About Prayer

A young American died recently while a captive of the Islamic State. Before they knew she was dead, her family asked people to pray that she was still alive. This isn’t an unusual prayer when someone is missing, but it is surely a strange one because how is God to grant it if the person is already dead, and why, when the missing person is found to be dead, does no one ever pray that he or she will be restored to life? Jesus raised Lazarus; Peter resurrected Dorcas; and Jesus promised that his followers would perform greater miracles than he, so it’s surely consistent with Biblical teachings to ask God to raise the dead.

My boyhood church—the Church of Christ—claimed that God stopped performing miracles after the apostles died because further miracles weren
’t needed to establish the divinity of Jesus. After I left the Church of Christ, I discovered that most churches think differently, and that some even have phone-trees so that if a person needs help, the faithful can be quickly asked to pray. I don’t know if such churches believe that the more people who ask God to do something, the more likely he is to do it; or that some people’s prayers work better than other people’s, so it’s better to ask a lot of people to pray in order to improve your odds of finding someone who is especially good at it. I’ve read many such prayer lists without once finding a request for corpse resurrection, leg restoration, deformed baby normalization, quadriplegic ambulation, or even fire damage reversal. I think that church people are almost as unbelieving as atheists, so they try to hold onto what little faith they have by not asking him to do anything that might not happen anyway.
 
Last year, when the Ebola epidemic was in full swing, an American missionary-doctor came down with it. He was flown to the States on a private jet and given the best treatment that America had to offer. After he recovered, he appeared on national TV to thank God for healing him (it had never occurred to me that
God watches TV). As to why he didn’t thank the hundreds of people who worked to save him, or why, if he really trusted God to do it, he hadn’t stayed in Africa and spared everyone a lot of trouble and expense, I can’t imagine. Most importantly, he didn’t explain why God healed him while allowing so many others to die. Was it because God like him better than all those children who perished or were orphaned, or was it because their names weren’t on a phone-tree?

I had an elderly friend named Mina who was a Methodist lay minister. Mina got lung cancer and was told she would die. When I visited her and her husband, Gordon, she told me in a matter-of-fact way that God had healed her. Astounded, I looked over at Gordon to see if he were similarly startled, but he simply nodded as if such miracles were an everyday event. A few days later, Mina appeared on the evening news and told the whole town about her miraculous healing. Within a month, she was dead, but no mention of it was made on TV.

Mina’s death probably shook the faith of some her believing friends, but I’ve observed that most people grasp their religion even more firmly when they’re threatened by the terror and emptiness of losing it. To protect their faith, I’m sure that some such people took the position that Mina had done the work that God had given her to do, so he called her home. Others probably speculated that, just as Peter sank into the tempest-tossed sea when he took his eyes off Jesus, Mina must have also doubted God. Still others might have concluded that her death was in punishment for sin.*

When the atheist Manya Skodowska (better known as Madame Curie) was 19, her cousin’s baby died. The cousin comforted herself by saying that God had called the baby home, and while Manya envied her cousin this comfort, she wrote the following about those who have such faith: “The more I recognize how lucky they are, the less I can understand their faith, and the less I feel capable of sharing their happiness.” She added that she respected “sincere” religious feelings “even if they go with a limited state of mind.”

Atheists would argue that a limited state of mind makes for a fertile field when it comes to religious conviction, and Jesus would concur: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” In contrasting his followers with the wise and learned, Jesus apparently had reference to the fact that children are so ignorant and gullible that they
’ll believe any damn thing, including his claim to being one and only virgin-borne son of God. One of the commenters to my last post was typical of far too many Christians in that he exemplified a child’s credulity but not a child’s sweetness, the fruits of his faith being hardness and intolerance. Yet Jesus said, “By their fruits, you will know them.” Indeed you will.

*I tried to find Mina’s TV appearance in which she said that God had healed her, but I wasn’t surprised that it no longer exists. I did find one that preceded it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA8DQa85v6s. The fact that she was feeling so much better after being taken off chemotherapy might have been what led Mina to believe that God had healed her. She died in 2012, and Gordon in 2013, also of cancer. I miss them terribly. Just as Christians claim to "love the sinner but hate the sin," I love the Christian but hate the religion. What saddens me when I remember Gordon and Mina is that their love for me might have turned to loathing had they known I was an atheist because I've seen it happen too many times to ever trust that it won't. The main reason that I, an atheist, write about religion so much is that I've been so often and so deeply hurt by it, and the second reason is that I've seen how much it has hurt others.

43 comments:

Sissy said...

You have a fine mind, Snow, so why don't you let all this conflict go? It does you no good. Every individual is just that and do have the right to think and feel what they see as their truth. No one person is going to save this old world from its foibles and faults. Life is too short to be having tunnel vision. Never the twain shall meet - something we all should know and accept. Our conflicts do not make for an easy life. sometimes.

All Consuming said...

Yes, you have been hurt and I wish it were not so, and it is so sad that those who have this faith of theirs can go from loving and caring for someone to disliking them intensely upon finding out they are atheists. What we believe can be so fundamental. I love people who eat animals, despite the cruelty and just as important, the lack of need to do so to be healthy. I have come to care for friends on the web who are clearly rather right wing in their politics, and some who are religious too. I don't walk away, nor think they are horrible and doomed to an unpleasant afterlife, I care for them as you said - despite- their beliefs. It is always beyond me how many people who are religious do the above though. I will add that not all of them do, so far as I am aware. It must have been heartbreaking when Mina died.

PhilipH said...

Snowy, it's true that many Christians really believe that their prayers are actually being heard by their God. It gives them something to cling onto in the "sure and certain hope" of life everlasting and that praying, even silent prayers, will come to fruition.

