Pray for What?

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If I’m your guest for dinner and your family tradition is to hold hands or bow your heads to pray, or we’re at a restaurant, and you want to pray; I’ll respectfully observe your tradition. I don’t say grace nor will I ask your God to ‘bless the meal;’ however, I’ll not be disrespectful. If you’re my guest, you may expect the same courtesy. I don’t pray, but if you do, it’s ok.

In Catholic grade school, we recited Grace Before Meals before lunch, and Grace After Meals when we returned. I don’t recall saying it with my family. As an adult, I said the short prayer you can see on virtually any episode of Blue Bloods. If you take too long and the food gets cold, I may pray for an end to your jabbering.

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I consider some, perhaps most, prayer to be harmless and it maybe even good for you. That’s right. I said some or most. Openly expressing gratitude, which is perhaps the least felt of all human emotions, should be a good thing. But, in my opinion, not always.

Thanking God for the touchdown is silly. So is divine gratitude for a political candidate winning or for scoring in the lottery. These examples are nonsensically selfish and may be harmful. While I’m good with being grateful, I’m not okay with all forms of prayer. I shouldn’t care, but I’ve long held my opinion.

I’m fine with prayers of worship like God is Good, but if I hear God is Great yelled in Arabic, fight or flight may take over. Back as far as I can remember, I had issues with asking God for anything. It made no sense to me — still doesn’t.

My parents told me that God helps those who helps themselves, or a similar form of the phrase. I’ve never given up on the basis for that idea. For example, I went to see a house being remodeled and found the painter sleeping. After inquiring about his health, I asked if he worried about being fired. He said, “The good Lord will provide.” Raising eye brows, I said, “Oh. I see.” Lucky him. I wasn’t the owner.

prayer-4As often happens following severe droughts in South Texas, the many weather gods provided too much rain. Severe damaging floods came after the months of virtually no rain. As Father Conor McGrath was reading announcements from the Parish Bulletin in his wonderful Irish brogue, he adlibbed a joke by saying, “And would the gentleman who is still praying for rain please stop.”

Another time McGrath told us the joke about the man named Thomas, who continuously prayed to win the lottery and began to lose his faith. The gambler blamed God’s failure to grant the prayer as promised. I can still hear Father Conor deliver the punch line from God, “Thomas, I need a wee bit of help here. You’re needin’ ta buy a ticket first.” We must do our part.

Valerie Tarico made some good points in her post about why some prayer is neither valuable nor innocuous. It encouraged me to make my own case.

She said, “Atheists, agnostics and other secular activists may think prayer is hogwash, but a lot of other people like praying and they like to think that it works. So, why not just leave the habit alone? It seems harmless enough.”

Later, after she highlights some of the perks of prayer, she presents her case against the troubling hidden costs of petitionary prayer. This is her list of 7 problems, with comments that are mostly mine.

Petitionary prayer:

  1. Suppresses critical thought. During our meal, if you begin to choke on a turkey bone, would you prefer that I pray for your recovery, or would you like me to perform the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge the culprit?
  2. Undermines agency and responsibility. Let go and let God, right? We are not responsible for anything this way. Remember the painter? I agree that sometimes it’s good to let go of things. But, we need to do what we can (think Serenity Prayer).
  3. prayer-2Promotes a habit of self-deception. If God is right, why bother? Wouldn’t he do that same thing even if we didn’t explain it?
  4. Distracts from more promising endeavors. This is one of the most profitable things sold by TV preachers. What else might those resources do? Feed the hungry or clothe the naked?
  5. Promotes victim blaming, including self-blame. If God grants requests from some, what does that say about those who get no response? If God heals your wart, but not mine; something must be bad about me.
  6. Teaches people to mistake abuse for love. Deferring to Ms. Tarico, “Being forced to praise and adore a powerful person who requires vulnerable dependents to beg for what they need…and who then grants or denies these requests in some inscrutable pattern, is not love. It is abuse—and as many former Christians have testified, it primes people, especially women—for further abuse.”
  7. Replaces compassionate action. There are times for inaction and times to act. We are all in this together and helping one another is what we do best. Tarico refers to Julia Sweeney’s monologue, “Letting Go of God.” I watched it. It’s well-done and funny, but two hours long. If you’re of the Free Thinker persuasion, watch it — especially if you were raised Catholic.

As I’ve implied, some types of prayer, like contemplative meditation, gratitude, and communing with something greater than ourselves, may be useful even for non-believers. But, Valerie Tarico said it best.

“It’s time to get off of our knees and take care of ourselves and the people around us. We’ve long passed the infancy and adolescence of our species. Regressive fantasies can be delightful, but at some point, clutching a teddy bear and squeezing our eyes shut and lisping “Now I lay me down to sleep” ceases to be sweet. The world needs adults who, in Sweeney’s words, are willing to get up in the morning and mind the store.”

