“Does God Answer Prayers?”

Not the gap I had in mind.

Last Monday evening, I attended a community forum panel discussion about “does god answer prayers?” I wanted to hear what the atheist member of the panel said.

Panel members included:
1. A retired Presbyterian minister,
2. A female Jewish Rabbi (this lady),
3. A Messianic Jewish Rabbi/pastor (this guy), [Note: Messianic Jews are Jews for Jesus and are not recognized as Jewish.]
4. I didn’t hear the word atheist said all evening, even during the moderator’s intro of him. He authored this.

I would say the panel was a representation of the religious minorities in this community. Most people in this county are Nones in that they claim no specific religious group, but few are atheist. Other than that, most others are Christians: Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Baptists.

The atheist, retired minister, and moderator were all board members of the Community Forum which sponsored the event. That explains the atheist’s presence on the panel.

It would have been a better panel if it had included a Baptist or Evangelical Protestant, a Catholic, and no atheist or ‘Jews for Jesus’. I think that would have better represented the religious demographic of the overall community.

The three panel members who were religious ministers agreed that god answers prayers. If there were 100 of them, they would all have agreed.

However, having an atheist on the panel may have contributed to attendance. He was why I attended. People enjoy controversy, which was obviously avoided at the cost of quality.

The moderator said that this was the best-attended of the forums thus far. I counted slightly more than 100 attendees.

I felt disappointed with the atheist, an older PhD dude, who said, “God does not answer prayers.” Said like that left too much wiggle room for existence. Gods don’t answer prayers if gods don’t exist.

He offered empirical research evidence, which he said proved that god did not answer prayers. He did a good job of staying on topic and not offending anyone, but that should not have been his goal. The research evidence he mentioned proved nothing, much less the negative (not answer prayer) he proposed.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbi spoke in typical bible-belt, fundamentalist rhetoric. At one point he said that he would make a poor Southern Baptist because he occasionally enjoyed alcohol. I thought that if he removed his little cap and told me he was Baptist, I’d believe him.

His evidence of god answering prayers was that someone with stage IV cancer was cured with prayer. The pastor did not give a name or say if any medical intervention occurred. He also cited Chick-fil-A as further evidence. He said it was the top selling fast food business despite being closed on Sundays, but he was wrong.

The eat mor chickin business is currently reported as 7th in the fast food store sales behind Micky D’s (#1), Starbucks (#2) and four others. While Starbucks is a lightning rod for religious criticism of everything from their holiday coffee cup designs to the occasional idiot store manager, they are doing ok. Number 8 is currently Dunkin’ Donuts, another coffee empire.

The Presbyterian could cure insomnia. He said the amount of faith one has contributes to the likelihood of a prayer being answered. This idea of needing strong faith to be good enough for god translates to god plays favorites.

When the real Jewish Rabbi and Cantor stood up, she did the best of the four, despite (or maybe because of) frequently wandering off topic. Once she had to ask the moderator to repeat the question she was answering.

She wore a stiff, black, sequined, kippah or yarmulke that stood-out in her abundant bright blonde hair. Her floor length, straight, black dress with long sleeves was attractive, but in good taste and appropriate for a person of her position.

Bar none and by far, she was the most attractive Rabbi, or Cantor, I have ever seen. Her focus was more on style of, and reason for, prayer. She did not present arguments about whether god answers prayers, which she seemed to take for granted.

She favored chanting or singing of prayers in the original language (Hebrew in her case), a proposal I support over the random, impromptu wanderings of many long-winded lapses of reality proffered by Evangelicals and Baptists.

While there was potential for interest, the vanilla, shallow, and predictable comments of panel members were disappointing. Maybe the community forum should pray for enlightenment and better clerical participation in similar future endeavors.

I don’t know what he is praying for, but I want the answer to be Hell No.

Look both ways and reflect on what is real. Mind the gap.

God’s Plan

 

Just one of many books similarly titled

Recently, I saw a book for sale in the local library. The title was God’s Plan for Church Leadership. I don’t recall the author’s name, nor did I think any more about it until the title came back to me while driving home. I haven’t read the book, but apparently the author was sharing this information about God’s Plan in a book.

