Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Hate Prayer: Part One

“I’m praying for you.” “God bless you.”  “Jesus will take care of you.” “I pray for you everyday.” “My prayers have been answered.” “It was god’s will.” “It’s a miracle.” “Please don’t give up on prayer.” “I just pray you haven’t lost your faith.” “Jesus loves you.” “You’re in my prayers.”
            I’ve heard them all, the pious platitudes considered common courtesy in religious circles, and I’ve come to accept them as part of certain relationships because I love and respect my religious friends and family.  Not wanting to offend them, I’ve refrained from telling them how their prayerful statements make me feel.  Perhaps this is another leftover from my seminary formation, the indoctrination beat into aspiring priests to avoid “scandalizing the faithful.”   A view based on the hasty generalization that people are weak and their faith is frail, vulnerable to destruction by any challenge. 
However, as more and more years separate me from the religious culture in which I used to live, I find that the warnings of “scandalizing the faithful” are and were just one more veiled method of coercion to control priests that use their brains to think independently.  Similarly, so are the prayerful platitudes with which I started this post, seemingly helpful and loving statements that are increasingly offending me. 
You see, I don’t care if you pray.  I don’t care if walk down the street talking to your imaginary friends named Frank, Harvey, and Hobbes.  I just don’t want to hear about it, and you definitely don’t need to tell me about the conversations that you have with your god about me.
            Do I end conversations or letters by saying “I’m not praying for you,” or “I don’t believe in god so he can’t bless you,” or “An atheist’s peace be with you,”?  No!  I don’t.  To paraphrase your greatest commandment: I don’t rub it in your face, so don’t rub it in mine. 
            Here’s the thing, to an atheist, prayer is a crock of shit.  There’s no nicer way to put it.  If you meditate, contemplate, journal, etc. trying to center yourself or to get in touch with your inner truth and/or the greater truth and/or peace of the universe, that’s one thing—a helpful and healthy choice for some people.  I’m not talking about you.  I don’t consider that a type of prayer in the traditional, folded-hands-on-bended-knee-at-the-bedside-every-night way.
I’m talking about the kind of prayer that treats your greater power as a cosmic vending machine, prayer that reduces everyone else on the planet to players in your epic drama, or prayer that gives you permission to hit others with your god-stick.  I’m talking about self-centered prayer with an agenda. 
No matter what they teach you in Sunday school or seminary, prayer isn’t a selfless act.  It isn’t about the other.  Prayer is one hundred and forty four thousand percent about you.  What is prayer but one’s own personal, familial, financial, and political lobbying machine?  It’s self-centered spiritual masturbation.   And, what is masturbation to religious zealots?  Sin.  So, one could argue that prayer is sin.
So, please, stop praying for me.  I don’t want to be part of your spiritual/masturbatory fantasies, because I’m not going to change.  You’re wasting your time and you’re sending bad vibes my way (more on that in tomorrow’s post). 
And next time you’re talking to an atheist, agnostic, or person who worships a different god than you, show them some respect.  Swallow that pious need to express your prayerful concern for them.  A simple, “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or even “Good-bye” will suffice.

Image Credits:
Tattoo of Praying Hands by Greg at Religious Tattoos: Devoted to Judeo Christian Body Art
Cosmic Vending Machine by Katorisi at Wikimedia Commons