Petitionary prayer is an iffy kind of thing for Jews, to begin with. Some of us don’t believe in it at all; others believe we aren’t supposed to do it on the Sabbath (either because the Holy One is also entitled to a day off, or because praying for stuff we need detracts from the joyous and grateful mood we are supposed to be in on Sabbath.) In point of fact, the Jewish tradition includes lots of petitionary prayers, for good weather, for good crops, that there shouldn’t be an earthquake in Sharon, that people plotting against us should be thwarted, for peace and prosperity, and so on. But praying for a Big Three bailout? This seems a bit much.
Part of my problem is with the whole idea of The Economy. We talk about it as a thing, or even as an idol. May The Economy smile upon you. As a card-carrying nominalist, I have trouble with this. The economy is merely the sum total of a particular species of human decisions, large and small, wise and stupid, virtuous and corrupt. We can and probably should pray that these decisions (especially the large ones) be made in wisdom and compassion. And not hurt people. And if they do hurt people, that the rest of us be kind enough to share and alleviate their burdens.
But, like weather, The Economy includes a lot of variables we don’t really understand, that sometimes work together in ways we can’t anticipate. Praying for a bailout of the Big Three automakers to straighten out the economy is like praying for a new Ice Age to relieve Global Warming. We have no idea whether it will work, or actually make things worse. Better to pray that the people who make these decisions get the best information possible and use it in the most sensible way they can. Which is probably how most of our petitionary prayers should be phrased. Peace and light to you all.