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Left In Lowell » Blog Archive » Seperation of Church and State - But Not In Lowell

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August 8, 2006

Seperation of Church and State - But Not In Lowell

by at 10:19 am.

I’m so glad this council meeting prayer thing has come up as a subject to be discussed. Longtime readers will remember I’ve been ranting about this since I started this blog.

There is no legal or moral argument that supports the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer as part of the city council meeting. Not only does this mix church and state, it is promoting a specific religion, Catholicism. This is a no-brainer should someone challenge it in court. The Bill of Rights says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

And with the Fourteenth Amendment, these laws of the land were made to apply to any government underneath the federal level…state and local.

Long held precedent has created this wall between church and state which has stood the test of time. I will tell you, as a former Catholic (born, raised, and Confirmed) turned atheist, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer makes me feel inordinately uncomfortable in my own city’s council chambers. It’s the sort of peer pressure (the pressure to not be left out, stand up, and recite something in which you don’t believe) that is illegal under the Constitution of the United States. I deliberately sit out the Lord’s Prayer, I certainly don’t recite it, but it is the state’s job to ensure it doesn’t take an act of courage (trust me, it is, albeit a small one) to be involved in one’s own elected government.

So I disagree with the motion made two weeks ago…we should not be examining the inclusion of other prayers in addition to this one. We should be nixing the inclusion of any sort of prayer from any religion in the official Council chambers of the City of Lowell. Unless, of course, the city wants to wait for someone to bring up a lawsuit which is sure to embarrass them.

If some of the Councilors, and members of the public, want to engage in reflective prayer before the meeting, they should feel free to do so - in a private room somewhere before the meeting starts. Then they can join the rest of us in furthering the State’s work…not the Lord’s. There is a time and place for religion and it is not during official city business.

By the way, Councilor Armand Mercier was quoted as saying, “It’s not broke. I don’t want to fix it. I have not had a complaint in all the years I’ve been there about saying the Lord’s Prayer, nor has anybody complained to me that it should be another prayer, so I don’t know where they’re coming from to say it’s not fair. What’s next, no Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?”

I think Councilor Mercier needs to hear those complaints from those of you who feel as I do - maybe you are a Catholic, but feel this is a misuse of government. Maybe you’re an atheist like me, or else of another religion. But it’s time to set aside such unconstitutional practices, just like we are hoping to set aside some ethically-challenged political practices in this city under our new City Manager. While you’re at it, send a note to all the other councilors as well. You can email them all at once or one at a time at this webpage.

58 Responses to “Seperation of Church and State - But Not In Lowell”

  1. Mr Lynne Says:

    Quotes from the Sun article:

    “Mayor Bill Martin on Tuesday will appoint a City Council rules subcommittee to begin deliberating the issue. It is unlikely to recommend anything drastic. ”

    Not praying before a meeting is hardly drastic.

    “Still, two of the soon-to-be-named subcommittee members — Councilors Rita Mercier and Jim Milinazzo — have said they are open to adding other prayers, recommended by the interfaith group, before meetings. ”

    How about not praying?

    “‘It’s not broke,’ he [Armand Mercier] said. ‘I don’t want to fix it. I have not had a complaint in all the years I’ve been there about saying the Lord’s Prayer, nor has anybody complained to me that it should be another prayer, so I don’t know where they’re coming from to say it’s not fair. What’s next, no Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?’”

    I’ve heard plenty of complaints. Now you have too… from Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance. I assume their complaints still count as complaints. They explain pretty clearly why it’s not fair, if Armand Mercier says he can’t understand it then he is either being disingenuous or has a reading comprehension problem. If he equates the pledge with the prayer then he has a logic comprehension problem as well.

    “Armand Mercier said his barometer is former Councilor Rithy Uong”

    Oh great… a vote of one. Wish I could elect a President that way.

    “Councilor Rita Mercier said while she is ‘not interested in substituting the Lord’s Prayer,’ she would allow group members to say their own prayers of equal duration before meetings, in addition to the Lord’s Prayer. ”

    Great for us atheists

    “‘I’m not a religious fanatic, but I make some very important decisions in this world and I can’t do that unless I rely on God to guide me,’ she said. ‘Don’t ask me to eliminate something that was there before I even got there.’”

    Nobody is stopping you from praying.

    “‘I’m willing to listen to what the interfaith council has to say at our meeting, but I would be predisposed to keeping the Lord’s Prayer and working with the alliance to bring in some sort of additional thing,’ he [Milinazzo] said. ”

    God forbid anyone profess no faith. I am so sick of this being a 3rd rail… its a bigger 3rd rail than social security ever was.

    “‘That has been an issue on occasion over the past 40 years but it has always just been pushed aside,’ Howe said. ‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t be pushed aside at this particular stage.’”

    But Armand says nobody complains. He took a vote (of one) too! I wonder… if nobody complains about drug dealing near schools, should we allow it? Complaints shouldn’t be the only criterion. How about the Constitution?

