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I get email…and an exercise for the readership

So I got this email. I think it’s sincere. Can you answer it?

Dear PZ,

I’ve lurked since forever at Pharyngula, and wanted to ask so many questions, but feared ridicule and contempt. I wish there were room for folks like me at FTB.

I’m what you could call an extreme agnostic, and to the bone, a secular humanist. To keep peace in the family, I do not advertise. But here it is…I still find myself, in moments of extreme stress, essentially falling back on the “prayer” release.

As in, “Dear God, if you do actually exist, and you are not actually an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath, could you please do something about X?”

How does a non-believer get past this NEED to do something, anything…when there really is nothing that can be done at all?

Thank You for your time.

She also sent a picture.

cathulu

There should be room for people in transition to full-blown raging atheism, especially for people with an appreciation of the tentacle esthetic, so let’s try to do better, ‘k?

But my answer to the question would be…don’t worry about it. I’m not going to judge someone’s atheistical purity when they’re lost in despair or fear, and I can sympathize with someone who wants to reach out to someone, anyone for help, and is so desperate that they’re even calling on imaginary help. It’s a reflection of how we are brought up, not our intellectual capacity, and of our current straits, not our rationality.

Speaking for myself, I was cured by cynicism. That imaginary help never answers, and it always seems to be real world people who do right by me (which also says that maybe one way people could be cured of this belief is if other people did a better job of helping). I don’t call on a god for the same reason I don’t call on the Blue Fairy or Optimus Prime — I’m pretty dang sure they’re not going to show up. They’re fictional characters.

But if you’re in trouble, and you whisper a little prayer, and some atheist overhears…they should be more focused on helping you out of your trouble than chastising you for a common cultural tic. If they aren’t, they’re a bad human being and you should just ignore them.

Comments

  1. atheist says

    Totally agree, she sounds like someone dealing with a lot. If these “prayers” are useful to her, then who am I to judge. In all seriousness, she should continue praying for as long as she finds it helpful.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Nice kitty.
    I think the emailer will be fine if she keeps doing what she’s doing.
    For me, the urge to pray simply faded away.

  3. carlie says

    I agree with chigau. It’s a habituation, a response you have deep neural connections to. It will fade, especially if you try to replace it with something along the lines of “what can I do to help?” rather than “I’ll ask God for help”. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do in the immediate situation, but there are things you can do in the longer term. I can’t be a responder when I hear an ambulance roar down the street, but I can be sure to contribute to the local fire department fundraiser when they have it, which supports what they do. I can’t fix people’s problems, but I can listen to them.

  4. inflection says

    If there’s really nothing to be done except something you know is pointless but you find comforting, go ahead and do it. If anything, it may clear your mind and let you see something that can be done. Coming down on anybody for what they do in seriously stressful situations would be horrible.

  5. says

    I’m an atheist, but still say “My God…”, “Mother of God…” and other Christian-based outbursts when surprised, alarmed or posting garbage on Twitter. It’s something programmed into you through a life immersed in a nominally Christian culture, and something that’s hard to erase. It was a problem for me when I first became atheist, but now I realise it’s not a big deal at all.

  6. Becca Stareyes says

    I feel like that too, letter-writer, and I recognize that it’s a cry for help, or at least comfort. ‘God’ is just an open-ended ‘someone’ who might be noticing my suffering. I think it’s something many of us want in times of troubles — the desire to be comforted or at least understood.

    Generally, that means I seek out a friend or family member to talk to, even if it’s just ‘I am scared and uncertain and do not want to be alone now’. That at least gets me into a state where I can start to consider how to seek help.

  7. John Pieret says

    “Atheistical purity” sounds a lot like what the theists demand, just with a differnt adjective.

  8. consciousness razor says

    As in, “Dear God, if you do actually exist, and you are not actually an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath, could you please do something about X?”

    How does a non-believer get past this NEED to do something, anything…when there really is nothing that can be done at all?

    I distinguish between hoping things will be better and talking to a god asking them to make it better. We do need to hope. We don’t need to ask someone else to do the work for us. If anyone will do it, it’s us, so talk to other people if you can’t do it alone. (Or whatever it is might happen just due to pure luck sometimes, so I guess that works too.) Those are the people who definitely can help you, if only just a little, so reach out to them and pay attention to when they might need some reaching-out from you. If whatever you’re saying to a god can’t be said to an actual person you know exists and might be able to do something, ask yourself what the point of saying it to a god would be.

    I bet the inclination to pray comes up more often when you’re just thinking to yourself alone or wouldn’t be comfortable turning to certain people and having these kinds of discussions. (It’d be nice if people were more open about that sort of thing.) But even then, it can help to think more about what you and other people can do, and how we might try to address these things in some way even if they seem hopeless. If there’s really nothing anyone can do about it (if someone’s dying of cancer, let’s say) there are still all sorts of things we can do to comfort them and other people, not to mention ourselves. And of course we can try to cure or prevent cancers too, but that’s a longer-term, societal-level thing, not something an individual can really get a handle on.

    As a diversion, you could try out this agnostic’s prayer. It’s not for every situation, but just trying to get through it without laughing might release some tension.

  9. scarr says

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

  10. raven says

    Even when I was a xian, I thought asking- for-stuff prayer was silly.

    1. The xian god is claimed to be omniscient. He already knows everything!!! Why should anyone have to point out what he already knows?

    What this means is that the xian concept of god is incoherent. It’s a thin overlay of ancient religion over even older magic and animism.

    2. Why should the xian god rearrange the universe in order to make me happy? Isn’t it my job to live my life and make the best of it? It’s the Vending Machine model of god, put in a quarter (prayer), get back an item, money, parking spaces, whatever.

    3. It never seemed to do anything anyway. As it turns out, my cat has more tangible power in the real world than all the Trinity gods combined.

  11. atheist says

    @scarr – 28 September 2013 at 10:01 am (UTC -5)

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

    Your belief about Pharyngula is not supported by the actual comments.

  12. says

    During my transition, I prayed once when I thought I saw a tornado forming outside my window. Turns out it was a cold air funnel.

    To the e-mail writer, as long as you understand that there’s no one up there listening, then I won’t complain. If it really bothers you, maybe chance “Dear God” to “I wish.” There is nothing wrong with wishing something to get better if you don’t think you have the power to change it.

  13. tychabrahe says

    TW for rape and violence

    For me, this is one of the two utterly and irreparably frustrating things about atheism. (The other is that, since there is no hell, nothing happens to bad people outside of this reality. Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped three women, beat and starved and tortured and raped them and assaulted one who became pregnant until she miscarried, is not in hell. He does not suffer eternal fiery torture. He does not even get x-ed while the rest of us go on to paradise. There is no karma that balances. He is not going to be reincarnated as a cockroach or a cosmetics testing rabbit. He is just gone, and we have to be satisfied only with the knowledge that his captives are freed and he cannot hurt them or anyone else ever again.)

    As a person who likes to help people, to give advice, to fix problems, the fact that there are things I can’t fix, problems I can’t solve, is very frustrating. I have a family friend who has cancer. I have a friend who found herself pregnant and sought out an abortion. Fearing disapproval, she told no one until after, so she had to go through this alone. I have another who recently opened up about her past abusive relationship and that she was stalked and threatened.

    A few years ago a friend had a daughter with Rh disease. That was hardest. Sometimes I can console myself with the fact that there are experts working on the situation. The friend with cancer has good oncologists. The friend who was abused got into a DV shelter, help from the authorities, and lives a good life now, although she avoids places where her ex might be, whole neighborhoods, out of fear for her life. For the infant whose mother’s body had tried to kill her there was nothing anyone could do except offer supportive care and hope her tiny body could fight out of its crisis. (All was right in the end, and the child is now a healthy 2yo.)

    At these times I have felt a desperate need to pray, or a wistful longing that I could, like many around me, put my faith in some superhuman power and know it was working to right the situation. Or at least that if the situation was resolved unfavorably, that it was what this entity, in its superhuman wisdom, knew was needed at this time. It would be so comforting to think that there was a purpose in a child’s suffering, in a mother’s grief, in a father’s terror, and that if the poor baby had died, that her death would have had purpose and meaning, and that her infant spirit would be welcomed into some afterlife where she would be loved and cared for and embraced as her parents had longed to do.

    I think the only thing we can do is recognize that we have these feelings because we are good people. We want there to be punishment for wrongdoings and reward for goodness. And we want to believe that the universe and life is not amoral, that there is a purpose for pain. We should acknowledge these feelings, and accept them, but I also think it is important not to give in to them, since in the long run it often makes us feel dirty and disgusted with ourselves.