All I needed to do was buy the book and read it. Then, I too would have the wisdom and insight of this plan, whatever benefit that would have. I suppose part of the plan was for the book’s author to get the messages telepathically, or however that works, so that the book could be written, published, and sold. It must follow that I would see the book, not buy it, and write about it. It’s all part of the big plan.

It strikes me as special when people say things like “God’s Plan” because it stakes the claim that they have factual inside-information from a deity. In this case, it’s specifically Christian, but that concept is by no means unique to the 75% of Americans who claim membership in that group.

The other two groups of the Abrahamic tradition (Jewish and Muslim) have similar claimants. But this author was Christian. I have always been baffled by folks who can tell me precisely what the plan is, other than what may be specifically spelled-out in scripture. I don’t agree with much scripture, but at least I know it to be the source.

If there is a plan for us, it is coded in our blood, bones, and brain – our DNA – what capabilities and limitations we have are pretty much set from day one. We are all the same in many aspects, yet very different in many observable ways. I’m not saying there is any plan, but the blueprint for my life was of my own making, given certain realities, realizations, limitations, and abilities. There are also coincidences.

I’ve seen no other evidence of planning. We are quite on our own. We can make the best of it. Conversely, we may under-perform to phenomenally low, yet undiscovered, levels. Failure in life is an option, even when disguised as success.

I find it frighteningly bizarre that since Armageddon is apparently a religious end times prophesy (I’m not looking it up, but I think it’s in Revelation) of God’s plan, many Christian people work hard to rush that event to fruition, thus ending human life on earth. And in their mind, sending people like me straight to Hell to their everlasting joy. An eternity of “I told you so.” For Muslims, it’s Al-Malhama Al-Kubra – but it’s all the same to me.

You can buy these and give them to your heathen friends.

Now, for the person who claims personal and privileged information regarding the specifics of a deific plan for church leadership. I would cheerfully bet a six-pack of any brewery’s finest amber ale that the same preacher/follower-man or woman (it was guy, but I’m feeling inclusive) would call down fire and brimstone into the after-death fortunes of anyone who would aspire to fortune-telling – as either practitioner or consumer. Yet, that is exactly what this self-proclaimed, religiously acceptable prophet is claiming to do.

It seems that in this case, and in so many others, God apparently needs this human’s help to pull-off the Big Plan. God is omnipotent but likes to entice His or Her enslaved underlings to do this bidding, just because.

I can say from experience that God’s plan is very clear to some of us, until others of us start asking questions. The brand of answer for the prior ilk is too often a version of God works in mysterious ways. The honest answer might sound like I don’t know.

I am not picking on all believers (at least not here). I know many religiously devout people who do not claim to know the plan (thus, so many books for them to buy), and do not believe this mumbo-jumbo any more than I do. They may even proffer that making such a claim would be heresy.

Waiving my bullshit flag has brought trouble into my life. It would be fair to wonder why I don’t stop. I can assure you that I will continue objecting to such ludicrous nonsense until the day the king puts on his clothes.

My plan and wish for us both is to have a wonderful day. Allahu akbar (not to me).

Always look both ways.
You don’t know what Allah’s plan is, or if she will protect you.
So, mind the gaps like you mean it.

Postscript: I returned to the library but could not find the book again anywhere, nor could I locate anything like it in the catalogue system (likewise in cyberspace). During my search, I did notice several similar titles. There are many people who seem to know God’s plan. As I searched graphics for this post, I noticed more literature about God’s Plan.

The Summer of ’59

Facing the Dark Side

When I was in the sixth grade at my Catholic school, I dreaded being promoted to seventh grade. Sister Mary Scary taught seventh grade. That nasty creature who floated around Saint John’s wearing Rome’s version of a burqa, but used a white frame to emphasize a face that was perpetually angry, who posed as a Catholic nun but was really the Wicked Witch of the West. That daughter of Satan himself, would have complete control of my life from eight to three every weekday, plus an extra hour at church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, when I would be forced to sit, kneel, or stand to watch men and boys dressed in feminine garb prance, kneel, sing, pray, and read in a dead language of which I understood nary ten words.

