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Atheist prayers

December 21, 2009

Final Fantasy Tactics Wizard

Final Fantasy Tactics…ahh, it was a fun game.

But I’m not quite sure if I agree with how the faith system works. Faith in that game powers magic. More faith = better magic.

This works in a logical way for the most part. If your wizard has more faith, his spells should be more powerful…if your priestess has more faith, her healing should be more effective. And so on.

But what if you have less faith? Well, it makes sense that if you have less faith, you are healed less (I guess faith healing is a placebo?).

But if you have less faith, then you also take less magic damage. So…want to avoid dying from spells? You can avoid the wrath of an angry god the FFT way simply by not believing. What?!

OK, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about…What I wanted to talk about were prayers from atheists. Personally, I don’t pray. When I have, I’ve only gotten the sense that my message is going to a wrong address. Lots of stupors of thoughts. Not so good for answers.

Yet, I always hear things like, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Apparently, if you get the bejeezus scared out of you well enough, you will get the Jesus scared into you. (I think this is flawed for many reasons, but I won’t get into that.)

Instead, what I wanted to talk about was prayer as a ritual or a tradition. For example, whenever my family is going on a road trip, we always start with a prayer. Someone has to say something about avoiding the “destroying angel.” (Actually, seeing a destroying angel would be pretty cool, but that’s just me.)

But who will give the prayer? Hmm…

My dad knows I don’t believe, so I can’t help but think that he asks me to bear the prayer for some kind of purpose. What purpose? I don’t know.

But I wonder…let’s say prayer has efficacy. Wouldn’t its efficacy be maximized by someone who believed in it? Wouldn’t it be better for my father to pray than for me?

This is kinda morbid, but I always feel that if we do get into a crash on a trip that I’ve prayed on, then I’ll just say, “That’s what you get!”

Or maybe I have to be the one to pray because I have the least faith. Then, if the destroying angel does come, he will be completely ineffective to my apostate constitution.

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28 Comments
  1. Wow, does your dad still ask you to pray? And you do? What do you say??? I kind of wish I could hear. Especially if you’re praying for protection from destroying angels. Awesome…

  2. I think it’s a pretty standard prayer.

    Dear Heavenly Father,

    We thank thee for this day (wow; never leave that line at home). We thank thee for (insert things relevant to family and friends.) We ask thee for safety…that the destroying angel may pass us by without harming us, etc., In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

    It’s like writing a business letter. Es muy simple…is…is NO BIG DEAL.

  3. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I must say, I find it fascinating that you pray with your family. I’m trying to remember if it was me or them that put a stop to my praying. I honestly can’t remember.

    Going back to your Final Fantasy analogy where you say, “You can avoid the wrath of an angry god the FFT way simply by not believing. What?!”

    I have found that to be true in my case and have heard that from many others. I know, for me, there were certain temptations that I had that are no longer temptations for me now that I don’t believe. I would call it the forbidden fruit syndrome- you always want what you can’t have. A believer might equate the situation to that story about a man in a village (or wherever) that was surrounded by the devil’s angels tempting the man. A person who can see them comments, “Wow, that person must be pretty wicked.” The person next to them says, “No, he is extremely righteous, that is why the devil has to try so hard on him.” So, while some might say the devil no longer needs to try on me since he has already won, I would say that the magic only has effect on you if you believe in its power and existence. Similar to those who believe in ghosts or UFOs or whatever, 99% of the time, they are the ones who will report seeing them.

  4. I’ve always thought that “atheists in foxholes” thing was dumb, especially coming from someone who considers himself or herself a believer. If a believer says “there are no atheists in foxholes,” does that mean we should believe in God because our belief will be some kind of magic talisman that protects us from harm? Terrible theology…

    Have any of those people ever read the Book of Job? (Or the gospels for that matter…?)

  5. I don’t think the idea is that belief will be a magic talisman that will protect us from harm. Rather, I think the people are arguing that everyone is “built in” with this belief in a magic talisman. The argument is that even people who claim not to believe, when the chips are really down, will cry out to God.

