings deserves attention occasionally.  

    If  “freedom” means anything, it means freedom to pray and worship in your own way, on your own time, with whomever shares your views.   This seems like common sense to me, and beyond disagreement. 

     Yet it’s inevitably a hot button subject, and people have argued about it ever since “Separation of Church and State” emerged as a founding principle of our Republic.  

     So why is public prayer at secular events still controversial? 

    Years ago, I sat in on a meeting of a Cedar Falls High reunion committee.  At least one member wanted to offer a prayer at the reunion.  That would mean a Christian prayer, since they were predominately Christians.   

    It seemed to me that a religious prayer, whether Christian or not, would be inappropriate, even at a reunion.  After all, we never prayed in school as part of class, and not all of us were Christians, or even believers.  In effect, they were asking us all to participate in the prayer-maker’s religion.   

     More recently, a colleague wanted to offer prayer at a faculty function.  I was against it because not all faculty are Christians.   Some are Jewish, some Buddhist, some atheists. A Christian prayer excludes them.  

    Therein lies the problem.  Some religious people stay convinced that everyone who believes rightly will join their religion.  To them, religious diversity smacks of heresy.    

    Some deeply religious people, in fact, remain convinced that their world is in danger of being destroyed by non-believers.  They feel obliged to pray at public events to stem the non-believer tide.  To me, that’s the heart of their concern for public prayer at secular events.  

    They insist that our culture has been degraded because public schools “banned” prayer. Yet schools never banned prayer as such. Students could pray to their heart’s content silently or voluntarily.   Only official school-sanctioned prayer was banned because it violated the U.S. Constitution.   The Supreme Court ruled on that in 1962, and several times since. 

    Put simply, private prayer is your own business; public prayers belong at gatherings of believers.  

    Here’s the rub:  Dozens of religions worldwide claim to own and know the truth. 
    Their group lives and dies for their one right way. Some openly proselytize to expand their influence.   

    Yet there is no one right religion.  There never has been and never will be, no matter how fervently believers pray and hope otherwise.   

    People blithely ask whether I believe in God.  My only reply has been “Which God?”  There have been dozens, each deeply believed in, each lived and died for over the centuries.    

    We live in an interconnected world of different beliefs, races, ethnicities, gender and sexual preferences, languages, cultures—all of whom expect and deserve a place at the table.  That’s why diversity in education at all levels makes sense.   

    Living in a homogeneous bubble won’t cut it anymore, and if a school behaves like a provincial village, it’s doing students a disservice.  And when religious prayers are offered at secular events, there’s automatic exclusion.    

     That’s wrong.  

    Go comment!
  • Still Standing, Getting Stronger

    • Posted on Nov 13, 2016
    Here's today's (11-13) Courier column--written the morning after the election. Probably the hardest piece I've ever written--just wanted to wallow in self-pity and anger.  But that goes nowhere, so I wrote this.  It helped me, and it may help you, non-Trump supporters.  

    As my dear old friend Dale Phelps used to quip, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Clinton supporters, you’re still alive. 

     So get stronger.  I write this the day after the election.  I’m still angry and shocked that a con artist will be our leader, a loudmouth who seldom knows facts, who cheats when he can, who bullies and whines and uses name calling instead of logic and support, who never should have gotten near elected office. 

    Oh, and as of Wednesday noon, Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 225,000 votes.  Without the Electoral College, she would have won.  

    There, I feel better.     

     Now, how to get stronger?   Five ways: 

    (1) Give up blame and self-pity.            
      Blaming and pitying work for blowing off steam, but when it becomes 
    wallowing, you have a problem.  Tuesday night I raged on.  Who to fault for Clinton’s loss?  Who didn’t do enough?  Who should get jail time?   I woke up Wednesday in a terrible funk, realizing I couldn’t get through the day by blaming and feeling bad.   So I moved on by writing this.  
     (2) Help solve community problems.   
    I’d like to see health care costs come down, and I’ve been volunteering with “Senior Medicare Patrol” to help identify and warn senior citizens all over NE Iowa about fraud, errors, and abuse in Medicare.   We lose some 60 billion dollars a year that can be saved if we pay attention to scams and errors in Medicare billing. 
    Instead of complaining, I’m doing something about it.  
    (3) Remember balance.                            
    In his own way, Trump brought a touch of balance in his post-victory speech when he spoke about healing.   “We’re a very divided country,” he said, and he’s right. Of course he was the divider in chief, but that’s getting into blaming, so let’s give him a chance to try healing.   There’s a chance he means it.  

     (4) Collaborate and Cooperate.  
     American can’t get great (again?) without massive collaboration and cooperation from all quarters, so for Trump to fulfill his promise, he’s going to have to work across the aisle.   Otherwise, it’s a hollow slogan.  Let’s hold him to making it happen, and I look forward to that.  

    (5) Introspect.  
    I’ve spent hours trying to examine my own beliefs and behavior all through the election and realize that I’ve been too complacent, and frankly, smug.  All along I felt comfortable with the Clintons and their approach to everything, not really examining whether they could change anything. 

    Now I’m wondering about my former certainties. Would she have been able to work with an opposition that despises her?  Or her own party, which distrusts her? 

    Besides, as Thomas Frank points out in his disturbing book “Listen, Liberal,” the Clintons presided over a long period of middle-class economic stagnation, and didn’t help that much.  That’s partly why voters are furious.   Can Trump do better? 

    Trump’s a fool walking in where angels fear to tread, and sometimes that actually works. 


    Go comment!
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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