    “No other community in the immediate area recites a prayer before the start of its board of selectmen’s meetings. Members of the Lowell School Committee have never said a prayer before their meetings. ”

    That settles it. Lowell must be blessed.

    “The Rev. K. Gordon White, retired rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lowell, said there have been ‘three or four’ attempts by interfaith groups to convince councilors to change the practice during the past 30 years.”

    But I thought there were no complaints.

  2. I81U812 Says:

    If the Lord was paying attention to the City Council meetings, we wouldn’t have to deal with Bud Caulfield.

  3. Tim Little Says:

    I applaud the GLILA’s proposal to the city council, although I share Lynne’s concern about commencing meetings with any explicit religious observance. I think that the best solution would be to begin council meetings with a moment of silent reflection. A moment of silence would easily allow each councilor to find his or her own spiritual ground without infringing on the beliefs of others – both within the council and throughout the city.

    From a personal perspective, as a non-Christian I have to admit that hearing the Lord’s Prayer before city council meetings has always made me feel a bit uneasy – like standing for the Star-Spangled Banner before a ballgame or, indeed, like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Samkhann Khouen’s comment, paraphrased, that in the grand scheme of things the Lord’s Prayer is probably not worth getting one’s knickers in too much of a twist. Perhaps it’s part of our Western legacy that we make such a big deal out of religious sectarianism? The Buddhist perspective is undoubtedly healthier….

    With metta.
    - Tim

  4. steve Says:

    The GLILA proposal, no matter what it is, doesn’t matter: *any* prayer, no matter to which invisible man, is unconsitutional.

  5. David Says:

    Couple of things. First, the Lord’s Prayer isn’t specifically Catholic - I’ve heard it recited at numerous Episcopalian and other Protestant services. Also, though I believe it is routinely used only in Christian services, it doesn’t actually contain a reference to Jesus Christ.

    Second, the Supreme Court has said that prayers opening legislative sessions don’t violate the First Amendment. I’m not a big fan of this practice either, but it’s legal.

  6. Mimi Says:

    The Lowell School Committee and none of the City Board meetings start with the Lord’s Prayer and somehow they seem to conduct business quite well. Now that this issue will be debated, I wonder if there will be a move to recite the Lord’s Prayer at those meetings also.

    Given the present circumstances, I do not think we can easily eliminate the “opening prayer” but we certainly can make it more inclusive. I would be in favor as a first step to invite Lowell residents with different religious and spiritual beliefs to lead the City Council in a moment of reflection before they begin their deliberations.

    I also find it ironic that the CC recites this prayer but there is so much turmoil, name-calling and criticism within the group. What happen to the line “And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    Also, I do not know why CC A. Mercier agreed to serve on the Sub-Committee if he is so oppose to even entertaining the thought of any type of change. The Rules Sub-Committee should be open to ideas and discussions, listen to the public and maybe the City’s Law Department, before it comes up with the recommendation to the entire City Council.

    Congratulations to the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance for bringing this issue to the forefront. I can see that for the next few weeks, this is going to be a hot button issue in the media and in some political circles; almost as crucial as the selection of the new basketball coach at the high school.

  7. Mike Says:

    i’d like to nomininate i81u812’s response in the string as post of the year

  8. Mr Lynne Says:

    Given that it is completely unneccessary and irrelevent to the work of good government, its cons obviously outweigh its non-existant pros.

    To the extent that there are people who do feel a need to pray before a meeting, even if we remove it from the official proceedings, there is nothing stopping them from praying unofficially however they want. Because of this and the fact that it has nothing to do with governing, I am hard pressed to justify a prayer beeing part of the official proceedings.

    Also, the Supreme Court can be (and is) wrong. Any group that values religious diversity sees this. I wonder if the court was as religiously divers as the Greater Lowell Interfaith Leadership Alliance if the decision would come out differently.

  9. Brian Says:

    The pre-meeting prayer offends non-Christians like me and should not be read, period. Silent reflection I can live with, but not a prayer. And while we are at it, we should ban the Nativity scene they always plant in front of City Hall. If one of the local churches wants to display it, fine with me. But there is no need for it to be on public property. (and it’s tacky to boot!)

  10. Mr Lynne Says:

    I’m tired of faith in politics, nevermind government.

    Some quotes from Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” for your parusal:



    According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe.’ Another 48 percent believe that it is the “inspired” word of the same-still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text-or, for that matter, to have created the earth with its 250,000 species of beetles. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation (40 percent believe that God has guided creation over the course of millions of years). This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. If our polls are to be trusted, nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths. How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?


    … we live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. This is truly remarkable, given that there is no other body of “knowledge” that we require our political leaders to master. Even a hairstylist must pass a licensing exam before plying his trade in the United States, and yet those given the power to make war and national policy-those whose decisions will inevitably affect human life for generations-are not expected to know anything in particular before setting to work. They do not have to be political scientists, economists, or even lawyers; they need not have studied international relations, military history, resource management, civil engineering, or any other field of knowledge that might be brought to bear in the governance of a modern superpower; they need only be expert fund-raisers, comport themselves well on television, and be indulgent of certain myths. In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not. Could there be any clearer indication that we are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs?