Saint John's Church and School

Saint John’s Church and School

Mom and Dad were delighted in June of 1958, when I handed them my report card with that depressing word emblazoned on the back cover: “Promoted!” To me, it said, “sentenced to nine months of suffering in Purgatory at the hands of evil.”

I worried all summer. My friend, Jimmy, who was a grade ahead of me reported the horrible carnage that he and others had endured at the hands of Lucifer’s daughter. Whatever the version of depression a 12-year-old boy could encounter, I’m sure I had it. Never, have I wanted a summer to pass more slowly.

My parents always supported authority over me. The nun, teacher, priest, cop, drunk adult, irate neighbor, or neighborhood tattle tale was always right. Ok, occasionally, they really were right. But from my point of view, my parents should have supported me – their son who they claimed to love. I could not discuss my fears about the nun with my parents.

My siblings had the “we survived, but you probably won’t” attitude and said as much. However, my older brother, Danny, did have some advice for me. “Be an altar boy. They like altar boys,” he said. That made sense to me. I would play their game to survive.

Survival

I worried enough about Sister Scary that I managed to get through seventh grade with minimal physical damage and mental distress. I passed academically, and I was home free. This time I was even more pleased than Mom and Dad that I was not held back. I had not shed one tear. I was doing well. My eighth-grade teacher was to be Sister Mary Wonderful, who was also the school Principal. Life was good again.

Toward the end of seventh grade, I was finally approached to join the exalted and glorious ranks of the chosen ones. I was asked if I wanted to be an Altar Boy. All my friends were becoming Altar Boys, and I wanted to be one, too. My brother, Danny, had been one, and it was what good Catholic boys did.

Altar Boys

Altar Boys

I accepted the offer from the Father O’Burts, logically assuming my parents would approve. I started learning the Latin prayers and talking to other boys about the process and the job. I was happy about it. My plan for eighth grade was to be one of the chosen. I even signed up for the school basketball team. I didn’t play well, but I was the tallest boy in my school. I began to look forward to my final year at Saint John’s.

Not So Fast

Then, as the skies darkened again, I had the familiar bad feeling. As September and the start of school approached, there was a shockingly frightful rumor. Sister Wonderful was being transferred, and Sister Mary Scary, the evil antagonist of my short life, was being promoted to school principal and would be moving up to teach eighth grade.

Oh, dear God, No! I was supposed to be done with her. But as every dependable source, including the church bulletin, soon validated, ‘twas da troot. The second coming of the Inquisition had been promoted to Principal of Saint John’s elementary school, and would teach 8th grade to my class. I knew that I could not survive another year. My only solace was knowing that, except for a few favored girls, the rest of my classmates were as upset as I was. The Altar Boy gig became critical.

Say What?

So then, still expecting them to be pleased with the news, I decided to tell my parents that I was to be an Altar Boy. I expected them to be proud, if not overjoyed.

I was happy when I walked into the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She was at the sink behind me. “Mom, guess what? Fadder O’Burts as’t me ta be an altar boy. And I’ma gunna do it, too.”

I turned to look at Mom, smiling and all full-of-myself, at first. Then, severe shock set in when she turned and said, “No yer not!”

Dad looked up and added, “Like Hell, y’are! Yeh kin get dat idea outa yer thick skull right now.”

Dazed, I needed something quick – a prayer, to get sick, perhaps a deadly disease, anything. Desperation was overcoming me.

I was unaware that when Danny had been an Altar Boy, it was not a good experience. The logical consequence, of course, was that I was not permitted to follow, and my parents did not give one inch. Nor did they tell me why I was being denied my only hope to survive nine more months of the Black-veiled Horror. Today, I am glad that I was not part of that Altar Boy thing, but at the time, it was the worst possible news.

Option Two

Quickly, I changed the subject. “Mom, Coughlin is 7th through 12th grade. Can I go there for 8th grade? I’ll be starting there fer 9th grade and high school the next year, anyway.”

