[Viewpoint] Prayer should be private, not public

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[Viewpoint] Prayer should be private, not public

“Kneel down, move your lips in prayer and you will believe.”

Just as Pascal had famously said, the moderator at a prayer meeting called on attendees to kneel down and pray together and the attendees, one of whom was the president of the country, followed.

It is not strange that believers kneel down to pray to God. And there should be no exception for a president.

However, some critics argue that the president was forced to kneel down and it was, in effect, a modern day Walk to Canossa, with the Protestant church pressuring the government over the introduction of Islamic sukuk bonds.

In 1077, Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire knelt down before Pope Gregory, establishing the theory of papo-caesarism - that the pope’s authority was greater than that of the emperor.

When Vatican City, which had been annexed as Italian territory by Garibaldi in 1870, recovered its sovereignty according to the Lateran Treaty with Benito Mussolini in 1929, Pope Pius XI praised the fascist leader as a man who received God’s calling as he looked away from Nazi cruelty and the holocaust. It can be considered a reverse Walk to Canossa, with corrupt religious power kneeling before vicious secular power.

It leaves a bitter taste that established religions in Korea have become somewhat rough and harsh.

Some Catholic clergymen have made blunt criticism about the four-rivers project to the cardinal. Monks have sparred with the government over the budget for the temple stay program and signs banning certain personnel from entering the temple were posted.

This time, the Protestant clergy is suggesting the impeachment of the president as a protest against the introduction of sukuk.

The bill to introduce the Islamic bond places economic and diplomatic national interests above the principles of taxation power and the equality of the tax burden.

The government needs to listen to the arguments of these critics. However, the opposition mainly comes from the Protestant church and it may reflect the problems within the church itself rather than the sukuk bill.

“Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavic is a story of the Khazar Empire, which ruled the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea areas during the 7th to 9th centuries, but has since disappeared into history.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam engaged in a debate over the dreams of the Khazar ruler and the conversion of the ruler resulted in the disappearance of the Khazar religion, language and ethnic group.

It is unclear, and not important, which religion the ruler decided to convert to.

The story is a warning that if a certain religions becomes politically powerful it could bring an end to not just religions and language but also the nation and the people.

In today’s society, established religions have the political power to attract votes.

However, politically charged religions are not just irreligious but also go against the principle of the separation of politics and religion as set out in the Constitution.

Divinity transcends laws and common sense but that does not mean that religions can make social participation and comments unacceptable and that clash with common sense.

It is a personal religious freedom to choose to kneel down and pray out loud, or to bow and calmly pray.

However, having the head of state kneel down at an open event for a certain religion may evoke suspicion over the religious inclination of the leader from the secular parts of the general public.

It is a matter of sentiment. The religious believers need to be more careful when communicating with society as they seek a way to practice their belief of loving thy neighbor. How can they attempt to communicate with God when they fail to communicate with contemporaries?

Even without Pascal’s famous quote, having someone kneel down has an irresistible standing as a symbolic rite of authority and submission.

It is not just established religions but also idol worship that involves kneeling down. The devil tempted Jesus to bow down in Chapter 4 of Matthew.

You should get down in your heart, not on your knees.

Indian Christian visionary S. Sundar Singh said, “I do not know a certain posture for prayer. It does not matter whether I am seated, standing or knelt down. I do not say a word but God speaks to me.” He knew that prayers come from the heart, not the knees.

*The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park P.C. and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.


By Lee Woo-keun
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