    I think the atheist in foxholes argument falls apart for a different reason. You can commonly conceive of someone turning to God in a time of need…but just as well, don’t people also hear stories about believers tragically losing their faith after some terrible experience? So it seems like it’s really the *foxhole* that makes — and breaks — everything.

  6. That view of foxholes is much better theology!

    I think the impulse to go to God (or the gods) because we want to avoid harm (or because we want something really bad) is a form of idolatry…

    I think the power of the Christ story is because it teaches us the opposite moral. True faith is about letting those things go… “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

  7. Well, the FFT idea is not without parallels in Mormon belief.

    Remember that it’s always the religious Nephites who are getting whomped-on by God, not the pagan/faithless Lamanites.

    The only reason Lamanites get whooped in the BoM is when the Nephites got a divine power-up. Which just reinforces my point that this divine-upgrade stuff only seems to work on the faithful – both positively and negatively.

    • hmm…that’s kinda interesting.

      So, non-religious (like the lamanites, so to speak) have a base value, but they aren’t affected by buffs and debuffs…meanwhile, the religious (like the nephites, so to speak), have a base value which may be lower, equal or higher (!) than the non-religious’, but they are affected by buffs and debuffs which can either make them more powerful or weaker.

      take out the video game terminology and it probably still applies lol

  8. The only times we see God’s punishment-reward scheme even applying to the Lamanites is when they are either joining the covenant people, or leaving them (like with Laman and Lemuel).

    So who knows? Maybe the scheme does only apply to religious people.

  9. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I thought military whompings happened because of superior technology.

    “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”
    Judges 1:19

    That was slightly tongue in cheek, but the Book of Mormon has an interesting mix of tactical, technological superiority giving the upperhand, but at other points talks of spiritual strength turning into physical dominance.

    Frankly, I think from football victories, to lottery wins, to military victories- those who win will quickly declare that god was on their side. The losing side, will probably chalk it up to their own (sometimes spiritual) weaknesses. It’s hard to think of a group that would say, “Oh, God must have been on their side. Perhaps I need to switch sides.”

  10. “It’s hard to think of a group that would say, “Oh, God must have been on their side. Perhaps I need to switch sides.””

    Maybe today, but it was a common occurrence in ancient societies. The victory of one side in battle was often ascribed to the superiority of their god(s). Often, a religious system was simply a symbolic figurehead for all the native advantages in bravery, civic virtue, strength, technology, and ideas that one group had over the other.

    It’s quite a convenient system if you think about it.

  11. Oh, and I meant to say that people really did switch sides in ancient times due to the other side’s god being stronger.

  12. Seth,

    but even the “switching god(s)” thing fell out of favor at some points.

    What did exilic Jews say about their loss? Was it, “Oh, our God was defeated?” Not quite. It was more like, “Dang, we have been so wayward, but our God is SOOOO powerful that he punished us through this way…so eventually, he’ll show everyone what’s what.”

    • According to the biblical narrative, the pre-exilic Jews were already worshiping other gods, either by abandoning YHWHism altogether or by mingling the religions of foreign nations with YHWHism. So switching back to “true” YHWHism was switching teams in the face of defeat.

      However, to be sure, there were plenty of “Jews” we’ll call them (for lack of a better term) who did convert to the religions of the nations that conquered them after being carried off into exile. Their stories simply aren’t the focus of the post-exile narratives because the Old Testament is, from a historical perspective, propaganda for the Judaism that emerged after the exile. That’s why “we strayed from worshiping YHWH, we were carried off because the false gods we served couldn’t save us, now we’re turning whole-heartedly back to YHWH” is the main narrative that you see.

      Whenever I mention on my private blog that I’m struggling with something, my friend crazywomancreek from fMh usually says she’s going to say some “atheist prayers” for me.

  13. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Going along with this discussion, when I was a Book of Mormon reader, after having the whole book drill into me the idea that God on your side increased your chance of victory, it always stuck out to me when I would reach the end of the book and both sides were considered evil. These words always screamed out to me:

    ” 11 And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually.
    12 And there never had been so great wickedness among all the children of Lehi, nor even among all the house of Israel, according to the words of the Lord, as was among this people.
    13 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did take possession of the city Desolation, and this because their number did exceed the number of the Nephites.

