I dislike prayer.
Okay, that’s an oversimplification and thus a lie. Praying when you’re in a crisis is perfectly understandable. I can see how this might make it easier to cope with bad things that are happening to you. (I find no comfort in this idea, but hey, whatever floats your boat.) It’s not the act of prayer itself that bothers me—context is important. What I’m referring to is when religious believers who weren’t involved in the crisis say “I’ll pray for you” or “Let’s pray for the victims.” As I have said, the words are not the problem, but what happens after this pledge? It’s far too common for believers to approach prayer as if it’s the solution to a problem. It isn’t.
When someone says “I’ll pray for you” to someone in crisis, what I hear is this: “Gosh, your situation makes me feel bad, but I’m not actually going to do anything to fix it. In order to assuage the feeling of guilt I will experience for my inaction, I’ll just think about it in the general direction of the sky, and it’ll be just like I’m helping!” As far as I can tell, prayer is just a method of cognitive dissonance removal.
I see a number of recurring trends with some of the more pervasive social problems, and I can’t help but think they stem from the interaction of a few powerful subconscious processes. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
1) People generally want to think of themselves (and their in-groups) as being good people. Even when this does not hold, people still view themselves as better than out-group members.
2) The status quo is the normal state of affairs and is thus assumed to be correct (or the null hypothesis).
Add on to this the following proposition, and you can see how stagnation can take root:
3) A criticism of one’s in-group is often interpreted as a direct personal attack.
- Because membership in a group conveys a schema, an attack on that group also becomes an attack on that schema, which has become part of a person’s self-identity. See again self-schema/self-image, linked above. Additionally, the individual may feel a need to respond to feelings of guilt-by-association—another fallacy.
Before you start writing up an angry response, these attitudes, and coping mechanisms aren’t universal. Don’t waste your time by whining, “Not everyone is like this!” I know. I just said so. But a significant number of people are, and this is why consciousness-raising is important. I’m not trying to suggest that this is the case with all people. Stay with me until the end. Keep reading…
What is faith? As it’s most commonly used, faith falls into one of two categories:
1) Belief without evidence (e.g., faith in gods)
2) Confidence gained through evidence (e.g., faith in friends/family)
Faith is often said to be one of these abstract “virtues” to which all people should aspire, but I subscribe to a far different interpretation of faith. In terms of the first definition, faith is a disease of the mind.