There’s very interesting post on the un-biblical nature of Prayer in schools on GodBeGone.
It made me aware that I have no real understanding of what the word “prayer” means. The biblical quotation on GodBeGone suggests that it’s basically supposed to be thinking or meditating, but with reference to an invisible friend.
Well, OK, I actually relate to that, in a historical way. I can remember being four years old and speaking to my invisible friend in the airing cupboard. I don’t think I expected much of an answer, let alone thought I’d get any requests answered.
I don’t believe that meditating on the wonders of the universe counts as prayer, if you don’t direct it at an invisible friend. Otherwise, “prayer” would describe any transcendent response – e.g. to a walk in the wilderness – and would have no specific meaning at all.
Morning prayers in school involved mouthing ritual phrases and sneakily peeking around, while pretending to look down at the floor. It genuinely never occurred to the child-me that this was supposed to have a spiritual dimension. I assume the purpose was to let the teachers settle in to a day’s work and/or to teach us the patience of the queue. (That lesson didn’t take either.)
And the holding your hands in front of you in an arrow shape? (I can’t remember having to do that at school. Maybe we didn’t have to.) Why? Is it a prayer targetting device? Prayers might not reach the man in the sky if we just let them fall.
Prayer through the television and over the Internet? If prayer is targetted meditation or group membership affirmation, how are these supposed to work?
My most recent acquaintance with prayer was at an aunts’ funeral. The occasion was very moving, with beautiful, funny and affectionate speeches from her sons and grandchildren. Despite the setting – a lovely country church – the “religious” component was limited to one prayer, made by the vicar.
I watched and listened. I didn’t even understand – until my brother bizarrely congratulated me for refusing to bow my head – that I wasn’t doing the right thing. Bizarre, because I certainly wouldn’t have thought a funeral was a suitable occasion to proclaim non-belief. I would have willingly bowed my head and made the pointy hand gesture if I’d thought anyone would care. It wouldn’t have been prayer, though, or would it?
Like most non-believers, I tend to see prayer as special pleading in pursuit of a goal. Flatter the omnipotent one and he won’t smite you. If you are really obsequious, he’ll even give you thinks you want or solve your problems. Even unselfish prayers for world peace or someone else’s recovery from illness seem to depend on an idea that there’s a creature who COULD do whatever you want but is refusing until you ask nicely and say “please.” There must be more to it than that, though.
This is a serious question. I would really appreciate any sincere and non-lunatic ex-religious or currently-religious responses. Especially, about the public prayer stuff. What exactly is prayer? What does it feel like when you’ve done it successfully? Why do you do it? Are there lots of different definitions with different meaning?
Anthropology and the sociology of religion provide answers at the social level – strengthening group cohesion; magical rituals, spreading values, etc. These characterise behaviours, though, rather than what prayer means to an individual.