    … we live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. This is truly remarkable, given that there is no other body of “knowledge” that we require our political leaders to master. Even a hairstylist must pass a licensing exam before plying his trade in the United States, and yet those given the power to make war and national policy-those whose decisions will inevitably affect human life for generations-are not expected to know anything in particular before setting to work. They do not have to be political scientists, economists, or even lawyers; they need not have studied international relations, military history, resource management, civil engineering, or any other field of knowledge that might be brought to bear in the governance of a modern superpower; they need only be expert fund-raisers, comport themselves well on television, and be indulgent of certain myths. In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not. Could there be any clearer indication that we are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs?

  11. K-R-S Says:

    I second Mike’s motion! I81..’s comment was hilarious, just about fell out of my chair. :0)
    I am Christian, the prayer doesn’t bother me so much personally. However, it has occurred to me, time and time again,
    how this may be offensive, to many who are not of the Christian faith. My feeling is that a moment of silence is entirely appropriate and each individual present in chambers may use that time for reflection or a silent prayer.

  12. Lynne Says:

    Personally, I think a moment of silence should be left to when there is someone to honor who has passed on. Don’t know why people need that before every CC meeting…having one every week will just cheapen it.

    Also a good argument why one shouldn’t recite a prayer either, actually. The whole medeival Catholic religion was built by people who told the masses “just recite this stuff that’s meaningless to you by rote, and you’ll go to heaven. Oh and give us your money.” Pretty much describes my experience with Catholicism…

  13. Brett Says:

    First of all, I am not sure where in this scenario the 1st Amendment was violated. I do not see where Congress passed any law establishing any one particular religion. Congress was not involved in this meeting. Also, nobody was prohibited from freely exercising their own religion. Nobody was forced to recite the prayer and nobody was prevented from leaving if they felt uncomfortable. While our government is neutral when it comes to religion, our nation is Christian in its beliefs and traditions. That does not mean all citizens are Christian which is why the 1st Amendment was written. We were founded by Christians with Christian beliefs who set up a government to protect people of any religion from government persecution. I do not think you could make a strong argument that anyone was being persecuted by having to listen to the Lord’s prayer. My question is, if you do not believe in God or the Bible or any other religion, why would a prayer make you feel uncomfortable? I do not get uncomfortable when I hear someone from another belief system pray to their god. They are entitled to their beliefs and do not cause me to waiver in mine in the least.

  14. Tim Little Says:

    Just an FYI on Sam Harris: He actually is a practicing Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition. I heard him speak at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies last September as part of a forum on Buddhist responses to violence, and am looking forward to reading his contribution to the just-released Wisdom Publications anthology “Mindful Politics.”

    While I do agree with a good deal of what Sam has to say – particularly in terms divesting Buddhism of its more superstitious and/or fundamentalist practices – I also feel he tends to over-sell his “anti-faith” screed in a deliberate effort to be controversial (and, perhaps not incidentally, sell books). He seems to generalize the worst aspects of religious belief at the expense of a much broader – in William James’s words – variety of religious experience.

    Whether we choose to recognize it or not, the religious impulse is an essential part of the human psyche and the human condition. At times faith – of which religion is essentially the political manifestation – expresses itself in ways that are not entirely wholesome, nor even explicitly “religious.” This does not mean, however, that we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater by suggesting that anyone who professes religious faith is crazy, stupid, or unfit for public office.

  15. Mr Lynne Says:

    Congress isn’t involved in your local police either, but they still need a warrent to search your house.

    If our govenment leads a prayer, it has ceased being neutral. That’s the point.

    I don’t get uncomforatble when others pray (dumbfounded maybe, but not uncomfortable). When my government does it, yeah, I get uncomfortable. The Govornment isn’t entitled to any religious beliefs whatsoever. (Note that religious freedom isn’t, in fact, a religious belief,… its a political belief.

  16. Mr Lynne Says:

    Yeah, I found out about the Barre center too late. Tim, I’ll lend you the book if you want. His point is that it is irrational to assert beliefs absent evidence or reason. I agree that the religious impulse is an essential part of the human psyche and the human condition.
    I assert that irrationality in other areas of discourse are frowned upon as unhealthy and there really isn’t any reasonable account of why religous irrationality should be any different. One irrational belief such as believing ‘all things purple are alive’ would disqualify you from office, but it would be impossible to get elected President if one didn’t assert other particular irrational beliefs such as ‘this wine turns into blood if the right words are spoken by the right people before I drink it’.

  17. inside/outside Says:

    I81U812 Says:
    August 8th, 2006 at 10:57 am
    If the Lord was paying attention to the City Council meetings, we wouldn’t have to deal with Bud Caulfield.