  14. mnb0 says

    My answer: if praying makes you feel good then by any means continue. Lots of things humans do are useless and/or futile except that they make them feel good, so that’s never a decisive reason. But I predict that somewhere in the future it makes you feel silly and then the urge will disappear by itself.
    That’s what happened to me as a teenager – and I’ve never been religious in the first place.
    The way I see it one of the nice things of agnosticism and atheism is that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously.

  15. says

    I think that I have been in like-enough situations that I can respond. Watching with a desperate helplessness as all the best of science and medicine failed to undo all the ravaging of cancer on my sister. At some point I was willing to make a deal with any god to step in and take over. And then fully realising that no such being exists. That it was all up to myself to be the very best brother I could be at that time, to provide her with every bit of love and support as much as I could. And to all the people about her, all our family and friends and medical staff. There’s only us, mere humans to provide that support. We may have wished for a better outcome, but I am so pleased we wasted no time on praying.

    PS: That octocat is waaay cool.

  16. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Possibly scarr is suggesting we will leap on their comment rather than the OP. Though perhaps it’s a tending towards the provocative so it may be what they want.

    In regards to the OP itself, there probably are very few of us when in situations which seem bad and scary and completely out of our control haven’t wished there were magic words to say that might help. It’s a very human characteristic. And hey, it doesn’t hurt for every so often an athiest/agnostic to see what happens if such a prayer was given. Mind you if it turns out that there is a god and it is a misogynistic etc. etc. one what might happen is a direct smiting. But since there doesn’t seem to be more smiting being done to atheists than anyone else in terms of the universe doing things to them so far the evidence is not in favour of that.

    As Terry Pratchett once wrote it takes a very strong atheist to use sweary words not involving gods if they were brought up in a culture where such phrases are commonplace. (paraphrased because I can’t remember the exact words – something about existential crutch on a stick).

    I do like the octopussy.

  17. joeschoeler says

    There’s a lot of social conditioning in religion and it can take a while to wear off. In my case, there were several years where I didn’t believe in a god, but I didn’t want to declare myself an atheist either because it felt scary.

    And I’m not necessarily sure that prayer is a bad thing, at least if you know that it’s just talking to yourself. It can be useful as a form of meditation or organizing your thoughts. A way of explaining your problems to an imaginary psychologist so you can understand them better.

  18. says

    @scarr Ridicule is warranted for the ridiculous, do you think your post is ridiculous?

    I did the same for a couple years after realizing I was an atheist. I think it’s just a learned response that’s harder to kick since its tied to an acute emotion of helplessness. I’m not sure I’m completely over it and to the extent it helps calm me down to a point where I think rationally about a given situation, I’m not sure there’s anything bad about it. It’s not like after doing it and settling down that I think “Well, good, I can just let God take this now.”

  19. ismenia says

    @Ariaflame Pratchett says something like that in Men at Arms. Dwarfs are not particularly religious but have some mythology. Pratchett notes that it takes a strong-minded atheist to shout “random fluctations in the time-space continuum” (or something along those lines) when they have just hit their thumb with a huge hammer.

    As for uttering prayers, I used to do this too. Admitting atheism intellectually doesn’t automatically cure that automatic reaction to stress that trys to plead with an imaginary force. It’s an attempt to feel in control although in my experience it just adds to the feeling of helplessness.

    Whenever I started to do it I would remind myself that there is no god and I had to deal with the situation myself or, depending on circumstances, accept that it is outside my control. I immediately felt calmer when I did this.

  20. Randomfactor says

    Keep praying if it helps you…I’ve been an atheist for 45 years or so, and still do it daily. I just speak to my late wife, who I ALSO know isn’t listening. But yeah, it helps sometimes.

    My catch-phrase on the subject is that if you want to pray for someone’s medical recovery, the best place to do it is on the table at the local blood bank.

    If you want to pray for a solution to your impossible problem, do what Professor de la Paz suggested and pray for a small change you can make in the problem. Then do that small change and see if it still looks unsolveable.

    If you want to pray for someone else’s happiness or well-being, pray while doing something to help them. As the man said, you can get farther with a prayer and a good deed than with a prayer alone.

  21. atheist says

    @joeschoeler – 28 September 2013 at 10:22 am (UTC -5)

    And I’m not necessarily sure that prayer is a bad thing, at least if you know that it’s just talking to yourself. It can be useful as a form of meditation or organizing your thoughts. A way of explaining your problems to an imaginary psychologist so you can understand them better.

    Talking to imaginary friends might be a bit nutty, but it is a nuttiness that often seems to help. It seems to be a common human solution to the problems of loneliness and alienation.

  22. teejaykay says

    @ scarr

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

    Well, I’m still here even though I’m constantly worried about ridicule and contempt.

    Re: email-sender, here’s how I ended up commenting here (see above response to scarr);

    I’m highly introverted.

    When I first commented, I made a leap and hoped there was a net to catch me. There was, to my surprise, and even though at times the acerbic commentary here was scary, I sometimes found that occasionally a thread pops up where you can actually have a good laugh and not worry about ‘being thrown under a bus’. I still don’t comment often, but reading the Lounge is quite a bit of fun sometimes, and when I’m seething about mistreatment of some social issue or such, well — I’ll just read and seethe, think about it and comment only if I can figure out how to express my feelings. I usually don’t — can’t bring myself to comment. I’m highly self-conscious, agoraphobic and with certain other… mental gears missing that have made it hard for me to communicate with people.

    I also believe that even reading Pharyngula is basically joining in on the action. I mean, I may not sometimes agree with some of the comments, but I make my own conclusions about the issues based on the debate. And you needn’t worry about that agnosticism in my view. I used to sometimes worry about my family and pray that God put me in hell instead of them. I was ten. I wised up after my confirmation camp; I realized I was brainwashed into thinking Christianity was the only way to go, and then figured out that it’s a silly social norm. That happened when I was sixteen. It took me a while, but I got over it. But I still sometimes did what you did. I’m over it now, but know how it feels.

    I hope this helps. I don’t know what ails you, but I hope you the best.

  23. slatham says

    Large proportions of people making anonymous comments on the internet are not actually trying to help. They are entertaining themselves by exploring the freedom to be a jerk that the internet affords. This is the first thing that someone looking for help on the internet has to realize, so they can ignore the large volume of crap responses. I don’t think it’s so bad here, but vulnerable people in bad situations can be greatly harmed by even just a small number of jerkdom explorers. Helpful internet comments can have an impact, but I think the greatest impact an atheist can have, both for themselves and for the person in need, is to help in meat space. Get out there and do some good. See ya.

  24. Jan Moren says

    I was born in one of the most secular societies in Europe, in a non-religious family, and I’ve never had any religious inklings. To me atheism is the normal; I have no “coming out” story to tell, though I do have a friend who “came out” as an actual religious believer at one point.

    And I do the same thing as you when confronted with great stress. We had a serious medical situation in my family a couple of years ago, and I frequently did something I think would qualify as prayer; translated, pretty much “please, please let her be OK. please let this test be negative; please, oh please, let us get a few more years together.”

    I know there is no supernatural being, and I’m not addressing any such entity. I know nothing will actually change by my praying. I am simply giving voice to my own hopes and frustrations.

    And when I do, when I hear my own voice articulating the deep fears I have, I confront them, and understand what I am actually feeling and thinking. In one way, it’s no different than when I fervently hoped to pass a test or feared the dentists’ drill, where expressing it to ourselves or to friends helps us calm down and find some perspective.

    Linguists sometimes say that we don’t actually know what we want to say until we actually say it. In times of distress, we say it to ourselves, just so we can become aware of our deep-seated fears, hopes and feelings.

  25. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I don’t see why you need to get over this. Who does it hurt? All of us have irrational, unbidden thoughts.
     
    (I write a mantra in the upper left corner of every page of my lab book. It isn’t rational, but I like that it gives me a quiet moment of focus before I begin to work)

  26. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I find myself often saying “I hope to God that doesn’t happen” and variations thereof, despite being atheist for over 20 years. It’s just culturally ingrained in us. It still hasn’t fully gone away in me, and might never.

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    But if you’re in trouble, and you whisper a little prayer, and some atheist overhears…they should be more focused on helping you out of your trouble than chastising you for a common cultural tic. If they aren’t, they’re a bad human being and you should just ignore them.

    Or, far more likely, if some theist overhears and starts in with the “See, you know in your heart it’s true/’atheists in foxholes’” bullshit. Same response applies.

  28. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I’m an atheist, but still say “My God…”, “Mother of God…” and other Christian-based outbursts when surprised, alarmed or posting garbage on Twitter. It’s something programmed into you through a life immersed in a nominally Christian culture, and something that’s hard to erase. It was a problem for me when I first became atheist, but now I realise it’s not a big deal at all.

