A Catholic Blogger Offers a Very Thoughtful Reply to my Question about Prayer and Government

Dr. Gregory Popcak is a fellow Patheos blogger who blogs at “Faith on the Couch” in the Patheos Catholic Channel. He’s written a very thoughtful reply to my previous post, “Question for Theists: Why Is It Important to Begin Governmental Meetings with Prayer?” His reply is titled, “Prayer Works: A Psychological Case for Public Prayer and Graceful Governance.” What I like about his reply is that (a) he presents a secular case for prayer; and (b) he actually provides evidence for his position.

I’m still digesting his post. For now, I have two observations. First, I have a minor observation. He writes:

I suppose you could theoretically argue that you could get a similar benefit to civic deist prayer by simply asking the participants of a meeting to, “Please pause and reflect on how a benevolent third party who loved us all and wished the best for us would want us to behave”  but I’m not really sure how that would be different than what civic deist prayer already is and does

My observation is this. This paragraph instantly reminded me of the metaethical theory defended by atheist philosopher Michael Martin, namely, Ideal Observer Theory. I’m not sure what that means, but I thought it was interesting.

Second, I don’t speak for all atheists, but his post got me thinking about how such governmental prayers are commenced. As a thought experiment, imagine if all governmental prayers were replaced by moments of silence and all moments of silence were preceded by the following statement.

I [the person leading the prayer] know that our citizens have a variety of beliefs about God. I know that some of you don’t even believe in God. In light of that diversity, I’d like to briefly explain why I am about to lead a moment of silence at a government meeting. Please hear me out. I am not doing this to impose my views on you. Rather, my goal is that all of us work together to find mutually satisfying solutions to the topics we are about to discuss. Psychologists have studied what happens when people in conflict are asked to imagine what a third party, who loved all of them and wished the best for all of them, would advise them to do about their conflict. We have good, solid experimental evidence that when people are asked to do that, that causes people to be less concerned with their own agendas. Instead, it makes them more willing to seek mutually satisfying solutions. In that spirit, then, I want us to have a moment of silence. If you believe in a higher being, please think about how that higher being would want us to behave. If you don’t believe in a higher being, then please pause and reflect on how a benevolent third party who loved us all and wished the best for us would want us to behave.

With that said, let’s now please have a moment of silence…

I have no idea how that would affect the constitutionality of the moment of silence. What I do know is this. I, for one, couldn’t help but like a theist who said something like that, just for respectfully acknowledging the existence of nonbelievers in the room. I would also be grateful for the way the moment of silence is (hypothetically) framed.

Please check Pocat’s article out and, if you decide to comment on his site, please be respectful.