Praying Alone

Hilzoy tells the religious right to chill:

Apparently, it's a big deal in some quarters that Barack Obama did not hold a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer, preferring instead to issue a proclamation and pray in private, "something that the president does every day". This is an instance of something that generally bothers me about many discussions of politics: the assumption that political figures are not doing things for normal human reasons, but should instead be seen as communicating in a sort of code.

Everything they do has a symbolic meaning: it's a symbol of disrespect for this, or craven obedience to that, or whatever; and if we want to understand them, we should not try to figure out why some comprehensible human being might have done what they did, but try to crack this code.

This is, in my view, silly. It's what leads to things like outrage over Obama's shaking hands with Hugo Chavez: if you view that handshake as the normal civil response to someone's extending his hand to you, it seems completely innocuous; but if you see it as a Fraught With Meaning, it looks like a sign that Obama thinks that Chavez is a wonderful guy.