    I have the same experience…except that it was never a problem for ME, but people around me, mainly my mother, got smug about me doing it. (She still privileges religion enough that she objects to “religious swearing” even though I don’t think she really believes).

    Because, like, apparently some people sincerely believe that everyone else stops and fully thinks through what they say and do, weighing all the pros and cons and arriving at a thoroughly analyzed, completely deliberate decision when they’re reacting to something unexpected. (They seem to be the same people who sincerely believe that the only possible reason anyone ever fails to do anything they “should” do is because they consciously decided not to because they didn’t think it really was important.)

  29. grumpyoldfart says

    If you don’t want to risk praying to a god who might be an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath why not pray to the tooth fairy. She seems like a kind-hearted and generous soul and there is heaps of evidence for her existence: Who else could have put all those coins under your pillow when you were a child?

  30. says

    I don’t pray, never have, don’t expect I ever will – because who knows, if someone proved that a god or gods existed and needed prayer or they’d burn my ass forever, then I’d probably be lining up with the rest of humanity in the “free air conditioner with purchase of soul” queue.

    But I also don’t condemn anyone else for doing it, atheist or not. It’s really none of my business, unless they try and force me to join them, and even then my only problem is the ‘trying to make me do it’ part, not the praying part.

    Okay, maybe I condemn a little when I see a sports team having themselves a little prayer-huddle before a game, because really? your deity’s going to help your team, but not our team, and that makes sense to you?…but in general, no, and most certainly never would I judge or criticize someone for their personal reaction to great stress/fear/loss.

  31. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    I find that I talk and think in some ways as though there is agency and control in things that don’t have it (the universe, machines), but I actively realize there is not. It’s just a thing. There is a tendency in humans to do this, and culture amplifies it a billion-fold.

    It may be useful to examine if you really are praying to a god, or if you just want things to be otherwise and you know there is no way you can personally and immediately change them, if they are even changeable things.

    Being as agnostic as you say you are, I don’t expect actual prayer is all that odd, particularly if your agnosticism is informed by previous religiousness that included a belief that prayer does anything. Personally, I always eyed prayer with some suspicion even when I was religious, especially petition-orientated prayer.

  32. Jacob Schmidt says

    If you don’t want to risk praying to a god who might be an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath why not pray to the tooth fairy.

    Because the author wasn’t raised to believe in the tooth fairy.

    Talking to imaginary friends might be a bit nutty, but it is a nuttiness that often seems to help.

    I’m not even convinced that it’s nutty. I’ve been doing it since I was a child; it helps me to think through my problems, and forces me to explicitly vocalize what the problem is.

    On the OP:

    I’ve never prayed. The reason is that I’m fairly certain it doesn’t work (at least, it works no better than just talking to myself). I think as you grow used to the idea that no one is answering and any help you do get is from secular sources, you’ll just stop; it seems to be a fairly common theme to people who deconvert.

    In the mean time (or if that moment never comes) I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s something you do on your own time. You have no obligation as an agnostic (or atheist) to never pray. I think it’s irrational, but so are a million other things about the way we live our lives.

    How does a non-believer get past this NEED to do something, anything…when there really is nothing that can be done at all?

    That doesn’t really go away. Many people feel that, and it has nothing to do with being religious. Wanting to take action while being unable to is a common struggle. It’s frustrating, but there’s no real solution.

  33. McC2lhu doesn't want to know what you did there. says

    If you ever want empirical evidence about the efficacy of prayer just compare it to the results of wishing on birthday cakes and doing absolutely nothing. How ’bout that? Same results – absolutely nothing (barring the anecdotal evidence that some poor unfortunates think is ‘proof’).

    I wouldn’t fault anyone who is drowning in the tragedies of human existence to let wishful thinking overtake them momentarily, no matter how rational they believe themselves to be, but when the brief moment of clarity returns after your prayer has produced the predictable results, use that moment to look up someone who actually can hear your pleas, whether it’s a trusted family member or friend, health professional (mental and/or physical health), financial expert, legal expert, whatever applies in your instance. If it seems to you that you are without any of these lifelines, start somewhere sane, like a crisis center or food bank or women’s shelter for assistance and ask the people at those places for further assistance more appropriate to your situation. Also, search engines are your friend. Search for forums pertinent to your particular problem. Reading the thoughts and courses of action that people in the same situation take is valuable practical knowledge. These people have been in the same boat and done x, y and z to help themselves out. Learning from other people’s mistakes is fantastic because you then don’t have to make your own mistakes. I’m sure there’s a lot of other similar suggestions people can make here. I am unable to speak further from experience because of typical North American hetero white guy privilege. Much of the poo that people may experience has never hit my fan.

    I know this isn’t exactly what the reader was looking for, but anyone falling back on the superstitious actions in desperation should realize that there’s always a more useful alternative, and one that at least promises a chance at some sort of positive results, unlike praying.

  34. redwood says

    Often when I get upset at myself or others, a quietly muttered “Jesus Fucking Christ!” seems to help calm me down. It’s not a prayer per se, but it does invoke a deity.
    As for the OP’s need to do something, when I’m in a situation like that I see if I can indeed do anything and try to do it. If I can’t I just let it go. It’s important to have empathy and care about others, but you can’t let that tear you apart. We must first care for ourselves before we can adequately care for others.

  35. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    To PZ’s correspondent:

    You don’t have to justify anything you do in your head to other people, or even to yourself, if you don’t want to. Humans are complicated, messy things, and what we need in the moment to get through the day doesn’t always line up with what we know intellectually. You’re not “failing” anyone, or yourself, if you feel compelled to pray. If we tried to rationally justify every mental placebo we use on ourselves in times of stress, we’d fail. Things don’t work that way, and anyone who doesn’t understand that mental self-comforting is universal and OK is an asshole to whom you don’t owe any time.

    I have all sorts of irrational little scripts in my head. Some of them come up unbidden (OCD and anxiety), and some I deploy consciously to combat the stress and anxiety of those things. If they work, who cares? Taking care of the you in your head is paramount and doesn’t require moral or intellectual justification.

    To the extent that any of us here or in the wider online atheist world appear to misunderstand this or are likely to jump down your throat, I’m sorry. I know for me—and I’d like to think for most others, though recent experience makes that more difficult—the only kind of “wishy washy agnosticism” I’m interested in mocking is the kind people use to shit on other atheists, or to curry favor with the dominant social majority. I’m interested in dethroning religion from its privileged place, not in cruelly minding other people’s mental business.

  36. schweinhundt says

    Like the letter writer, I’m agnostic (non-transitional, full-blown variety) and also mostly lurk on FTB. However, I haven’t had any traumatizing responses to any of my posts—especially when asking questions. While the denizens of this place LOVE to shred dodgy assertions, they are pretty accommodating and helpful when dealing with honest questions in my experience.

  37. says

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

    Heh.

    As in, “Dear God, if you do actually exist, and you are not actually an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath, could you please do something about X?”

    How does a non-believer get past this NEED to do something, anything…when there really is nothing that can be done at all?

    Bluntly, I still haven’t bothered. But I got tired of sending these not-actual-prayers to YHWH, who is only ever demonstrated to be an asshole. I started sending them to Kaname Madoka or Byakuren Hijiri- if I’m to ask a powerful fictional deity or saint for favors, I’d prefer it to be a deity or saint who is benevolent. Things have been better so I haven’t had to in a long while, but that’s still what I did. I dunno, if it’s not a problem for you you don’t ever have to stop sending prayers you recognize as irrational. Just don’t confuse them with actually doing something.

  38. Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe says

    I feel the same way sometimes, and I *am* a full-blown raging atheist. A god-shaped hole was punched in me when I was a child, so that people could thread hooks in me and control me more easily. It’s not something that heals just because you know it’s there–an awful lot like racism or sexism, innit?

    What I’ve done is fill it with something else.

    I started my own parody religion in 2010 based around deliberate opposition to Yahweh as the personification of rightist thought–in essence, I infected myself with an engineered pathogen of my own design that feeds on the Yahweh-concept still lodged in my mind. As founder, Supreme High Muckety-Muck,* and sole member of the Antagonistic Order of Prometheus Lucifer, I’m much better equipped emotionally to deal with those momentary crises; a formalized personal philosophy is easier to stick to than a collection of ad hoc ethical equations, and if I really get that urge to say some reassuring mantra, I’ve got my own–centuries-old Magickal nonsense that has no function or meaning beyond acting as a psychic piton for a mind in freefall.

    Lylusay Tateros Volt Sids Lucifer.

