We haven’t spoken in a while, and even though I have a lot on my mind that I would like to write about, it is still cooking. So, in the place of any meaningful comment, I give you this.
I know, I’m asking you to listen to a prayer at a NASCAR event. Please bear with me.
There are things about this I am not talking about:
- NASCAR as a sport — I’ll admit I’m not a fan. I’ll admit curiosity about who the “heavenly father” in this prayer really is. Even so, I’m not going to make a lot of jokes about how hard it is to go around in a circle or question auto racing’s status as a sport. I really enjoy driving, and at speeds I’m not willing to admit anywhere near a court of law. The name of my car is the “HMS Ridiculous Spoiler”. I’m also a technologist, I appreciate engineering, and as I’ve mentioned before I have a soft spot in my indifferent heart for freethinking rednecks.
- Having a “smokin’ hot wife”— while I can’t share his supernatural pretensions, (and I have to say this) I can understand where he’s coming from, even if I don’t usually talk about it with the national media or at sporting events. Apparently, just the entire Internet.
- Bad Theology— Even though I’ve occasionally thought about starting a website as a copy-or-homage to a page so good Discover Magazine absorbed it, I don’t want to make a big deal about the lust and coveting inherent in the prayer. Not my religion, not my problem. Mostly.
This is one of those things that a lot of freethinkers and (if I’m being honest) people who live near oceans think shouldn’t be legal, but completely is. Sporting events are not yet a part of the federal government, despite the steroid-chasing tendencies of congress. It’s an event run by a private, for-profit organization, and as we mentioned in a previous episode, that makes it okay.
A prayer is how NASCAR chooses to open a race. NASCAR has quietly mentioned that it wants to move beyond the image of boondock shine runners from the last century and into a market more conversant with the freethinker mind. That doesn’t seem very compatible with an operation that still hews to cultural norms more familiar to the McCarthy era. I can guarantee that NASCAR fans will still be NASCAR fans if they drop this most ridiculous of Christian privileges. However, I can tell you that as long as they keep this up, I won’t be a fan, and I will continue to stay away from NASCAR and its events, no matter how convincing my friends may be.
Does Ask an Atheist have listeners who also appreciate NASCAR? If you are and you’re also an atheist, how do you cope with this? What would you say (other than some mode of “deal with it!”) to other atheists who disapprove of the privilege but not the sport itself?
I’m not suggesting that this is on the scale of the Harold Camping disaster, or anything that the Catholic church is pretending to apologize for this week in Australia. Nor am I suggesting that this clergyman has the unanimous seal of Christian approval. Seriously though, how are Christians supposed to make me believe that I should take the sanctity of their faith seriously in the face of this? The man just plastered his invocation with the same advertisements that cover every surface of a NASCAR event. This is, comedically and morally, equivalent to evoking the sanctity of heterosexual marriage at a third try at matrimony. The mere existence of this prayer can serve as a refutation of religious sanctity.
As a member of the atheist community I’ve observed a strong though not unanimous social ethic: we try to avoid sacred cows. Sure, there’s occasional, vaguely numinous babble about how awesome science is (especially from guys like me), but we also know how bloody-minded people can get about it. So we tend to see the people doing science as regular– though occasionally famous– people. Before I would ever evangelize atheism, I’d evangelize this ethic.
So perhaps there’s a good and bad take-away from this crazy pastor. A theist’s reaction to this prayer may serve as a good barometer for how much sanctity they expect in their flavor of religion. I might keep this video on my phone for that reason alone. On the other hand, this just serves as another expression of religious social privilege that most atheists could live without.