This post is really for the non-religious. Being skeptical of a theistic, intervening deity–which I am–is not the same as being cynical of any greater power whatsoever–which I am not.
I was never much of the “praying type”. It always seemed kind of selfish to me. Even when I prayed for other people, I was doing so because I wanted good things for them. I suppose there are worse things you could do with your time. But I always like the concept of praying, putting good vibes out there.
A key aspect of myriad religions and philosophies, prayer covers a wide range topics and there are innumerable methods and purposes. In general, I consider prayer as a kind of active, focused, positive thought.
I posted a blog recently discussing my rejection of religion. It sparked several wonderful conversations with friends, family, and fellow internet geeks on both sides of the issue, and has helped me more clearly define my own beliefs while being introduced to new ideas and perspectives. I can already tell this is just the beginning of my exploration of the subject.
However, I’ve already come to the startling and identity-smashing realization that I am an Atheist. I have likewise become entrenched in my rejection of religion and furthermore believe that religion is in desperate need of a new reformation–as happened with Christ, Mohammed, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation. Religion is the bridge between a people and their deity. As such, religion must reflect both sides to be relevant, which most of today’s Western religions do with plummeting effectiveness. Civilization is in peril because modern technological capability is being governed by iron-age theosophy and agrarian morality. (But more on that another time.)
This is not a rejection of faith or even God.
Epistemologically speaking, “God” as the Creator, exists. The proof is existence itself. I exalt that “trinity” of creation, destruction, and recreation. My limited and casual understanding of the sciences suggests to me that these forces are at least interwoven if not one. While violent and terrifying from our subjective view these dynamics are, in reality, nothing more than the restructuring of particle groups and the principles that drive it. I believe, by the intricate flawlessness of these organizing principles, that some kind of intelligence drives them or comprises them or perhaps originated them.
I won’t speculate as to what kind of intelligence that might be or how it works. Nor would I hazard a guess as to sentience, especially not sentience as I know it. This, to me, is one of the places where reasonable people can, for the time being, come to their own conclusions.
For me, the staggering actuality that I–a collection of individually lifeless molecules, inexplicably arranged into sentience–am able to experience even this infinitesimal speck of all that is, has been, and will be, is more than miracle enough to compel my continual, embarrassed, and humble gratitude.
The question is, how exactly do I show that gratitude?
Again, I am an atheist, theologically speaking. Yet there are “higher” concepts that I do believe in: Salvation, enlightenment, even bliss. These ideas still hold profound meaning for me. To my mind they are all modes of thought, or more accurately, modes of thought procession. From perception and understanding to joy, forgiveness, and guilt, thought is how we experience existence.
This means that thought has power–unequaled power from the human perspective. So logically, I must therefore believe in the power of positive–and negative–thinking.
What I mean when I say positive is anything that drives us toward the combined states of individual contentment, environmental equilibrium, and social exceptionalism. In other words, I’m talking about states of happiness, balance, and growth as individuals and as a species.
- I define happiness as the cessation of need, the tempering of desire through both achievement and self-control, and the unfettered pursuit of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual interests.
- I define balance as maintaining a respectful, pragmatic equilibrium between the utilization and replenishment of our natural and cultural resources.
- I define growth as progressive improvement in the quality of life and equality of opportunity for all people.
Experientially, these are modes of travel not destinations (to steal a motivational poster slogan). Salvation, enlightenment, and bliss are the ultimate forms of these modes. Our belief systems are how we achieve such modes which serve as the highest material functions of belief. In plain terms, faith can help make us better people.
Prayer then, along with reflection, meditation, and study, have their place as ways of attuning and refining thought positively, regardless of belief. You can pray to God, Allah, Yahweh, Mormon, or Buddha; you can pray to Oblivion; you can pray to the Blind Luck of the Universe if you want. The purpose is to give profound thanks for the opportunity to experience Life and to seek, within yourself or from God, the capacity to endure, overcome, and achieve.
I find something very reassuring about that.
And if praying is not your deal, then don’t do it. There are people of even devout faith who rarely pray.
Besides, if you’re doing it right, no one should know the difference.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
( Praying hands: http://www.prospectorjewelers.com/About_Us/Praying_Hands.htm. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development: http://klooste-mycave.blogspot.com/2010/10/gender-typing-are-there-flavors-as-well_22.html. Buddha statue: http://blogs.babble.com/famecrawler/2010/10/18/what-is-aqua-buddha-rand-pauls-campaign-is-getting-a-little-crazy-watch-the-ad/)