Over at JT Eberhard’s excellent WWJTD? blog, we’ve been having a fun game of “feed the Christian to the lions.” A devout believer sent him a prayer, which she hoped he would pass along… and about which she said, quote, “I just thought the words had a lot of merit all by themselves…”
JT posted the prayer. Very kindly, I thought. His reputation as a hardass, confrontational, take- no- prisoners firebrand is clearly undeserved. And he asked his regular atheist readers to, shall we say, comment on this prayer, and discuss whether they did, in fact, find any merit whatsoever to the prayer. More specifically, he asked his readers to take at least one paragraph from the prayer, and eviscerate… er, examine it, and explain why we did or did not find it beautiful.
The lions are having a very tasty meal.
I’m not posting the whole freaking prayer here. JT has a stronger stomach than I do. But I thought y’all might enjoy my response to this challenge.
“I just thought the words had a lot of merit all by themselves…”
Really? You thought these words had merit, even without the assumption of God’s existence that pervades them?
What merit would that be, exactly?
Let’s do as JT requests, and take a sample paragraph:
“Please keep me safe from all danger and harm. Help me to start this day with a new attitude and plenty of gratitude. Let me make the best of each day to clear my mind so that I can hear from You.”
Here’s how this atheist views this paragraph:
There is no magical creator protecting me from danger and harm. And assuming that there is one would make me less likely to act on my own to protect myself from danger and harm. If I am to be protected from danger and harm, I want to rely on myself, and on the people in my life who have shown themselves to be worthy of my trust.
I value both new attitudes and gratitude. I endeavor to keep my mind and heart open, to see the world with fresh eyes as much as possible. And I feel intense gratitude towards the people who have worked hard to make life better. But I assume you mean that I should feel grateful to your god — and I don’t, since I don’t think he exists. And I don’t need help from an invisible magical creator to feel either gratitude or newness. These are emotions and experiences generated by my brain.
I find it useful to clear my mind from time to time. But there is no magical creator speaking to me when I do so. And when I do clear my mind, pretending that the ideas and feelings my brain comes up with are actually coming from an infallible magical being… to me, this is an extremely dangerous concept. It would make me less willing to question these ideas and feelings — even when an overwhelming body of evidence contradicts them. I do not want to deceive myself into thinking that my brain is perfect.
Seriously: What part of this did you think had merit without the assumption of God’s existence? What part of this did you think an atheist would agree with?
If you want to play, too, go read the whole prayer on JT’s blog… as well the other responses to it. And if you post a response there, please do me a huge favor and post it here, too. (And vice versa as well — if you post a response here, please post it at JT’s blog.) Have fun, lions!