  18. Tim Little Says:

    I particularly liked Sam’s example of the huge diamond buried in the back yard: How do I know it’s there? Because I believe it’s there! ;)

    While we’re recommending books, I’d suggest checking out David Loy’s “A Buddhist History of the West.” (Loy, incidentally, will be speaking at this year’s Barre forum on “Collective Delusion.”) In it he traces the evolution of Western civilization by the means through which people have tried to resolve their sense of lack (his translation of the Buddhist term dukkha) – the sense of groundlessness or existential angst that characterizes human existence.

    Traditionally our sense of lack has been “expiated” – extinguished – through religious means, which have very rarely been “rational” in the empirical 18th Century European Enlightenment sense we commonly understand. The religious ritual is literally the process through which we become reconnected with or grounded in the greater whole – whether we call it “God” or by some other name.

    Modernity has been a historically conditioned reaction to the fact that the religious institutions of Europe were no longer able to provide the expiation of lack they once had. Loy posits that our need for groundedness became manifest in other ways, namely reason and progress. And, as he discusses, reason and progress have also fallen short of this objective. (Necessarily, he would argue, because they too project the resolution of lack onto an indeterminate future.)

    I don’t disagree with Harris that some degree of rationality is probably a preferred trait among our elected officials, especially since “irrational” – in some cases downright pathological – behavior lead to a lot of the senseless suffering. However I would agree with Loy that since this suffering is essentially spiritual in nature – i.e., a symptom of our sense of lack – it must ultimately be addressed by spiritual, even religious means.

  19. Renee Says:

    I’ve spoken about this previously on your blog Lynne. As a practicing Catholic I’m against prayer during council meetings, prayer isn’t a solely cultural or political event; it is one that encompasses worship. I see no worship in the reciting of the prayer at the meeting. Now of course I definitely reflect in prayer and religious beliefs when making moral and philosophical decisions even political ones. There has also been a problem with city councilors affecting how the archdiocese sells the property, including religious items such as making them into “ historic artifacts”. Being Catholic is being religious, not cultural. Sure I love all the smells and bells of Church too, but that is to worship God not tradition.

  20. Renee Says:

    As an alternative how about a rotating blessing from a house of worship within the city of Lowell I’m sure many forms of worship would love to offer its blessing to the meeting.

  21. sco Says:

    “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
    –Matthew 6:5-6

    Growing up, that was one of the passages from the Bible that stuck with me the most. As such, I always bristle at public expressions of faith like this. I’ve always thought that one’s relationship with God was meant to be personal.

  22. Tim Little Says:

    Renee: I think your “rotating” blessing is similar to the GLILA proposal, and one that Rita seems to have been inclinded towards.

    Presonally, I think you still run into the problem of inclusion — still too many chances for some group to feel left out — and that really, a moment of silence before Council meetings is the best way to keep most everyone happy. (Ok, maybe not Lynne and those other hardliners! ;P )

  23. sco Says:

    That passage, by the way, comes right before the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible, so it’s kind of ironic in this case, I suppose.

  24. JANE Says:

    Adherents.com - Religion by Location: Massachusetts (1990)
    Catholic 49.30%
    Protestant 9.70%
    Judaism 4.40%
    Baptist 4.30%
    Episcopalian 2.80%
    United Church of Christ 2.26%
    Methodist 2.40%
    Episcopal Church 2.03%
    Congregationalist 1.19%
    United Methodist Church 1.19%
    American Baptist Churches 1.10%
    Presbyterian 0.87%
    Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist 0.08%
    Lutheran 0.61%
    Orthodox 0.60%
    Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.60%
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 0.47%
    Evangelical/Born Again 0.40%
    Buddhism 0.40%
    Islam 0.40%
    Pentecostal 0.40%
    Assemblies of God 0.34%
    Congregational Christian Churches 0.24%
    Armenian Apostolic Church of America 0.28%
    Seventh-day Adventist 0.21%
    Native Americans 0.20%
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 0.20%
    Churches of Christ 0.20%
    African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 0.18%
    Southern Baptist Convention 0.17%
    Church of the Nazarene 0.12%
    Churches of Christ 0.11%
    Hinduism 0.10%
    Assemblies of God 0.10%
    Conservative Congregational Christian Conference 0.09%
    Christian and Missionary Alliance 0.06%
    Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 0.05%
    Quaker 0.04%
    Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch 0.02%
    Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) 0.02%
    Christian Reformed Church 0.02%
    Apostolic Lutheran Church of America 0.01%
    Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 0.01%
    Church of God of Prophecy 0.01%
    Nonreligious 7.30%
    Agnostic 1.00%

    These %’s are for all of MA and are about a decade old. Something tells me that Buddhism & Hinduism has moved up the charts since then. I’m not against religion, but I’d like to see the prayer go as well. The last couple CC meetings I’ve been to, I felt uncomfortable about the prayer.

  25. Lynne Says:

    Wow, I’m happy to see a lot of discussion here.

