The magic of Prayer
Often people whom I discuss these matters with refer to the answering of their prayers as sufficient proof that God exists, and is listening. Also, the stories of people that have endured hardships, physical abuse and who suffered from substance abuse can be kicked from under every bush. They all sound the same, with only names, dates and places being different. The themes of the stories are the same. Some disaster happens, they ask God why, he remains silent, they fall into substance abuse, they hit rock bottom, they lose a lot of stuff, sometimes including family, they pray to God, they start to heal and viola! Problem solved! How can one doubt that these people have been saved from the horror of their previous lives by anything other than the power of God?
However, when you look closely at the psychology at work, you will find that the crying of the baby for its three hourly feed is nothing but a prayer to a higher, omniscient, omnipotent power. The infant has no concept of doubt that it’s prayer (crying) will be answered by the one who always does so, day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month, for thousands upon thousands of times. Thus, when an adult hits rock bottom, the only path it sees open is to appeal to the help and power of a higher authority, a care-giver that is always there, since the word (bible) says that all you have to do is knock. The percentage of Christians in American jails is a reflection of this fact. In this way their belief in this higher power is re-inforced and the depth of the delusion becomes unfathomable. Also, they cannot accept nor understand the concept of non-belief in the God that so conveniently rescued them from a bad life which, if you choose to be honest, is the result of their own poor judgement. It makes no sense to them that someone cannot believe, since in their minds the truth has been openly displayed to them in the manner in which they were saved by Jesus. They really have no choice but to believe, since the desire, or instinct to believe was instilled within them from the first day of their lives on earth.
One needs to explore the act of prayer a little deeper to understand its psychological role. In order to do that, we need to look at faith itself, since without faith no prayer will be worth anything. There is no need to pray if you do not possess the faith that someone is listening and will answer. This harks back to the days of being a child when you simply “knew” that Mommy will be there and will come if you call. Prayer is the central phenomenon of religious practices. Without prayer in some form, no religion will survive. It is the means of communicating with the ultimate care-giver, the only means in which he gets to know what we think or feel. This is despite the belief that apparently God knows everything anyway which, to a logical mind, removes the need for prayer completely. However, throughout the existence of religion on earth there has been the need to devise and practice rituals through which the spiritual needs of the participants are satisfied. From the slaughter of innocent animals and blood-curdling sacrifices, to the simple prayer flashed up to God at a moment’s notice, all these are mere ritualistic expressions of the same need to be in contact with the care giver.
What is interesting about prayer, other than the psychological need of the supplicant (person praying) for some dialogue with his care-giver, is the physical manifestations of the act. There seems to be, in modern western religious practices, the fear of being seen with your eyes open during communal prayer. Why is this? Is it that the fear exists that you will be distracted from the essence of the prayer, or is it a much deeper thing…a more selfish concept? Could it be that we simply do not want people to look at us while we are unable to see them, during which they have the opportunity to inspect us for the whole duration of the prayer? In modern days, emphasis on who is best dressed for the Sunday morning visit to the house of God seems to harmonize with this concept. Also, I am sure many of us have suffered the embarrassment of being caught with your eyes open during prayer. Funny thing is that we believe that the person who saw us is as guilty as we are, since how else could they have seen that our eyes were open?
The manner in which the communal prayer is done in the various churches and religions of the world differ greatly. There used to be a time when we were all required to stand during prayer. Then the women were allowed to remain seated. Now everyone is allowed to remain seated. All of these changes are not evidence of God changing his mind, since his word remains as it has always been. There has been no revelations from God as to how people should change their means and ways of prayer. Such changes has come along with various interpretations of the word of God, as is the case with so many other religious doctrines and rituals. They evolve as society evolves around them and what was once acceptable is now ridiculous. This shows the manner in which religion is simply the products of the human mind and is not really related to a grey old man living in the sky.
Or is it that Jesus, during the Sermon on the Mount, explained to his disciples the exact methodology of prayer, and that we therefor fear to deviate from this in any way?
The act of prayer is referred to as supplication. It is defined as asking, begging, but in the humblest of manners. Humbling yourself in front of God, or some other supreme being, means to forego your own sense of humanity, to subject yourself completely to the will and power of the supreme being. It means to let go of your pride, your fears, and your thoughts. It means that you give in to the will of the higher being, and that you subject yourself to anything that might be forthcoming. It’s God’s will, as people often say. In order to do this, one must illustrate this willingness not only in words, but also in posture. The attitude of the supplicator must display utter dependancy, utter helplessness, utter submission, and a willfull attempt to rid yourself of your own will entirely. This attitudinal change in the normal behaviour of people perfectly fits the attitude of the infant when it asks for its caregiver to administer to some discomfort or need that the infant is experiencing. This also is in full accordance with common religious teachings, where you are required to submit yourself totally to the will of the god you are praying too. In fact, this is in tune with the words of Jesus himself, when he requested that people must hate themselves and turn away from their loved ones before they can follow him and become one of his flock. It is the worst form of self-denial and delusion that man has ever invented for himself.
