Last time Martin Zender was interviewed on the radio about his thoughts
concerning National Day of Prayer, an elderly woman called the station to
offer her two cents.
She threw them right where they hurt.
"She called me a curmudgeon!" Zender said, chuckling at what
was far from his first lob from a critic.
When you decide to pick a fight with what's become sort of a national
institution -- one that comes across as benevolent and Christian and has
been more or less endorsed by every president since Harry Truman, at that
-- you learn to expect some flak.
Zender, an Indiana-based writer and public speaker, recently published
his first book, "How to Quit Church Without Quitting God"
(Starke & Hartmann; $19.95). The book doesn't specifically take issue
with the National Day of Prayer, but -- since the 51-year-old event is
scheduled for Thursday -- Zender has taken the opportunity to speak his
doubts, which align with many of the opinions he shares in the book.
"I realize that prayer is important, but I also realize it's a
very personal thing," said Zender, who's 42. "People pray in
their cars on the way to work. And certainly people have been praying
But the kind of prayer National Day of Prayer calls for, in Zender's
opinion, is prayer of a different flavor.
"To say we need a task force to organize prayer suggests that God
is hard of hearing, that if we get enough people together, he will have to
do what we ask him to do," Zender said. "I think most people
roll their eyes at the concept of a day that we're going to move
What nags at Zender, too, is the blurring of church and state that is
implied by the day, which draws government nods from the local (the
Mayor's Prayer Breakfast) to the national (congressional proclamations).
"If they want to get people to pray, they can do that without
getting the politicians involved," Zender said. "It's almost
political suicide to not go along with the National Day of Prayer.
"To me," Zender added, "(prayer) is a subtle thing, and
it's not a stated thing. (National Day of Prayer) would make the average
person think that (their) little personal prayer isn't powerful enough to
reach the Almighty."
But does Zender, who was raised Catholic but now claims no
denomination, plan to pray on Thursday?
"That's like asking me if I plan a certain day to breathe,"