Posts tagged ‘prayer’
On Good Friday, 1973, my parents caught me smoking. It wasn’t the first time I’d been caught, but it was the last. This wasn’t because I quit immediately, per their demands. It was, rather, because I quickly grew fairly skilled at hiding my vice from them. Oh, they continued to harbor suspicions, but they never again caught me in the act. Anyway, it so happened that, like most good evangelical Christians, our family was scheduled to attend the annual Good Friday service that very evening. So, off to church we went.
I sat through the service and dreaded the coming altar call because I knew exactly what was going to happen. Sure enough, the pianist had barely begun playing the prayer chorus when my mother ambled over to where I was sitting with some friends and insisted that I accompany her to the altar. There, of course, I was compelled to repent of my sin, renounce my filthy habit and ask Jesus to forgive me. I mouthed the requisite syllables as tears of rage flowed down my cheeks.
I was enraged at being compelled to say a prayer that I did not mean and thereby label myself as a hypocrite. You see, when I was fourteen I was in what I now regard as a state of rebellious disobedience of God. I believed in God but had absolutely no desire to follow, obey, love or worship him. Therefore, my prayer was utterly insincere and, as I understood the matter then, both he and I knew I hadn’t meant a word of it. I believed that uttering an insincere prayer while in a state of believer’s rebellion was the height of hypocrisy…
The subject of prayer has been widely debated over the years. We’ve discussed this topic on several occasions including Simen’s What’s the Point with Prayer?, MysteryOfIniquity’s Prayer: Communion with yourself, and LeoPardus’ Praying my way to losing faith.
Slapdash recently made this comment on one of our posts:
For me, the issue of (unanswered) prayer was the first, primary, and most important thing that unraveled my faith.
Christianity is completely schizophrenic when it comes to prayer. On the one hand you have loads of scriptures inviting us to pray – to pray about everything, to pray without ceasing, to pray boldly, to pray specifically, to pray with the faith of a mustard seed – and our prayers will be answered.
On the other hand, based as far as I can tell only on the Lord’s prayer, Christians insist that you add “not my will be done, but yours” to every prayer, thus effectively giving God an ‘out’ any and every time your original desire doesn’t come to pass…
Let us try something on this topic this time, shall we?
(5)”And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (6)But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (7)And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (8)Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6.5-8 NASB
Much of the religious talk going on from the presidential candidates has to do with the fact that Iowa, whose caucus was 3 January, and several other Bible-Belt states are a state full of evangelicals (that’s what the media is portraying, I guess). Many of these people are older and grew up in an era when schools, football games, and other major public venues and events had a time set aside for public prayer. Unfortunately, thanks to various lawsuits, people of Generations X and Y (the latter I am from) have grown up in a society that most of these events no longer have…
Why do people make a big show of praying before meals in public, at restaurants? This is one thing about dining out with my family that makes me crazy. As a recovering former Evangelical I find the public prayer thing about as comfortable as when people embark on public displays of affection at the “get a room” level. Restaurant prayer is like a piece of performance art. If it was really just about the prayer itself and the need to appeal to God before dining surely it could be done silently and to oneself.
Given that this little ritual seems to be quite popular in some circles, it becomes important to consider what to do with your status as a conscientious objector when the time arises. How should you conduct yourself if someone in your dinner party assumes that it’s time for public prayer and does the “grab hands bow heads start reciting” thing in your presence? There is substantial peer pressure to participate. Yet, I really want to not participate.
At some basic level, I postulate that it relates to another issue which I find is quite pervasive in my family of Evangelicals. There is a tacit assumption that everyone in the room always agrees. There are a set of suitable beliefs, including megachurch-style Evangelical Christianity and a deep admiration for George Bush, and everyone is expected to have these beliefs. The participation in public prayer is just another of the unwritten behavior rules that govern the pack. Nod your heads, don’t question, vote as you are told…
There was a lady in our church who developed a mental illness. She was a terrific gal and, of course, I prayed diligently for her. So did a lot of folks. However, she did not get better. For whatever reason, at the time this struck me hard. As a result, I began to carefully sift through 25 years of praying. Not just my praying, but prayers of others also. And I realized that, as far as I was aware, no prayer had ever been answered in a clear, unmistakable way. No cripple ever walked, no blind person gained sight, no deaf person started hearing, nothing. Oh sure, there were some folks who beat cancer and other things like that but nothing outside the realm of medical probability. There were other coincidences too but nothing one could put a finger on and say, “There! That was outside the realm of the natural or possible.”
It became obvious to me that I was talking to the air- no answers, no response of any kind. Initially I read several books on prayer, on the existence of God, and on struggling with unbelief. None of them dared to go where I was. They all pulled up short and scurried off into comforting, yet unsatisfactory answers.
Being a scientist, I dug into the literature for any studies on the efficacy of prayer. Lo and behold, there were actual, controlled studies that had been done. And the result? Drum roll, please….. nada, nil, zip, zilch, zero… no efficacy at all…
It’s been about a week now since Thanksgiving, and hopefully everyone has found creative ways to finish off all their leftover turkey! I love the holiday season, and the time I get to spend with my family, but one thing is always awkward—saying grace before the dinners. I don’t mind bowing my head and listening quietly while others do it, but I’m not too fond of doing it myself.
My family consists mostly of devout Christians—none of whom know that I’m an atheist. That’s right, I’m still in the closet per say. However, my sister somehow has this special ability to know just who to pick on when it comes time to say the prayer. We celebrated Thanksgiving dinner at her home, and as we all gathered around the table and bowed our heads in silence, I knew I was in for it. Before she even asked I could tell just by her look that she was going to pick me.
It was a test of sorts. Everyone in my family was waiting to see if I had lost my “roots” when I went off to college. It was their way of putting me back in my place, or that’s at least how they saw it. When my sister told (not asked) me to say it, there was no backing down. So, I took a deep breath…