Monday, August 13, 2012

Dictionary of Micro Rants: Prayer

Prayer: obviously among the top five most embarrassingly asinine acts a person can undertake while clothed. (The top five such acts done while unclothed are all sexual in nature.)

To begin briefly to count the ways (and to paraphrase Wittgenstein), prayer is as pointless as a widget attached to nothing: either the outcome you ask God for comes to pass and would have happened anyway or it doesn’t because God knows better.

Then there’s the blatant contradiction of assuming that God is knowledgeable and powerful enough to be listening to all prayers and able to fulfill them, not to mention to have created the universe in the first place, but also dimwitted and pliable enough to need a lowly human’s advice on how to run things or to be the least bit pressured by our entreaties.

Next, there’s another contradiction. Whoever prays is sure to clasp her hands together and close her eyes, thus signifying that she poses no threat, that she comes to God humbly and doesn’t demand anything with a threat of laughably inadequate force. Moreover, prayers are generally sprinkled with self-deprecating qualifications, with incantations designed seemingly to assure any god who’s listening that here’s someone hard done by who could use a favour. However, all of this clearly amounts to the falsest humility, since the very notion of prayer presupposes that the creature can influence or control the Creator. As is apparent from so-called primitive, shamanic religions, the medicine man goes as far as to explicitly cast spells on divine forces, as though gods could be hypnotized by magic formulas.

Thus, the contradictions of modern prayer betray the origin of that form of pseudocommunication. Evidently, religions began with visionary states of consciousness caused by psychedelic drugs or trance states, in which an authoritative, seemingly all-knowing voice is heard from within. In Hinduism this gave rise to mystical monism, to the view that there’s only one true consciousness and that our minds and all material forms are mere disguises worn by God. To that extent, then, prayer has at least a modicum of logic behind it: even we can influence God because we’re really identical with God; moreover, we can communicate with God by closing our eyes, turning inwards or perhaps whispering, since as indicated by the psychedelic voice, God resides within as pure consciousness.

But western religions are individualistic, holding such monism as blasphemy. Thus, the modern prayerful theist must play an awkward charade, attesting to her profound humility while acting like she has power over God. She’s superficially passive and pleasant when she prays, since there’s no point in getting mad at herself; after all, religions are based on the misinterpreted experience of being identical with God. But she nevertheless means to cast her more sophisticated magic spell, to enchant God to do her bidding, since her modernist religion elevates the individual human as the one who Nietzsche will later call the god killer.

It goes without saying that every such act of prayer is a grotesque fiasco. At best, prayer distracts and comforts the one who prays, but so do a million less preposterous pastimes, like taking a long walk or reading a good book. 

The final absurdity of prayer, though, befalls those who ridicule prayer, like the present writer, but who nevertheless find themselves instinctively calling out to no one when scared or angry. Prayer thus avenges itself on those who know better than to try to converse with an invisible person, since prayer apparently has some genetic support which drives even the most self-conscious atheist to debase herself in that fashion.

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