    * A title which I may change if I decide that using Chinook is a form of appropriation. Hmm…

  39. Al Dente says

    Most of us are cultural Christians even though we’re not believers. We say things like “for god’s sake” and “Jesus Christ” and “heaven help us” because those are the sorts of exclamations we’ve been taught to say.

  40. Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe says

    Precisely. It’s not something you can change–one of the biggest eureka moments you can have is realizing that faith is exactly like other society-wrecking psychological flaws. Just because you know race isn’t real doesn’t mean you stop being racist, for example.

  41. brucej says

    Pretty much what everyone else has said, except going into the woods and screaming loudly and throwing rocks at trees is cathartic.

    Then come home and hug your dog, who will happily inform you that you are loved and that everything will be just perfectly fine after a walk and a game of fetch, or perhaps some happyfuntime at the dog park.

    Dog is much better than God at that ‘unconditional love’ stuff.

    And yeah I still swear in god-centered ways even though I’ve been an atheist for nearly 50 years, although George Carlin’s 7 words get used a lot as well. But they’re words, nothing more and I don’t dwell on them, especially since I just hit my thumb with a hammer.

    Finally, if you feel like this or this you are not alone, you can get better, and you need help to do that.

  42. carlie says

    I find it interesting to tie the idea of swearing in a God-based way to being a believer, because it wasn’t until after I was an atheist that I was able to start swearing that way. No longer worried about taking God’s name in vain opened a lot of new linguistic channels.

  43. ludicrous says

    PZ asked for two things of us commenters, to reply to his emailer which I think was done in an empathic manner, good on that. He also asked us to “make room for those in transitions” generally.

    That request reminded me of how much religious indoctrination encourages a reflexive judgmentalism. For me, at least, kicking the beJesus out of my life was simple compared to cleaning out the associated baggage…..overweening judgementalism is one of the big ones.

  44. says

    When I’m stressed, I eat. It’s the reason that I am 220 lbs with high blood pressure. I “know” better but it has proven surprisingly difficult to change. By comparison your consciously habitual prayer seems much healthier.

    When I had just admitted to myself that I didn’t believe anymore, I found the atheist community quite hostile. I was trying things out, not all-the-way there. So, wow, can I ever feel your pain.

    One big change has happened since then: A+. Apparently a lot of very hostile people left this site when they were challenged to be more than just nonbelievers.

    wanted to ask so many questions, but feared ridicule and contempt. I wish there were room for folks like me at FTB.

    There are ways to get in hot water here. Concern trolling, tone trolling, denialism and pretending to ask a question when you really aren’t, are blood in the water.

  45. Vidar says

    At least Optimus Prime has some good ideas: Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.
    Jesus’ creed is rather less enlightened: There is no salvation except through me.

  46. says

    To the letter writer, there are a number of people here who aren’t atheists, and they are welcome members. It’s not a requirement. It does help, though. ;)

    It can be very difficult to lose the impulse to pray and to lose the desire for some sort of big magic that can truly make a difference. It was fairly easy for me to lose the impetus to prayer, I reached maximum cynicism about that when I was very young. What did take me years on end to lose was the fear of hell. I think it’s different for each person, and a lot depends on how things are going in your life, whether or not you have someone to talk to honestly about matters and all that stuff. Sometimes, given enough stressors, you can find yourself on your knees, so to speak, as an automatic reaction. It happens, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    I hope you can find a place with people who will support you, and I’d like you to know you can find a place here, if you like. The Lounge is one of our open threads, it’s heavily moderated, and stuffed full of kind, compassionate people, many of whom understand your experiences on a personal level. I hope to see you there sometime. Love Cathulhu, by the way.

  47. tariqata says

    Jan Moren @27:

    And when I do, when I hear my own voice articulating the deep fears I have, I confront them, and understand what I am actually feeling and thinking. In one way, it’s no different than when I fervently hoped to pass a test or feared the dentists’ drill, where expressing it to ourselves or to friends helps us calm down and find some perspective.

    It can be a positive feeling, too. When something good or hoped-for happens, I sometimes find myself saying something like “Thank God”, despite having grown up in a very secular family and having long since become comfortable with my lack of belief in any deity. I’m not really thankful to “God”, but I am thankful, and I articulate that feeling in the language that I know. And maybe it’s just my Canadian reflexes, but somehow it’s very hard not to say a polite “thank you” when something good comes my way!

  48. Eric O says

    Well said, PZ.

    I can sympathise with this e-mailer since I remember being in this same transitional mindset back when I was in my teens. I don’t remember consciously breaking the habit – it was more like something I just did less and less frequently until I stopped altogether.

    My sister, who also identifies as an atheist, seems to be in the same situation. Her view is that a benevolent god would be willing to give her a hand even if she doubts its existence, so there’s no harm in asking.

  49. says

    scarr @ 10:

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

    I have an idea you haven’t been paying attention to happenings around here, ever. The responses to the letter writer in this thread have been good, thoughtful and empathetic. Also, the letter writer mentioned a place at FTB, not Pharyngula. Careful reading generally pays off.

    You jumping in early with an attempt to poison the well is not appreciated, and you certainly did not follow PZ’s request in the OP. Please don’t do this sort of thing again.

  50. says

    tariqata @ 51:

    And maybe it’s just my Canadian reflexes, but somehow it’s very hard not to say a polite “thank you” when something good comes my way!

    I’m not Canadian, yet I have the same impulse. I just go with “thank the universe” or “thanks the stars”. Heh.

  51. jeroenmetselaar says

    I would advice her to stop being different from what she is. Agnostic secular humanists are good people, if that is where life took you go with it.

    And if anyone gives you any lip for not being a fire-breathing atheist you can kick them in the bollocks, tell them I told you.

  52. marcoli says

    I have not read all the above comments, but I would like to offer an idea. This applies to everyone. Give to your preferred charities, volunteer to help those in need, and be there for friends and family who need help. Although there is no one upstairs to answer prayers, we can all be the answer to the prayers of many.

  53. throwaway, gut-punched says

    55. jeroenmetselaar

    kick them in the bollocks

    Nonononono! Please don’t do that, advise it or condone it.

    ======

    As for how to break out of behaviors that you are not happy with (as opposed to harmless behaviors which affect no one else yet you’re happy to continue with) then you have to start with the thought process which spurs the emotion which inclines you toward a certain behavior. For me the thought of prayer was “Something bad might happen, and if I don’t pray then it is more likely to happen.” This type of affecting-the-odds is easy to curtail if you just keep track of all the things which happened in spite of the behavior. Recognize that when you rationalize the bad thing happening anyway as simply having more odds in its favor, then you are simply confirming your bias rather than approaching the situation as objectively as possible (even though you seem to be more objective during the rationalizing, all you’re doing is making an excuse to continue with the behavior.)

    But as I said, your behavior is your own and if you are not negatively impacting others or yourself with the behavior then it is nobody’s place to tell you to cease.

  54. says

    Hmmm. I understand the urge to pray on occasion, though I’ve found that a good, creative swear helps when I feel helpless and have the urge to beseech god about anything (but I can always turn my emotions into anger.) May I recommend “pill-popping, cock-panted pimple on the arse of mediocrity”? Saying it out loud is better than thinking it.

    The urge to pray still occurs, despite my being very happy to be an atheist. It signifies nothing but being a product of a religious culture. Fear not–you have to be stupid on purpose to get a beat down (whether by being persistently nasty or by trolling.) Honest questions that are actual questions and not JAQing off are treated much differently.

    Nice kittypus.

  55. carlie says

    georgewinman at 48 – I’m with you there (solidarity big hip bump). At least it isn’t something
    more dangerous; I have an addictive personality to begin with, and food is the least of the things that I could be clinging onto. That goes back to the letter writer’s position – for me, prayer was a thing that I did
    with an addictive quality; first because I thought I had to, but it really did become the kind of mental tic that was hard to get rid of. I have to replace one activity with another to get the first to go away; I can’t just get rid of a habit by itself.

    That said, I do agree that it’s something that is pretty much harmless, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for reflexively praying (especially if it’s something that was drilled into them as a youth).

  56. ludicrous says

    Dear Letter writer,

    You capitalized NEED. Sometimes when I capitalize, if I roll the word over and over in my mind it turns out there are whole paragraphs concentrated in the one word or phrase. Need is often a pregnant word, all kinds of important things can live inside and provoke strong feelings, feelings that may not be soley related to the apparent issue. If there is something you really, really need in your life that you are not getting, or something you are getting but do not want, look there. Look for real world resource just as you did when you emailed PZ. Keep doing it. Hope this does not come across as patronizing as I notice that you have given me the opportunity to advise myself as well.

