Column: No atheists amidst the shrapnel

I read the other day about a town where the custom had been for the local council to start meetings with someone reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a central feature of Christianity. The town has been told by the courts not to do that anymore. The idea is that this practice amounts to government endorsement of one particular religious faith.carey

Back in the 1970s, some of us in Rye used to gather on the outside steps of City Hall on the afternoon of Dec. 24 to sing Christmas carols as the sun went down. Anyone could participate, and the singers included elected officials, one being a member of the famous Yale singing group, the “Whiffenpoofs.” During the 1980s, Christmas Eve caroling on the Village Green seemed to peter out.

No one complained that we were promoting a particular faith on public property, but I did get a nativity scene that someone placed nearby on the Village Green moved across the property line onto library land. As I see it, no one can tell me not to pray when I need to, as long as I don’t intrude on anyone else.

A college classmate of mine whom I will call Joe, who may be Catholic, Protestant or Jewish for all I know, piloted many bombing missions over Germany during World War II. His plane seldom returned home without damage inflicted by shrapnel. Fortunately none of it hit the engines, or they might have crashed and been captured or killed.

Joe told me something I will not soon forget.

After several hazardous flights, two of his seven-member crew came to him with a request. Could they all, just before taking off on a bombing mission, gather in a circle close to the plane, and repeat together the Lord’s Prayer? Joe readily agreed and every bombing mission after that was preceded by this ceremony. Joe told me that he, like the rest of the crew, benefited from both the message and the feeling of solidarity and loyalty it created among them.

We in this country have come a long way in my lifetime at overcoming misunderstandings between Catholics and Protestants or between Jews and Christians. But, there is still a gap in understanding between some Christians and some Muslims. This gap is exacerbated by expressions like “conflict of civilizations” and “defamation of religions.” But we will get over our present hang-ups in due course, the sooner the better.

It is my view that both blood ties and friendships across these divides are helpful in chasing away religious prejudices. My wife and I have had the good luck to have been involved for more than two decades with persons from many parts of the world, including North Africa and the Middle East. We have made friends from countries such as Israel, Egypt, India, England, Pakistan, Jordan, France, Bangladesh, Jamaica and other countries in south and central America.

It matters not to me whether it was Abraham’s son Isaac, as Jews and Christians believe, or his son Ishmael, according to Muslim belief, that Abraham came close to slaying with his own hand. The message is the same, we are guided to perform acts of kindness and mercy, not acts of cruelty or vengeance. So let it be as the future unfolds, this holiday season and ever after.