Of course it's simply a vain hope but it does no harm, so let them hold onto this comfort blanket.

My three younger brothers, Michael (1945-1990)David (1943-2014) and Geoff, (1936-2008) all died after fighting cancer and all were prayed for to no avail. My Evangelical sis-in-law (Marjorie) always creates a 'prayer chain' which is just a number of her friends in their church offering their plea to Jesus to heal them.

When she set sail for Kobe, Japan, in circa 1959 to work for the Japanese Evangelical Band she offered up a prayer of thanks to Jesus for his providing the money for her journey to Japan. This prayer was made on the quay at Southampton, where her Mum and Dad were there, seeing her off.

Her Mum was most upset when she heard Marjorie thanking Jesus for the money for her passage to Kobe and she was rightly aggrieved. It was scrimping and saving for more than a year to gather enough cash for Marjorie's journey that provided every penny of course! No thanks to Mum, just 'God'.

It's blatantly obvious to anybody with an iota of common sense and logic that praying to some unseen deity is nothing more than the result of inculcation by religious teachings and teachers over thousands of years.

In a word: brainwashing.


W

kylie said...

quite a few times i have prayed about something that may already be moot.
when we had that seige in sydney in december, the first thing i did when i woke on the second day was to pray. unfortunately the seige had ended with two lives lost but at least i did the only thing i could do.

in situations like that one i know prayer could be pointless but all it costs me is a little time and focus.

Sparkling Red said...

Very articulate post! Clearly you have given all this a great deal of thought. I agree that it is frustrating to deal with the simplified faith of some religious people.
I was an agnostic leaning towards atheism until I had a few experiences that I couldn't explain using known science. Then I was forced to conclude that if I continued to believe that there was nothing beyond what we can currently measure with technical instruments, I was ignoring evidence. I joined a church and was a member for 4 years, but I couldn't bring myself to believe in the bible.
Now I believe that there is "something more" than what we can currently understand and measure (ex. even the Phd.s can't explain what's going on in quantum physics with atom entanglement etc.) but I no longer attend church. I never could believe in the god of the bible - he just seems too silly.

Stephen Hayes said...

I think all religions have a sociological origin. We come into this world at the behest of creatures who take care of us, nurture us and provide for all our needs. I can recall how my little son looked at me like I was a god. Then, as we mature and realize our parents' limitations, we bounce that devotion to a mythical god, probably because of the human desire to feel a connection with something greater, more permanent, than ourselves.

Our son no longer looks at me like I'm a god.

Charles Gramlich said...

There are many things about the concept of prayer that trouble my rationality. You've pointed out several here. One thing that I've seen that absolutely boggles my mind is when some people pray for a natural disaster such as a hurricane to pass them by, when, if God answered that prayer, the hurricane would then have to strike someone else. The idea that God would save some at the expense of others is just horrific.

Snowbrush said...

“Snow, so why don't you let all this conflict go?”

I don’t think that’s possible for me. I don’t know why, but it’s not, and I’m not even sorry it’s not because to be sorry would be to regret being who I am. Sissy, my hope is that you and everyone else who believes that Christianity has a negative impact upon society will join the Freedom from Religion Foundation. It only costs $35 a year, I think it is, and it’s one of those charities that do the most good with the least money. You will get a magazine that will tell you far, far more about the abuses of religion than you ever otherwise be aware of. Sissy, I only write an occasional post about religion, these people fight its harmful effects long day after long day year-round. I often wonder how they keep going when they’re the objects of so much hatred because I don’t think I could. For some reason, I don’t even get the hatred that a lot of atheist bloggers get. I guess I’m just too far below the radar.

“…I had a few experiences that I couldn't explain using known science…I believe that there is "something more" than what we can currently understand and measure”

I think we can all point to the unexplained as theoretically indicative of “something more,” but we don’t all do so, and those who don’t would use Occam’s Razor as their rationale. For example, I had a detailed dream about something that happened within hours of awakening just as I dreamed it. Unfortunately, I can’t I swear with 100% certainty that my dream and my experience were exactly the same, although I think they were. But even if they were, I can’t be sure that the congruence wasn’t a coincidence. But, let’s imagine that it wasn’t a coincidence. Then what was it? Does it make sense to conclude that an unseen hand opened the curtain that veils the future so that I could get a glimpse of a trivial occurrence? My own conclusion would be in the direction of thinking that, if explanations for such things are ever found, it will be science that finds them, and they will be within the realm of matter/energy rather than religion/spirituality. I say this because I can’t think of any discovery from the field of religion/spirituality that can’t be better explained by science. Near death experiences, to give a recent example. Religion/spirituality never advances, and that’s why I put my faith in science.

I noted that you put “something more” in quotations marks. The term seems to be what many people now use instead of the word God. It sounds more rational if only because it appears to leave the door open to science to discover its implications, although many people who use it don’t seem to have a high opinion of science as a vehicle for the discovery of “ultimate truth,” and this is why I consider it spiritual rather than rational (even the Christian theologian Marcus Borg seems to prefer it to “God”). I think it might be to “God” what the word “spiritual” is to “religion,” which means that it doesn’t point to new truths but is instead a way to divorce oneself from those with whom one disagrees, there never, to my knowledge being any “new truths” in the area of religion/spirituality. The field(s) are simply defined by hardcore dogma on the one end and by feelings on the other. My objection to your usage of the term is that it is simply a way of saying that there’s a lot that we don’t know, and then, for reasons that elude me, taking comfort in that unknown. If I misunderstand you, please feel free to correct me.

Snowbrush said...

“quite a few times i have prayed about something that may already be moot.”