She didn’t even look at me. “Now, Billy-boy. Why’d ya do dat? Jist graduate St. John’s then go to high school like your brother and sister did. After I see ya graduate Saint John’s, the Lord can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I will graduate from Coughlin High, Mom. And probably college too. So, the Lord can wait.”

With that, the food in Dad’s mouth came spewing out. He was choking and coughing and wheezing and trying not to die while laughing at my confidence. My wonderful summer was ending in embarrassment and darkness. I became angry and depressed again.

Blues Brothers

Blues Brothers

As It Happened

I was right. Eighth grade was worse than seventh for exactly the reasons that I had predicted. Even our basketball team suffered from the curse of the cruel Head Demon. Sister Mary Scary controlled every aspect of student lives – thus influencing their spiritual growth or decline. She and I were in constant struggle to have all of Hell on our side. That nun and I never had one good day. Eventually, we developed a healthy fear of each other as my size and strength worked to discourage many of her thoughts. Sister Scary promoted me to high school and out of Saint John’s. To this day, I’m certain that neither of us wished to deal with the other any longer than necessary. I was neither the first, nor that last, to be moved along to become someone else’s problem.

Age and experience change how we see our world.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

Morality, Sin, and I over E (I/E)

Disclosure: I’m of the there are no gods variety of atheist. Consequently, there’s no sin. Since we can’t have one without the other, sin is a word I use only because the majority use the word, even if they’re agnostic. But, there is some general agreement about what is or isn’t moral behavior.

 

morality-1

The past few weeks, I’ve posted about the seven deadly, and predominantly Christian, sins of greed, pride, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. I also provided a brief contrast with an opposite word. My approach was based on the source of our behavior, our human mind and emotions. Each of the seven begins with an emotion that may later be manifest in behavior – we act based on how we feel.

Writers have a phrase: show me, don’t tell me. In movies, the words and actions of the actors are used to portray thoughts and feelings. In my opinion, we cannot choose each emotion. Happiness is a little different. We can be happy people and still experience dark-side emotions. Furthermore, we can usually choose our behavior. Some comments have implied that we’re in total control over emotions, and then control our actions, as well. While I don’t share that opinion, my behavior is based upon my emotional state has led to more apologies from me than I care to admit – slow learner.

As a society, a nation, or arguably, within a religion, we subjectively decide what’s moral. It changes over time, and we routinely disagree about what’s unacceptable (political-type disagreements). While we don’t always agree, often we do.

In the title equation, I = intellect, and E = emotion. When we experience emotions, we follow that feeling with behavior. To the degree that we can, ideally, we choose the behavior we morally and intellectually we want to display. For example, if someone elicits our anger, jealousy, or some other feeling from our complex emotional spectrum, we then pick our next move. I over E implies that we select our words or actions based on our intellect (good judgment, wisdom), rather than the emotion we feel. It’s not easy to behave contrary to how we feel. Nor is it always necessary. Going with our emotions (following our heart) is very often our best and most sincere option. We love with not only our personal emotions, but often those of others. How others tug at our emotions makes life magical. Life is wondrous, but not simple.

The common thread that I’ve stitched through each of the seven is that emotions are not sins. Feelings are legitimate. Be they good or bad feelings, it’s our behavior that determines anything about moral standards. And it doesn’t make a tinker’s-dam if one believes in a god, gods, or none. Each of the seven have opposite virtues. Every good person has a dark side. Every saint has a past; every sinner a future.

Humans are very much part of nature. We are where we belong. Our greatest need is for each other. Our greatest challenge is in dealing with each other.

Our lives are full of stepping stones to make life better and with stumbling blocks that bring us incredible amounts of pain and suffering – and valuable lessons.

morality-2

Let’s be accepting and understanding of ourselves and others to the degree that we’re able. We are not static beings. We’re who and what we are, but we have opportunities and futures. We come into this world as we are – a combination of physical and mental paradoxes and mysteries. A lot happens between the average birth and death. This includes running the bases of virtuous and bad behavior, and the personal experience of staring into the abyss that is us.

Look both ways, and mind the gap.

