Although I agree with the premise presented in The History of Prayer in America by James P. Moore Jr. that prayer has been a very common thread among Americans throughout our history, at times the book overplays the importance of public prayer by politicians by ignoring the politics behind the act.
Not every politician that prays is a believer — some are just exploiting those who are. And, some politicians offer prayers that are woefully (intentionally?) naïve of the societal ills (and their solutions) that exist in their own communities. These individuals often oversimplify complex problems — expecting God to solve everything without any intellectual, spiritual or humane work on their part.
Prayer For Our Soldiers (But Not Theirs)
When it comes to dealing with America’s hypocrisy, few did it better than American humorist and satirist Mark Twain.
By the end of his long literary career Twain had grown very tired of America’s imperialism, patriotic fervor and, in general, the gullibility and hypocrisy of the Chosen. Around the time America went to war with Cuba in the late 1800s, Twain wrote a short story for Harper’s Bazaar called War Prayer, but, as Moore reports in his book, the story was rejected because Twain’s publisher feared the work would impede the sales of his other books.
After Twain’s death, though, Moore notes, the story was published in Harper’s Weekly (1916).
In Twain’s story an old man interrupts the prayer service of the patriotic saints — as the minister is beating the war drums. This old man wants to teach the saints how to pray more honestly, because as he explains, when a farmer prays for rain for his crops, that same rain may destroy his neighbor’s harvest.
But, his most pressing goal is to teach the church the most effective way to pray about our wars — brutally honest. Get rid of all political correctness and cut to the chase. Part of the old man’s prayer goes like this:
O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags …
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
In the original version of the story the old man’s words are typed in red ink.