But God could still answer those prayers because God isn’t limited by time. As with praying that someone is “still alive,” when she’s actually dead, God could go back in time and prevent her death, or God could look forward (from the past), hear the prayer, and keep her from being killed. Why limit one’s prayers to the possible when with God, “all things are possible”? In other words, why NOT ask God to give a brain to a baby that was born without one? I’m not talking about you personally, but about the seemingly low expectations that all Christians hold for God. It’s as if they don’t want to overtax him, but I think the reality is that, rather than belief, they have but a wish to believe. I can understand that, the difference between them and me being that I admit I don’t believe, while they pretend they do. I don’t think you’ll disagree, and I certainly don’t mean to offend you because I’m honored whenever you comment.

“Her Mum was most upset when she heard Marjorie thanking Jesus for the money for her passage to Kobe and she was rightly aggrieved. It was scrimping and saving for more than a year to gather enough cash for Marjorie's journey that provided every penny of course! No thanks to Mum, just ‘God’."

I can understand her being upset. It’s as if she didn’t count, being, at most, a tool in the hand of God, and no one thanks a tool.

Snowbrush said...

“Yes, you have been hurt and I wish it were not so…”

It was bad enough to “lose God,” and losing lifelong friends because I lost my belief in God made it so much worse. Also, when you’re an atheist in America, you never stop losing because once you tell a friend that you don’t believe in God, they might dump you even if they don’t have a religious bone in their body. On the other hand, if you don’t tell them, you’re left to wonder if they would dump you if they knew. I prefer to tell almost everyone, the elderly being a common exception.

“I love people who eat animals, despite the cruelty”

I have trouble doing that, and if I didn’t eat fish and dairy products, I would have a lot more trouble (I often think of you in order to feel better when I’m feeling angry at people who eat meat). Here’s the thing, when you’re an atheist, you have to find a way to keep your heart open to theists, just as when you’re a vegan, you have to find a way to keep your heart open to meat eaters, because you would otherwise exclude from your life almost everyone in the world, and you might not even like many of those whom were left. By contrast, unless one is in their family, theists can hate atheists, and meat eaters can hate vegans without it being a problem. It would be like if I hated Communists when I don’t even know a Communist.

“I think all religions have a sociological origin.”

It’s also a way of explaining that which we don’t understand, but the problem is that it doesn’t really explain it. For example, if you were a caveman and answered your child’s question about what makes lightning by saying that God makes lightning, you wouldn’t have advanced your child’s understanding of lightning, but would have simply used one undefinable entity to explain the existence of another undefinable entity.

lotta joy said...

I can’t think of any discovery from the field of religion/spirituality that can’t be better explained by science. Near death experiences, to give a recent example. Religion/spirituality never advances, and that’s why I put my faith in science. I'm only reprinting this because I don't want to lose it. I can always return and find it easily.

I had never thought of this before. A meager book has controlled millions of lives through the centuries without one added addendum, chapter, or new found revelation. This flies in the face of the many humans who have taken us from caves of darkness into electricity, the internet, and discoveries from lightyears into space. Maybe they're not "improvements" in some people's views compared to their belief this was accomplished due to god's intervention, but they were certainly advancements.

My husband's faith is being tested a lot lately, and I can identify with the internal crisis. We are both being devastated by things beyond our control, but we are each reeling differently. He is reeling with the additional burden of questioning why a loving god allows such terror. I'm reeling also, but knowing "shit happens" is a more acceptable explanation that I do not have to invent excuses for.

Sparkling Red said...

Fair points. My response: Firstly, I have 100% respect for proper science. What some people forget is that science, as you said, is advancing, so that anything that is not yet quantified scientifically is considered to be suspect. For example, back in the days when they were first discovered, x-rays may have been considered by sensible people to be a preposterous notion. You can't see or touch them, so they must be imaginary. My point is that some things which one might write off as kind of woo-woo out there might actually be scientifically explicable, but we just don't know it yet. Like having dreams about the future (which has happened to me several memorable times). Maybe the slice of time which qualifies as "the present" is wider than what we can perceive with our waking consciousness. Who knows?
I don't get comfort from this, so much as curiosity and fascination.
I mean, "something more" may just be a random selection of scientific phenomena that we have yet to investigate. Alternately, why couldn't there be some kind of intelligence that we are not able to directly perceive? I mean, an ant can't conceive of human intelligence. Isn't it possible that there is something like that out there relative to humans? We're pretty smart, but there could be something way smarter than us.
The other option that I consider is that human thoughts have some kind of effect (which would eventually be measurable), so that collectively belief affects reality. I'm not talking about positive thinking, but more of things like, for example, we are affected by pheromones from other people without being conscious of it. Maybe there is a way in which our thoughts are connected (to some degree) that we simply haven't discovered yet. Maybe that is the "something more".
I suppose I take comfort in the idea that many things are possible of which we cannot yet conceive. I do not imagine that "something more" consist of anything like a humanoid consciousness that can serve in loco parentis.

kylie said...

i agree with you and i have seen this phenomenon where people wont pray even for things that seem well within the realm of possibility.

some years ago the state of my marriage was brutally painful and i wanted to leave but couldnt figure out how to do that without extensive collateral damage to my kids. Even though i couldnt see how to leave i know that many marriages are dissolved every year, for me to stumble on a solution is not a wild thought but my mothers was so unbelieving about my ability to cope AND about the possibility of restoration that she only prayed for "a miracle". A cop out if ever I saw one.

ha, who ever would have thought i would be telling you THAT story

Winifred said...

Like Sissy I think you have a fine mind. I also think it's best to let go. You can't easily change how people think & feel about faith just let them do it.