    From Catholic and Christian faithful to us atheists, it seems many people ARE uncomfortable with the expression of faith at a secular state gathering.

    I do know that some city councilors read this blog, and I hope they take this discussion to heart.

  26. steve Says:

    what’s the purpose of a moment of silence? so people can then pray in silence on city time? how about working? doing the people’s business?

    the point is that government-endorsed prayer is unconstitutional; the 1983 decision is wrong because they forgot (?) to apply the Lemon Test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_v._Kurtzman):

    From http://www.atheists.org/courthouse/joined.html#battle:

    “…in that case, a Black Atheist state legislator in the Nebraska unicameral legislature challenged the opening of each session with a prayer by a Presbyterian chaplain who was paid with public funds. The District Court for the District of Nebraska enjoined the payment of funds. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit enjoined the whole chaplaincy practice. It was obviously unconstitutional. The Supreme Court delivered a 6-3 decision, with Justice Brennan filing a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall joined. Justice Stevens filed a separate dissenting opinion. Chief Justice Burger delivered the opinion of the Court.

    The Presbyterian minister had been at the job for sixteen years and was paid $319.75 a month for each month the legislature was in session.

    The Supreme Court held that the practice was constitutional since the United States Congress has opened with prayer for two hundred years, the legislature of Nebraska has done so for one hundred years, the Supreme Court opens with the cry, “Oyez, Oyez. God save the United States and this honorable court,” and prayer of legislative bodies has become part of the fabric of our society. To invoke divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country. The Court made no attempt to apply the Lemon test in Marsh at all, relying solely on a lengthy claim that the practice was historical.”

    The City Council Jesus Show fails the Lemon Test on all 3 counts: 1)it has no secular or legislative purpose, 2) its primary effect is an endorsement or enhancement of religion, and 3) it fosters “an excessive government entanglement with religion”.

    I think we have a case here.


  27. Mr Lynne Says:

    Some conjecture Tim:

    Your sense that religions provide society with expiation of societie’s sense of lack would seem to support a proposition that religion can indeed be an opiate of the masses. I actually question the need for aleviating our sense of lack through a set of beliefs that we don’t support with reason. Buddhists, in general, have escaped that trap because their sense of aleviation from lack is documentable, testable, and grounded in reality. Sam’s is now studying for a PHD in neurology because he wants to explore these ideas in grounded reality, not unreasonable (in the literal sense of the term) faith.

    Personally I actually question that, if there is a sense of lack, that it should be allieved through anything other than reason and groundedness. We, as individuals, work through personal sense of lack through pharmacology (another form of altered state in the same way that meditation can create altered states via differing means) and through therapy. The former (or even meditation for that matter) doesn’t require us to abandon reason and start believing in unreasonable things, and the latter actualy requires a basis in groundedness.

    Indeed, if, as the very act of therepy suggests, there is a connection to a greater understanding of reality (in oneself, one’s situation, one’s relationships, one’s ambitions, etc.) and alleviating one’s sense of lack, you could make a strong argument that taking refuge in unreasoned beliefs (faith) could do a great disservice by avoiding the issues in the first place. I would even go so far as to point out that people have used faith as a crutch in order to avoid the reasoning required to reach certain moral precepts… white supremecits churches for example. Do I think no good comes from religion? Of course not. I just figure that it is possible to embrace either rationality or unreasoned beliefs and releave a sense of lack, why would would I abandon reason? I value truth and unreasoned beliefs are a great blueprint for missing it.

    On a humorous note, I had a friend once who, while I suspect was agnostic, was raised Catholic. He once expressed to me his fustration in hearing about young college kids who declared themselves as Pagan. He would often think to himself “Your not Pagan, you just hate your parents.”

    Actually, in retrospect, that too could be considered a non-rational way of coping with a problem that would probably be better addresed by embracing rationality.

  28. Mimi Says:

    The City Council Subcommitee on Rules will meet in September to discuss the Opening Prayer at their meeting as well as other issues pertaining to procedures. CC Jim Milinazzo did not announce the exact date yet.

  29. Mack Says:

    I recently attended my first CC meeting and was shocked and incredibly uncomfortable to find that the Lord’s Prayer was recited before the meeting. I’ve watched the televised meetings but apparently I’ve missed the beginning. I am Catholic and have recited it many a time at home and at Church but never at a CIVIC event and I want that emphasized; CC meetings are CIVIC events. If I was that taken aback by it, I can’t imagine how excluded someone of other or no particular faith must feel. If municipal government is to be a representative and democratic process then I don’t see where this expression of Christian faith fits in. If any of the CC members or attendees want to take a moment to reflect on the higher power of their choice then they can certainly do so privately. If they feel the need to reflect and share worship publicly then they are many venues to do so, City Council meetings not being one of them.
    It just seems so audacious and completely ethnocentric to me in a community as diverse as Lowell is to offer the Lord’s Prayer up at again folks, a CIVIC meeting. How positively arrogant and insulting to our community at large.

