Although I have never thought that this would be the outcome, the best thing about the controversy surrounding “A Blogger’s Prayer” is that bloggers – both theists and atheists – are now discussing prayer. Praying really does wonders.
I accepted the Philippine Blog Awards (PBA) organizers’ invitation to lead the invocation with the knowledge that those present would be a mix of believers and non-believers, theists and atheists, Christians and non-Christians. Since I was invited to do an invocation, I could not presume that I was there just to ask everybody to stand in silence for a while. The MC or the two beautiful and eloquent hosts could have done that with more finesse. I was there to offer a prayer, to verbalize my praise to God and my supplications for the blogging community.
I am a Christian so my prayer has a Christian flavor. If I were an Imam, my prayer would have had a Muslim tone. My seminary training and my experiences as a priest have taught me to be sensitive to people of other faiths and to those who do not adhere to any faith at all. In this context, sensitivity means respecting other people’s beliefs and non-beliefs. But that does not mean that because of the presence of non-believers I have to delete God from my rogation. Or because there are non-Christians around I have to leave out my Christian identity.
Trust me, there is no prayer that can please everyone. Not even silence. If you don’t agree with me on this, I challenge you to send me one.
I have attended many gatherings where prayers were not said at all, not even a short silence was observed. As a practicing Catholic, was I offended by that? Of course, not! I respect people and I still enjoy their company, even if they do not implore God. I have also attended many gatherings wherein people of other faiths led the invocation or some other form of religious expression. Should I be offended when a Muslim or a Jew or Hindu prays? No! In fact, I expect the Muslim to practice his faith and quote verses from the Koran. Just as I would expect the Jew or the Hindu or a believer of another faith to be true to his/her religion.
I am only offended when I am coerced to pray, when I have no other choice but to say a prayer against my will – which was not the case in the Philippine Blog Awards 2007. I offered a prayer but nobody was forced to pray with me nor to accept the words I uttered as doctrine. You could have left the auditorium or closed your ears or did some other non-violent action while I was praying, and I would perfectly understand your disagreement to my invocation.
What I am still trying to understand is why some atheists would react so negatively to a prayer which doesn’t mean anything to them nor is intended for them. But they didn’t react at all to Yuga’s use of the word “sh*t” in the video, even if there were minors around. Is it more politically correct to say “sh*t” than a prayer now? And it is just sad that they have to resort to using degrading, discriminatory words. Look who is being insensitive here. I would have appreciated it more if their reactions were written in a constructive, fraternal way. I have to say that I have deep respect for mature, open-minded and polite atheists. While I was studying in Rome, Italy, I had an atheist classmate who was writing a thesis on atheism. Sometimes we’d eat lunch together and he never felt bad that I prayed before eating just as I was not offended that he didn’t.
My prayer did not make the PBA a Christian event. If nobody prayed, would anybody think of it as an atheist event? No. The prayer was a very minor segment in the colorful evening of smiles and trophies. I wouldn’t call the invocation a mistake by the organizers. I would remember it as the evening when my favorite bloggers have received their well-deserved awards.
Thanks to all those who think that my prayer is witty, funny, meaningful and relevant. And to all those who left comments and blogged about the prayer – salamat kaninyo!
But then again, I am glad that my prayer has sparked a lively debate in the blogosphere. The liveliest, I think, is the one found here and of course here. It’s Holy Week after all and it’s a time for us to confront ourselves with life’s most important questions.
May you all have a holy Holy Week.