  57. says

    ludicrous @ 60:

    You capitalized NEED.

    Sometimes, when a person has been brought up in a tradition, particularly a religious one, need is heavily emphasized. You need god. You need to be forgiven. You need to pray. And so on. It’s a pretty big part of religious training.

  58. Big Boppa says

    An interesting thing happened to me about a week ago.

    My wife and I were in the car – she was driving – when some nimrod cut her off, causing her to brake hard. Everything was fine but after it was all over she said “Whoa, that was close”. I replied “Yeah. I was praying the whole time that there wasn’t anyone following close behind us”. And then I had to stop and think what a weird thing that was for me to say. I wasn’t actually praying – I haven’t done so and meant it for many, many years. I really wasn’t doing anything but bracing for an impact that never came. It was just a figure of speach that was burned into my brain long ago only to be blurted out in a moment of nearly unconcious speech. No biggie. After all, I’ve used the phrase “fuck you” most of my life but never once directed at someone I actually wanted to fuck.

  59. throwaway, gut-punched says

    I just wanted to add that prayer has never bothered me when other people do it. I see in my area families that pray before a meal at a restaurant. I have never approached them about it. If they are happy doing it and they are not insisting that you join in, or are not extolling the virtues of it, condemning you for not participating or likewise then it wouldn’t be appropriate to argue the pointlessness of it. Now, when it comes to online interaction, the avarice toward prayer is due in large part the fact that when people claim “praying for you.” It has nothing to do with the alleged act of prayer, but more to do with the choice of the person to use it as a nuclear option at the end of a conversation.

  60. anteprepro says

    I have never felt the need to pray, have never seen the point of it, and in situations with Christians met during adult life, I have only feigned prayer, never really participating or even giving the impression that I was doing anything but being polite. Yes, part of this is because I am a hardcore atheist. But being a hardcore militant atheist isn’t enough. I am an illustration of the exception that proves the rule: I am only to able to not feel the need to pray because I was never taught that I needed it to begin with. I was raised without religion and in a relatively non-religious region. Blissful ignorance and lack of indoctrination. I got to view religion as an outsider and had relatively little of the cultural baggage associated with religious dogma foisted upon me. I never had my emotions manipulated on the issue, my sense of self and purpose shaped and structured by churches. It’s probably not easy to break those habit, honestly. Religion relies on emotional exploitation and cultural clout. It is not a simple task to escape that.

  61. sarah00 says

    I’ve never believed in a god (Brit raised in a non-religious household who didn’t realise until it was too late that the Bible wasn’t supposed to be taken in the same light as the Norse, Greek or Roman Myths. Oops!). Yet I still find myself asking the universe to help when things get tough. Even when things aren’t tough, but I just get paranoid, I’ll find myself saying ‘please let x be ok’. It’s not that I think there’s anyone to listen, it’s just articulating fears and hopes.

    I don’t think the letter-writer has anything to worry about. As others have said, its a perfectly human thing to do. (That’s not the same as rational but who said humans were rational? :) )

  62. fishy says

    It just makes me wonder about the kind of person I could have been without all the childhood indoctrination. In my moments of social pain and angst would it have been possible to find a better solution than a wish?

  63. katiemarshall says

    My feeling is that it’s a pretty normal human state to want to somehow express the things that are bothering us. Personally, I think that’s where the idea of “prayer” has come from and that’s why it seems contradictory to simultaneously a) believe in an omniscient god and b) to believe we need ask them for stuff. When I started to think of my urge to prayer as just an urge to express my issues, I started writing them in a diary rather than praying, and got all the same psychological benefit from that as I did from praying as a Christian.

  64. says

    Sarah00 @ 66:

    It’s not that I think there’s anyone to listen, it’s just articulating fears and hopes.

    I think this is the whole of the thing, in a nutshell. Whether it comes under the rubric of prayer or not, we all have a tendency to articulate fears and hopes, especially because those are strong emotions, and it’s usually something important to us, not simply something frustrating, like not knowing what you did with your fabric scissors or something. (That last is a personal problem of mine.)

    My partner works over a hundred miles away from home, so he’s away for half the week. Every Wednesday, after he leaves in the morning, I whisper to myself “keep him safe.” Like you, I know no one is listening, but it helps anyway.

  65. says

    katiemarshall:

    When I started to think of my urge to prayer as just an urge to express my issues, I started writing them in a diary rather than praying, and got all the same psychological benefit from that as I did from praying as a Christian.

    I think this very helpful. Looking back, when I was younger and still somewhat religious, I wrote in journals damn near constantly. It’s a great way to deal with anxieties and uncertainty. More satisfying than prayer, too.

  66. annie55 says

    Well, I took the plunge. I am the sender of the email, and I’d like to thank everyone for the thoughtful responses.

    I didn’t mean to give anyone the impression that my life is characterized by unusual trauma or stress, or that I was raised in Uberfundyland. I’m actually 55 years old, married for 30+, and “unchurched” for the last 45. (Mom had had enough of Woo-Woo once I hit double digits. She was a deist, of sorts, I suppose, but not really invested.)

    Anyway, the questions were always there, but when one spends so much time going alone to get along, habits do develop.

    As far as fearing ridicule and contempt…

    Well ya’ll CAN be intimidating to those of us who are less well educated. For example, I’ll be teaching myself HTML here on FTB.

    Again, thanks for your time. This has been very, very worthwhile.

  67. boskerbonzer says

    Believe it or not, I finally realized I was a true atheist when, in a rage about something – I probably dropped a pencil and it rolled under the couch – I actually said something to the effect of ‘Jesus fucking Christ, I hate you, you piece of shit!” It was aimed directly to the same entity I would send off a silent entreaty to when I wanted something desperately to happen. I realized then that I was no longer afraid of offending god, which had always kind of niggled at the back of my mind until then.

    Like many of you have previously posted, I still send off a silent wish or plea when I or someone I know is in need. It’s not a prayer because it’s not aimed at any god, but it is a prayer in the sense that I’ve beseeched some higher power for help. I find it amusing, actually.

  68. says

    annie55 @ 71, welcome! Glad you’re here. I’m 55 (56 in November) and married 30+ years too.

    Here’s a html guide for you:

    To quote someone, use <blockquote>Place Text Here</blockquote>:

    Place Text Here

    To bold words, use <b>Text</b>

    To italicize words, use <i>Text</i>

  69. says

    @the letter-writer
    Currently, I look at religion primarily as a social tool, mostly used to control and exploit people, sometimes used to unite and support people. But another way of looking at it is as a personal art form–a means of expression and communication of our thoughts and desires. I’m sure that you, as an agnostic, will agree that all gods that have ever been prayed to or mythologized about have been made up by people. Just like we imbue our tools and machines with personalities and give them names, just like we superstitiously avoid speaking of good things out loud in case we jinx them, or avoid speaking of our enemies out loud in case we unwittingly invoke them, it seems praying (whether to gods or spirits or ancestors or deceased friends/family members) and performing rituals (whether wearing a lucky tie to every job interview or test, or more elaborate ones like smudging a house to “cleanse” it) are natural human behaviours and, as long as they harm no one (including yourself), I don’t see a problem indulging in them once in a while. But, like others have said above, if you’re going to pray, why pray to arguably the worst god ever dreamed up? Pray to Athena or Isis or Brigid or Krishna or Mercury or your Grandmothers instead.

    As for agnosticism, I think it’s a valid position to take. I gave it up myself when it occurred to me that I make no such fine distinction for pixies, dragons, or unicorns. If someone were to ask whether I believe in ghosts, I’d say no, so why quibble for gods? That doesn’t mean I am certain or that I rule out the proposition entirely, but it’s not worth troubling about.

    There are some atheists who make a big deal of differentiating the gnosticagnostic axis from the theistatheist axis (i.e. stressing the first is about knowledge, the latter about belief), but I think that’s all kinda pointless (because almost no one would self-identify as gnostic by that definition anyway), plus it twists what are commonly accepted definitions among scholars of religion (i.e. gnosticism being about specially revealed knowledge privy to initiates or higher-ups of a religion, and agnosticism being a philosophical position on epistemology as it relates to god(s)).

  70. morgan ?! epitheting a metaphor says

    annie55

    Welcome! We are glad you decided to take the plunge. And see, the sharks don’t bite… much.

    Did you draw the “octokitty?”