Crumbs that;s hard to believe that friends would drop you if you stop believing in God. They're not really friends if they do that.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I pray because it brings me comfort. I agree...friends that drop you for your beliefs are not friends

Mim said...

Recently I heard people Thanking God for the Patriots winning the Superbowl. I thought that was pretty funny. Good thing God is a New Englander. Whew

Snowbrush said...

“He is reeling with the additional burden of questioning why a loving god allows such terror.”

He’s getting old, so he has known for a long time that many people live in undeserved misery, but as often happens, people can live at peace with the knowledge that other people live in undeserved misery as long as the misery doesn’t come too close to their own lives. An obvious example is that of a parent who turns against God when his child dies, although he had known for decades that thousands of other people’s children die everyday.

“My point is that some things which one might write off as kind of woo-woo out there might actually be scientifically explicable…”

Maybe or maybe not. “The Amazing Randi” has a long-standing offer of a million dollars to anyone who can prove the reality of psychic phenomena. To say that X-rays once seemed woo-woo doesn’t provide reason to believe in “something more” or prophetic dreams, at least not to anyone who doesn’t already believe in the reality of such things.

“I mean, an ant can't conceive of human intelligence. Isn't it possible that there is something like that out there relative to humans?”

Yes, I suppose that pretty much anything is possible, and extraterrestrial intelligence that far exceeds our own might even be likely given the immensity of the universe and the number of planets that might support life. Still, conclusions can’t be drawn from speculation. As for “something more,” the term isn’t so much objectionable to me as it is meaningless due to the fact that it’s undefined. I could be wrong, certainly, but I regard such theistic liberalism not as a thing in itself but as a step between theism to atheism. I’ve put a heck of time into trying to make sense of it, and it seems to me that there is simply no there there. Rather than being an actual belief, it’s an attempt to frame belief in such a undefinable way as to be beyond criticism, and it succeeds in this inasmuch as it’s easier to refute the idea that God is a white man than that God is some undefinable “something more.” Even so, those who believe that God is a white man have the comfort of knowing exactly what it is that they believe, whereas those who believe in an undefinable God don’t. I have a sister who is in your camp, as it were, and she wanted so much for me to believe as she did that she stopped writing to me when, after years of trying, she finally realized that I would never “get it.” No, I guess I don’t, but neither do I put her and you in the same camp as organized religion simply because I can’t see that you’re doing any harm.

Snowbrush said...

“The other option that I consider is that human thoughts have some kind of effect (which would eventually be measurable), so that collectively belief affects reality.”

You might want to Google “100th monkey,” which is about a research study that claimed to prove a supposed leap from a few monkeys on an island learning to do something to every monkey on the island learning to do the same thing without being shown. This was later proved to be a fiction, but back around 1980 or so, many people were firm believers in the idea that if enough of us thought peaceably, peace would spread overnight throughout humanity.

“Maybe there is a way in which our thoughts are connected (to some degree) that we simply haven't discovered yet.”

I have every thought that I am completely without psychic awareness of other people’s suffering. I do confess that it is something of a wonder to me that those twelve Coptic Christians could have been beheaded without me somehow sensing it, but I didn’t. It is my conclusion that my wife could be raped and mutilated in the house next door, and I wouldn’t have a clue, and I doubt that anyone else would either. It would take some hard evidence for me to revise my opinion because I have never seen anyone display the first “psychic gift.”

“ha, who ever would have thought i would be telling you THAT story”

Well, I think you’re just saying that prayer can’t substitute for work. Imagine a lot of people standing around praying that a truck would be lifted off a person’s chest instead of looking for a way to pry it off, and then going away imaging that they had done something useful.

“You can't easily change how people think & feel about faith just let them do it.”

You sound so defeatist. For one thing, I’m not trying to change the world (I don’t know that I’ve ever succeeded in changing the mind of even person), but, for another, what if I were? Have you heard the story of the little boy who was throwing storm-beached fish back into the ocean when an adult pointed out that he was making no difference, whereupon the little boy picked up a fish, threw it into the ocean, and said, “I made a difference to that one”? We can but do what we know to do and what comes natural to us to do.

“I agree...friends that drop you for your beliefs are not friends”

Atheists are, in my experience, far less likely to drop believers from their lives than believers are to drop atheists. I don’t know if atheists are simply more tolerant, or simply so outnumbered that they don’t have the option of dropping believers.

“Recently I heard people Thanking God for the Patriots winning the Superbowl. “

Which is sort of like saying, “Thank you, God, for making me rich.” Only vain, silly, arrogant, oblivious, insensitive, and superficial people pray such prayers.

Linda said...

Read The War Prayer by Mark Twain.
http://warprayer.org/

I won't insult anyone by explaining it.

Linda said...

I know it is coming and cringe. When a tornado or other weather event happens, in the aftermath a reporter will talk to survivors. There is always some unfeeling soul who credits god with survival. "My Mama was saved because she is a good Christian and prayed to god to save her.

Then, the same reporter moves to the story of the mother whose baby was ripped from her arms as she prayed, screaming to god to save them.

Does the guy whose mama prayed and lived not realize that he is condemning the young mother and her dead baby, implying the mother or baby was not worthy or did not pray correctly. Thus, the baby was ignored by god. The young mother then can think she was not a good Christian or did not pray fervently. Or, was the baby not good enough. I am sickened to the point of physical nausea when these events unfold on tv. It happens every time.

Linda said...

I don't think you should let anything go. These are important concepts that should be voiced and often. Maybe you can be the voice of reason that breaks through blind faith.

Snowbrush said...

“Read The War Prayer by Mark Twain.”