May we all live in the real world and acknowledge that we need each other more than invisible fantasies born from the minds of men.
Mind the gaps, the store, and look both ways.

Atheist Perspective on Christmas

 

atheist-xmas-3Since this is my first December and holiday season as an admitted atheist, it seems fitting to discuss Christmas from my nonbeliever perspective.

Much has been said and written about the secularism surrounding the holidays, and I’ve decided to provide my personal perspective. This is my 70th time partaking of the Christmas season celebration. So, much of what I say and do has precedence in that it’s what I’ve been doing for years.

As I write this I’m hearing the news from Germany of a large truck being driven into a crowd of people celebrating the holidays and the Russian Ambassador to Turkey being assassinated. The majority opinion seems to be that both events may be related to terrorism and religion, or at least god politics of some kind. And the list of such deeds goes on. None of this is in the holiday spirit. But as Christopher Hitchens subtitled and wrote in his book, “Religion poisons everything.”

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.” (To such heights of evil are men driven by religion) ~ Lucretius

For years, this was the season when we tried to spend quality time with family. Beginning with Thanksgiving, it’s a busy travel season in America as families reunite for celebrations. We’re surrounded by hype. But I enjoy the hype more than I like to admit.

I look forward to Halloween each year, partly because it marks the start of this season. Christmas is a happy time, a great time for most children. There are football playoffs, and bowl games. Winter begins, Yule is celebrated, and I like to look at snow. Dealing with it sucks.

In the home of my birth, the smell of the house changed, mostly due to the tree. But the house would also take on the aroma of whatever adult beverage had been opened. Aunt Lorry, who seldom drank alcohol, always brought port wine. Port is some powerful vino.

The thrill of gifts and happy people occupied our thoughts. We went to church. A little hut was built in the yard next to the church with a nativity scene inside it, behind thick glass and a locked door. There was a slot to deposit money for the poor, until someone started to rob it. Then they stopped using the box, and eventually the little hut went away. They must have assumed the thief was not one of the poor.

I don’t recall going to midnight Mass as a kid, but I probably did once or twice. Years later, I went several times. It was always crowded. All those Catholics who only went to Mass on Christmas and Easter would show up. By then, there was only one Mass on Christmas Day — all the others were vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. Going to church on Christmas day was inconvenient, at best.

Christmas was a “holy day of obligation” which meant that if you did not go to Mass that day, you would burn for eternity unless you made it to confession. I’m oversimplifying, but I was a child back then.

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Some Christian denominations don’t celebrate Christmas at all. And for non-Christians, it’s not celebrated as anything more than a secular holiday. But Christian or not, no one in the USA escapes the hype of Christmas. I provide gifts and greetings appropriate to this time of year and the holiday. I helped to decorate a big tree and to put up other decorations this year. I went to our party and may have sung some Christmas songs.

I fully understand the religious aspect of the holiday season (be it Christian, Pagan, Jewish [Hanukkah], or others). While I don’t agree with any religion, I think the intended spirit of caring is good. For me, family, friends, caring, giving, and delighting in nature are all the good things. So, like many atheists and other non-Christians, I join the party as I have for almost ¾ of a century.

atheist-xmas-2I’ll continue to celebrate the season much as I always have: eating and drinking too much while overdosing on football. It’s a fun cultural and secular holiday with many features that benefit life, whether one believes in any god or not.

I don’t see my enjoying the holidays as a big deal any more than I do saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, or “God damn it” when things go wrong, or when I use the word “god” or “Jesus Christ” to express pain or anger. But cussing is another story for a different blog. Unfortunately, the holiday season is a stressful or bad time for some people.

atheist-xmas-5If it busts someone’s chops that atheists enjoy the holidays, that’s a bummer. We intend no harm by joining the festivities. I suggest those humbugs pass a law that says one must be Christian to enjoy the holidays. Until then, you’ll find me hangin’ ’round the mistletoe.

 

I suggest you try Joey’s take on this by clicking here.

 

Happy Holidays.
May there be peace, love, and a thousand sugar plumb fairies dancing in your heart.
Look both ways and mind the gap.

Who ya gunna trust?

A few weeks back, the headline was about Olympic athletes being robbed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After a few days, it turned out that they were gold medal contenders for the what were you thinking? event. One US swimmer won the liar-liar, pants-on-fire trophy across the world. I wonder how much trust will be restored after all the damage control that followed.

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We know what trust is. We trust others. They don’t earn it. Either we give it, or we don’t. We also trust in portions or on a sliding scale. Some get more than others. We also know that trust depends on a lot of things. Past behavior is a big one.

When will Charlie Brown learn that Lucy will pull the football back at the last second? She does it every year (link).

About the same time that some of our athletes were not being robbed at gun point in Rio, I was in a discussion about trust. I thought I had trust figured out. I learned some things (I usually do when I shut up and listen).

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I’ve never thought about the fact that we need to trust. Carrying that need a bit further, we also need to not trust. It would be great if we had this perfectly figured out. Often, people we trust teach us valuable but painful lessons on who not to trust, and when. As it is with love, when we trust we become vulnerable.

I once asked a work-mate why he left money on the table when he did not put a small percentage of salary into a retirement account, which our employer matched (free money). He didn’t need the money. His answer was, “I don’t trust them.” I was dumbfounded by his answer and I changed the subject. He paid for his lack of trust.

Trust1Competence and honesty are two other conditions that effect our trusting others. Our trust may have a few variables and conditions that go with it. I may trust you to suggest a good dentist for me. I will not trust you to be that dentist.

When my cardiologist showed up to place stents into my coronary arteries, I trusted him more when he told me how many he had done. I liked the guy, but that had nothing to with his competence. His experience did.

So, in addition to the things I mentioned earlier, we may trust others in differing degrees. That degree may increase in proportion to competence and experience. Generally, we don’t trust people who we think are dishonest.

When I discuss trust and judgment, I use the word discernment. Our ability to discern improves over time, often with a trail of painful lessons because we trusted people we shouldn’t have. When Ronald Reagan used the oxymoron “Trust but verify,” he was really saying “do not trust them.”

Erik Erikson theorized that trust is learned during the first couple of years of life. Regardless of how accurate that is, it seems logical and emphasizes the importance of trust in our lives from early on.

What I think is important regarding trust is not how much we have in others. We usually have some, even in total strangers. What is important is that we learn to use reliable judgment, based on experience to discern how to trust.

In her TED talk, What We Don’t Understand About Trust, Onora O’Neill says it much better than I can. Click here to watch it.

Trust4Trusting seems natural. America’s motto is In God We Trust. Another is E pluribus unum (out of many, one), but in 1956 we wanted to make sure that our country was not confused with the atheistic USSR.

In America, it seems that we want to trust more as we deal with each other every day. Are we worthy of the trust of others? Who do we trust?

It’s Magic

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I like the word magic. I like magical things. I like to use it to explain things I don’t understand. I like to say it – magic. I enjoy the way it sounds and how it feels when I say it. I like words ending with the hard K sound. Duck, truck, shmuck, fu**…; you get the idea. Back in the day, when something was unexplainable, we used to say it was PFM (pure fu**ing magic). I still use that initialism.

Magic1While I may not believe that supernatural beings exist (okay, maybe some duende), I still like to refer to unexplainable, cool happenings as magic. I try not to use the words miracle or miraculous in a serious sense. But magical works for me. If others want to use words like miracle to describe things, I have no issue with that. If the Pope wants to use it’s magic to explain anything, who am I to object?

Rally cap (inside out, upside down)
Rally cap (inside out, upside down)

I avoid serious superstition, but I’m not opposed to having fun with it. I’m a baseball fan. Consequently, I also enjoy words like jinx, luck (bad or good), the rally cap behavior, and the movie Field of Dreams is a favorite.

The Hail Mary pass by Roger the Dodger.
The Hail Mary pass by Roger the Dodger.

And has not American football brought new meaning to the Hail Mary? A heavenly pass to win the game (apparently attributable to the mother of Jesus) – thus, a miraculous win. It could have just been a PFM pass. But no. We had to bring somebody’s mom into it.

One definition of magic is the use of things to exploit supernatural forces in the universe with the power to influence earthly events.

Our belief in magic has been around since the earliest humans. It continues to have important spiritual, religious, and medicinal purposes.

Magic can also be used to mean wonderful or exciting, which is my preferred usage.

Magic3The origin of the word, or the concept of magic, seems to be rooted in the religions of ancient times.

Witches allegedly performed magic, and we know how that worked out for many of them in years past. I am no more opposed to witchcraft than I am to magic tricks – just saying. I don’t need wiccans raining fire down on me.

All of that definition and historical stuff is too much for my contemporary old brain. We change the definitions and uses of words all the time. When I say magic, I don’t mean any of that religious stuff, nor do I think it is spiritual (okay, maybe just a nudge, for fun). It’s just my way of saying that “I don’t know why. It just is.”

I’ve written about the magic of art, the magic of relationships, the magical beauty of nature, the magical feelings we have, and many other uses of the word. I must like it. And regardless of anyone else’s religious, spiritual, or superstitious beliefs; I can use the word magic as much as I want. Right?

Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette

I like musicians and magicians. I’m not sure which one I enjoy more, but watching magic is more interesting whereas music is more about how I feel. I may need music, maybe not so much magic. I enjoy the same song many more times than I would the same magic trick.

I don’t think I can name a magician who believes that his or her magic has a religious basis. There may be some, but I am not talking about shamanism. I know of one magician who is also, conveniently, a musician. But he would deny any spiritual connection to his performances.

Penn Jillette is an entertainer. He is a magician, musician, juggler, comedian, actor, and a best-selling author. He is also an atheist. Penn detests any misleading deception regarding the essence of his magic. He clearly states that what he does are essentially tricks to fool people. He is known for openly divulging how entertainer magicians do their tricks.

Here is clip of Penn and Teller magic.

May the magic in life produce wonder, awe, and gratitude in your heart. May you find your own personal brand of magic in people, nature, art, music, and love. Then you can spread your joyful fairy dust around the world to magically make it a better place for all.

Click here to watch Pilot perform It’s Magic. Lordy, those boys were young. Since this is no wonder of lyrical magic, no need to watch it all to get the point.

Finally, a little Doris Day magic for you—just click here.

Quotes

Originally, I planned to list a few of my favorite quotes. Then, I decided to ask my wife and three adult children for theirs – from music, movies, or literature. But any quotes or sayings were fine. After they got going, it turned into quite a game for them.

YolondaYolonda, my wife of 50 years (we married at age 2), is a native Texan and has her ‘druthers.’

“Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.” ~ Song by Travis Tritt

“Goodness gracious, great balls of fire.” ~ Song by Jerry Lee Lewis

“Love will keep us alive.” ~ Song by the Eagles

“Life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.” ~ Song by John Michael Montgomery

“I’m Texas born and Texas bred, and when I die, I’ll be Texas dead.” And, “You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl.” ~ Texas sayin’s

BillyBilly on right, (w/Phish bassist Mike Gordon), our oldest child is in his mid-40s, a very nice, loving, big-man. He’s always been an avid reader, a talented writer, a movie aficionado, and a hard-core Phish-head. Add bicyclist, father, hubby, friend, musician, and deep-thinker.

“San Francisco in the middle sixties was a special time and place to be a part of it. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run…but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of the time and the world. Whatever it meant…” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

“You’re either on the bus…or off the bus.” ~ Ken Kesey

“Dreams come true; without that possibility nature would not incite us to have them.” ~ John Updike

“We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one.” ~ John Updike

“I love you, Butternuts.” ~ From the movie Half Baked. (horse’s name was Buttercup)

“Wherever you go, there you are.” ~ Book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

“Whatever you do take care of your shoes.” ~ Lyrics from Phish song, Cavern

“Set the gearshift to the high gear of your soul…you’ve got to run like an antelope out of control.” ~ Lyrics from Phish song, Run Like an Antelope

StevenSteven is our middle-child, now in his early 40s. He’s another good guy. An avid sports fanatic (Spurs and Cowboys) and mountain biker. Add hubby, step-father extraordinaire, house music DJ (Steve Balance), friend, and all-around cool-dude (maybe pragmatic and analytical). He initially said that he had no fav quotes, but when he and his sista’ got to texting, there they were.

“I am Groot.” ~ Repeated by Groot, a sentient alien character embodied in the shape of a tree and member of Marvel’s superhero team ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Due to its frequent appearance in the 2014 film adaptation of the comic book series, the quote quickly gained recognition among the fans of the film, similar to the fan art surrounding the phrase Hodor, which is the only phrase uttered by the character in HBO’s medieval fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.

“Turn out the lights, the party’s over” ~ Willie Nelson Song made more famous on Monday Night Football by Don Meredith.

“That’s what I love about these High School girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” ~ David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. (Billy also liked this one)

“Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly…. I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.” ~ Dwight Schrute in TV show, The Office

“Got a joint man? …. Be a lot cooler if you did.” David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused.

I’m not superstitious, I’m only a little stitious.” ~ Michael Scott

Julie and CAOur beautiful ‘baby’ is Julie. She can recite every line from the movie Grease (oddly did not quote it), is an artist, a thirty-something, 21st Century hippie, a mom and step-mother. I think she is a wonderful writer and, like her mom, a Grammar-Nazi. She lives in the middle of nowhere with her hubby, son, occasionally a step-son, or two lovely elves, too many cats, horses, and sometimes (because he likes to chase the horses) a dog.

“Tell me about the f***ing golf shoes.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson, from movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.” ~ Max Ehrmann

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” ~ Dr. Seuss

“Woman are like tea bags; we don’t know our true strength until we’re in hot water.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“So, Jesus is a superhero like Superman, or Batman, right?” ~ Julie’s 10-year-old son, CA, at age four.