I'm not big on praying. A few days ago I called it absurd, even in the face of tragedy. Prayers alone have zero effect on anything or anyone. Prayers plus action to change things... that can work.
Philosophically, though, praying raises some interesting questions.
Is the entity being prayed to a personal being, or not? Usually we assume that it is, for good reason. Impersonal entities, like a stone, gravity, or a computer, aren't considered to be capable of responding to prayers.
(Nonetheless, I've engaged in quite of bit of dialoguing with computers over the years; particularly Windows machines where my side of the conversation consisted mostly of profanity and marvelously creative curses.)
This is why "people of the Book," Christians, Jews, and Muslims, pray, while people who believe that impersonal forces guide the cosmos, such as Taoists and Buddhists, don't. At least not in the same sense as monotheists do.
A Taoist or Buddhist prayer (using that term loosely) really is more of an intention directed to oneself.
It's main purpose is to alter the consciousness of the person uttering the "prayer" than to appeal to a separate and distinct conscious divinity. Likewise, Taoists and Buddhists don't believe that humans are separate and distinct from the cosmos, possessing (or being) an individualized self or soul.
So we see a certain symmetry operating here.
Those who pray to a personal God view themselves as "persons." This allows them to have a personal relationship with God, to enjoy the prospect of eternity in heaven, paradise, or wherever with their Best Godly Friend, to survive the demise of their body by virtue of an immortal soul.
Those who embrace an impersonal sense of the cosmos view themselves as integral aspects of the whole. There is nothing and no one to pray to, because nothing and no one is in control of the universe. Rather, everything is interconnected naturally.
This is a pleasingly scientific conception of reality. Also, in my opinion, the most genuinely spiritual (using that term loosely) way of looking upon the world.
Modern neuroscience agrees with ancient Taoism and Buddhism: there is no distinct "me" inside my head, or yours. No ethereal self or soul gazing upon the contents of consciousness from some supernatural height. No entity standing apart from the web of relationships that guide the course of everything in the universe.
In this sense, prayer reflects a lack of faith.
Those who pray for anything other than "thy will be done" (whether this be a natural or supernatural "will") are complaining that what did or will happen, shouldn't have. Instead of acceding to the reality of is, prayerful people substitute their personal vision of what should be.
Like I said, action is inevitable. We are born to act, born to desire, born to have goals we want to achieve. But we should realize that men and women propose, while nature disposes. And we are an integral aspect of nature.
No need to pray when there is no one to pray to, and no one, really, who is doing the praying.
not believing in god isn't necessarily a reason not to pray.
i'm reminded of a quote i heard about someone saying to a protester "you don't really expect your protest to change how anyone else behaves do you?" and the protester responded, "i don't protest so that they will change, i protest so that i won't."
some quotes from an interesting blog about why the author prays:
What happens in prayer? Does God really listen and answer? I have no clue. But this much I've learned:
Prayer is an act of hallowing.
Imagine someone comes to you and shares a great burden. They share loss, failure, despair, fear, brokenness, or sickness. Their own or that of someone they love. What do you say upon listening? Thanks for sharing? Good luck with all that? I'm so sorry?
God, as best I could tell, never really answered prayer. So I didn't see any point in talking into the air. And the best literature I could find on the subject, from the contemplative tradition, left me cold and frustrated.
So I stopped praying. And years passed.
I love those words. I love how they pull me out of myself. How they cause me to think about all these people--happy and sad, sleeping and working--around the world. "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night."
When I pray I stand in that hopelessness. I place myself in the position of those who can do nothing put pray. Prayer is their only option, only recourse. It is the only move available to them. Life forces people to their knees. So I go to my knees to be with them, to pray with them. In this sense, Jesus was God's prayer.
In short, the act of prayer, for me at least, is a participation in the vast lament of humankind. Prayer is a visceral, collective weeping toward the heavens.
Prayer is, simply, pledging allegiance. Consequently, prayer is political and a form of resistance and protest.
Prayer specifies your God, your kingdom, your hope, your ethic.
When you pray you choose sides.
Posted by: sgl | May 24, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Great post and interesting comments. Lots of food for thought. I pray only to be close to those I love who believe in prayer, just as I might dine in a restaurant of another's choice that I don't particularly like in order to share time and enjoyment with a loved one.
Posted by: Skeptic | May 25, 2013 at 06:53 AM