In essence, prayer is the implicit desire within the human being to return to the care-giver that once took such good care of us, and who was always there to deal with the little emergencies in life. This driving, desperate need to be cared for as we were once being cared for when we were still infants, or young children, is a very deep-seated psychological desire, but it does not make itself known in any explicit or clearly measurable way. It is much more subtle than that. The implicit memory of the omnipresent being needs to be “cued” by specific stimuli or circumstances once the infant has grown into adulthood. When such a circumstance arises, the adult has no control over the desperate need it feels to be closer to the allmighty presence of the caregiver. Therefor, the only way that it can satisfy this need, is to supplicate itself in front of what it perceives to be the only omnipresent, omnipotent being that it has come to know during adulthood. This would always be some kind of invisible god since the “child” has long since learned that it has been seperated from what it believed to be an all powerful being, that being its mother or parent. Yet, the implicit memories of that time remains, and is brought into the conscious mind when the appropriate cues are encountered. In most cases such cues would be danger, psychological difficulties, financial problems, or any kind of circumstance which the person finds to be out of its control and for which it needs to rely on some higher authority to assist and solve as it used to when it was an infant.
The evidence of the anxiety caused by the seperation from the parent-god at a tender young age is clearly evident in our innate need to get down on our knees and ask for guidance, for help, for anything. In fact, we are asking for nothing other than our saviour, both physically and psychologically, since we sub-consciously remember a time when we saw ourselves as being “one” with the mother figure who was always available to take care of our needs. It is also for these reasons that most religious people find it impossible to view their god as being anything but a loving, caring, dedicated caregiver who will always be there when we call. Due to this influence, people easily tune out the horrors of the Old Testament, and find means of rationalising the instructions that God gave to Moses with respect to the treatment of other nations considered to have been heathens. People find it impossible, due to these implicit memories of their childhood, to see God as anything other than an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, caring, wonderful and omnipresent being. They had the concept of God created within their brains from the start, and life in general is geared towards reinforcing that concept.
Amongst us are those who are religious, but only in the manner in which they think and view themselves. Their religious nature is not displayed in the manner in which they live their lives and go about their daily routines. Most of them have not seen the inside of a church for years. Some of them even subconsciously believe that they have invested enough in religion at some time in the past for it to carry them through untill such a time when they really “need” God. These are interesting people, and we need to explore them a little more.
In my native language, such people are called “klip Christene” (Stone Christians). These people believe firmly in the reality of God and Jesus and when prompted, will actively defend their religious point of view. However, for various convenient reasons, they are not practicing Christians. Being a practicing Christian demand s a lot of things from a person, most of which is sacrificial in their nature. In order to follow Jesus, you ned to relinguish a lot of the things that life has to offer. These will include many things which are deemed to be normal activities within our modern society, such as gambling, drinking, smoking, going to pubs, attending sporting matches on Sundays, working on Sundays etc. Many of these are unavoidable evils and these people are seduced into believeing that it is fine for them to indulge in such activities for some reason or the other.
They rationalise their behaviour and their actions in varioius ways. If, for example, they have to work on a Sunday, they believe in what the New Testament teaches, along with the various interpretations of it by modern religious organisations. On other subjects, they conveniently choose what the old testament teaches.
These people would not want to be called agnostic or atheist. They believe themselves to be christian, and there is a clearly defined psychological reasoning behind their way of thinking. They believe that in their own special way, they are still faithful to their God and their Jesus. This kind of belief system manifests itself in two distinct ways.
Firstly, the person reasons that due to the numerous embarrassments within religion, the inconsistencies within the bible and varioius denominations, the sometimes ridiculous argumentation of religious fanatics in the face of reason, and their own sense of reality, they are unable to validate the teachings of any particular christian grouping, and therefor they enter into a “personal” relationship with Jesus. This relationship is and remains independent of any organised group and any of it’s activities.
Secondly, the person refuses to face the sinful nature of his existence and enters into an even deeper level of cognitive dissonance where it knows the truth is out there and where to find it, but finds that acting upon such stimulus will rob it of it’s comfortable life and having more freedom of choice, rather than function under the burden of religiously enforced constraints. The level of self-delusion in these cases become even more deep seated when one understands that these people use God and Jesus only as a back-up for when they need them. These people rely sub-consciously on the religious teachings of a loving, caring and forgiving God, and they maintain within their minds the constant hope that when it comes down to crunch-time, that God and Jesus will be there with a helping hand, if only they repent their sinful lives. They have this as a sort of safety cushion upon which they could fall when life knocks them down.
However, once the crisis is over, and the urgency of the situation has abated, they easily return to their old ways. This phenomonon is once again based on the need of the infant to ask for help when it feels threatened or needs help in some way. From a purely psychological perspective, these people have remained infants into their adult lives and have not outgrown that innate need for saviour, for assistance, for the care-giver to be available.
Some questions on prayer
On the subject of prayer, I have a few questions. I am often told that God has a plan for everyone and that this plan is infallible, true, wonderful and will eventually lead to my saviour. But this plan is only valid if I remain true to God and obey him, and if I live a righteous life, doing the will of God, believe in Jesus Christ as my saviour.
If this is so, then what purpose does prayer have? Particularly a prayer that demands something from God. If he has not planned for me to have a BMW convertible, then what is the use of asking for it? Am I suggesting that I, as a worthless sinner, hopelessly dependant on the whims of God, am of any such value that God would grant me this wish? Is that not somewhat arrogant of me to ask the allmighty creator of heaven and earth to change his plans simply because I wish to compete with my neighbour? Is it simply God’s will that those tele-evangelists who are flying private jets on the hard-earned money of the poor should live in such opulent luxury, whilst the majority of God’s beloved creations eek out a meager living working in someone’s kitchen? Does the faith of some deserve more rewards that the faith of others?
Is prayer not simply something we feel we can do in order to be able to say that we at least tried? Is the real purpose of prayer not simply to make ourselves feel better? Does it make us feel more safe?
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.