I have. I’ve also, within the last two months, read “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” Last night, I started “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” and it’s damn good and, unlike the previous two books, for grown-ups. If you haven’t read “The Mysterious Stranger,” I think you’ll be happy if you do. It was published after he died, and puts his contempt for religion in stark terms. The library copy I read was actually a first edition. I told them this, but they didn’t care. I understand that first isn’t best in this case as Twain’s literary executor wrote part of that edition himself. Twain is an awesome writer, and his kids’ books are at least as enjoyable now as they were 50-plus years ago. As for reading, if I read anything that’s less than 80-years-old, it’s probably non-fiction. This is because I only want to read the best, the books that are good enough to survive time.

“There is always some unfeeling soul who credits god with survival. "My Mama was saved because she is a good Christian and prayed to god to save her.”

I know. It’s so much worse in the South. “Soul.” That’s a term that’s heard a lot more in the South too. When Brian Williams started using it, I complained to NBC. When they put him on leave, I complained again about that, and his constant reporting of trivia, and his plugging of his daughter’s acting career. I do that kind of thing for whatever little good it might do, all the while knowing that only volume counts when it comes to such complaints.

“I don't think you should let anything go. These are important concepts that should be voiced and often.”

Thank you. I feel like I should seek a broader audience, but it’s writing I love, not publishing and not increasing my blog readership by linking my blog to various other sites. At the same time, I’m sad to put so much time into writing things that I really do believe have merit, knowing that they will be read by few people and then forgotten forever within a couple of weeks, and then to have some of my readers tell me that I shouldn’t be writing these things at all! So often, when I read atheists’ blogs, they seem to me to be so left-brain that there’s no heart in them, and I try to write intelligently, but also to write personally. To me, that’s a strength, but I have no idea that there’s an audience for it. About the only emotion, I see on the blogs of other atheists are anger, outrage, contempt, and so forth, things that obscure the heart rather than expose it.

Linda said...

The blog just as written with the comments would be good for publication. You do have heart.

Snowbrush said...

"You do have heart."

Yes, I know, but thank you for mentioning it. Because of our discussion, I Googled “most popular atheist blogs,” and I found some that redirect you to Jaguar commercials, others that play commercials at you while you’re reading their posts, and many that get hundreds of comments per post. Frankly, they leave me cold because they are so left-brain and, mostly, currents events oriented. Sure, it’s interesting that a Houston newspaper doctored a photo to make it look a faith-healer was preaching to a million people, and it’s also interesting that Shirley MacLaine blames the Holocaust on the bad karma of the people who suffered, but it’s also trivial because it’s about stupid, trivial people doing and saying stupid, trivial things that will be forgotten tomorrow. It’s “Inside Edition” type stuff, where you take the most outrageous events, call it journalism, and make it your focus. Do I want a blog like that, or even a blog so popular that I have to wade through hundreds of comments per post and block several abusive readers everyday. Do I really want to pretend that I don’t have a right-brain. You will notice that of these statements were followed by question marks. Sometimes, I don’t feel like a proper atheist because, except for anger, so many them really do seem to be all in their heads. On a purely personal level, I feel more at home in a liberal church.

Sparkling Red said...

To say that X-rays once seemed woo-woo doesn’t provide reason to believe in “something more” ... it is meaningless due to the fact that it’s undefined.

Yes, it is undefined, because my point is that we don't know the answers. Inevitably, in the future, some opinions currently held by reasonable and logical people will seem absurd. Once it was common sense that the earth was flat because that was the limit of scientific understanding.

I agree that many religious beliefs and new age spiritual beliefs range from silly to harmful, but I don't think it's right for those with different beliefs to get on their high horse and feel so superior. I have a friend for whom I feel abundant affection, but he has a nasty habit of insulting anyone who has beliefs different than his own (staunch atheist). It's an ugly side of his personality, that he's so willing to point the finger at others while remaining blind to some of the irrationalities in his own life.

If you want to make the world a better place, why spend energy tearing down peoples' personal philosophies when you could be doing something constructive? Suggest something better to believe in (like love, cooperation, and compassion) and then embody that instead. (Because I don't know you that's a hypothetical/rhetorical "you".) I know plenty of people whose religious beliefs cause no harm, and who don't use them as an excuse for homophobia or starting wars, for example. So what if they're not "right" about how they perceive the world? Probably none of us is 100% right. If they're being good people, isn't that enough?

Snowbrush said...

“Yes, it is undefined, because my point is that we don't know the answers.”

I don’t understand your point. You’re saying that are there are things that we don’t know, and that our current understanding of some things is certain to be overturned. Okay, fine. We’re in agreement on these points, yet you seem to be saying that there’s “something more” that I’m not seeing, but you can’t tell me about it because “we don’t know the answers.” What I don’t understand is why put “something more” in quotes? Why not just say that there are many things that we’re ignorant of and let it go at that? If you were to do that, we would be in agreement. As it is, it seems to be that you’re talking about God but without using the word God.

“…Inevitably, in the future, some opinions currently held by reasonable and logical people will seem absurd. Once it was common sense that the earth was flat because that was the limit of scientific understanding.”

The scientific method only goes back to the Middle Ages, yet the world was known to be round for hundreds of years before Christ. Rather than “reasonable and logical people” thinking it was flat, it was precisely those people who realized that it was round because it was they who looked beyond what less curious and intelligent people considered obvious, there being a big gap between the obvious and the reasonable and logical. For example, it’s obvious that sticks bend in water.

“I don't think it's right for those with different beliefs to get on their high horse and feel so superior.”

I agree completely, but I don’t precisely what you have reference to?

“I have a friend for whom I feel abundant affection, but he has a nasty habit of insulting anyone who has beliefs different than his own (staunch atheist).”

