One of the last few remaining institutions of government that reminds us the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, rather than freedom from religion, is the morning prayer held in the U.S. Senate. Over the two centuries of our country’s history, this prayer has predominantly been offered by Christians of some stripe or other, though in the past Jewish and Muslim leaders have also offered morning prayers.
This morning was a historic first. For the first time in history, a Hindu spiritual leader offered the opening prayer of the U.S. Senate.
The invocation given by Rajan Zed, a Hindu priest from Nevada, was taken from the Rig Veda and Bhagavad Gita, and I find its words quite inspiring, despite the fact that they come from a culture that does not acknowledge the God I worship:
“We meditate on the transcendental glory of the deity supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of heaven. May he stimulate and illuminate our minds.
“Lead us from the unreal to real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening.”
I can certainly agree with particularly the second half of of this stirring invocation.
Unfortunately, this morning’s Senate prayer was an historic first for another reason.
. . . three reasons, actually, named Ante and Kathy Pvkovic and Kristen Sugar.
For the first time in U.S. history the morning prayer of the U.S. Senate was disrupted by the shouting of protestors who interrupted Zed by “loudly asking for God’s forgiveness for allowing the ‘false prayer’ of a Hindu in the Senate chamber.”
UPDATE: Here’s a video of the travesty, courtesy of Talking Points Memo
One of my favorite political blogs, Captain’s Quarters, the author of which is a devout Catholic, excoriates the trio:
Thank the Lord that this trio doesn’t represent real Christians. They’re great ambassadors for the numbnut contingent, however.
Unfortunately, I think this is a shortsighted view of the incident. While most “mainstream” believers might not try to disrupt the U.S. Senate, it is clear that they have the sympathy of a large contingent of the so-called Christian mainstream. A Newer World points out this statement from Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council. The statement closes with:
There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith. I seriously doubt that Americans want to change the motto, “In God we Trust, which Congress adopted in 1955, to, “In gods we Trust.” That is essentially what the United States Senate did today.
On many fronts.
The U.S. Senate is not a religious body, and while many of those who came up with the concept of the Senate may have been believers in the God of the Bible, even Christian tradition is fractured and diverse – and our nation is hardly exclusively a “Christian” nation.
According to the Hindu American Foundation, the nation contains 2 million Hindus, and it is one of the fastest growing belief systems in the country. To say that we are a “Christian nation” is to live in the past. To say that Hindus have no impact on our history and culture is to ignore the impact words like “karma,” “yoga,” and “avatar” have on 21st Century American culture.
Certainly, a practicing Hindu could tell us that these words are hardly used in their original context . . . but then, even the U.S. Senate doesn’t operate like it did at its founding. The point is that American culture is no longer exclusively influenced by that of Western Europe.
The simple fact is that Hindus, like Christians, Jews, Muslims, Athiests, Wiccans and many, many more adherents of all manner of belief systems make up this country. Members of each are represented by the U.S. Senate, and each has its right to be heard. That is, after all, what freedom of religion is all about.
I may not agree with most of what some – or any – of these religious traditions has to say, but the least any of us can do is respect their right to say it.
It’s people like Kristen Sugar and the Pvkovic’s who make me ashamed, at times, to call myself a Christian. If statements like Tony Perkins’ are representative of the “Christian” response to this morning’s events, I’m not sure I am one.
With Rajan Zed, I pray to the deity supreme, who resides in my heart, and ask Him to stimulate and illuminate my heart and mind, and those of all who read this.
I ask Him to lead us from the unreal to real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening.