Random thoughts on Religion and Prayer

“I can’t believe that you don’t believe in God!”

Uh oh, where is this going? Do I really want to engage in a conversation on belief right now? Do I just give the polite, half joking reply: “yeah, well I can’t believe you believe in god…” Tit for tat, maybe that makes the unsolicited conversation end.

Should I engage? Is there potential for a decent discussion that provides for mutual respect for belief and lack of? If successful, maybe the inquisitor will have a better understanding of what an atheist is and is not?

I can smile and ask in return “Why is that?” Open ended, doesn’t require an explanation for myself – takes the onus off of me and puts it back on the questioner. Normally the response trends along the lines of “you don’t strike me as an atheist.”

This makes me smile. It tells me my efforts over the last few years are paying off.

Since striking out on a course of atheism activism, my main goal was to show atheists are just like anybody else. We engage in the same commerce, volunteerism, community involvement – everything but belief. It was never my intent to gain converts or spread the “word.” There is nothing evangelical about non-belief. It doesn’t constitute an ideology, or even a political stance (although right wing conservatism’s infatuation with all things god makes it hard for even conservative atheists to feel at home in the republican camp).

If I am successful in changing stereotypes of atheists that’s all I can ask for.

Although I admit to be somewhat outspoken, atheism is hardly something that I spend much time thinking about (at least when I’m not writing).

“I don’t want you talking about religion or politics tonight,” my dear wife has, on occasion, chided me as we head to social events.

I admit to being a political junky. Even in today’s hyper-partisan environment, politics is like watching a train wreck (or Jerry Springer), it’s so incredibly god awful (pun intended) I can’t take my eyes off it. I can’t make promises to not talk about politics! We may not be Washingtonians – but we are only 20 miles away from the fray. Politics is prime social conversation!

But religion? I don’t seek out conversation on religion – I hardly give it a thought. Rarely, if ever, do I initiate a discussion on god (or no god).

This is not to say I won’t engage in it. I tell Ellen that I’m not the one bringing it up – people want to talk to me about it. I can only surmise that some people feel that by getting me talk about religion provides an opportunity to show me the error in my ways. I know they mean well – they truly feel moved to save my godless soul and for that I’m grateful that I have friends that care enough about me to want to see me around, even when I’m no longer around. Other people just find it humorous to converse with someone who is stupid enough to reject their god. Then there are those that want to share their doubts about their faith, maybe with someone that will not sit in judgment of them.

I always explain, in all cases, that my lack of faith is based on my understanding of the bible (specifically how the bible we have today came about in its earliest formation), scripture, history (Roman, Greek, and Hebrew), the church (pick a church…), and the amazing hypocrisies associated with the “interpretation” of what god wants. I recommend people study that to which they are faithful to. I don’t pretend to have the answers – just my answers, and I’m comfortable with that.

So what, I don’t believe. I don’t buy into the concepts of heaven or hell, or afterlife. There is no reward or penalty after this life – this is it. This makes me appreciate every day I’m alive, drawing breath. It makes me so much more attuned to the needless suffering of others. It actually has changed my opinion on capital punishment as too many innocent people have been wrongfully incarcerated on death row. This is the only life you get – live for today because when it’s over, it really may be all you have.

I’m not advocating hedonism or engaging in immoral acts (and by immoral I mean societal norms and not some biblical mumbo jumbo in Leviticus – that is one whacked out chapter in an otherwise weird book…). Living life to its fullest should be attainable without causing harm to yourself or others. As long as you are not hurting anyone, why on earth should anyone care or judge you for it?

I do find it interesting, actually interesting isn’t the correct word – annoying may be more apropos – that when it comes to personal expression of beliefs is where “tolerance” breaks down.

Many Christians do not think twice about publicly asking friends to join them in prayer, beseeching their god for comfort, healing, rain, miracles, etc. This is understandable.

However, in my humble opinion, there is no more useless activity that human beings can engage in than prayer. This is not to say to say that I devalue the ancillary effect prayer can provide the individual engaging in the activity – that being a meditative state. Meditation, clearing the mind and focusing on a single issue, or nothing at all, has been shown to promote health and brain activity. Sam Harris, a prominent atheist “spokesman” and author has written extensively on the benefits of meditation. For me, this blog serves as a surrogate.

When I engage in similar public self expression, apparently it is opening a door for debate and or discussion.

What do I mean by this? It’s pretty simple. Person A puts out a public call for prayer for (pick anything) – I would consider it rude to respond to that call by stating prayer is useless. Turning that around, if I self express by saying “two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer” this is perceived as hurtful and mocking of people’s beliefs – at least so I’ve been told by some.

Even when I was a Christian, my understanding of god was of a disconnected deity that was no longer interactive with humans. For every “miracle” claimed, a thousand-fold tragedies occur without the blinking of a god eye. I became convinced that god was no longer involved or concerned with our species or what we did (or did not do) with ourselves.

This made attending church on Sundays a strange and trying event. I enjoyed the sermons, but when the congregation would be asked to bow heads and pray, not only could I not engage, but I found the entire endeavor useless.

If everything that happens is according to god’s will, then prayer is, by definition, a useless activity.

If you view god as a participant, an arbiter in world events, who by prodding and pleading may or may not decide to proffer assistance when asked, I’d submit that such a deity is unworthy of respect or worship – that is, if I believed in such a creature.

I don’t. But it certainly sums up my disdain for prayer.

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