  71. stevem says

    I hate to interject a tangent amongst all this good advice, but I (personally) seem to have the “opposite” problem, i.e. as an atheist, what is my proper response to all the people who tell me, that during my recent “medical crisis”, they prayed for me, deeply and sincerely and repeatedly; and that my recovery was “truly miraculous” [some even called it a "miracle", explicitly]. As an atheist, am I supposed to say, “Your prayers (to a delusion) did nothing; thank the doctors”? I don’t think that would be polite, but instead of the super-polite, “thank you for your prayers”, I always say, “Thank you for taking your time to do that”, and let them infer, on their own, that their prayer played a part. I fear, that reinforcing that belief directly, would be a “sin” (so to speak).

    To the correspondent, as others have said; your urge to say a “prayer” is harmless and can calm your mind a bit by doing so. The only danger is thinking that the prayer can actually change events in reality. As long as you know they only affect yourself and not outside reality, go ahead, pray all you want. Don’t feel “guilty” about it. There is no “Doctrine of Atheism” that forbids ever saying prayers or using the word “God” or “Jesus” in common phrases.

  72. fallacyfallacy says

    I can definitely relate to the letter writer. I was raised to believe in God (of the very liberal, comforting, hippie-non-misogynist variety, but still,), and though as an adult I know, intellectually, there almost certainly isn’t a god, in moments of distress I also find myself praying.

    I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’m not committing some kind of intellectual hypocrisy when I have “please god help me” type of thoughts – it’s a reflex. I know, intellectually, it’s not real, and most importantly it doesn’t affect any of the actual choices I make. But it’s there, it’s part of me, in some totally irrational way it’s still comforting, and I don’t think it’s something I need to worry about “overcoming.”

  73. rq says

    This has been my favourite post in a long time (in no small part due to the content of the letter and the fantastic artwork), with some of the best (and personally helpful) commentary.

    I used to pray every night, even after I’d decided there is (probably) no god or gods, mostly out of habit, because that was what settled me down to put the day’s events away and go to sleep. I still did it after it felt ridiculous and useless, and then one day I made the conscious decision to stop completely, because it wasn’t helping me anyway.
    The funniest (weird) thing is, the less I prayed to god(s), the better my life went. Whether it was due to a reduction in reliance on it (prayer / god(s)), or just because that’s the way things were going anyway, I have an answer to all those people (parents) who ask me or wonder why I don’t pray: when I did pray, nobody listened, nobody heard, and nothing got done. Since I’ve stopped believing and praying, my life has definitely taken several turns for the better.
    I still demand and ask things of the universe every now and then, but that’s mostly with the full knowledge that statistical outcomes are statistical outcomes, and that, while chances are what they are, it would be terribly wonderful if things ended up in the more favourable category. So, yes, a way of articulating and focussing fears in order to face them down and come to terms with them.

  74. mobius says

    Clearly this unholy hybrid will eventually rule the universe. You can just see the evil streaming from its eyes.

  75. Tethys says

    Welcome annie55!

    I am pleased you felt comfortable enough with the responses to delurk. The horde is not nearly so rude and hostile as the rumours make it out to be. Poor arguments and isms of all sorts are not tolerated, but IME, honest asking for information is usually met with a flurry of education.

  76. Nick Gotts says

    Welcome annie55,

    Not quite the same thing, but the only time I ever remember saying “God bless you” was at the end of a conversation with some women in South Africa, who were scraping a living by sorting through trash in search of anything of value. It wasn’t at all calculated, I just blurted it out, but I’m sure it was a result of realizing that (a) the difference in our lives was not due to any virtue or other good qualities of mine, and (b) there was nothing practical I could do for them (well, I suppose I could have given them what money I had on me, but even that would not have changed their situation significantly).

  77. says

    Apropos nothing, this reminds me of a great one-liner by Ray Wylie Hubbard, “The only prayer I know is ‘o lord if you get me out of this I swear I’ll never do it again.’”

  78. annie55 says

    But it’s there, it’s part of me, in some totally irrational way it’s still comforting

    Hoping I got it right.

    Exactly.

    I married into an enormous and practicing Missouri Synod clan, and to their basic credit, given the intense belief, family members have long since given up pressuring me in any overt way.

    And tangentially, PZ and others here have answered another troubling question…

    Turns out one does not always need to wear one’s atheist/agnostic status on one’s sleeve.

    I can’t quite get my head around it yet…for me “atheistic purity” implies a lack of compassion, understanding, and even humor. But the three qualities are easily found right here in this thread.

    stevem…been there, and my attitude has always been to accept the goodwill, and let the Woo-Woo pass.

  79. says

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
    My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
    Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
    So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
    Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
    I wait for delivery each day until three,
    So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
    I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
    Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

  80. procyon says

    There have been times in my life, especially when I was young, that I gained strength from praying. I was always aware that the strength came from within myself, and not from some outside source.
    Autochthonous rather than allochthonous so to speak ; )

  81. eyeroll says

    This is how I see it:
    When the person is feeling stressed and scared and wants to pray, the person should look back to the times this has happened before. Did god fix the situation magically or did the person actually gather up her wits, gird her panties and figure out a solution? And if there was no real solution, did she find herself getting stronger and braver with time and got used to the situation and carried on?

  82. Tethys says

    annie55

    I can’t quite get my head around it yet…for me “atheistic purity” implies a lack of compassion, understanding, and even humor.

    Don’t leave out the babby-eating/devil worshipping stereotypes!

  83. consciousness razor says

    I hate to interject a tangent amongst all this good advice, but I (personally) seem to have the “opposite” problem, i.e. as an atheist, what is my proper response to all the people who tell me, that during my recent “medical crisis”, they prayed for me, deeply and sincerely and repeatedly; and that my recovery was “truly miraculous” [some even called it a "miracle", explicitly].

    That’s mine too. I haven’t prayed since I was kid.

    I think they* have mostly good intentions, so I’ll just say something like “thanks,” since it’s usually not the best time for an argument about The Power of Prayer™. Keep it short and sweet, you know? Not too many ways for that to go wrong. I don’t thank them for this or for that, just express some vague kind of gratitude, since they’re expressing some vague kind of support for me. I’ve let my sarcasm get the better of me sometimes and said some rude things in return, but it doesn’t really help. Resistance is, as they say, futile. But it can be damn** hard to deal with it emotionally.

    *By “they” I mean people at funerals and such mostly … or just random people on the street, now that I think about it. It’s strange how often prayer comes up. And I don’t just mean off-hand references to prayer, but people saying they have been or will be praying for me, who I don’t even know.

    **Literal damnation not intended.

  84. says

    Do what makes your situation bearable.

    In the last few years, my daughter’s learning disabilities have hindered her much more than they did when she was a child and teenager. Wishing pretty desperately for one course of action to work, I turned to her mother’s Baha’i God and said: just get her through this, and I’ll never bother you again. The tolerant, loving God of the Baha’is did nothing, like every other God I prayed to when I was younger. I felt this had been a foolish moment of weakness.

    On reflection, and partly because of your post and the responses to it, I’m reconsidering: we’re human; therefore we are weak, and we’re in trouble, and we need help. Given the fix we’re nearly always in, there should be no shame in desperation or desperate gestures.

  85. otrame says

    Hey, annie55, the piranha tank can be scary, and it is true that some of the regulars might snap more than they should, but generally, if someone is being trashed, it is usually for a trashable offense. Even if you do something that gets you yelled at, I recommend considering that maybe they have a point. For instance, I once (several years ago), in a moment of sheer outrage, called Michele Bachman a bitch. I got my ass handed to me. Gendered slurs are not acceptable in this space (and hopefully not out in meatspace someday). I acknowledged that I shouldn’t have called that evil dingbat a bitch and all became peaceful. The surface once more exhibited no more than an occasional ripple.

    As for your concerns about prayer, don’t worry about it. You don’t do it because you honestly think it will make a difference. You do it because it reduces stress. That is not harmful in any way. Consider that I, an atheist since my teens, at the age of 50 brought a candle dedicated to St. Helena (the patron saint of archaeologists) to the lab and kept it burning while I took my comprehensive exams (a two day ordeal that is one of the hurdles you have to jump to get a Master’s Degree). Later, other graduate students did the same and it became a bit of a tradition. I do not believe in any way that doing that helps anything at all–except that acknowledging my stress does seem, in a small way, to reduced it.

  86. ludicrous says

    I was born without a users manual but the big people around me had one with my name on it. Mine was not as many pages as some but also more than many others. (One of the most unfair things about those user manuals is it seems to me that females are given thicker and heavier ones.)

    I didn’t think mine was well written and as time went on it became less and less useful. Then one day it occured to me that I could write my own. Well, it’s turned out to be quite a project. I don’t think now that I will be able to finish it but as long as I have my eraser I can keep on improving it.

    The pages on the god were in bold print that got my eraser all black and left a smudge that’s hard to overwrite.

