Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What IS Prayer?

"{…} (Many) do not directly believe in the power of prayer but rather believe in the OTHER’S belief in its power. This may seem ridiculous, and indeed when put like this, it is. However, in many respects this is the kind of behavior we all engage at some level. For instance, we can easily imagine a conversation between two people in which they agreed wholeheartedly that working all the hours God sends in order to make money to buy more goods is detrimental to our mental health and not worth the effort. Yet it is also easy to imagine that, after the conversation, these two people act as if they DID believe that working all the hours God sends to buy more goods is worth the effort. While the people do not consciously believe that this activity gives satisfaction and happiness, they act as if they believe it. Karl Marx called this activity of disbelieving in ones mind while believing in ones activities 'fetishism'. The fetish is any object that we know is not magical or special in any way, yet is treated as though it were special and magical.

In as sense, one can say that while individuals do not believe that working crazy hours for extra money in order to buy more goods will bring happiness, they have vicariously put their trust in another's belief that it does. So who is this "other" that believes on our behalf? It is, of course, not literally another person or group of people, but rather it can be described as the values expressed in the context we inhabit (the ads we watch, the books we read, etc.) While we may disavow these values intellectually, they continue to seep into our lives. While the message can be disbelieved and even ridiculed at a conscious level, it simultaneously commands our obedience at the level of our action. It is only as we change our context that we can effectively change our social existence.

Hence, the various religious practices employed over the millennia are not primarily designed to change how we think about the world, but rather, at their best, they are designed to change how we engage with the world. By developing a culture of spiritual rituals that reflect our beliefs, this new context begins to change how we operate in the world. Thus, it brings our beliefs and practices into closer alignment. We may believe very strongly in certain values, but is only as we inhabit an environment that encourages those values, an environment that also “believes” in those values, that we are able to engage in lasting change.

Concretely speaking, then, when it comes to undermining something like the superstitious belief that a certain prayer can bring wealth and healing, the primary problem does not necessarily rest in convincing the person that this view is silly; that the words are only words and not some kind of magical formula that compels God to act. The chances are that the person will readily agree with this assessment. One needs to go further and convince that person's religious structure of the fact."

Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic

1 comment:

Sully said...

Good stuff so faR in the excerpt I just read here Thanks