Author Takes Stance Against Day of Prayer

Published in the Herald-Republic on Saturday, April 27, 2002



Last time Martin Zender was interviewed on the radio about his thoughts concerning National Day of Prayer, an elderly woman called the station to offer her two cents.

She threw them right where they hurt.

"She called me a curmudgeon!" Zender said, chuckling at what was far from his first lob from a critic.

When you decide to pick a fight with what's become sort of a national institution -- one that comes across as benevolent and Christian and has been more or less endorsed by every president since Harry Truman, at that -- you learn to expect some flak.

Zender, an Indiana-based writer and public speaker, recently published his first book, "How to Quit Church Without Quitting God" (Starke & Hartmann; $19.95). The book doesn't specifically take issue with the National Day of Prayer, but -- since the 51-year-old event is scheduled for Thursday -- Zender has taken the opportunity to speak his doubts, which align with many of the opinions he shares in the book.

"I realize that prayer is important, but I also realize it's a very personal thing," said Zender, who's 42. "People pray in their cars on the way to work. And certainly people have been praying since 9/11."

But the kind of prayer National Day of Prayer calls for, in Zender's opinion, is prayer of a different flavor.

"To say we need a task force to organize prayer suggests that God is hard of hearing, that if we get enough people together, he will have to do what we ask him to do," Zender said. "I think most people roll their eyes at the concept of a day that we're going to move God."

What nags at Zender, too, is the blurring of church and state that is implied by the day, which draws government nods from the local (the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast) to the national (congressional proclamations).


"If they want to get people to pray, they can do that without getting the politicians involved," Zender said. "It's almost political suicide to not go along with the National Day of Prayer.

"To me," Zender added, "(prayer) is a subtle thing, and it's not a stated thing. (National Day of Prayer) would make the average person think that (their) little personal prayer isn't powerful enough to reach the Almighty."

But does Zender, who was raised Catholic but now claims no denomination, plan to pray on Thursday?

"That's like asking me if I plan a certain day to breathe," he said.



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