Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Attempts at Theism - Prayer

I'm one of those weird new atheists who didn't leave some religion. While both of my parents went to church as kids (Dad Protestant, Mom Greek Orthodox), they pretty much left me to my own devices. We never went to church, I was never told about God or Jesus, and I didn't really even know what religion was until I was about 12 and started hearing about it from friends. My dad always told me to just be a good person via the golden rule, and everything would sort itself out. It was more important to be good than to be a jerk who goes to church. Now my dad is probably an atheist (or a very atheisty agnostic) and my mom is one of those wishy washy agnostic theists who hopes there's some sort of higher power thingy to make the world a happy place.

I can go on and on about my various experiences, but one thing just popped into my head now. For people who were basically raised as atheists, there might have been a time where you thought you were supposed to be religious. Was there ever a time you tried to pray just out of the hopes that it would work?

I attempted prayer a total of two times, both around the time where I was in my Hopeful Deist stage. The first was when I was 14, and my cat had died. Now, this was the most lovable cat in the world, and I had him my entire life (he was 18). I was sort of a lonely awkward little kid, so he was my friend when I didn't have anyone else. It sounds kind of pathetic saying it now, but it was the first time something close and comforting had been taken away from me. I was crying for days about it, to the point where I couldn't sleep. One night I asked my deisty God that if he existed (and wanted to stop being deisty for a moment), to please give me the strength to stop crying.

I did stop crying about my cat, but looking back, I know it wasn't some divine being that gave me the strength. It was from inside of me (cue the cheesy music). By asking for that strength, I had made up my mind that I needed to move on, and move on I did.

The other time was when I was convinced I was pregnant...even though I was a virgin. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but 16 year old girl logic isn't the best. When you've fooled around with your boyfriend to any degree and your period is just a tad late, you're convinced the boy has super-sperm that can dissolve through the air from a meter away and still get up your vajayjay somehow. Saying I was scared shitless is an understatement. Praying seemed like a better alternative than jumping out a window, so pray I did. I promised God I wouldn't do such naughty things if he gave me a free pass this time through (Um...a promise I'm kind of failing at. Whoops, oh well).

A couple days later, my monthly visitor finally came. Do I really think God did it? Of course not. But at the time, it was comforting thinking the situation was in the hands of someone who could do something about it. Maybe that relaxation releaved some of the stress that was making it late in the first place. I can only speculate, but I think it does show how prayers can make people feel better even if they're not being directly answered. And to an extent, they create a sort of placebo effect that actually helps out.

The actual efficacy of prayer is a whole other topic. The thing I find most interesting is that these two positive situations still didn't make me suddenly believe in God. Even though my prayers were "answered," I think I knew I was just tricking myself into believing them for the benefits. Double think is an amazing and scary thing. I wonder how many theists are in a similar situation.

7 comments:

  1. "I can only speculate, but I think it does show how prayers can make people feel better even if they're not being directly answered. And to an extent, they create a sort of placebo effect that actually helps out."

    You've nailed it. That is why we still have religious believers in this world.

    "When you've fooled around with your boyfriend to any degree and your period is just a tad late, you're convinced the boy has super-sperm that can dissolve through the air from a meter away and still get up your vajayjay somehow."

    And that is how most men think of themselves.

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  2. Weird, my dad's Greek Orthodox, and my mother is Protestant. Bizzaro.

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  3. Of course, after the thoughtful essay on 'powers' of prayer, all I can think of is the sad bit of your cat dying. Dang, I'm a softie.

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  4. Yassou (Greek name, heh) was the best kitty ever <3 The little she-devil we have now makes me appreciate him even more.

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  5. I've had almost exactly the same experiences, up to and including the part about praying after my cat died when I was 13. Of course, being a boy, I've never thought I was pregnant, although I was once worried about my girlfriend being in said condition (she wasn't, and God didn't have a thing to do with it). My father was a Catholic who is now a firm atheist, and my mother was raised a Protestant, but she's also an atheist now. I've never thought that I was supposed to be religious, though. I think I was inoculated by reading Greek and Norse myths as a young child (7 or 8). I read a Children's Bible shortly thereafter and found it almost exactly the same as the other myths I had read, except more annoying in that it told me to pray to Jesus all the time. Anyway, thanks for your post. I could see a lot of myself in it, and it's nice to know that there are other people like me out there.

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  6. Yay, my experience was a lot like yours! (atheist dad, deisty mom, but I only just found out last year) Only, my experiments with prayer were (oddly) when John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s plane went missing (everyone was very concerned so I figured I should be, too, and I prayed for everyone to be found alive and okay) and when my extremely elderly dog ran away. But I think all of that was 'trying on' behavior -- I also became hysterical over a dead cat when I was little because I thought that was something you were supposed to do, and I remember thinking very clearly behind it "Hmm, is this working?"

    Sometimes I feel really odd having been raised completely without religion (secularly?) -- atheism is the default position and didn't take any huge amount of research and soul-searching, though I'm starting to at least make headway against the gaps in my knowledge.

    Your post was fun to read -- as they usually are. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Hey, just got introduced to your blog and I feel I can really identify, and your writing is very interesting to read.

    I had a pregnancy scare while virgin moment myself, lol, so glad I'm not the only one!

    I was raised without religion, but my mom always commented on how I seemed "spiritual" as well as wise for my age. I think I referred to myself as spiritual, as well, and thought religion was beneath me or something. I recently got out of a deisty time, actually. I went to Hillel services for two complete semesters, very rarely missing a service. This started around the time I just started dating a new guy who was Jewish. I was curious and went to services, and then just kept on going because I found it interesting. Funny thing - I didn't really like the parts of the service in English. I finally realized that I can never believe whole-heartedly in a God or Gods. In a way I'm back to how I thought when I was around 10 or 12, basically.

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