Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Prayer

Since becoming an Atheist I'm very often told that I'm being prayed for. Honestly, upon this happening I usually chuckle. I can't see any harm done. In fact, I somewhat appreciate the concern. Surely, if graced with revelation, I would be amazed and retract my rejection of a deity in embarrassment. I admit I could be wrong…

This will not be an attempt to hurt feelings, but an encouragement to critically look at the underlying paradigm of prayer, of which I feel is always ignored. The paradigm being that god is:
1) omnipotent, knowing all of your needs and wants.
2) sovereign, having absolute control over the universe, making manipulations like healing disease a non-issue.
3) loving, wishing the least amount of senseless suffering for his creation and wanting to impose the most enjoyable existence upon them.

If you don’t know me, for the sake of my argument, assume you know me, and you are a person that prays to your God(s) of preference to reveal themself to me…

I would challenge you with this: What would it mean if God did answer your prayer and revealed himself to me? Would you acknowledge that god changed his plan of action per your request? If so, do you then acknowledge that he would not have done so apart from your request? If so, and it turns out your pleas some pull with the big man, how do you justify praying for a perfectly affluent American young adult who is not suffering any ailment or in the slightest physical distress? I ask this because- if god really does answer your prayers, why then should he not help those across the world on your behalf? Undoubtedly, there are billions of individuals that are desperately in need of god's incomprehensible kindness and love he is so readily capable of relinquishing – for god is love, no? If he does indeed consider your request, and even answers accordingly, how could you ever justify wasting a second of the day off your knees begging for the starving HIV infected children of Africa, the homeless disaster-ravaged survivors of Japan, or any other person on this planet, who by your beliefs, will ultimately burn in unfathomable agony for eternity? More good could come of your life if all you did was survive and pray.

Now, some may say that god's will is concrete-that it does not change, which would render his children's prayers vacuous, even more so... I have to ask this person: Why pray? Do you really fancy sending unrequited and inconsequential thoughts skyward so much? Is there no greater comparison than that of child who speaks with and takes refuge in an imaginary friend? Of course the friend is conceived out of thin air, nothing but a self-contrived means to console the child’s own loneliness. How different is your god? He does not speak back, and he never will. The imaginative little girl's teacup will never lift off the table. Likewise, the soldier's gushing wound will never be sewn anew by an unseen healer.

Now, to those people who do not hold that their deity’s will is immutable: How can your god be loving and kind, allowing so much senseless suffering every day. If your god is omnipotent he will know the pain of every individual that has ever lived. He will understand the feeling of rape and comprehend the devastating psychological effects. If he were omnipotent he would know the world’s brutality and comprehend its magnitude more so than any other. Yet, he allows it. He is able to stop it, but doesn’t. If I had the ability to heal something like arthritis with no more effort than a blink, and I withheld this ability, I would surely be considered a cruel and evil person. Surely arthritis doesn’t kill and it’s not the worst of diseases, but it is agonizing! How do you ignore such a dearth of character in something you bend a knee to, give funds to, and worship? How are you so tolerant of the lack of existence and movement of your god in this world?

So many people go their entire lives and never force themselves to reckon their beliefs with reality. It takes effort, and it takes courage. A couple years ago I finally admitted to myself that I had been praying to a god that didn’t respond. My entire life I had prayed to him before every meal, when I woke, when I went to sleep, and numerous other times daily. I had cried out to him with tears and agonizing fear many times. Admitting that I had been talking to a sky fairy for my whole life was humiliating in the truest sense of the word. I was humiliated only in front of myself. I realized how arrogant I had been, thinking that the master of the universe heard my every thought and listened to my wishes. Only when I denied my self-centeredness did I realize that we, as people, have only ourselves to go to for help. Then I understood what it means to be a part of humanity, and helping people became so much more important because I knew there was no god there to do it in my stead.

If you must pray, please don’t pray for me. I’m a lost and unworthy cause. Pray for a dying child or dog or plant... Or, if you’re up for it, try going some time without praying and observe how the natural world goes about without your concerns sailing upward.