Morality Series: Pride

Who or what are you proud of? Do you feel proud of yourself? If so, do you consider it immoral or sin?

Lucifer to Satan

Lucifer to Satan

Pride is an insufficient word for the immoral feeling that is an exaggerated sense of self. Hubris works a little better. Pride is often normal and not bad. As with any of these so called sins, when taken to psychological extremes, pride can become a problem that others often are more aware of than we see in ourselves. Behaviors associated with pride can become annoying, but we expect a proud bow from anyone doing well.

So, here I go again; playing devil’s advocate in the defense of normal human feelings and behavior that many religious people accept as sinfulness of the highest order. What’s even harder to understand is that this one is considered the worst of the worst. This is Lucifer’s sin, if you believe that. This self-opinion allegedly paves the way for all badness (or sin, if you prefer) to follow. In the words of  C. S. Lewis and many other religious writers, its primacy is made clear.

pride-4

Are we to believe that humility, the alleged opposite, prevents us from immoral behavior? I can be most humble and immoral simultaneously. I can lust with humility oozing from my pores, or maybe it’s the other way around. Excuse me while I humbly eat the entire pizza and down a six-pack of beer.

Pride is mostly good, unless you’re Irish-Catholic, in which case you’ll hear, as I did in my youth, who the hell do you think you are? This put-down, shut-down, and buzz-kill phrase is more annoying than piles of pride.

Gay pride, black pride, being proud of self, kids and grands, other family and friends, school pride, pride in state or country, religious pride or pride in non-belief, the overcoming of adversity, pride in relationships, athletic team pride, corporate pride, and the list goes on. What’s wrong, bad, or sinful about any of this? Nothing!

pride-1

My entire life I’ve worked on my humility (minding that gap). One friend made a sarcastically funny plaque for me because I often discussed trying to be humbler. I thought that I’d be a better person if I was humble. Of course, I could be proud of my humility, right?

 

I like this

I like this

I think power often corrupts, and I’m sure that pride plays into that human fault. We should get this pride deal straightened out. Going overboard on my ego is indeed bad for me and for those around me. Fortunately, my family and friends have the chutzpa to point out my faults. I no longer have my dad to ask me, “Who the hell do you think you are?” I can still hear his voice when others remind me that I may be a bit full of myself. It happens, preferably seldom. Maybe pride is not exactly the correct word for me.

What about the other prideful words? Vanity? I pine for my hair and regret the loss of my locks. Conceit? Probably not me. I’ve known none who admit to this, but we easily see it others. Arrogance? I have the tee shirt for this one. I’m guilty. I can be arrogant as hell. Conversely, I admit when I’m wrong. I’ll apologize for any harm done. I don’t apologize for being wrong unless harm was done. I’ve been accused of arrogance for that. To me, I’m being sincere. Otherwise, I’d constantly be apologizing.

How about self-respect, self-esteem, or self-love? What of narcissism? I know that’s not pride, but we agree it’s an abnormal extreme, unless you’re a politician. Dictionary synonyms include pleasure, joy, delight, gratification, fulfillment, and satisfaction. I think I see a pattern here.

Is it possible that Christianity and some other religions are opposed to people finding pleasure in life?

Yours, mine, or theirs – what’s your take on the pride?

Hold your head up and walk tall. Be the person you are – true to yourself.
Be proud when you have reason.
Be happy in life, but look both ways and be mindful of any gaps.

Morality Series: Sloth

Intentions Count

Intentions Count

Other than writing about it, does anyone ever use this word except for the animal or when referring to the sin? Do we know what sloth means? Is it laziness?

Sloth is the most difficult of the seven biggies to define precisely. An old-fashioned definition might sound like defiant sorrow turning away from God’s good intentions.

Is it really a bad thing? Is the problem its tendency to lead to other problems? I knew it fit with laziness, but it also goes with apathy and a list of other goof-off words.

