Thursday, 11 February 2010

Does Prayer work without belief?

What if there was no God? is a blog post which set me thinking.  I agree with the tenor of the post - that my religious practice is of such practical use to me that I would continue with it even if I were to lose my faith.  So how does that work?

I have long wondered about this and the conclusion that I have reached is that when God tells us to do things it is because they are good for us!  So for example apparent threats of punishment are instead warnings of danger.  For example when we told my children that if they put their fingers in the electricity  they would be electrocuted, I was not threatening to do it as punishment, rather warning them that actions have consequences.

Of course this is a "God centred" view of things, but there do appear to be secular practices, such as meditation and NLP*, which appear to resonate with religious practices.  It can be argued that this works in the other direction - that things which work have long been appropriated by religion.  However, as a pragmatist I am more drawn to the impact that things have, rather than the theoretical reasons why people do them.  If only more people did them, without arguing about why,  the world would be a better place.  Peter Rollins talks about this in this video - the good bits start about 7 minutes in!

* The idea in NLP that you can change things by visualising them is very close to the idea of prayer being something that changes you, rather than something that changes the situation.  Similarly the idea of Anchoring might explain why Spiritual Directors will suggest praying in the same place in the same posture each time, and  choosing these so that they are different from other activities.  Perhaps there was a point to the "hands together, eyes closed" of my youth.

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