My next essay for Harrisburg….this should get the folks riled up.
Let us, from the view of an extreme non-believer, consider prayer, that quaint custom of begging for something from a supposedly omnipotent god, sort of a cosmic dialing for deities.
Or, as Ambrose Bierce so nicely put it: “Prayer. To ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”
What a mind-boggling concept. Something – some UberAll – looming over a universe that is about 93 billion light years in diameter – is listening to a short-order cook in Cleveland who is praying that he doesn’t get fired.
The absurdity is such that you would think rational people would have dropped this concept not long after realizing that the earth wasn’t all that flat and that, despite the mutants who espouse “young earth creationism,” the earth is NOT only a few thousand years old.
Well, it turns out that there might be less rational people around that I thought. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, four in 10 Americans believe God created the Earth and anatomically modern humans less than 10,000 years ago.
More? According to an article in LiveScience, many Americans “could use a refresher course in the basics. For instance, a 2014 National Science Foundation study found that only three out of four Americans know that the Earth revolves around the sun… Large percentages didn’t know that the father’s sperm determines a baby’s sex.”
Yes, blue stork means boy…
That explains a lot of weird behavior, including why people pray. If you’re that unmoored from reality than copping a plea to a Giant Maybe doesn’t seem all that strange.
But for us non-believers, it is a knee slapper, right up there with UFOs, Bigfoot, military intelligence, reasonable politicians and SCoseMer, the mutant Zooboo black-hole whisperer.
I can understand that it makes a spooky world less so for those who cling to the need for something more than our brief time on earth.
As Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. said in Psychology Today, “As a meditation or source of self-soothing, as a form of therapy prayer makes perfect sense. Think of it like talking to your pet fish. You might get some benefit out of thinking you’ve got a dialogue going on, even if the fish doesn’t understand a word.”
And at least the fish exists, which is more than can be said for a god.
It makes no sense, for a whole lot of reasons.
First and foremost, the concept of a god getting personally involved in our sloppy little lives is so absurd that it barely requires rebuttal. We are the merest specks of cosmic fluff and to elevate our station so incredibly high in our minds that we would believe that a cosmic overlord would care if our appendectomy was successful is beyond silly.
And the god that seems to be the most popular worldwide is the one who seems to dislike humanity the worst. Always killing millions – Holocaust, cancer, malaria, wars, famine – and then asking the “faithful” to pray to him for justice and mercy.
That is one very, very mean dude you all seem to want to be friendly with.
As Shakespeare so eloquently said, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods: They kill us for their sport.”
Or again, Annie Dillard in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”: “We have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet.”
Aside from being unspeakably cruel, this Big Unlikely needs to be liked more than even Donald Trump, and THAT is saying something.
As Bertrand Russell said, “And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence.”
Added Frederick Nietzsche’ “I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
Nor can I.
Be you might ask, what about selfless prayer, prayer for world peace, for human harmony, for enlightenment and thousands of other worthy things so many people pray for.
I would answer as Gustaf Lindborg did: “The sailor does not pray for wind, he learns to sail.” Or the similarly sage Russian proverb: Pray to God, fine; but keep rowing to shore.
And that’s what most gets under my saddle about prayer. It’s a withdrawal from reality, a cosmic punt, walking away from real problems with real solutions in favor of some kneeling mumbo-jumbo.
As ordained pastor Mark Karris wrote on a blog, “We cannot afford to spend our time engaging in immature forms of petitionary prayer and superstitious practices. We cannot engage in spiritual activities that cause us to feel good, thinking we are accomplishing great things, but ultimately do not achieve the good they set out to accomplish. Or worse, they contribute to the evil and suffering in the world.”
Of course, prayer is but a tiny part of that vast evil, organized religion, a true scourge on our planet.
Whether it’s radical Islam now or the Catholic Church of the Inquisition, the Crusades or the French religious wars, millions upon millions have been killed because ridiculous religious beliefs A were different than ridiculous religious beliefs B.
The mindset that leads to a willingness to fight and kill over miniscule beliefs that separate believer from infidel was most memorably skewered by Jonathan Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels,” where he detailed the beliefs of two warring factions in Lilliput. The Big-Endians, who broke their boiled eggs at the big end, rebelled against the king, who demanded that his subjects break their eggs at the little end.
Yes, and medieval theologians used to argue about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. So it goes.
I know I won’t be changing any minds with this. Believers will just write it off as the raving of an unbalanced atheist who seems to have an irrational hate of all things religious.
Maybe they’re right. But I just can’t look at the hypocrisy and mayhem associated with religion and keep silent.
And prayer is the cosmic internet for all those believers, sending mindless messages to an invisible recipient, and feeling good about it.
Alas, as Voltaire said, “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”