Thomas Pynchon wrote a great piece about how sloth is tied to writers. Read it all here. I like this paragraph:

“Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. They are approached all the time on the subject, not only for free advice, but also to speak at Sloth Symposia, head up Sloth Task Forces, testify as expert witnesses at Sloth Hearings. The stereotype arises in part from our conspicuous presence in jobs where pay is by the word, and deadlines are tight and final — we are presumed to know from piecework and the convertibility of time and money. In addition, there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee”, by Thomas Pynchon

sloth-4

If this is a sin, it’s not one we commit. In fact, it seems we commit nothing, we do nothing, and we don’t much give a shit about anything. As I understand it, sloth refers to our mental, physical, spiritual, and pathological states, usually with a strong religious twist. Even the Buddhists have their five hindrances, of which Sloth-torpor is one defined as a heaviness of the body and dullness of the mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. That sounds like it needs a DSM IV diagnosis.

With greed, I wrote that we know it when we see it. I’m not sure sloth is as easy to identify. I don’t take the word sin seriously, but sloth is one item that may not get enough attention. Like the others, it is not healthy if it’s a person’s choice for a way of life. I can accept go with the flow, but like many of the big seven, it can be unhealthy when taken to a wrong extreme. And, it can lead to other behavior that is even more damaging. I think that much of what we might perceive as sloth, in others or ourselves, is either a medical problem like depression, or an existential crisis. Here is another example from Mr. Pynchon:

“Any discussion of Sloth in the present day is of course incomplete without considering television, with its gifts of paralysis, along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically, committing the six other deadly sins in parallel, eating too much, envying the celebrated, coveting merchandise, lusting after images, angry at the news, perversely proud of whatever distance we may enjoy between our couches and what appears on the screen.” ~ New York Times, June 6, 1993, The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee, by Thomas Pynchon

I like saying that I’m lazy, or that it’s a lazy day. I should say relaxed or comfortable, but lazy adds a pinch of ironic guilt. That troubles some folks, but I think it natural. On my calling card, the leading skill is Leisure Aficionado; a reference to many of my goals in retirement. It got less attention than Pleasure Seeker did.

Sure. Sometimes.

Sure. Sometimes.

The opposite of sloth is said to be diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I have always liked persistence, and for a long time, I liked some work. Maybe it was the doing that I liked – my ability to make something happen; or maybe it was the fruit of my labor that was my reward. My writing is kind of both, but mostly my reward is the result. That is also my motivation to do it again. For about five years, I ran – anything from five kilometers to marathons. For marathons, diligent training and persistence are keys to success without much injury. I’ve met no slothy runners. To endurance runners, any day with less than five miles is slacking off.

Is it sloth or depression?

Is it sloth or depression?

One more issue regarding sloth: this whole concept that people who choose to be lazy or sloth are deliberately committing sins is nonsense. People want to feel good, to contribute, to have purpose and success. That is what is normal for humans. We’re unaware of other’s mental, physical, or spiritual health. So, we should focus on ourselves and what’s best for us. If anything is a sin, it’s judgment.

 

 

The song Alphie by Lily Allen is a hoot, and refers to the pot induced lethargy of her younger brother. Yes, the Game of Thrones actor – same guy. But it could be sloth. This Youtube version is a bit edited, but worth a look, nonetheless.

We should look upon our own sloth with a critical eye.
Too little or too much may be unhealthy.
Live life to the fullest as long as possible; always look both ways and mind the gaps.

Pray for What?

prayer-1

If I’m your guest for dinner and your family tradition is to hold hands or bow your heads to pray, or we’re at a restaurant, and you want to pray; I’ll respectfully observe your tradition. I don’t say grace nor will I ask your God to ‘bless the meal;’ however, I’ll not be disrespectful. If you’re my guest, you may expect the same courtesy. I don’t pray, but if you do, it’s ok.

In Catholic grade school, we recited Grace Before Meals before lunch, and Grace After Meals when we returned. I don’t recall saying it with my family. As an adult, I said the short prayer you can see on virtually any episode of Blue Bloods. If you take too long and the food gets cold, I may pray for an end to your jabbering.

prayer-3

I consider some, perhaps most, prayer to be harmless and it maybe even good for you. That’s right. I said some or most. Openly expressing gratitude, which is perhaps the least felt of all human emotions, should be a good thing. But, in my opinion, not always.