  87. says

    fishy

    It just makes me wonder about the kind of person I could have been without all the childhood indoctrination. In my moments of social pain and angst would it have been possible to find a better solution than a wish?

    Doubt it very much. I wasn’t raised religious in any way, but I still find myself making wishes, and even occasionally imploring the universe for aid or assurance. As others have said, I suspect it’s just a thing people do under stress.
    There’s also the ‘prayer as meditation’ aspect; meditation does have benefits related to stress reduction and similar, and using a prayer as a meditative focus is no worse (or better, or different) from using anything else for the same purpose.

    I also swear by god and Jesus, despite never having been christian, simply because everyone around me, in books, in movies etc did so. These days I try to vary it by naming other deities when I’m cursing, but reflex usually gets the better of me.

  88. Arawhon, a Strawberry Margarita says

    annie55, you can count me as another atheist that prays. Tried to remove the strong inclination to see supernatural beings from my thoughts and found that they were tied like a Gordian knot into my other thought processes. So instead I did the easier thing and simply replaced YHWH with my own “deity”. So when I’m feeling particularly low, and thankfully it hasn’t been that way for several months now, I pray to Lamashtu, a deity from an RPG I like (though reflavored to be much less evil).

  89. says

    Last time I prayed was 15 years ago when I was completely overwhelmed with a situation of my own making by saying yes to too many responsibilities, and getting a bad flu at the same time. My prayer went something like “please, universe, make it stop. make it turn out ok” I was wishing, expressing a desire for hope in what seemed to me a hopeless situation. Harmless, right? And if I used the words God or Jesus? Still harmless. And you know? It helped me: it helped calm me down, settle my thoughts, and focus on a way ahead. Today when I feel overwhelmed, rather than wish/pray, I do an inventory of my feelings and thoughts, maybe meditate a little to clear my mind. and focus on the way ahead. Same result, but starting a step ahead of the wish/pray part. (typing quickly during work break, not very well composed, hope it makes sense)

  90. cicely says

    I may not make it to the end of comments before game time, so I’m just gonna dump this here:
     
    This is one of the awesomest Cathulhus, octocats, octopussies, or whatever-you-call-its that I’ve ever seen. My compliments to the chef!
    -
    The thing about prayer is that, all too often, using it lets the pray-er feel absolved of the need to actually do anything, ’cause it’s already been bucked up to the Boss of Bosses, and if It does nothing about it, well, maybe…somehow…this awful thing is Necessary To The Plan. And, face it, it feels comforting to convince yourself that a benevolent parent-substitute will Make It All Better.
    It’s just that it’s a lie.
    But if it calms you enough that it helps you to be able to think straight, then I don’t see that it does any harm. Heck, I’d bet that the “I prayed and God spoke to me, and told me that It’d Be All Right, and suddenly I just knew what I needed to do” effect is nothing more than dumping thought-inhibiting panic and stress from the equation, so you can think more clearly.
     
    Shorter: Prayer is cheap, but it changes nothing, and it helps nothing.
    Whether you believe in it or not.
     
    Also, sometimes people give up on mortal solutions too easily, because again, it’s in the Boss’ in-basket, Thy Will Be Done, etc.
    -
    scarr:

    If you are worried about ‘ridicule and contempt’ you are probably in the wrong place here. This place licks its chops at the chance of throwing someone under the bus. Exhibit A: watch how this post gets treated.

    Your “Exhibit A” sub-comment does not confer immunity from rebuttal.
    Ridicule and contempt at requests for help, or just a sympathetic ear? Nope. Approach us in the [Lounge]—you’ll at least get a non-caustic hearing.
    Ridicule and contempt for ideas (and defense of ideas) that are ridiculous and/or contemptible? Sure thing. That is, as the tee shirt says, Just One Of The Many Services We Offer.
    -

  91. mnb0 says

    @57 Throwaway: If Jeroen Metselaar is Dutch like me, as his name indicates, I’m pretty sure he means it as a metaphor, not literally.

    @71 Annie: “I’ll be teaching myself HTML here on FTB.”
    Then you know more than I do. I am younger than you are and can’t be bothered to learn it (though after reading @73 Caine I might be tempted as it looks really easy).
    You’re welcome.

    @76 Steven: “people who tell me, that during my recent “medical crisis”, they prayed for me, ”
    I always smile vaguely and don’t say anything, not even “thanks”, because that would be insincere as I’m not thankful at all.. In general I tend to think such people rather egoistic – they are trying to make themselves feel good iso me. But it’s rude to say that at such a moment.
    Most theists get the hint after a while.

  92. otrame says

    The thing about prayer is that, all too often, using it lets the pray-er feel absolved of the need to actually do anything

    Yep. There is no justice, there is just us.

  93. says

    Arawhon @ 94:

    So instead I did the easier thing and simply replaced YHWH with my own “deity”.

    Heh. When that sort of thing comes up, I go with Ra, because rats were sacred to him, and in this household, I figure I have an edge with any god who liked da rats. ;p

  94. says

    Prayer is a good way to figure out what you really want. For some people, it’s also a good way to calm yourself in times of stress. As long as you realize there’s nobody on the other end, nobody to really answer, it’s a good tool.

    It’s really just like talking to yourself. Only the person you’re talking to (nobody) is not as easily fooled.

  95. says

    mnb0 @ 97:

    Then you know more than I do. I am younger than you are and can’t be bothered to learn it (though after reading @73 Caine I might be tempted as it looks really easy).

    Please do try, as it makes the reading process much easier for everyone. It is easy! Even easier if you use Firefox, as you can get a text formatting toolbar: http://codefisher.org/format_toolbar/
    BBCode Extra is also available for Firefox, and it does much the same, only in a right context menu.

  96. cicely says

    georgewiman, I’m another eater-under-stress, and I have a goodly number of pounds on you!
    You are not alone.
    And neither is carlie.
    :)
    -
    fishy:

    It just makes me wonder about the kind of person I could have been without all the childhood indoctrination. In my moments of social pain and angst would it have been possible to find a better solution than a wish?

    I often wonder the same thing, about myself. At the very least, it would have spared me years of self-inflicted emotional torture and fear; and Constant Fear Is Not Good For Children And Other Living Things. I don’t see how it could very easily avoid some kind of PTSD-like results.
    -
    annie55, welcome! I offer *hugs or other non-intrusive-and-refusable gestures of support and comfort*.
    Was the octokitty an original work of yours? If so, it’s completely awesome, and wants to be on shirts. Can’t you just hear it purring, “Yesss, yesss; take me into your hearts and minds, carry me….”?
    :)
     

    Well ya’ll CAN be intimidating to those of us who are less well educated. For example, I’ll be teaching myself HTML here on FTB.

    I’m also among the “less well educated”, here, and all I know of HTML, I learned here.
    I’m also also 55 (fairly sure; to within a year, anyways!), but you’ve got a few more “unchurched” years on the meter than I have.
    -

    Pray to Athena or Isis or Brigid or Krishna or Mercury or your Grandmothers instead.

    Or to your Ancestors, in general! At least you have reason to suspect them of having a vested interest in your continued existence and your well-being.
    :)
    -
    rq!
    *pouncehug*
    I used to pray myself to sleep, every night. Surely, “if I die before I wake”, and I’m actually praying at the time, it will mitigate my vast and unpardonable (but in Real Life, damned insignificant in scope) weight of Sin!
    -
    Caine, I *snortled* at your #85.
    -

  97. says

    annie55:

    Welcome! Seriously and truly.

    Well ya’ll CAN be intimidating to those of us who are less well educated. For example, I’ll be teaching myself HTML here on FTB.

    Ignorance of a topic can definitely put you at a disadvantage, no matter how intelligent you are, no matter how skilled and knowledgable you are in other areas. But once you realize you’re ignorant, you can kind of gauge how ignorant you are. And that’s half the battle.

    And definitely learn HTML. It’s a good skill to have.

  98. says

    stevem:

    I hate to interject a tangent amongst all this good advice, but I (personally) seem to have the “opposite” problem, i.e. as an atheist, what is my proper response to all the people who tell me, that during my recent “medical crisis”, they prayed for me, deeply and sincerely and repeatedly; …

    “Thanks,” is usually the best response. I know when someone is sick, or injured, or just going through bad times, I feel completely helpless. I often wish I could do something; and if I can, I wish I knew what that was. If someone says, “I prayed for you,” that means they felt the same way, and so they did the only thing they could, even if they knew it was completely useless.

    At least, that’s how I take it.

  99. annie55 says

    Hugging the Dog is one of the two great stress relievers in existence. Thinking about it now, when the urge strikes, I will pray to Dog, because dogs are Dog’s greatest gift to mankind.

