Posted by on 06/01/2008

It’s not everyday that I am prepared to say “well done” to a politician. But Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wins my support. The premier – cognizant of the diversity and freedoms of Ontario as the most culturally rich area of the world – wants to write a more appropriate public reflection for the legislature.
The Lord’s Prayer is currently recited everyday before business is begun at Queen’s Park. It’s a nice tradition. Clearly, the members take the words to heart.

They greedily recite the phrase “give us this day our daily bread” and then proceed to get their bread, cake and ham from the trough of public finances through nice sleights-of-hand. They chant, “forgive us our debts” and then add “and don’t mind if we use public funds to do so.” And they certainly bring new respect to the word “hallowed” by drowning out their colleagues – and even the Lieutenant Governor, Her Majesty’s representative – with revolting taunts, tantrums and honking in our democratic chamber.
Ontario – and Canada for that matter – isn’t a theocracy. We aren’t a society of one religion or one interpretation on a religion. We’re a diverse, multicultural centre of tolerance and freedom. This dream of diversity is our best promise as a people. Embracing our collective strength is the best way to advance our society, economy and politics. Tax cuts and social programs are only good if our citizenship is strong and vibrant in optimism.

Everyone needs to feel a part of our community. A community is only truly worthy of its promise when everyone, every last person, is welcome, respected and valued. A prayer said in our democratic chamber should be democratic, reflective of our community.

The Lord’s Prayer isn’t a universal prayer. In traditionalist Christian circles, it forms the model of what should be in a prayer. Catholics recite what is written in the Bible; some Protestants add a nice additional summation. Some Christians shun the recitation of the prayer model as merely a way to appear a pious prat.

As Presbyterians, the prayer is embraced as a model of an ideal prayer. It is recited as a time-honoured part of our services.

The traditional prayer is nice. It encompasses what we would want to ask of a divine benefactor, a heavenly guardian. But not everyone agrees there is such an entity. We do need to be egalitarian in parliament, a place to represent everyone no matter their religious affiliation.
Is it a testament to a community to have the legislators blindly chanting words, attaching no meaning to their utterances, with some members standing by letting their colleagues say the meaningless syllables on their own? Is a thoughtless chant worthy of God?

A prayer should be reflective of the goals and actions of the person praying. Anything less isn’t a prayer; it’s a ceremonial lie. There is enough lying in parliaments without affronting the ears of the divine too.
A moment of reflection, the singing of our national anthem – perhaps even a quick message of what the duties of a parliamentarian are – would be more fitting than meaningless recitations. Finding a more inclusive meditation is a worthwhile endeavour; it is a way to bring a community together around a common dialogue. Silence and thought works as well, a chance to focus the mind before dealing with business. If some collective recitation is required, something simple, something to remind our politicians what they need to work for, will suffice.

Words shouldn’t be said without thought. We shouldn’t insult Jesus’ model of prayer by saying it without meaning. If politicians have nothing meaningful to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all.