In spite of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the U.S. House of Representatives has given official government sanction and support, in the form of both money and legal status, to one high priest, the House Chaplain. That government priest, Daniel P. Coughlin, has the power to choose official daily government religious messages, delivered in sermons that are phrased as prayers.
When he’s feeling sapped of spirit, Coughlin also has the power to approve other people to provide the House’s daily congressional religious teaching. On Tuesday this week, Coughlin chose Clete Kiley of the Faith & Politics Institute.
The Faith & Politics Institute purports to respect the separation of Church and State, but it is eager to use government-established religious offices such the office of the Chaplain of the House of Representatives to spread particular religious messages that promote supernatural interference with government business by the Christian deity. That hardly seems like separation of Church and State to me.
On Tuesday, with official government endorsement, Kiley preached the following message before the House of Representatives:
“Loving God, by whose grace our land has been blessed with such bounty, and by whose guidance our Nation has been formed, be with us even now as we open this second session of the 111th Congress. Grant us a fuller share in the gift of Your Spirit which is strong, loving and wise.
Give us strength to face the challenges before this Congress with courage and patience. Give us a loving Spirit so that compassion for our fellow citizens and for their deepest concerns may find a first place in our deliberations. Give us wisdom, discernment and good judgment so that we may serve what is to the best interest and common good of the Nation and to the general welfare of all people.
Do bless us now as we begin the important work ahead of us. And may You who begin this good work in us bring it to fulfillment. We ask in Your Holy Name. Amen.”
Kiley is asking his deity to transform the minds of U.S. Representatives, in order to twist them toward what Kiley believes to be wise, discerning, good judgment. But does Kiley’s own little sermon show discernment?
Consider the theological ideas contained in Kiley’s congressional preaching:
- The Christian deity made the United States more bountiful than other nations. How? Kiley doesn’t say.
- Kiley asks his deity to give even more bounty to the United States. How? Kiley doesn’t say how that’s supposed to work.
- Kiley then asks his deity to make the United States even more superior in bounty compared to other nations, to take that initial inequality and “bring it to fulfillment”.
- Then, Kiley performs a dramatic reversal, and asks his deity to somehow do a supernatural act to guide Congress to provide, not just for the welfare of the United States, but for the “general welfare of all people”.
If Kiley really believes that his deity is wise, then why would he question his deity’s act of delivery of special wealth to the United States, while keeping other nations poor? Is Kiley asking Congress to overrule the Christian deity’s work, or just to clean up the mess that deity made?
Through what method does Kiley believe that his deity will be able to manipulate the brains of the U.S. Representatives – supernatural hypnosis? Release of neurotransmitters at the cellular level through some sort of divine psychoactive process?
Furthermore, if God really listens to the prayers of the House Chaplain (or his designated high priest of the day), and controls the minds of members of Congress accordingly, isn’t it the office of the House Chaplain who really controls Congress, rather than the Speaker of the House? Does Kiley really believe that he and his deity have the power to treat members of Congress like marionettes, or is he consciously deciding to use the form of prayer as kind of rhetorical flourish, merely gaining personal glory for himself as he takes the government-funded pulpit of the lower house of Congress for the day?
Kiley’s weird, state-endorsed theology boils down to two possibilities:
1. The U.S. Congress is nothing more than a puppet of the Christian diety, and represents that deity’s will, rather than the will of the American people.
2. Christian preachers like Clete Kiley know very well that the supernatural ideas they preach are nonsense, but use them to gain special access to the centers of power in Washington D.C.
Either way, the activities of Coughlin, Kiley, and the office of the House Chaplain do not bode well for the health of democracy in the United States.