Friday, June 28, 2013

Atheist Prayer

It's funny how zeitgeist works. Somehow, the question of non-religious worship is in the air. Or is it just in the Times and the New Yorker? Anyway, the Times is running a Room for Debate feature titled Should Atheists Pray? Kevin Ladd tends toward the affirmative:
Spin a globe and jab your finger at random. If you’re pointing to land, you’re pointing to a place where people are praying. Across Western and Eastern religious traditions, and even in some varieties of atheism, prayer is a core spiritual discipline. Why is so much collective time spent in this activity? Answers are complex, and like prayer itself they change across people’s lifespans and contexts. Most people who pray say it helps them feel “connected” to their own spirituality and beyond themselves. That sense of being not so isolated can be very comforting. Another rationale is more metaphysical. People often remark that praying is “how they live” rather than “something they do.” For them, prayer is, in part, paying attention to choices and striving to translate preferred beliefs into actions.
Hemant Mehta, on the other hand, calls prayer
the last resort of people who have run out of ideas, and the first resort of people who never bothered to think about how they could actually fix the problem at hand.
The always proselytizing Deepak Chopra puts in a word for silent meditation:
Meditation turns silence into something valuable on its own. Our brains change with every thought, because thoughts form a feedback loop that every cell eavesdrops on. In the tradition of meditation, silence also forms a feedback loop. A wordless voice says, “Here is peace.” Cells can eavesdrop on that message, too, and when they do, pathways in the brain are changed just as surely as when we respond to thoughts, sensations and emotions. Even without God, silence may be the womb from which intelligence and creativity emerge. In the meditation tradition, this silence is God. But labels and cultural baggage stand in the way. Even without God, silence may be the basis of the mind, the womb from which intelligence and creativity emerge.
Meditation seems to me a more fruitful path for atheists than prayer. I've never been able to empty my mind, but I have spent many hours happily contemplating obscurities like the Fibonacci sequence or how an atom can appear as a solid ball when examined with the electron tunneling microscope.

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