Oh, I think I see. You’re talking about atheists and you’re putting them all into the same boat. Is that it?

“It's an ugly side of his personality, that he's so willing to point the finger at others while remaining blind to some of the irrationalities in his own life.”

I would agree that this is terrible thing to do in that it retards ones own growth while unnecessarily alienating other people, but are you telling me this because it’s relevant to our discussion or because it’s a new direction in our discussion?

Snowbrush said...

“If you want to make the world a better place, why spend energy tearing down peoples' personal philosophies when you could be doing something constructive?”

As you might have guessed, I tend to reply as I read rather than to read a complete comment and then reply. As to your point, does it simply bother you that I’m an atheist because my mere existence suggests a refutation of your belief? After all, we agree that much of religion is destructive, and it is primarily destructive religion about which I write, although all it takes for me to be criticized is to write about ANY religious views because there are always people who will either become offended when their views are criticized, or who will complain that I spend too much time on one religious mindset and too little on others. This was my sister’s complaint. She said that the only religion I criticized was fundamentalist Christianity and that I imagined it to represent the whole of religion, although she didn’t like it any better when I criticized her views, but that’s just what I do. I criticize religion. I think most religion NEEDS to be criticized and that criticizing it is of positive value, but I’m far from thinking that it all needs to be criticized because it’s all demonstrably harmful. As I see it, your belief isn’t, of itself, demonstrably harmful. It’s meaningless to me, but I still enjoy such discussing it—and at least trying to understand it.

While I don’t disagree that some atheists are obnoxious, most of the atheists I know don’t even like talking about religion or atheism. I do, but what I often find from even the most liberal, non-affiliated theists is that they view their belief as sensitive and enlightened and my non-belief as indicative of willful blindness and utter arrogance. As near as I can tell, the basis for this conclusion is that I disagree with them, and that they’re frustrated that they can’t win me over. In my mind, this makes them look a good bit less than humble. They demand respect for their belief but have no respect for my non-belief. To put it as honestly as I can, while I really don’t respect your belief, I don’t disrespect it either; I simply regard it as too vague to be meaningful, yet I don’t object to it being meaningful to you. For my part, we can argue until the cows come home and still be friends, but I’m realizing that you’re really angry here, although I don’t understand why.

“I know plenty of people whose religious beliefs cause no harm, and who don't use them as an excuse for homophobia or starting wars, for example. So what if they're not "right" about how they perceive the world?”

I agree completely. Some atheists would hold that all religious beliefs are delusional and therefore harmful, but I wouldn’t go that far because I don’t think a good case could be made for it, i.e. I don’t think you’re delusional, and I don’t think you’re harming anyone. For all I know, you might be twice as sane and three times as intelligent as I, so if believing in “something more” comforts you, I’m perfectly happy that you have such a belief.

“If they're being good people, isn't that enough?”

Yes, but this means that I’m still a bit lost about what the problem is. I set about to discuss your belief because you told me about your belief, and I was interested and had questions. I never had the least intention of portraying you as being in any way less than I because we think differently. It simply seems to me that you view me as a threat to what you want to believe, and this means that you can’t enjoy talking about your belief with me. You’re less firm in your belief than you want to be, and this puts you in a position of needing validation rather than criticism. I really have no intention of causing offense. I actually imagined that we were both enjoying the discussion.

Sparkling Red said...

Actually, I am enjoying our discussion. And I was thinking later about what I had written, and realizing that I had projected onto you the feelings that I have when I talk to my stubborn friend. Sorry about that. That's why I came across as being upset. Well, I was upset, but it wasn't because of you. I can see that now. And in fact, I am pleased that you said that we can be friends, because I truly value a friend who is willing to call me out on any b.s. I might produce. Especially one who can do that without attacking. Confrontation is a skill, and it is not easy to go at it in such a way that creates increased understanding, so kudos to you. I learned something about myself today (that I have some pretty serious unresolved feelings about my friend) thanks to your patience and willingness to keep the discussion going.

I honestly don't know exactly what I believe. Sometimes I lean to one side of the fence, and sometimes the other. It depends on what mood I'm in on a given day, or whether I've been reading the science section of the NYT or something "softer". I don't feel that I need anything validated per se. I reserve the right to keep an open mind (i.e. to waffle and be inconsistent, I guess, from another perspective).

I'm not offended. I'm happy to have discovered another person who has Deep Thoughts and who is willing to discuss them. :-)

Brian Miller said...

it is a very interesting conversation...at church right now we are working through the gifts and talking about things like why we dont see them in use now even when the scripture repeatedly says they will be...i think some of it comes froma measure of faith...but i think too that we misalign our hopes for the outcome or product with god's will as well...

thanks for popping in today...smile.s

OneOldGoat said...

Snowbrush, this may or may not be relevent to your most recent post. But I've finally found the words to respond to your posts. This is not meant to be a blind compliments to you - i've been thinking about this quite a bit. I am a very simple person - I'm not articulate like you, I live in a world in which I am quite happy with my dogs, my goats and my quilts. I am not a deep thinker. That is, until I started reading your blog. Which, as you know, has been a number of years. I am convinced that you should teach. I have learned more from reading your writings that I have in any of my graduate courses. Which may be due to lack of interest on my part or lack of presentation on the part of the professor. Who knows? Never, since starting to read your posts, have I ever questioned my beliefs to the extent that I have recently. You haven't convinced me to be an athiest - not at all! but you have taught me to question all angles, all sides. You present a side that is well-thought out, articulate. While I both love and question both sides of traditional religion, I find my thinking during a sermon: WWSBT? (What would Snowbrush think?) I took a philosophy course. Once. As an undergrad. And hated it. Not for what I learned but how I was assessed. I think you would be an awesome teacher. I've learned a lot from you. I thought you should know that. I get the sense that you don't much care for pats on the back or a other forms of accolations but I just want you to know that you have impacted my life. Please don't correct my misspellings. If I don't quick the publish button, you will never know.

