A dialogue on prayer

First voice: “So what if he prays a lot? His life; he does whatever he wants.”

Second voice: “But praying’s nonsense! That’s not just my opinion; that’s how things really are.”

First voice: “Ah the arrogance.”

Second voice: “Yes, the arrogance of thinking planes really fly, and did really fly at buildings on 9/11, and we really went to the Moon! The arrogance of best evidence and little reasonable opposition!”

First voice: “Still, facts are inconsequential. His life, he thinks and does whatever he wants.”

Second voice: “Would you be saying the same if he thought running a cheesegrater over his face chased off demons he believes are in him?”

First voice: “He doesn’t believe that!”

Second voice: “No, but he’s praying because he thinks there’s someone listening, caring, maybe even intervening and/or making notes for his future destiny! There’s no-one! He’s wasting his time!”

First voice: “One, it’s his time to waste, right? And he might get a whole lot of comfort off it even if it is a delusion.”

Second voice: “It’s his time… oh, bollocks! If you see someone trapped in a walk-in freezer —”

First voice: “Here we go again with the weird-ass metaphors.”

Second voice: “— freezer, you don’t think it’s his life, who cares, his own business, and just walk away! No! You feel some compassion!”

First voice: “But he doesn’t want to stop praying, does he?”

Second voice: “But if someone was filling out all 606 addenda to the standard tax form, and you knew only the first 15 are required, wouldn’t you tell him he’s mistaken in his zeal? Wouldn’t you tell him he should rather go out, play with his children, spend some time reading a book or hugging his wife or something else nice! He might feel mighty conscientious and dutiful, but he’s still doing work that doesn’t help him any, and will mightily piss off the recipient!”

First voice: “…but he might derive comfort from that, right?”

Second: “Comfort until he gets a sharply worded note from the tax office! And sure thing, he may get comfort from prayer, but there are plenty of horrors that will spring up when his idea of someone listening and reality collide. Suppose a crisis hits — what’s he to think? That he has been bad in some vague way and his troubles are all his own fault? That the random and uneven shit of life is somehow related to his own recent performance? That can drive you mad!”

First voice: “But all people don’t treat prayer that way, do they? It’s just a moment to sit still, collect your thoughts, reorient yourself, and the like.”

Second voice: “So why call it prayer if there’s no God in it? And if there is a God in it, and you suppose he’s more than a mute Listener, don’t you sort of start looking for Answers, as echoes in your head or in the white noise of everyday life? That’s not a good way to run your life: ooh, a tripartite waterfall, this must mean the three-in-one God of Christianity exists and is giving me a sign!”

First voice: “But all the formalities, all the whining, negotiation, supplication, confiding, pleading and praising can be done without thinking there’s a God. It can be just a mental exercise.”

Second voice: “Then for the love of Richard pray to Gozer the Gozerian! Don’t pick the word, name and attributes of this brood of Bronze Age ogres who still have droves of people that think they really exist! That’s as bad as saying you need an idol for personal strength of character and success by focusing on your goals, and picking Ad— picking Josef Stalin! There’s so much baggage in your idol of choice your fancy distinctions won’t matter. Others’ perceptions of you and your own thoughts will be polluted and distorted by all kinds of unintended garbage!”

First voice: “So…”

Second voice: “So I don’t care what he does or likes, nor whether I find it nice or not, and I can’t force his beliefs unless I want to be an intrusive fascist prick, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to let him wallow in a mistake without correcting him. Then if he wants to keep whining up at the uncaring stars he can go on, but people ought to tell him there’s no god, really. That’s not intrusive… well, okay, it is intrusive, but it’s simple human decency too.”

First voice: “But… well, okay. But if you go telling him all this you’ll come across as a humongous prick.”

Second voice: “True, that.”

First voice: “Great Gozer bless us life is complicated.”

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