Thanking God for the touchdown is silly. So is divine gratitude for a political candidate winning or for scoring in the lottery. These examples are nonsensically selfish and may be harmful. While I’m good with being grateful, I’m not okay with all forms of prayer. I shouldn’t care, but I’ve long held my opinion.

I’m fine with prayers of worship like God is Good, but if I hear God is Great yelled in Arabic, fight or flight may take over. Back as far as I can remember, I had issues with asking God for anything. It made no sense to me — still doesn’t.

My parents told me that God helps those who helps themselves, or a similar form of the phrase. I’ve never given up on the basis for that idea. For example, I went to see a house being remodeled and found the painter sleeping. After inquiring about his health, I asked if he worried about being fired. He said, “The good Lord will provide.” Raising eye brows, I said, “Oh. I see.” Lucky him. I wasn’t the owner.

prayer-4As often happens following severe droughts in South Texas, the many weather gods provided too much rain. Severe damaging floods came after the months of virtually no rain. As Father Conor McGrath was reading announcements from the Parish Bulletin in his wonderful Irish brogue, he adlibbed a joke by saying, “And would the gentleman who is still praying for rain please stop.”

Another time McGrath told us the joke about the man named Thomas, who continuously prayed to win the lottery and began to lose his faith. The gambler blamed God’s failure to grant the prayer as promised. I can still hear Father Conor deliver the punch line from God, “Thomas, I need a wee bit of help here. You’re needin’ ta buy a ticket first.” We must do our part.

Valerie Tarico made some good points in her post about why some prayer is neither valuable nor innocuous. It encouraged me to make my own case.

She said, “Atheists, agnostics and other secular activists may think prayer is hogwash, but a lot of other people like praying and they like to think that it works. So, why not just leave the habit alone? It seems harmless enough.”

Later, after she highlights some of the perks of prayer, she presents her case against the troubling hidden costs of petitionary prayer. This is her list of 7 problems, with comments that are mostly mine.

Petitionary prayer:

  1. Suppresses critical thought. During our meal, if you begin to choke on a turkey bone, would you prefer that I pray for your recovery, or would you like me to perform the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge the culprit?
  2. Undermines agency and responsibility. Let go and let God, right? We are not responsible for anything this way. Remember the painter? I agree that sometimes it’s good to let go of things. But, we need to do what we can (think Serenity Prayer).
  3. prayer-2Promotes a habit of self-deception. If God is right, why bother? Wouldn’t he do that same thing even if we didn’t explain it?
  4. Distracts from more promising endeavors. This is one of the most profitable things sold by TV preachers. What else might those resources do? Feed the hungry or clothe the naked?
  5. Promotes victim blaming, including self-blame. If God grants requests from some, what does that say about those who get no response? If God heals your wart, but not mine; something must be bad about me.
  6. Teaches people to mistake abuse for love. Deferring to Ms. Tarico, “Being forced to praise and adore a powerful person who requires vulnerable dependents to beg for what they need…and who then grants or denies these requests in some inscrutable pattern, is not love. It is abuse—and as many former Christians have testified, it primes people, especially women—for further abuse.”
  7. Replaces compassionate action. There are times for inaction and times to act. We are all in this together and helping one another is what we do best. Tarico refers to Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I watched it. It’s well-done and funny, but two hours long. If you’re of the Free Thinker persuasion, watch it — especially if you were raised Catholic.

As I’ve implied, some types of prayer, like contemplative meditation, gratitude, and communing with something greater than ourselves, may be useful even for non-believers. But, Valerie Tarico said it best.

“It’s time to get off of our knees and take care of ourselves and the people around us. We’ve long passed the infancy and adolescence of our species. Regressive fantasies can be delightful, but at some point, clutching a teddy bear and squeezing our eyes shut and lisping “Now I lay me down to sleep” ceases to be sweet. The world needs adults who, in Sweeney’s words, are willing to get up in the morning and mind the store.”

May we all live in the real world and acknowledge that we need each other more than invisible fantasies born from the minds of men.
Mind the gaps, the store, and look both ways.