The title. Why this title? Well it holds a lot of possibilities; ironic, sarcastic, symbolic etc etc. However there is one thing in particular that I want to address, it is partly what made me want to start a blog. If you read the previous two entries you know that I spent many years as an atheist without accepting the label of atheist because of issues I had with people I knew who claimed absolute certainty. You also know that I got over that phase and quite happily call myself an atheist today. However, my issue with that brand of atheism still exists, and even though it is not all that common, it is common enough to give us all a bad name. I am not suggesting we all go on missions and try to preach “true atheism” but I do think we as atheists need to watch our rhetoric just a little.
Here is where I most often react to poor atheist rhetoric, feel free to disagree. Prayer. We hear a lot from different kinds of theists about the power of prayer, and people try to solve serious problems with prayer and yes it does sound pretty ridiculous and many of my fellow atheists are quite happy to say so. However a lot of atheists are also quick to use terms like “useless” and “pointless” as if that was a fact and it is here I cringe. It is not exactly the same argument I described earlier with absolute certainty, you see I don’t know that prayer in itself has absolutely no effect. I am quite ready to believe that prayer can have a very real and physical effect on the outcome of a lot of things, I just don’t believe the theists are right about why this is.
There are many things apart from religions that utilize the concept of prayer, some call it affirmations others call it self conditioning but to me it is all the same kind of thing; putting yourself in a meditative state of mind and thinking through your goals. It is not only religions and spiritualists that do this, athletes do it, police training in my country includes this tactic of conditioning the self to react in certain ways in certain situations.
How can a prayer about something that is not specifically about your own mind work? Well, we, as human beings are mostly run by our sub conscious. I don’t want to explain this here and now, if people comment about it I may go into detail in a future entry, the point is that our brain makes a lot of choices and decisions that we are unaware of and so we have objectives and goals we do not realize we have. We see a lot more than our waking mind registers, we only seem to notice the things that seem relevant to what we are thinking about, or doing at the moment. If we, in a relaxed state of mind visualize our goals, specially if we do it several times per day, we condition our sub conscious to re-prioritize what we sub consciously think is relevant and thus we are more likely to realize and act upon when we see an opportunity to achieve the goal we were “praying” about.
Now, some of you may think that what I just described isn’t really praying at all, and I would actually agree with you. However, I do believe that it is possible for a theist to pray to his/her God, and without realizing it actually conditioning his/her own brain to be more likely to achieve whatever the prayer was about and this is why I think we need to work on our rhetoric.
When we say that as atheists we believe that praying is useless and cannot accomplish anything, a theist that may have had doubts about religion but has had real tangible results from praying will be alienated from us and our community when in fact they would be a very welcome addition to the atheist community.
So be careful when you knock prayer, don’t be so quick to say it doesn’t work, it is far more productive and helpful to talk about the reason why someone would think it works, and why, indeed, some people seem to get results from it.