Saturday, September 08, 2007

Is Prayer Bullshit?

"God is all-knowing and God is all-seeing.
God already knows what you want,
and decided that you didn't need it.
So don't bother praying for cures or an answer,
God is the one who gave you the cancer."
— Voltaire, "Dead"

Ever since I came upon this line in the song "Dead" by goth renaissance artist Voltaire (the musician, not the writer), I've been having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of prayer.

Most would say that questioning such a strong religious tenet as prayer is nothing short of sacrilege and automatically renders me not Christian. It's interesting how Christians tend to hold your religion over your head; if you come to doubt any of their beliefs, you're automatically not Christian, you automatically hate God, and you will automatically be condemned to Hell. It's a relious-political scare tactic in much the same vain as Bush declaring that anyone who disagrees with him is Unamerican. They find a deeply-rooted, firm belief system and threaten it against their detractors. If you question Bush, you lose the credibility of your patriotism. If you question religion, you lose your connection with God.

I don't believe this to be the case. I've come to realize that much of any religion is man-made, and what parts of religion were created by Man should be separated from God. Scott Adams once remarked in the book God's Debris that
"Man created God in his own image and insisted it was the other way around."
Now, Scott Adams has insisted that one half of God's Debris is his own true beliefs and the other half is purposefully false doctrine, but I think that line holds a lot of truth. Why else would God have human emotions? If God is a perfect being, why would He let His judgment be marred by something as irrational as emotional preference? Man made God emotional because it was the best way to relate a concept like God to our primitive ancestors, and somehow that concept of an emotional God carried its way through all forms of rational philosophy and into the modern day.

We are now advanced enough in our thinking to be able to consider a being removed of all emotion, so why do we keep attaching emotions to beings like God? Is it because it's documented in the Bible? One of the biggest weakenesses of the Bible is that it is a man-made account of God's interaction with Man. Some argue that it was God's Word written through the hands of men, which is entirely plausible, but when I look at the Bible, I don't see so much dictation as I do description. It looks far more like people interpreting events and messages surrounding God than it does people directly transcribing God's Word. There are even upwards of five different accounts of the life of Christ, four of which were approved as official canon, and although all recall similar events, they're each interpreted through the eyes of the individual writers. The main problem is that when you have a creature as imperfect as a human being, who's to say that inaccurate interpretation, personal preference, or even self-interest wasn't interjected into the writing, cleverly disguised as God's word? The King James version of the Bible was even reworded to please a ruthless king. Then these works were voted upon, again by humans as official canon. Granted these were very religiously scholarly humans, but still humans, and more information keeps coming to light every day to show that these humans were some of the most corrupt and selfish humans to ever support a religious doctrine.

So I'm just saying that we shouldn't put more faith in religion than we do faith in God. Religion is man-made and inherently flawed. God is not. We need to separate the concept of God from the concept of religion to get a fuller understanding of the nature of God. Upon doing this, the first thing one should come to recognize is that God is a perfect being. God is all-knowing and all-seeing, as Voltaire pointed out. We preach that God can see inside our minds and can see inside our hearts, that God knows what we're thinking, and God knows how we feel, yet we conversely preach that God needs us to tell Him these same things. Why? What is the point of telling God something He already knows?

It could be that it honors God for us to set aside an amount of time specifically devoted to communicating with Him, but every time we think a thought, aren't we technically communicating with Him? Would we really need to focus on speaking with God when we're doing the same thing whenever we think a thought directed at God? Which would God prefer, us taking a minute or two out of our busy day of thinking impure thoughts to bug Him for selfish desires, or to have us in constant communication with Him through our thoughts? Once you realize that you're in constant communication with God though the fact that He can read our minds, all we need to do is direct our thinking to Him, and prayer becomes obsolete.

Then there's our motivation for praying. How often does the average person communicate to God just to stroke an ego that should be non-existent if God is, in fact, a perfect being? Sure, we might start out praising Him, but how long before we turn it into a laundry list of things we want? A minute? Maybe two, if we're really devout? One, as I stated above, God already knows what we want and has already made the decision whether or not He's going to give it to us. If God is all-knowing and can see every possible outcome of every thread in the tapestry, who do we think we are that we could possibly change His mind? God's judgment is infallible, but our own selfish nearsightedness might sway him our way. Right. Two, it should be insulting to God to think that we could sway His judgment. God is perfect, sees all and knows all, yet we're going to ask Him to change His mind because His decision might inconvenience us or make us sad for a time?

The only problem I have with fully rationalizing the complete unnecessity of prayer is that Jesus specifically told us to pray. Yet prayer to the benefit of God reveals God as less than the perfect, unemotional, all-knowing and all-seeing God that we should recognize Him as, or at least that I have built Him up in my mind to be. Could it be then, however, that Jesus was telling us to pray, not to the benefit of God, but to the benefit of us? Prayer and meditation makes us feel better. It gives us an outlet to get the burdens of guilt and grief and desire off our chests, and it's not like anything we say to God is going to insult God any more than it did when we first thought it. It also gives us the, (as far as I'm concerned, false), impression that we have an imput into God's decision on a matter.

Does prayer work? Sometimes. It depends on what we're praying for, and why we're praying for it. If you pray for a million dollars, or pray to wake up as the opposite gender, or something equally stupid, selfish, and nearsighted, of course you're going to still wake up broke and with a penis (or breasts or whatever), because changes like that would seriously offset the natural balance of life, and it's not really in God's plan for you. However, sometimes, when I've gotten too fretful about something, I have prayed to God to just let me know everything's going to be OK, and I've felt a wave of relief wash over me. I'm not sure if just the act of talking to God made me feel better, or if God actually decided that a simple feeling of happiness was definitely doable and granted me it, but I prefer to believe it was the latter. Yes, it is something selfish to pray for, but replacing misery with a feeling of general happiness isn't going to upset the natural balance of life, the universe, and everything.

You have to keep in mind, though, that if God is the Ultimate Good, then everything He allows to happen has got to be for the greater good on a far more cosmic scale than we could ever imagine. No matter how much we might love our ailing friend or family member, no matter how much we might want that million dollars, or that solution to our most pressing problems, whether or not we get what we want has got nothing to do with how much we pray for it. It has to do with how the outcome will affect us and the rest of the world. If your loved one dies, it may seem tragic now, but if God allowed it to happen, then it had to be for a good reason. Maybe He was sparing them from worse pain somewhere down the line. Maybe He was freeing you up for an even greater event to transpire later.

We shouldn't burden God with our own three-dimensional shortsightedness. It all depends on your outlook on the matter, to determine if it is a tragedy or a blessing. Perseverence and introspection can turn any tragedy into a blessing, but grief, guilt, fear, or bitterness can turn any blessing into a tragedy just as easily. Prayer can work, if you know what to pray for. Don't pray for your loved one to live or to come back from the dead because it will only happen if God has already determined it will. Pray for them to not suffer or for them to know that you loved them. Don't pray for God to change His mind. Pray for understanding, peace, and acceptance of His Will, and maybe you will get it. Otherwise, prayer is selfish and unnecessary.

This is what I've come to realize about it, and it's a startling realization to take one of the most deeply-held core beliefs of almost every major religion and turn it on its ear. I'm having a hard time accepting it because it counters everything I've been taught about prayer up until now, but it seems so utterly and flawlessly true that I can't seem to see past it. Does anyone else have any opinions on the power of prayer and communicating with God? Right now, I'm open to other input before I cement my position. I know a few really intelligent religious leaders whom I am yearning to discuss this with as soon as I see them again as well.


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