  30. Renee Says:

    I’ve never seen it myself at the CC, but I think there is a distinction between a blessing at a ceremonious civic event and prayer at an adminstrative hearing. Personally I’m not offended by blessings in celebratory situations no matter the belief.

  31. Mr Lynne Says:

    I’m not offended by blessings or prayers. I’m offended at official government participation in blessings or prayers.

  32. K-R-S Says:

    So it would seem, the line is drawn between the appropriateness of prayer at a cleberatory/social vs. the appropriateness of prayer at a civic/government meeting? Thus the seperation of church/religion and government.
    This has been a great discussion. I’ve enjoyed the feedback everyone has rendered.

  33. pete the pirate Says:

    wow, this p.c. issue is that provocative? i don’t care if they pray or not, and i don’t care enough to reads all these opinions. just as long as they don’t start standing up and saying “amen” or “praise god” when someone stumbles on something intelligent to say! that would be injecting religion into government. can i have a moment of silence, please.

  34. Mr Lynne Says:

    I don’t know if it really is that provocative. I just posted alot on this thread because it is a pet issue of mine and touches a nerve.

  35. Lynne Says:

    Well, Pete, if you don’t care enough to read anything about it, then don’t. Obviously some people do actually care…and it’s not a PC issue. But then, if you don’t care enough to read about it, you won’t know that. There are real philosophical issues that are raised beyond just “under god” in the pledge or the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at a council meeting.

    I do find it ironic you spent the time to post about how much you don’t care…

  36. Tim Little Says:

    Hi, Chris…. You and I seem to be getting a bit away from the City Council discussion, but this is a fun conversation nonetheless. I guess we’re just geeks that way.

    I think there is misconception in the West that Buddhism is necessarily a more “rational” practice than other religions. There are certainly particular traditions within Buddhism, such as Jodo Shinshu, which depend almost entirely on faith and ritual, and do not rely so much (if at all) on the supposedly rational and verifiable practices of meditation. In fact, according to the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha warned explicitly against relying on either “blind faith” or reason alone as the basis for belief. However, faith – in the sense of intuitive confidence in one’s practice – is a vital element of Buddhism.

    Sam seems to approach the question of faith (and here perhaps he really means “wishful thinking”) and reason from a perspective that has been conditioned by his Western upbringing. I am intrigued by his study of neurology (and, likewise, the ongoing studies of the Mind and Life Institute), and feel such scientific inquiry can offer much to Buddhist practice. However, I think it reflects a particular bias to suggest that somehow physical processes are more “real” than the reality of the experience itself if only because they can be tested and measured.

    In the Zen tradition, of which Loy is a teacher, the distinctions between opposing concepts – such as faith/reason, or rationality/irrationality – are deconstructed through non-dual experience of groundedness/groundlessness that occurs during meditation. Loy goes into much more detail about this in his earlier book, “Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotheraphy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.”

    Now, none of this is to say that faith or religion cannot be misused – either intentionally or not. Religion is a human tool and, as such, can be used for both good and ill: It has the potential to liberate as much as to obfuscate. However, reason can just as easily be misapplied. I think, as the Buddha is said to have taught, that the mistake is to look to either “blind faith” or “reason” as the means to resolving what Loy describes as our sense of lack.

    Speaking of faith and reason, Bill Moyers’s interview with Tibetan nun Pema Chodron aired on WGBH last night. I’m not sure what the rebroadcast schedule is, but the full interview is also viewable here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/watch_chodron.html

  37. Mr Lynne Says:

    Geeking onward:

    There might be a misconception in that when I assert that Buddhism is more rational, I do not take the position that rational is the opposite or antithesis of spiritual. One needn’t abandon reason to obtain a “sense of intuitive confidence in one’s practice”. I would actually assert that reason alone can grant such a sense.

    Sam goes out of his way not to invalidate experiential reality as real. Indeed, this is what marks (most of) Buddhism apart from other religions,… it tenants depend on the reality of experience where other religions depend on the non-verifiable non-rational reality of their dogmas. Indeed the state of one’s own being is the most verifiable thing you can assert. If I make the statement ‘you are at hot’, you know the truth of falsehood of that statement with a clarity that dwarfs the clarity of knowing the truth or falsehood of the statement ‘Caesar was an emperor of Rome’.

    I think Sam’s thought process in these areas has less to do with western upbringing and more of general critical thought. To the extent that you want to call critical thought a western tradition, then yah. I think there is very little that Sam and Loy, as you have presented him here, would actual disagree with. Sam’s main point is that Faith is the one area of conversation that is taboo to criticize. That by denying this criticism beliefs of Faith bypass the normal reckoning process that exists in the competition of ideas. Indeed, in most non-spiritual matters we relay on non-reason almost not at all. In applying a reasonable criticism to Faith-based beliefs, it is not the case that he found cause to abandoned spirituality. He, in fact, asserts that, “a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.” He goes on… “In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”

    He goes into much more detail in the last quarter or so of his book. Those sections don’t get quoted much because they are not at ’sexy’ as reading his attacks on monotheism. You should really get the book.

