Ignorance is bliss-or is it?

March 2, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

Sometimes I wish I believed in prayer.  I wish that I could plead, I wish that I could sacrifice, I wish that I could count beads or light a flame and a great omnipotent being would be coerced or convinced to grant my desire.  Some people think that you can pray for anything and that sometimes those prayers are granted.  They pray for trivial things, such as a new house, a car, for air in a nearly flat tire, or that they won’t be late for work.  My favorite example of this is expressed well in the old Janis Joplin’s song, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”.  For those of you too young to remember Janis Joplin, her gravelly voice belting out those words was unforgettable.  The lyrics are:  

“Mercedes Benz”

 Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?  

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?  

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?  

You can find nearly every song lyric on A-Z lyrics universe, check it out.  But a recording of Joplin is better.

I wouldn’t use my power of persuasion, if I had it, to ask for those things.  I’d ask that my father’s final days be free of pain.  I’d ask that my family member be healed.  I’d ask for the healthy, normal birth of my expected grandchild.  I’d get really generous, and I’d pray that your loved ones be healed, that all people live in peace, that everyone on earth have enough to satisfy their basic needs.   

But I don’t believe I have that power. And I don’t believe there is an omnipotent being that listens to my prayers and caters to my requests.  

Before you jump to the conclusion that I simply don’t know better, and that I have just never experienced the power of prayer in my life, else I would be a believer, let me assure you that I have in fact, “been there, done that.”  I have witnessed firsthand unexplained events.  Hands have been laid upon me and I believed myself cured.  What is more, I have laid hands upon others and believed that I was a tool of God and that the others were healed.  But too many times it was evident that people were faking it, or more often believed simply because they wanted to believe.  But the purpose of this post is not to explain how I went believer and nonbeliever (but at some point I might write on that subject), but to ask myself if it would be better to believe something that was comforting, even if it were not true.

I do not believe that my dead mother is floating around, watching me, helping me make decisions, comforting me in times of stress and so forth.  I find that thought tasteful (when does she stop watching, does she watch when I’m in the bathroom?).  But my sister finds it comforting.  Is she better off being comforted by something that may not be true?

I think people believe in religion for two reasons: one, because they have been taught to do so from a young age and two, most people find it is comforting.  How wonderful it would be to think your actions could cause someone’s leukemia to go into remission.  How wonderful it would be to accept the bad events of life “God’s will.”

It would be wonderful if I were a child and not willing to take responsibility for my own life.  I could beg, cry, plea, or blame.  But is it really?  Isn’t it better to know that I really don’t have control over a lot of things in this world?  And knowing my limitations, then exercise control over the things I can control?  I don’t pray that we have good legislators.  I listen to speeches, I read things by and about the candidates, I get off my tush and hand out voter education literature.  It takes a lot more thinking this way.  If there is a God, she gave me a brain and I think I’m supposed to use it.

Accept something because it is comforting?  I don’t think so.  I’d rather know the truth.


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Category: Consumerism, Meaning of Life, Religion, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

My life's goal is to make a difference; to help those stuck in the mire of poverty and ignorance. I am an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves, whether from ignorance, from lack of eloquence or simple lack of opportunity.

Comments (5)

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  1. Vicki says:

    Aren't you kind of setting up a strawman here? Making the assumption that prayer = childish whining for toys and that religious faith =wishful thinking.

    Personally I agree with Meister Eckhardt's (14 c. CE Christian mystic): "If the only prayer you ever utter is 'Thank you,' it will be enough."

    There are a lot of deeply religious people on the front lines of social change who refute the image of religious belief you portray here.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    I'm fascinated by the topic of useful errors: beliefs we maintain even though we know (or should know) that they can't be true (or that there is no good evidence for believing them). What is striking to me is that such useful errors are not limited to those with religious beliefs. We all have such beliefs and we all must have such beliefs, or else we'd go insane. http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=181 (in the cited post, notice how far Nietzsche pushes the usefulness of errors).

  3. Vicki says:

    The Buddhist tradition would go farther than this to say that most of our experience of the world is based on illusion and that even as we cling to these illusions as a method of self-preservation, we cause ourselves and others a lot of suffering.

    It's mostly Western Christianity that makes such a big deal out of belief anyway and trying to enforce what goes on in other people's heads. Buddhists say, if a belief or practice helps you to be a better person, then it is a beneficial belief or practice. If it doesn't, then it isn't.

  4. Devi says:

    Vicki, I don't disagree with the statement that "there are a lot of deeply religious people on the front lines of social change who refute the image of religious belief you portray here." I'm sure there are many that do not use prayer for the trivial things of life, and after all Joplin's song was a parody. But after 40 years of religion, I've never come into contact with a single person who does NOT use prayer to ask for things, even if it is for continued good health, to be led in the right direction, to ask for blessings for our leaders, etc.

    My point is that people use prayer to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.

  5. Vicki says:

    Well, I think we all want to be happy and free from suffering. If we can achieve this without too much effort so much the better.

    So it's natural to want to pray these "Letters to Santa" type prayers at certain stages and points in our life. If a person is stuck at that stage, getting them to stop praying to some specific deity will have very little practical effect. They will spend just as much time wishing and daydrieaming, and will probably start buying "scientifically proven!" miracle cures on the Internet.

    The religious traditions that I am familiar with aim to move people beyond that stage to a point where they take responsibility not only for the mental states that cause their own suffering, but also to take responsibility for reducing the net amount of suffering in the world.

    Prayers like "Give me strength to deal with this" or "Make me an instrument of Thy peace" will always have some beneficial effect in reducing suffering, no matter if you imagine that your are addressing them to a dude with a long white beard, to some abstract panentheistic deity ("the universe") or to your own higher self.

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