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On Prayer

Barbara Ehrenreich


Sources close to the White House bedroom report that the Republican electoral victory has meant much more to Bill than your typical wake-up call. He woke up, all right, screaming and with sweat pouring down his face, from a dream in which leading Republican thespian Charleton (Moses) Heston stepped forth from between parted cumulus clouds and thundered: "Get with the program, son! Neglect has done nothing to cure poverty and the related crime of suspicious pigmentation. It's time now for open war!"

Indeed, at the moment of Bill's dream, a tremor seemed to shake the nation. God's favorite senator, Jesse Helms, announced that Clinton was unfit to lead the armed forces and hinted at a military coup. Gloating Republicans declared it would not be enough to eliminate the dole--dole-takers would have to be eliminated too, and their children warehoused in orphanages. Scenting blood, and delirious over the passage of Proposition 187, which bars illegal immigrants from public hospitals and schools, light-skinned Californians took to assaulting their brown-skinned neighbors on the streets. Christmas in America, the pundits excitedly predicted, would be replaced by Krystalnacht.

So when Newt Gingrich, God's favorite congressperson, announced that the Republicans' first task would be to re-institute prayer in the public schools, no one in the White House dared stand up for the secular state. We are free to communicate with our Maker in other venues, the reasoning went--in open fields, elevators, even toilet stalls--so why not also in public schools and other relics of socialism, such as the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Yes! Clinton responded--or perhaps it was "Alleluia!" or "Lo!"--let us abandon our ancient habit of separating Church and State and go for a single sleek unified Church-State!

The decision was made in one of the mandatory prayer meetings that have been required for all White House personnel ever since election night. According to high-level inside sources, no serious objections were raised. The only question was how to explain the president's new stance on prayer to the nation's 37 remaining liberals who, as everyone suspects, are high-level media moguls and inexplicably Jewish.

One of Clinton's advisors, perhaps a lib-symp at heart, argued that if children have the right to make stomach-growling sounds during school hours, as the Republicans have long- insisted, then the children should also have the right to pray. In fact, there is now much more for a child to pray for--like, for example, lunch.

But then, within just a few days, the president did another of his famous volte-faces and declared himself not ready to chuck the constitution, at least not quite yet. The pundits smirked that the had been stung by the charges of "waffling" issuing from liberal quarters, though at this point in Bill's career, any cessation of waffling would in itself signal grave inconsistency.

No, the truth is that he decided, after lengthy seminars with his staff, that the prayer thing is by no means as safe and wholesome as the Republicans claim. What if God answers the children's prayers, for example, including the prayers of teenagers? It would be a terrible thing if the nation's teachers were all simultaneously stricken by thunderbolts and the schools transformed into sexual orgy sites.

Then there is the problem of multiculturalism which so plagues our polyglot nation. White Christian prayers are fine, since they usually proceed at an inaudible mumble. But black Christians might want to include some singing and swaying to suggestive-sounding music. Muslims might prostrate themselves at regular intervals on the classroom floors. Plus there are all those animists and others of savage extraction who eschew prayer and communicate with their deities, for all we know, through blood rites and cannibal feasts.

But the final argument against the president's pro-prayer position was, oddly enough, a theological one. No one could think of a prayer that would be appropriate for use when one's classmates are either fainting from hunger or being snatched up by the INS. "Thank you, Great Congressman in the sky, for making me normal, Republican and white?" On Prayer