    For more thoughts of Sam’s on Buddhism:

  38. Tim Little Says:

    Ok, ok…. I’ll add it to my list!

  39. Jason Says:

    The opening prayer makes me feel uncomfortable, too. I wonder when it started. I think I heard somewhere that the ‘under G-d’ line in the Pledge was implemented during the Eisenhower administration or something.

  40. -b Says:

    I’m an atheist. I’m not offended by the prayer at the beginning of the meeting and I really don’t understand why people get so upset about this. In a city with allot of history and a heavy catholic influence, its very easy to understand why it’s there.

    I do remember when I was young that there was a brief stint in school where we were asked to recite a prayer, and I do remember feeling quite uncomfortable with that. But that situation was differnt, because I was being asked to participate.

    In the current situation nobody is asked to join in or to recite anything. If I were to attend a meeting I would simple bow my head and remain silent. No harm done.

    The amount of energy unleashed over these types of issues really baffles me.

    I think Armand Mercier’s comments really do say it all. In all his years none of his constituents have raised a concern over the issue. If it was really that big a deal wouldn’t the councilors have received lots of complaints about this instead of 3 or 4 in 30 years?

    I also think he’s right in asking how far people want to take this, and that the Pledge of Allegience is a legitmate target. After all, it contains the phrase “Under God.” Isn’t that offensive?

    On the back of every dollar bill is a phrase “In God we Trust” Somehow I’ve learned to just deal with it, but taking the argument further, shouldn’t the word God be removed from all our currencey because it’s offensive?

    What about swearing on the bible? Seems like that’s offensive too.

    And then, near Christmas time, lots of “Holiday” events and decorations go up around the city. But really, lets be honest, government has just replaced the word Christmas in a lame attempt to pacify groups who are offended. Shouldn’t we really be doing away with all of the holiday related events and decorations?

    I’ve seen this issue raised a number of times on this site. Each time it really stirs up the pot, and rallies a small group of people closer and closer towards putting this offensive practice to an end.

    Eventually, I think this movement will prevail, and then atheists (myself not included) and those of other faiths will be able to feel much better about themselves and the city they live in.

    I guess maybe I will be happy in some ways once this practice is done with, because then I won’t have to see people squabble over it. I’d much rather see a post about something really offensive, like people driving around the city on loud Harley’s or cars playing Hip Hop so loud that it makes my car rattles. I guess I’ll hold off on that one until the next until the next Open Thread. :-)

  41. Mr Lynne Says:

    Why is “not hurting anybody” the standard? What a low standard. How about “its wrong for the government to do it” being the standard wether it hurts anyone or not. You wouldn’t say to your kid that its ok to do the wrong thing as long as it didn’t hurt anyone. Why let our government make any asertions at all about god when it is wrong because this is precisely the area on which the government is forbiden to tread?

    I can see a line of thinking when some in government on some comittees who do not abstain when they have conflicts of interest… “my conflict of interest isn’t really in play here and its not hurting anyone”. I expect more from my government.

  42. Renee Says:

    I think it does hurt people on both sides. As a religious person, this behavior can secularize the belief. As I mention it doesn’t seem to be a form of worship or a blessing, just a tradition. Watered down keeeping just the smells and bells, but no meaning.

    Yes this city did and does still have many Catholics, but I’ve seen local powers do things. Like politicians up holding and creating red tape as the Archodiocese is trying to sell property, creating historic districts (making it difficult to sell) and trying to take posession of items to place on public property citing cultural reasons. The architecture of a church or any religious building is designed for worship, not for office space or living quarters.

  43. Lynne Says:

    Actually, I would argue all those things - “under God”, swearing on the Bible, In God We Trust on our money, should all be done away with. They are mostly legacies of an era when we spent time and energy hunting phantom “Commies” and are not only unethical, but they remind of a time when we were at our most intolerant. It reminds me somewhat of our stupidity about terrorism and how to go about “defeating” it, but at least terrorism is actually a threat of some sort - the “Red Scare” was not.

    As to swearing on the Bible in court, it has NO meaning, the court of law is upheld by the laws of the land and the Constitution, and besides, is even more meaningless if a non-believer swears on it.

  44. Mr Lynne Says:

    The wrongness is easily illustrated by applying the “shoe on the other foot test”. How would you feel about the rightness or wrongness of statements that deny the existence of God on money, the pledge, opening ceremonies such as CC meetings?

    I can see it now:

    “Before we open this Council Meeting we will take a moment to pause and contemplate that we can’t depend on a non-existent god to guide us in our deliberations and actions on behalf of our constituents. We should carefully consider all the fiscal, institutional, moral, and societal implications of our speech and actions for these proceedings absent any consideration of faith. We will not be guided by any supernatural force and our proceedings must therefore stand on their own merits of reason. It is our responsibility and ours alone to govern wisely and justly, seeking no absolution from anyone or anything other than our own morals and our constituents.”

