July 26, 2012

Atheists criticize rain-dance wish

A complaint about a Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's recent wish for a rain dance. It's similar to previous complaints from right-wing Christians, but this one comes from an atheist.

Praying for rain: Atheist critics show how petty and small-minded they’ve become

By Lisa MillerFlynn came out swinging churlishly. About Vilsack’s statement, he said, “That’s not just government entangling itself with religion, that’s government publicly practicing it, and wallowing in superstition.” Besides, he added (rather meanly), prayer doesn’t work.

The jury may be out on the efficacy of prayer, but on the question of whether the USDA chief has violated the First Amendment, Flynn is entirely wrong. Vilsack did not say he had ceased doing his day job and was collecting his government salary while devoting himself to prayer. He did not suggest using taxpayer dollars to set up an altar to the rain gods outside USDA headquarters on Independence Avenue SW, nor did he–as Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) did last year–use his authority to declare a national day of prayer for rain. Vilsack merely said that, in light of the vast consequences of the drought on human life, he was moved to prayer. And that he wished he had more, or better, prayers to alleviate the suffering of so many.

“If a leader wants to say he’s praying for help, there’s nothing in the Constitution that makes it inappropriate,” said David Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor and president of the hunger advocacy organization Bread for the World.
The article also offers some questionable Indian lore:Rain prayers are especially potent among desert dwellers; in the arid Southwest, Native Americans have for thousands of years made prayers, songs and dances for rain, and they continue to do so today.

“Thence throw you misty water,” goes the “Rain Magic Song” of the Pueblo Indians, “all round about us here.”

Before they make such supplications, said Tony Chavarria, curator of ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., Pueblo Indians are taught to “look within yourself, your community to see what needs to be repaired, what you can to make yourself and your community a more balanced place so the deities will be more willing to convey that blessing.”
Comment:  I've never heard of a "Rain Magic Song." I doubt the 21 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas have that or any other rain-related song or dance in common.

Blogger Johnny Flynn denied that any tribe dances to cause rain. The phrase "prayers, songs and dances for rain" is suitably vague. Are these actions to beckon a particular rainstorm? To ask the gods to continue to deliver rain as they have in the past? To welcome the rain? Or...? These purposes are similar, but they aren't quite the same thing.

For more on the subject, see No Such Thing as Rain Dances.

Below:  "Rain clouds form to the east of parched Vigo county cornfields Thursday July 19 2012 in Terre Haute, Ind." (Jim Avelis/AP)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where's Noah Nez about this?