Here's a brain-teaser for the day: The capital's leading lobby of atheists and humanists is complaining because they have been excluded from an ecumenical prayer service on Sunday morning that will launch inaugural festivities ahead of Mayor-elect Vincent Gray's swearing-in.
I have to admit, I find humanists amusing. As the article from which the above quote is taken reports (Atheists Demand Equal Time at New D.C. Mayor's Prayer Service), on the one hand, they say that there is no God and on the other hand they want to be included in a prayer service.
One has to ask what an atheist could offer at a prayer service. After all, isn't a prayer service about ... well, prayer to God? And if there is no God to whom to pray (at the atheists so often tell us), what could an atheist have to do or say at a prayer service?
Well, after intoning the usual objection to a prayer service at all ("'We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion,' said Amanda Knief, government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA)"), these secular atheists show that they are "humanist celebrants" who do have a role:
Humanist celebrants are considered the "the nonreligious equivalent of a clergyperson," according to the SCA. They are certified by a variety of secularist groups and can conduct marriages, civil unions, memorial services, funerals, and other life-cycle ceremonies.
Knief said that a humanist celebrant would be able to "offer words of encouragement and inspiration without religion" if included in the prayer service.
In many ways this is similar to the non-evangelizing evangelizing that atheists do in favor of their beliefs. I mean, when they put up billboards between New Jersey and New York saying how we know that Christmas is a myth, they say (in a surprisingly straight face) that they are not trying to convince people that Christianity is a fraud. Instead, they intone in their most honest looks, they are merely calling on people who already know that Christianity is a fraud to stand up and be counted. If a Christian were to put up a billboard saying "you know it's true" on public property, atheists would be the first to claim that it is evangelizing. (Look at the uproar over the cross on public land near San Diego, CA.)
Here, the atheists ... uh, excuse me. Here, the "humanist celebrants" want to claim that they aren't praying, but they are wanting to be part of a prayer service. Excuse me?
Actually, I agree what they are doing is not prayer. After all, prayer is where we Christians spend some time speaking with and getting to know God better. When we have a prayer service, it is the time for Christians ("two or more gather together in [Jesus'] name") to speak to God and ask his blessing on our government, our nation and our people. The humanist celebrants want to give words of encouragement and inspiration. They want to use Norman Vincent Peale-type pop psychology and say, "Go get 'em, Mayor." There is no appeal to God because (in their limited sight) there is no God.
No, these humanist celebrants have no business complaining that they weren't invited to a prayer service because they have no prayer to offer and would not participate in the prayers offered by others. They can offer their words of encouragement at the mostly secular swearing in ceremony later in the day.