  45. pete the pirate Says:

    44, now 45 posts on a 45 second prayer at the beginning of the cc meeting! i still don’t care lynn.
    -b was more with it that you grumblers should attack an issue that really matters. how about our brain-dead leader creating this endless debacle in iraq? or the decision regarding wheter or not english should be the official language of the US, or the flood of aliens over the mexican border. or any other issue that affects lives. the our father being recited in city hall does’nt affect lives, it only provokes babbling from such intelligent people over how religion is taking over.
    lighten up, and lynn, try to refrain from insulting me in your response. she hate me!

  46. K-R-S Says:

    Pete..love this! “how about our brain-dead leader creating this endless debacle in iraq?”.
    It’s funny, that you wrote this..I was reading Time Mag. last evening and the opening of an article about Lebanon. To paraphrase,
    “With Lebanon and Israel at war, Irag has moved to the back burner…”. This statement struck me and got me to thinking..Lebanon has moved the Iraq debacle off the front page. MOre recently and with mid term elections coming up, backlash against our prescence in Iraq
    has increased. So, this got me to thinking..is one of the reasons Bush hasn’t really ratcheted up the pressure for a cease fire, is because the Lebanon has provided a very convenient (timely) cover for the Iraq War.

  47. Lynne Says:

    Last I checked…unlike said brain-dead leader, *I* can multitask! I can attack stuff I don’t like on multiple fronts. Like I said, maybe you aren’t disturbed by this, but evidently, a lot of people - faithful and otherwise - are. Maybe it’s not so trivial as you think it is.

    Pete, I’m just tired of how any item for discussion - and the discussion itself - doesn’t seem to be up to your standards. This leads me to be a little peeved. It doesn’t matter how nicely I put anything, you’ll feel attacked. I just don’t understand how, if you’re so bored with this subject, you’ll butt in anyway. It’s not my problem if you think this is trivial and no one should bother to have a discussion about it. I don’t control the conversation and neither do you. In fact, philosophically and argumentally, this was a cool thread, for the rest of us. I’m sorry you can’t see it that way, but trivializing the rest of us isn’t making you any friends.

  48. Lynne Says:

    Bush hasn’t bothered insisting on a cease-fire because Israel probably got tacit permission (maybe even encouragement) from the US for this Lebanon attack. Real pressure from us to knock it off would have stopped this pretty quick.

    Juan Cole is a good read on what’s happening in Lebanon.

    Make no mistake - what neo-cons are left in the administration want Syria and especially, Iran. Any excuse will do in a pinch…

  49. Mr Lynne Says:

    With regard to the press distracted from Iraq.


  50. JANE Says:

    LYNN, looks like pete won this battle… as you see the original topic has moved off the front burner.

    But simply put. the prayer has to go.

  51. JANE Says:

    sorry- Lynne

  52. K-R-S Says:

    Sorry ’bout that..I should have started a new thread. : )

  53. Tim Little Says:

    Actually Lebanon-Israel debacle serves as a poignant reminder of what can happen when religion-cum-geopolitics is taken to its (il)logical extremes. (A very valid point made by Sam Harris.)

    I’m not suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer will lead to sectarian violence in the streets of Lowell, but we discount the relevance of public assertions of a “chosen” faith at our own peril.

  54. Tim Little Says:

    Make that: “… We discount the politicization of religion at our own peril.”

  55. pete the pirate Says:

    bush and his whole administration are just lying no-good bastards. getting us into this war under false pretenses, and then having a thought pulse when they realize there is no way out. who knows, maybe they planned on privatizing the oil supply over there so that they could control it, until the big oil companies saw the $$$ they could make and convinced the corrupt bastards not to fiddle with iraq’s oil. cha-ching!! record profits for the oil barons while the common man is considering buying motor scooters to commute to work. but hey, how about that 45 sec prayer in city hall?
    religion, how about a protestant blowing up a pub in northern ireland because the catholics whet their whistle there, or a shiia muslim bombing a shite mosque because they be shite, or blowing up a jew cuz he’s a jew, on and on…..

  56. -b Says:

    I can respect the argument to remove the prayer on the basis of the separation of church and state. But to make this change on the basis of offending someone is the wrong.

    Lynne, as much as I disagree with your position of wiping out every religious word or symbol associated with government, I admire your consistency on the issue.

  57. Mr. Lynne Says:

    I take offense that the government make any religous assertions at all. The point is to keep the government from creating any religiously disenfranchised classes. People should be offended when the government violates this basic tenant of fairness (see the ’shoe-on-the-other-foot’ above).

  58. Pablo Says:

    When the Archdiocese starts filling potholes on Lowell streets, then we should bring Catholic prayer into the council. Unless we return to the cherished principles of separation of church and state, the Lord’s Prayer will prevail until we elect a Buddhist majority to the Council - and isn’t that kind of sectarian politics what the First Amendment was designed to prevent?

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