Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Requests With Stipulations and Conditions: A Difference Between Childish Thinking And Adult Thinking About Religion

As if to confirm my contention that neo-atheists' idea of their religion, scientism,  is a cargo cult, someone demanded that I tell them what the use of a god who didn't give us what we want is.  It's a demand that I show that religion will get them as much as its opposite does, or, rather, what they take as its opposite.   Someone I suspect would use the same standard of judgement for teachers, civil authorities and public servants, waiters in restaurants, authors of non-fiction and, perhaps, parents, as well.   Which, perhaps, accounts for why so many of the neo-atheists, from the lowest level of online insulters up to the admittedly not so high levels of discourse coming from Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris are always so angry.   They want what  they want and they want it now.

The idea of religion as a continual practice of asking for things shows that such atheists have the same idea of it as those who attend to the heretical prosperity gospel so popular with nightclub churches and glitzy TV productions and those religious radio shows that sound like the world's longest commercial.   It's no wonder such people with that view of religion are so frequently the most angrily disappointed.

The most well known of Christian prayers, the Lord's prayer is a good example of a more mature attitude.  Before the prayer lists things being asked for it submits those requests to the condition that they might be according to what God wills "thy will be done".   And, it has to be pointed out, in that list of requests what is being asked for is always for "us" not for "me".  And there is also moral obligation, measuring the forgiveness we have a right to request with our willingness to forgive others who have wronged us.  The "debts" in the common translation used by many Protestants instead of the more common Catholic "trespasses" imply that by harming others we put ourselves in moral arrears by doing so, to each other and through each other, to God.  You can understand why that understanding of morality isn't popular with such people.  And you can see how as familiar and common a part of the scriptures can contain enormous implications and need for contemplation of them if you really want to find some kind of understanding of it and how it should inform your life.

Along with that is the focus on prayers that ask God for things when intercessory praying accounts for a small part of why people pray.  Søren Kierkegaard's famous saying about prayer,  “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays,”  is good to consider.   God doesn't need our help our respect or our abject supplication.  In the passage before Jesus gave the formula for praying he pointed out that God already knows what we want as well as what we need.  A more mature attitude about prayer than the one that prays for a new bicycle or for some sports team to win would see that what we need most would be more likely harmed by getting those things we so much want which are entirely unimportant.  For someone who believes in God that would be to act the right way and to think the right way, things not set by people who are so apt to define those things according to their own desires and not for the common good.

Just as I pointed out that problem with the atheist substitute for morality, utilitarianism, that we can't know the ultimate results of our actions, good or bad, we also can't know the ultimate results of even our most seemingly noble requests in prayer.  When you pray for someones' recovery from a severe illness, of course your intentions are good and it's good that you have them, but the lives of even our most loved ones aren't entirely ours to determine.  They're not even entirely their own.  Which is why the thinking about being the "master of your own fate" in that insipid inspirational poem,  Invictus, is so foolish.  Our own control of our lives has its most definite limits or intercessory prayer would never have occurred to people.   Perhaps the intercessory prayers that work are the ones that are in line with the thinking of God on any individual case.   Which would not have anything bad to say about the intentions of the people who prayers are not in accord with that unknowable intent.   Unselfish praying does change the person who prays it.  While it might not change a person for the better it is certainly far more likely to reinforce habits of unselfishness more than railing that we aren't getting our way and mocking those who ask for things they know they might not get.  If they ask for it with all of those conditions and stipulations in mind.
Considering the almost uniformly childish understanding of religion exhibited by online atheists, it has to reveal more about the character of those who engage in it.

1 comment:

  1. So, wait: the issue is "What good is God if God doesn't give me what I want when I want it?"

    The obvious answer is: "What are you, a five year old child?"

    Your discourse on prayer is more reasoned, but at some point you have to think it's just pearls before swine.