The P-Word

I remember watching Game Two of the 1995 World Series and deciding that Bob Costas is gutless. I came to this conclusion because Costas went out of his way, as Cleveland pitcher Dennis Martinez warmed up on the mound, to avoid describing a key part of Martinez’s ritual. Martinez is a Christian, and he used to pray before beginning a game. So, while several million viewers watched this man bow his head, pray, and cross himself, Costas mumbled something about his “moment of silence,” and his “time of reflection” before the game.

I’m reminded of this as I read about New York City’s planning of ceremonies to commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The Washington Post and The New York Times dutifully report that New Yorkers will reflect, remember, commemorate, memorialize, hearken back, and eulogize. They will light candles, read names, honor the dead, celebrate the living, sing songs, cry, read speeches, and have moments of silence.

But in this flurry of activity nobody, apparently, will pray. Instead, houses of worship will be encouraged to ring their bells, like the happy, unthreatening nuns in The Sound of Music.

I’m fairly sure there will be prayer, if not from the podium, then from the throngs of citizens too unsophisticated to have abandoned their childish faith in deity. I’m equally sure that, should some dignitary let slip the G-word, or — heaven forbid — the C-word, considerable Internet bandwidth will be absorbed on September 12th by the lamentations of atheists with bruised feelings debating which aggrieved them more: the previous day’s religious displays, or the Presidential Inauguration. What’s funny is that while there will be prayer, major news outlets seem afraid to mention it in their laundry lists of activities to be engaged in by mourners. This goes for two television news broadcasts I heard on the same topic.

Do they really not know that average people pray, or are they simply afraid to say so?


  1. susanna

    Good point. What is also interesting to me is that when the event is focused on the black community, prayer, hymn singing and preaching are done, mentioned and admired. Just yesterday I was at an event sponsored by the government, on government property, where part of the celebration was playing hymns over the loudspeakers. The majority of those involved, from participants to organizers, were black. NOBODY said a negative word about it. I was fascinated. I need to investigate a little more.

  2. jim


    I’m a lifelong Clevelander, and when the Tribe finally got into the Series in ’95 I got wrapped up in the excitement like everyone else here. I watched every minute of every playoff game on TV. However, a mere 7 years later, I can only remember a few moments, and even those are probably confused products of a faulty memory. Of course, I watched most of the games in a bar, so that might explain my lost memories. Still, it’s remarkable that you remember Costas’s remarks about Martinez’s praying. Obviously, the incident made an impression on you.

    Susanna’s comment reminds me of something I once noted about the media generally and NPR in particular. The mainstream Christian religions hardly exist except as objects of ridicule or as symbols of patriarchal oppression. However, get an Indian (American, not Cleveland) on Terri Gross or Diane Rehm, and have him start talking about how his people believe that the corn rises up at night and talks to the pumpkins, and the interviewers are awestruck. “How very interesting. I can see where environmental concerns are an intrinsic part of your religion.”

    It doesn’t matter that the Indian believes in something as fanciful (to the unbeliever) as any of the Christian mysteries so long as it can be dressed up in the cloth of liberal politics. All that matters is whether an individual dispensation can be conveniently labeled right-wing (or Bible-thumping) or progressive as measured by the standard litmus tests: homosexuals, female clergy, premarital sex, etc.

    Having said that, however, I’m afraid that the only religion that will be celebrated on September 11th will be the religion that worships political opinion polls and Nielsen ratings.

  3. Tim

    I’m a Canadian–yeah one of those those, eh. Good point. Major media in Canada have the same inhibition about talking about the reality that most people pray and that faith is an important part of life for the majority. Should a Member of Parliament indicate faith–particularly Christian faith–is important to him, it is immediately regarded as newsworthy, like some kind of coming out of the closet, bizarre and likely disqualifying him for holding public office.
    Good blog by the way.

  4. MarcV

    Good post. Looks like PC can now stand for Prayer Control. About one month to go before the big day – wonder if I should buy a new outfit, maybe black? What is appropriate to wear and do for this commemoration? I’m half-hoping that an Iraqi invasion will occur on Sept. 10, and all this memorial stuff will be postponed.

  5. paul

    Do you think it’s motivated by ill intent toward Christianity, or by a more generic “oh, we can’t offend anyone” PC ethic? I’m a born-again Christian and I don’t get offended by such secularization in the mainstream media, or when Terry Gross goes gaga over rain dances, etc — Terry Gross offends me in principle, not in specific utterances … I wouldn’t call Costas “clueless,” nor would I say he’s a genius, BTW — I’d just say he’s a damn sight better than most baseball announcing/commentary (with the exception, it pains me to say, of Keith Olbermann).

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