OneOldGoat said...

Oh hell.... I don't remember telling you not to correct my misspellings..... Tells you what a few beers will do. Nonetheless, I stand by my previous post.

Snowbrush said...

“I get the sense that you don't much care for pats on the back”

What I most appreciate isn’t praise but responses that make me think, but I sometimes really need to feel appreciated. Today is one of those times, and you’ve given me as touching a compliment as I’ve ever received. I’ve written from time to time about how much pain I live in, and how, without a good marriage, I don’t know if I would continue to live, but even with a good marriage, the pain sometimes gets me down, and I wonder what in the hell I’m staying alive for. Last night was a bad night, and you’ve helped me more than you can know.

I don’t see myself going back to school, partly because I’ll be 66 on March 1, and partly because I don’t think I have the strength to do it due to the pain. As it is, if I have a bad night, I can do what I need to do to survive the next day, but if I had places I had to go and assignments that I had to turn-in, I don’t think I could manage. In fact, I’m almost certain of it. At the very least, I would have to take such a small course load that I would be 20 years getting a doctorate. So, no, teaching is out, and I’m not sure I would do as well at it as you think anyway. What I can do is to write, and it is a constant sadness to me that it looks like I’m going to grow old and die without making a surviving contribution to atheist literature. As I said somewhere in this comment section, I bring feeling to what I write whereas many atheist writers stay pretty much in their heads. (William Lobdell being a notable exception). Back in the mid-eighties, I spent two years writing for magazines, but I found the work of seeking publication so odious that I haven’t been able to force myself to go in that direction again. I have, perhaps, 2-3,000 pages that are more or less ready for publication if only I could see my way to doing it. As things are, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Oswaldo Viana Jr said...

It's really interesting how I arrived here: I was looking for an online version of a very clever article by Fr. Patrick Henry Heardon, entitled "The Skeptical Priest" (which I have in printed form). He talks about the conversation the angel Gabriel had with Zacharias and with the virgin Mary, and what Rene Descartes(!) has to do with them.

I didn't find the article. But found your blog truly interesting. On the subject of this post, all I can say is: prayer is as mysterious as God himself. Since God's existence or nonexistence can't be scientifically proven, it is possible for us only to measure psychological/neurological effects of faith and prayer in people's brain. Each of us have his own beliefs, but what really matters is if these beliefs made us better or worse human beings.

Best regards, and my sincere prayers for you.

Snowbrush said...

“God's existence or nonexistence can't be scientifically proven,”

Then why believe in it? That aside, you are right, of course, although fundamentalists haven’t realized it, and this puts them in the position of offering arguments that were disproven hundreds of years ago.

“it is possible for us only to measure psychological/neurological effects of faith and prayer in people's brain.”

So, is this why you believe? I have no doubt but what faith and prayer have pyschological benefits, although prayer, at least the prayers of other people, hasn’t been shown to heal anyone. Still, they must be a source of encouragement, and it makes sense that this encouragement would affect one’s general well-being. Most importantly, religion offers a sense of community.

“Each of us have his own beliefs, but what really matters is if these beliefs made us better or worse human beings.”

The problem is that everyone thinks that their religious faith has made them better, so it’s of some use to look at yourself through the eyes of others. If Christians were to do this, they would find that non-Christians have a very poor opinion of their behavior. For example, the consensus among atheists is that religious belief is an impediment to ethics and compassion. This is partly due to the fact that believers treat atheists so badly. This no doubt stems from the fact that they hold us in the same esteem that they hold rapists (please feel free to look this up). While Christians might not hold all non-Christians who hold beliefs similar to those of their own sect in as low an opinion as they hold atheists, they still look down upon them, and this leads to ill treatment, or at the very least being held at arm’s length.

“Best regards, and my sincere prayers for you.”

I can but take you at your word, but I will tell you this. When an atheist and a believer have an interaction—a discussion about prayer and God, for example—and the believer closes by saying that he (or she) will pray for the atheist, the atheist doesn’t know what the believer is trying to convey. For one thing, the believer knows that the atheist doesn’t believe in God and will take no comfort in receiving prayer, and this causes the atheist to wonder why the believer would say such a thing. Alongside this is the fact that believers so often say “I will pray for you” in an angry or condescending tone that atheists become used to interpreting it as passive-aggression. This goes along with what I wrote about Christians doing well to pay attention to how they look in the eyes of others. In this instance, I am confident that you meant well, but you’re not conveying that feeling in a way that works as well as you might have hoped.

Thank you for you comments.

kj said...

snow, i read (present tense) that you are sad your writings do not reach a wider audience. why not publish?

there may well be agents and publishers interested in seeing samples of your essays and/or your essays with comments and they're there to be found. or you could self publish. there is a joy in holding a published book in your hands.

love
kj

Linda said...

When a Christian throws out an "I will pray for you" I don't think they mean well for you at all. It implies that you need prayer after a religious discussion. Yes, it is passive aggressive. No one is wishing you well. No one is intending to do you a favor. However, if a non-Christian objects to the put down, the Christian can then hurl a few soft words to condemn the atheist. The atheists disdain and even a slightly raised voice brings on more passive-aggressive behavior from the Christian, implying you need help if your voice is not syrup-sweet like their own falsely sweet words and tone. It becomes a standoff they enjoy.

Oswaldo Viana Jr said...

Hi snow,
First of all, I also want to encourage you to publish your writings.

