Est. May 2008

03 July, 2013

Atheist Churches And Atheist Prayers

Two related stories today; our first comes from CNN’s Belief blog: Church without God - by design.  Atheists have begun building their own ‘churches’ with all the trappings of the traditional church: ‘hymns’, ‘sermons’, fellowship, and the like.  And I tend to get a kick out of stories like these because with all their denial of the existence of God (and the vituperative reactions of some of the more vocal members of their belief system against the church in general) they end up having to swipe the trappings of their ‘enemy’ (as it were).

Now don’t get me wrong; I feel some sympathy for atheists; after all, only a few decades ago they were pretty much ostracized from society for their nonbeliefs, and to an extent even today, what with the increasing pace of secularization of society through government, schools, and the like, I’m sure there are some who still feel marginalized.  If building a ‘church’ (after all, the Greek word we commonly translate as ‘church’ (ekklesia) means ‘assembly of people’) and assuming the outward trappings of traditional religious worship gives them comfort, hey, more power to them.

But (you knew this was coming)…

Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard, says of these meetings, “It doesn’t require and it doesn't even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”  Hate to quibble, sir, but actually it does require and it does imply a specific set of beliefs: the belief in atheism, which is the belief that no God exists.

Shelly Segal, a singer who performs at these meetings, says, “I don't believe in a great power to say thank you to,” Segal sings. “But that won’t take away from my gratitude.”  I’m sincerely curious what Ms Segal is grateful for; after all, the ‘doctrine’ (if you will) of atheism is that we’re all nothing more than a conglomeration of atoms, and when we die we simply cease to exist.  And if she’s grateful, is she grateful to anything?  As a Christian, I’m grateful to God that He made me, that He sent His Son to wash away my sins, and that He doesn’t immediately act on his hatred of sin and send me to hell.

One more (and I’m not sure if this is from the article’s author or from Mr. Epstein): ‘Humanists boast a proud freethinking streak, and some at the Harvard event said they don’t want to be associated with any sort of dogma or belief system - or even a system based on disbelief.’  Whether or not they want that association, they’ve got it; it’s their albatross, so to speak, and they might want to consider dealing with it – perhaps by acknowledging it as their belief system.

The second article is on something I think is a bit problematic for atheists: atheists who pray.  Here’s the problem:
1. a devout petition to God or an object of worship.
2. a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.
3. the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.
4. a formula or sequence of words used in or appointed for praying: the Lord's Prayer.
5. prayers, a religious observance, either public or private, consisting wholly or mainly of prayer.
If prayer is a petition to God (or any other higher being), and atheists don’t believe in God (or any other higher being), who or what, precisely, are they praying to?

Sigfrid Gold may give us a hint:
“If you say, ‘I ought to have more serenity about the things I can’t change,’ versus ‘Grant me serenity,’ there is a humility, a surrender, an openness. If you say, ‘grant me,’ you’re saying you can’t do it by yourself. Or you wouldn’t be there,” said Gold, who lives in Takoma Park.’
For Mr. Gold, it seems, praying to a God humbles you, and he’s not having any of that; instead, he prays to…whom?

Himself; after all, by saying I ought he lays the onus (if you will) on himself to make the change, rather than asking for assistance.

And isn’t that what atheists all seem to be doing?  They don’t believe in a God (or gods) who can and will help people, so they depend on themselves; any prayers they ‘send up’ ultimately are being sent in a great big circle right back to themselves.  For them, it seems, prayer is little more than self-help.

But atheists are beginning to notice the power of prayer – and other ‘religious’ observances – in the lives of others:
Atheists deny religion’s claim of a supernatural god but are starting to look more closely at the “very real effect” that practices such as going to church, prayer and observance of a Sabbath have on the lives of the religious, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for the secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry. “That’s a big hole in atheist life,” he said. “Some atheists are saying, ‘Let’s fill it.’ Others are saying, ‘Let’s not.’ ”’
Back to Mr. Gold:
“God, if You want me to actually believe you exist, I’ll do it; I’m not married to my intellectual pride; You’ve given me so much, just give me a little whisper,” he wrote in a prayer included in a recent essay about his journey.

“But God has maintained her stately silence.”
Really, Mr. Gold?  When you began praying, what happened to you?
An atheist, Gold took up prayer out of desperation. Overweight by 110 pounds and depressed, the 45-year-old software designer saw himself drifting from his wife and young son. He joined a 12-step program for food addiction that required — as many 12-step programs do — a recognition of God and prayer.

Four years later, Gold is trim, far happier in his relationships and free of a lifelong ennui. He credits a rigorous prayer routine — morning, night and before each meal — to a very vivid goddess he created with a name, a detailed appearance and a key feature for an atheist: She doesn’t exist.
Mr. Gold, you don’t believe in your ‘goddess’ because she really doesn’t exist; however, God does exist, and He has spoken to you, sir – all you need to do is listen.

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