When valedictorian Roy Costner IV ripped up his graduation speech yesterday and prayed the Lord’s prayer, he dealt a defiant riposte to the atheist whining which had prevailed over his South Carolinian school district. His prayer garnered an exuberant round of Southern hoots, hollers, and applause, as can be seen here.
Roy’s controversial witness comes on the tails of a similar controversy in Kentucky, where graduating class president Jonathan Hardwick issued his own prayer during the graduation ceremonies. One sensitive atheist schoolmate was not pleased and has stated that he may consider legal action. The young atheist told The Advocate Messenger, “Every student should feel safe at their graduation ceremony and should not have to worry about religious bullying.”
On the one hand, the charge of religious bullying is a bit comical—why get in a huff about a petition made of someone you do not believe to exist? But on the other, the atheist sees better than most what is truly at stake in a prayer offered at one of life’s critical junctures—the weaving of man’s relationship to God within the cultural fabric of our common social life. In some small way, what is at stake is the survival of a Christian worldview.
Is God the cause of our being? Does God exercise providence over his creation? Does our ultimate destiny, our true and final end, lie only with Him? Did the Son of God truly walk this Earth, teach us to pray, die, and rise from the dead? Do we then have a duty to offer thanks to God, give him praise, and turn to him in supplication?
When a public prayer of thanksgiving and petition is not offered at life’s significant junctures, we as a community answer “No” to at least the last of these questions. There is no neutrality in the matter. Certain times call for prayer, and not to offer it implicitly fosters an atheistic worldview by ignoring the practical demands which follow upon a community’s relationship to God.
Will such communal acts of prayer alienate some people? No. But, they will reveal the alienation that already exists. Let’s face it. If you don’t believe in God, your bonds of solidarity with those who do will be rather thin. The solution is not to dilute all such bonds to the weakness of your own.
Nothing forges greater bonds of solidarity than belonging to the same divine Father, and nothing is the source of greater joy. We revel in that joy when we unite in common prayer. No reason to feel bullied or jealous—our common prayer is an invitation and our joy free for the taking. Revel with us, or don’t, but don’t ask us to abandon our joy. It was bought at too great a price.
(Image: David Michael Morris)