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Kansas House Speaker Presents Test Of The Power Of Prayer

Mike O’Neal, Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, is the focus of protest after he sent out a memo to his Republican colleagues containing “a biblical prayer for our president” asking that the Christian god intervene in American politics to kick Barack Obama out of office: “Let his days be few. Let another take his office.”

speaker of the house of kansasO’Neal was quoting Psalm 109 from the Christian Bible, which is a prayer for divine revenge, including death and destruction for an enemy. Psalm 109 reads, “Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise, for the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me. They have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They compassed me about also with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. For my love they are my adversaries, but I give myself unto prayer, and they have rewarded me evil for good, hatred for my love. Set thou a wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg. Let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath, and let the strangers spoil his labor. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: Neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth. Because that he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart. As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him. As he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones. Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually. Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord, and of them that speak evil against my soul.”

It goes on, and on, with dreary verses of self-pity and vengefulness, in which the author moans in self pity that nobody loves him, and everybody hates him, and that he should be exalted, while the people he hates should be cursed. Anyone who says that the message of the Bible is a consistent message of love should remember this part of the text. In citing Psalm 109, Mike O’Neal is not just hoping that Barack Obama dies soon. O’Neal is praying that Obama’s daughters never have any children, and that wander the country homeless, without receiving pity from anyone of whom they ask help.

In an odd part of the protest against Mike O’Neal’s cursing prayer against Barack Obama, two Christian ministers from Kansas, Tobias Schlingensiepen and Jim McCollough, are saying that they condemn O’Neal’s prayer because they are Christians. They write in an open letter, “As people of faith, we believe that Scripture should never be used to justify praying for the death of anyone. Speaker O’Neal’s hateful abuse of Scripture is unacceptable and a disgrace to his office, and he should immediately resign.”

The thing is that Psalm 109 clearly does justify praying for the death of other people. The cursing prayer is right there in the Bible, so it’s difficult to see how being “people of faith” has anything to do with rejection of violent prayer. Right there in the Psalms, a person of faith prays for death and destruction with pity. Schlingensiepen and McCollough say that O’Neal is abusing the Bible, but actually, O’Neal was soft-pedalling the Bible by not citing Psalm 109’s most nasty bits.

Furthermore, Schlingensiepen and McCollough are themselves pursuing a nasty path of Christian theocracy as they state that it is unacceptable for anyone in public office to “abuse” the Bible, to cite their holy text in a way that they don’t approve of. That’s establishing a religious test for public office, which is specifically prohibited by the Constitution of the United States of America. Schlingensiepen and McCollough are preaching their own version of religion in government to condemn O’Neal’s version of religion in government. That’s a maneuver as morally inconsistent as that of the writer of the 109th Psalm, who curses his enemy for cursing.

As for O’Neal, he has made his prayer, and in doing so, he has offered a simple public test of the power of prayer. O’Neal has prayed to his god that Barack Obama should have few days left in office. If prayer really works, then Obama should indeed have few days remaining as President of the United States.

How many is a few? Three? Seven? Twenty?

Few is a vague term, but I think that most people would agree that few definitely refers to a number less than one hundred.

So, that’s a pretty fair standard for evaluating Mike O’Neal’s prayer, I think. If Barack Obama is no longer President 100 days from now, we won’t be able to know whether the prayer was responsible. However, if Obama is still President of the United States 100 days from now, O’Neal’s prayer will have proved to be ineffective. If Obama’s days as President are not few, O’Neal will have significant cause to question the validity of his religion.

4 thoughts on “Kansas House Speaker Presents Test Of The Power Of Prayer”

  1. Tom says:

    i think it ranks right up there with voo-doo.

    i like this article regarding politispeak and “endorsing candidates”:

  2. Bill says:

    O’Neal’s use of his office to call for the death of the President of the United States is not merely repulsive, it might well be a felony, too. The man is loathsome.

    But, as an atheist who counts among my dearest friends numerous sincere, devout, and humanistic Christians (yes, it actually is possible to be both a humanist and a Christian), I must make a plea for temperance.

    Forgive me for putting it so bluntly, but your statement that “Psalm 109 clearly does justify praying for the death of other people” is pretty sophomoric theologizing. It is nothing like “clear” to open-minded people of goodwill, theists and atheists alike. Whatever else it may or may not be, the Bible is a history, a record of many individuals’ and nations’ words and acts and prayers during a very violent age (not unlike our own). It is replete with stories of murder, incest, rape, treason, bestiality, deception, theft, infidelity, torture, and every other manner of human failing. The recitation of these stories does not “clearly” condone these behaviors, any more than the New York Times’ recitation of the daily news justifies today’s aberrant behaviors. Oh, I suppose that if you spent enough time with a good concordance you could find an example of God telling someone to pray for someone else’s death (it certainly isn’t hard to find any number of examples in the Bible of Godly behavior which most civilized people today would consider execrable, if not downright crazy), but even that doesn’t “clearly” justify anything. Only fundamentalists (who are only a fraction of all Christians) accept all Biblical dictates unquestioningly…and even the majority of them don’t, really (very few, if any, strictly observe Leviticus, for example).

    It may come as a shock to you that individuals get to pick and choose what they take away from the Bible…or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Constitution, or the Sears catalog, or Irregular Times…but they do.

    In blasting O’Neal’s loathsome behavior there’s no need to go picking on every Christian everywhere. Your attack on Schlingensiepen and McCollough (who, actually, sound to me like they’re more or less on the side of goodness here) is ungracious. Being a fan of your writing, I know you can do better.

    1. Peregrin Wood says:

      I’m glad you’re a fan, Bill.

      I don’t know about the “side of goodness”, but I don’t think that Schlingensiepen and McCollough are on the side of separation of church and state when they call O’Neal unfit for public office because he “abused” a religion’s holy book in a way that doesn’t fit with their theology.

      Schlingensiepen and McCollough said that “as people of faith”, they believe that scripture should never be used to justify wishes for someone else’s death. I interpret that as a statement that being a person of faith is inherently incompatible with wishing for another person’s death, and praying for it. Psalm 109 shows that’s just not true. Christians included a death prayer in their Bible, when many other texts were excluded.

      Some people say that their Christian faith is able to exclude parts of the Bible that are found to be offensive. Others don’t.

      Personally, I don’t think that an understanding of a religion that’s based on ignoring the presence of certain texts that are troubling is intellectually sound.

      Psalm 109 does clearly condone prayers for the death of other people. You can make an argument that the Bible as a whole does not, but Psalm 109 does – clearly. It says so, and there’s no scriptural asterisk in the text of the Psalm saying “We think this kind of prayer should not be done.”

      The Bible is not history. It is a pseudohistory, a legend crafted to suit an ideology, and to suit the interests of particular groups of people. It’s not intended as a complete, documented record of what people did. It’s intended as a source of understanding what people should do, and why.

  3. Jim Cook says:


    I’ll let Peregrin speak for Peregrin on the issue of his writing, but on the issue of the source of violence in the Bible, come on. As anyone who’s spent a small amount of time with the Bible can tell you, it’s full not only of passages in which people follow their God character by praying for the death of others, but of passages in which The Lord directly commands people to sweep into towns and kill every last man, woman and child, or maybe save the choice women for sexual slavery. It’s not just people acting horribly in that book as part of some story. The central God character in that book, the one character responsible for determining whether an act is moral or immoral, is horrible.

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