    After an enormous number of battles where the different sides won because God was on their side, it finally came down to numbers when God was rejected.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Whoops! Reference is Mormon 4.

  14. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    As someone who thinks that religious experiences are often products of the mind, it is always interesting for me to hear the stories of former believers that used to have their nightly dreams haunted by Satan and demons and such. Such things were true fears for them when they where believers. They lived in fear of the devil and his minions. I have heard the stories of a number of former Mormons who, after personally coming to terms with the idea that it is not true, had those dreams go away and they are no longer haunted. Just having those go away has been an enormous increase in happiness and comfort in their life.

    • Which would probably mesh well with the belief I’ve sometimes heard expressed in church that Satan spends most of his efforts on those who are the most threat to him. The horrific persecution of Joseph Smith is usually taken as a case-in-point. Certainly Joseph would have been more happy and contented doing something else in life.

      Not saying I think this idea is applicable in all instances, but it is a theme within Mormon belief.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Exactly Seth,

      This was sort of a continuation of the first comment I made on this post where I discussed that. I talked about a parable of sorts. Read it and let me know if you have heard the story before. I remember hearing it a number of times and that’s the story my Ex-girlfriend used when I discussed this. The only area where that explanations falls flat is where the church claims to have the gospel of peace and joy, but when people finally feel that when they get out of it.

  15. I don’t know Guest Writer.

    That seems kinda like saying that Gandhi didn’t promote a message of peace because he never experienced that much of it during his life.

  16. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I’m not saying the Mormon church doesn’t promote peace I’m saying that it doesn’t provide peace for everyone, although it would like to think it does. When it doesn’t, the members blame the individual who didn’t find it rather than being willing to admit they might not have the one truth for all.

  17. I guess that personal peace was never my main goal or expectation from religion. So it never threw me off that much when I didn’t get it.

  18. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Actually, I’m with you on that one Seth. I always thought that the God of the Bible and, at times, the Book of Mormon was a very scary, vindictive sort of being. Also, things relating to blacks and women in the church and other teachings always really upset me. I was never comfortable with a lot of the teachings. But all of that didn’t matter if it was true. I would say to myself, “I disapprove of God’s actions, but who am I to tell God what to do- he’s God!” Since the subjective warm fuzzies were something I could never get concerning the church, I based my testimony on the fact that Joseph Smith story was one that I could not talk away. I could not get around the fact that I couldn’t believe that a young man could have written the Book of Mormon and I couldn’t believe that so many men would be lying (however, I was always happy to chalk up any of the hundreds of early testimonies that sounded bad as just anti-Mormon lies). It wasn’t until I started exploring into church history that I realized history was not what I had been taught and, in fact, I no longer found it hard to disbelieve, but extremely hard to believe.

    That was kind of long-winded, but yes, I can agree with you. However, whenever I speak with anyone about the objective evidence, they tell me to go to the subjective. What many don’t understand is that the subjective, for me, has been against the church since I was a youngin’. I am finally whole.

  19. The interesting thing is, GW800+, is that Seth has a pretty interesting, yet different accounting of religion than even that, if I understand it correctly.

    Gosh, everyone has such different motivations!

    For example, you describe going to the objective because the subjective fails. So, it doesn’t matter if the church isn’t comforting because it is true…and if that truthfulness ever is adequately cast into doubt, then there is no reason for one to prostrate oneself to it.

    On the other hand, just from seeing him post across other sides, Seth seems to have a somewhat different idea of religion. It’s pretty slippery, actually. Religion isn’t *necessarily* about the objective facticity, and so controversies in history, actions, etc., just bounce away. And yet, personal peace also isn’t the objective, so any personally felt crises are born.

    Instead, if I understand correctly, it’s about “community.” Always about community. Since Mormonism IS his community, he owes allegiance to it.

    Is that about right, Seth? Hmm…I think I want to write a new post…

  20. That’s part of it. I’ll have to read your new post.

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