The “Naked Public Square” in Fayetteville, North Carolina

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First page of Constitution of the United States

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A federal judge has banned Christian prayers from the city council meetings in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Only “non-sectarian prayers” will be allowed. This is the latest sortie in the attempt of the United States government to enforce what the late Father Richard John Neuhaus called “The Naked Public Square.” That term refers to the systematic removal of religion (especially Christianity) from public discourse in the United States. Usually proponents of the naked public square refer to Thomas Jefferson’s referring to a “wall of separation” between church and state. Yet the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution–the First Amendment only forbids the U. S. Congress from establishing a religion and forbids the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It does not even forbid a state from having an established church if that individual state so choose. It took the creative reading of meaning into the First Amendment by members of the Supreme Court and by secularist federal judges to force a so-called “religiously neutral stance” on the American people. Religion is relegated to the private sphere.

Yet no one can remain neutral on religion–as William James pointed out in his famous essay, “The Will to Believe,” “neutrality” is de facto a rejection of religion. Religions claim to have implications for the whole of life, public and private. To privatize religion is to destroy an essential part of religion’s identity. A “neutral stance” of the government is, in effect, an endorsement of practical atheism.

There also can be no such thing as a “nonsectarian prayer.” A prayer to a deity of any kind reflects a bias toward theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Theravada Buddhists do not believe in God, or else believe that whether a deity exists is not important to ending desire and suffering. Would not a prayer to a deity oppose their teaching? Atheists would not agree with any kind of prayer. A prayer not using the name of Jesus is nonsectarian; it is biased against Christianity and toward the other two great theistic religions. A removal of a prayer from city council meetings would not help, since this would reflect a bias toward (practical) atheism.

A better solution would be to allow ministers from various faiths to present a prayer or devotional at the city council meeting. A Jewish rabbi or a Muslim Imam could pray to God without invoking the name of Jesus. A Theravada Buddhist could present some sayings of the Buddha about ending desire. A Christian could pray in the name of Jesus. An atheist might present a short meditation on the glory of science. Those in the audience who do not agree with the theology behind a particular prayer or devotional or meditation can surely tolerate it–no one is forcing them to give up their religious beliefs. If I am ever asked to pray publicly, I will pray in accordance with my religion, Christianity. I will end my prayer “in Jesus’ name.” To do otherwise would violate my conscience. A Jewish rabbi who leads a prayer should not be required to use the name of Jesus. A Theravada Buddhist need not make a reference to a deity. That is a solution fair to different religious groups that makes more sense than a “nonsectarian prayer.”

 

Mediums and Christianity

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Hypnotic seance

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How should a traditional Christian regard mediumship, the intentional contact with the dead? Probably most traditional Christians oppose mediumship, referring to its clear condemnation in the Hebrew Bible. It doesn’t help matters that some mediums make no secret of their hostility to Christianity (although others would consider themselves to be in the Christian tradition). I believe that genuine mediumship (as opposed to fake mediums who prey on the gullible by “cold reading” the speech and body language of sitters) can be reconciled with traditional Christianity if such a gift is used with care. The Hebrew Bible condemns mediumship because of its association with pagan religious practices in the ancient world, so those passages condemning it do not necessarily apply to Christian mediums. I am assuming throughout this post that some gifted mediums receive genuine messages from the dead rather than messages from the living through enhanced psi abilities (the so-called “super-psi hypothesis”). The case of the famous medium Mrs. Leonora Piper (1857-1950) convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt that a talented medium could communicate with the surviving personalities of persons who have died.

Everyone probably has some psi ability, whether that ability be telepathy (mind to mind communication apart from normal means), clairvoyance (receiving information from the non-human environment), or psychokinesis (PK, the ability to move objects using the mind alone). But some individuals are especially gifted in one or more of these skills. After all, not all of us have the same athletic skills, mechanical skills, or intellectual abilities–why should the situation be any different with psi? And since a medium would be communicating with the dead through psi, a good medium would have at least good telepathic abilities.

All talents, from a Christian point of view, are gifts from God over which we exercise a stewardship. We have a moral obligation to use whatever talents we have been given in a responsible way. For example, someone with the gift of persuasion might be able to sell snake oil and make a great deal of money, but this behavior would be a misuse of the talent God gave the person. A genuine medium may care only about money and overcharge clients, or may be seeking power from the dead. These are both bad motives for mediumship. Seeking power from the dead is more dangerous than money lust, since all power is of God and is given on loan from God–it should be used for His glory and not ultimately for our self-gratification or use to manipulate and dominate others.

The proper motive for using the talent of mediumship is to help people deal with their grief, and perhaps to remove barriers to their faith in an afterlife. Mediumship can only provide, at best, a kind of “natural knowledge” of the afterlife which should be completed by Scripture and the teachings of the Church. However, if knowing that a loved one is okay gives comfort to a grieving person, I see no problem for a Christian medium to contact the dead loved one for that reason. Or if someone who is agonizing over doubts about faith comes to a medium, the communication with the dead can at least remove one major barrier to accepting the fullness of Christian faith.

Such a gift should be used very carefully, with much prayer and with discernment. If the medium senses that the communicator may not be the person he claims to be, the medium should immediately break the link. Traditional Christianity accepts the existence of Satan and other fallen angels, who could try to twist what is a good gift into something that damages a vulnerable person. So mediums should tread with caution. But if they take proper precautions, pray, and practice their talent for the right motive, I do not see any reason why someone could not practice as a Christian medium.