"Then why believe in it?"

Or why not? Many of the greatest scientists of all times believed, and their work is no less valuable because of that.

"The problem is that everyone thinks that their religious faith has made them better"

You touched a raw nerve here... It reminds me of the saying: "Saints agree they are sinners; only sinners think they are saints" (Peter Kreeft).

"I am confident that you meant well..."

Yes, I wanted to say that I liked you. But I recognize that it would be better not to have mentioned the word prayer. Forgive me.

Cheers!

Snowbrush said...

“you could self publish. there is a joy in holding a published book in your hands.”

Big publishing houses also take care of advertising, arrange radio appearance, book signings, and so forth, and without these things, it’s hard for me to see the point. I remember Thoreau’s first book not selling, and him writing that he had a library of some 500 books, 450 of them by himself.

“When a Christian throws out an "I will pray for you”

I don’t believe that about Oswaldo in particular, and I try to give others the benefit of the doubt too. The problem is that if I do this—as I did it with Joseph regarding his comments following my last post—and then the person turns out to be hateful after all, I feel worse than if I had been cynical from the outset. Still, I want to see the good in others, and just as Christians make mistakes with me, I make mistakes with them.

“First of all, I also want to encourage you to publish your writings.”

Thank you.

“Many of the greatest scientists of all times believed, and their work is no less valuable because of that.”

In this country, geneticist Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project) is the most prominent Christian/scientist, and, of former eras, Isaac Newton stands out above anyone else. However, the sciences today contain a much higher percentage of atheists than does the general population. However, this lack of theistic representation doesn’t disprove theism just as it wouldn’t prove that it was true if the sciences contained large numbers of believers. The truth or falsity of a proposition rests upon the evidence for or against the proposition rather than upon the learning and intelligence of those whom believe or disbelieve it. You also wrote that science can’t disprove God, and this led me to wonder what, if anything, would disprove God to you. You might recall Tertullian’s statent: “Credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd) as representing the ultimate in fideism, and Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” position. Since you acknowledge that science can’t establish the truth of religion, perhaps such statements apply to you too.

“I recognize that it would be better not to have mentioned the word prayer. Forgive me.”

It’s a small matter where you’re concerned. It’s like when a friend recently told me that my use of the word “oriental” would be offensive to many Asian people, yet I meant no offense. I

I visited your blog and was disappointed that I can’t read your language because I would very much like to encourage a friendship with you.

rhymeswithplague said...

This was a very interesting post, Snow, with some very interesting comments. I still read you but don't comment as often any more.

You mentioned "those 12 Coptic Christians" -- there were more than 12. There were 21.

You could probably use Google Translate or some other vehicle to turn Oswaldo's Portuguese into English.

Linda said...

I was not suggesting you read Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" to improve your erudition. The prayer is to God to blast the other side of the battle, praying to God for other people to be killed so the person praying can live and be victorious.

Linda said...

My mother suggested I had power, maybe she did not mean I was a psychic. She just said that "Linda has power." Several times from 500 miles distance, my mother had the urgent need, a feeling, that she should call me. She turned of her dinner she was cooking and called me fast as she could.

My ex answered the phone because that was his job as head of the house. Besides, I was crying because of his bullying me, being cruel. He would not allow me to call my mother and was calling me names, so I was bawling. She called when I needed her and was not allowed to call her. She did not call me later in the day. She called within three minutes of my urgent need.

I tried to do this on purpose after a few years. I was not testing it on my mother, but on others who were close. I could do it. I don't know what to think. I have not tried this in years.

So, what do you think? I don't think I am psychic. I don't put a name on it. It just happens through emotion and stress. Maybe I should try it again.

Snowbrush said...

“I was not suggesting you read Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" to improve your erudition. The prayer is to God to blast the other side of the battle,”

I rather assumed you recommended it because you thought it would resonate with me. I’ve read it twice over the years, not recently, but I know very well what he meant to convey, and he’s entirely right. Except for an occasional atheist, everyone on every side in every war thinks that God is on his side. Take our own Civil War for example. Those guys were as much alike as could be, yet, as Twain wrote, they each thought that God liked them better and would help them fill the other half of the country with widows.

“My mother suggested I had power, maybe she did not mean I was a psychic. She just said that "Linda has power." …So, what do you think?”

As far as serving as proof to anyone but yourself, your mother, and maybe other people you know, it falls under the heading of anecdotal evidence, and that’s a very weak kind of evidence because there’s so much room for error. I don’t mean that I have any thought that you are being dishonest because I’m perfectly content to take you at your word. Can I then say that I don’t believe that your account is accurate exactly as given? No. I’m just reminded of something David Hume wrote about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. I know that a lot of people report very strange abilities in dogs to sense things that they simply couldn’t know short of ESP. I even saw a PBS program on it once, and the program was very impressive, but it wasn’t science, so all I can say is that I don’t know. I think it possible, but I can’t say I believe in it because I’ve never seen it, and it hasn’t been scientifically verified. Some things I deny—for example ghosts, crystal healing, astrology, and forth, while other things I’m open to but can’t say that I know them to be true. For example, I think it extremely likely that there is other life in the universe. I think it SO likely that I would bet heavily on it, and I’m not a betting man, yet I can’t say that I KNOW it. As for ESP kinds of powers, many people who believed they had them have been tested, and they’ve never been able to display their powers in a laboratory setting, yet I think it possible that such things might exist, if not in humans, then maybe in other animals.

Linda said...

My account is relayed accurately. My mother is the one who was the believer. I was stunned! She only told me after three incidents. She was the one who kept pointing out my power. Today is her birthday. She would have been 94 today. But, she died in 1993. far too soon for me.