    Full disclosure…critter rescuers for the last 25 years here.

    So a little shift in gears…upthread, I mentioned my extensive family, and the tacit agreement to let the issue lie, and just love in peace.

    Still, I find that my relatives make all kinds of rationalizations for me, and the one that makes me privately laugh hardest is…”God is using me for good things…I just don’t realize it.”

    Anyone else have loved ones who jump through hoops to assure themselves of your ultimate “salvation?”

  100. Rich Woods says

    Every time I hit my thumb with a hammer I swear at Thor.

    Pfft! He calls himself a friend of man, but what has he ever done for us Northern Europeans, other than bring the south-west wind?

  101. Rich Woods says

    @annie55:

    I’ve never myself prayed to any god, but I can heartily recommend the process several people have mentioned regarding talking to non-existent personalities. On occasion I’ve found it useful to sort my own thoughts and feelings out by playing out in my mind a conversation or debate with friends or family who are now dead and gone. Obviously my memories can’t do full justice to their range of knowledge and opinion, and the results are not exactly Plato’s Dialogues, but the process is somewhat more constructive than resorting to talking to someone who doesn’t now and never has existed.

    Then again, if you want to talk to Superman or Wonder Woman, I doubt it would hurt much, as long as they are fully fleshed-out characters in your mind. But if they’re just two-dimensional comic-book characters, well…

  102. rthille says

    It wasn’t until I read “The Selfish Gene” that I really “came into my atheism”, in that I really understand now how life evolved, where my urges come from, and why people do what they do. It’s not due to some bearded guy creating us in his image, it’s due to the competition of genes. And I try to remember that the evolved behaviors they (try to) cause in me aren’t necessarily in my best interest. That helps me be rational and see the bigger picture. So, to help stop your need for prayer, maybe read some Dawkins, it’ll help you understand the universe better and that might help you need prayer less.

  103. says

    These days, I’ve noticed a trend among my friend to talking to your own brain. I hadn’t really thought about it as a replacement for reflexive praying, but it seems to serve the same purpose.

  104. kittehserf says

    @Rich Woods, 108:

    Every time I hit my thumb with a hammer I swear at Thor.

    I wonder who Thor would swear at if he hit his thumb with Mjollnir? The mind boggles.

    @Caine – I’m glad you mentioned not everyone here is atheist, but is welcome. I’m more like ex-almost-atheist, and haven’t felt at all sure this is a safe space for me, or appropriate, in the sense that it’s meant to be a safe space for atheists. (I’m here for the feminism and critters.)

    To the letter-writer: do what feels best to you. You’re gaining comfort and hurting nobody. What feels right and comforting may change, who knows? Don’t try to force yourself into a mould of what an atheist (or anyone else) “should” be like with such personal feelings.

    Also I LOVE the octopuss.

  105. says

    Kittehserf:

    I’m glad you mentioned not everyone here is atheist, but is welcome.

    We have a fair number of people here who have mentioned in passing, or in intros in the lounge that they aren’t an atheist, I haven’t seen anyone have an attack over it yet.

  106. kittehserf says

    @Caine:

    ” I haven’t seen anyone have an attack over it yet.”

    Just as well, there’s only room for so many fainting couches. :)

  107. Rich Woods says

    @kittehserf #113:

    I wonder who Thor would swear at if he hit his thumb with Mjollnir? The mind boggles.

    Who does he have above him to swear at? “Ouch! Fucking hell, Dad!”

    Since the Eddas don’t always paint him as the most thoughtful of the Aesir, I’d guess he’d settle for a couple of mountain ranges collapsing instead.

  108. Rich Woods says

    I wonder who Thor would swear at if he hit his thumb with Mjollnir? The mind boggles.

    Or maybe that’s one of those irresistable force/unmovable object questions. If only Thor can wield Mjolnir, can Thor be hurt by Mjolnir?

    I see a whole new branch of apologetics opening up…

  109. annie55 says

    Re: Cathulu…My favorite to date…

    I’m not the artist, BTW. Twas sent to me by a beloved nerdy atheist who is insisting that I read the classics.

    So much good stuff. I feel like a dam is bursting inside of me.

    . We do need to hope.

    Place Text Here

    This. In the many cursory discussions I’ve had…I’ve never been able to answer the question of where hope comes from, if not for the possibility of “divine” intervention

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

    Totally good with this.

    Where were we? Hope…my answer has always been something along the lines of “life would really suck if there were no hope” and “stranger things have happened” and “anything is possible..” and “there are cases where…”

    Or the classic…”one never knows,”

    How about…we hope because we care? Didn’t fly.

    I’ve been at a loss for loving, rational responses: so let me just say it here…hoping the best for others is not an indication that one is being moved by God. Especially when hoping the best for ourselves is grey territory.

  110. morgan ?! epitheting a metaphor says

    #118

    Can’t have people poppin’ a monocle all over the place.

    It isn’t the monocles I’m worried about, it is the corset stays. Those things can do damage

  111. says

    Monitor Note:

    jeroenmetselaar @ 55 and mnb0 @ 97, about:

    you can kick them in the bollocks

    Whether it’s a metaphor or not, this sort of sentiment isn’t acceptable under current commenting rules, so please remember no gendered slurs or insults, and please remember not to write anything that could be interpreted as a threat or an invitation to self-harm. Thank you.

    The Rules

  112. says

    annie55:

    In the many cursory discussions I’ve had…I’ve never been able to answer the question of where hope comes from, if not for the possibility of “divine” intervention

    We are curious, answer seeking animals, always looking about for this, that, and the other thing. Hope is just one of the myriad emotions we have, and we aren’t alone in that emotion, either. Right now, my rats are hoping I’ll be a good serving wench and serve up the sweet potato. Right now, my dogs are hoping I get off my arse and fill their water dish (they are pretty sure I can’t take a hint right now), and so on.

    As Terry Pratchett wrote in Hogfather:

    Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

    Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?

    Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

    Susan: So we can believe the big ones?

    Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.

    Susan: They’re not the same at all.

    Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.

    Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point?

    Death: You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?

  113. cubist says

    FYI: The image is the cover art for the RPG Call of Catthulhu, a game whose underlying premise—”cats are the only ones saving the Universe from the evil of Things From Beyond Space”—is likely to sprain some of PZ’s brain circuits.

  114. says

    I’m a lifelong atheist, and trying mostly in vain to weed out religiously-based curses and exclamations from my speech. One thing that particularly bugs me is when I mention a possible bad eventuality and get the superstitious urge to say something to ward it off. I don’t feel bad about giving in to that urge, but “God forbid” seems the wrong thing to say. I usually go with “Heavens forbid” (which sounds like a belief in astrology, but better than invoking Yahweh) or, being a classicist by training, “Absit omen”. I’d really like to find something completely secular which is nonetheless catchier than “I hope not”.

  115. consciousness razor says

    This. In the many cursory discussions I’ve had…I’ve never been able to answer the question of where hope comes from, if not for the possibility of “divine” intervention

    As far as it’s considered an abstract concept, it has the same metaphysical status as any other. Where does the number eleven come from? I don’t know. Does my question about the number eleven make any sense? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. So this is all just to say that things like that may not need to come “from” anywhere (or anyone or anything) at all, depending on what exactly you’re assuming the question is supposed to mean.

    But I wouldn’t say it’s “just” an abstract concept. That’s not literally what it is. And we need some idea of what it is before we can have a good idea about what its “source” might be. It’s a real, physical emotion (“disposition” may be a better word, and maybe it’s not one simple thing but a broad category of similar things) that people actually experience. We think something ought to be the case, we make all sorts of goals, and the end result is what is hoped-for. That is what hope is. We’re the ones doing that hoping. We do that because not everything we need is already available to us (as it would be if this were some kind of paradise). It comes from us. So the source of it is in that sense scattered around all over the place, in billions of people’s brains, past, present and future, as they have those kinds of experiences, being in situations where they have yet to complete their goals or obtain the things they need. Some people hope for things which are very good, others for things which are very bad, others for things which have no moral significance at all. So hope is a mixed bag, like basically everything else.

    If a divinity were the source, I’d like to hear a story explaining how that works, which is better than the one I just gave involving people and which seems to describe hope itself reasonably well. And if it were somehow responsible, it’d be responsible for the bad kind of hope too, no? What would that imply about this god? It seems to me the suggestion that it’s divinely-inspired hinges on the presupposition that hope is always inherently a good thing (which I don’t think is accurate), and due to not having a well-thought-out explanation more than anything else. That’s when people say “god did it,” because they can’t find a way to say anything meaningful.

  116. annie55 says

    Cubist…

    FYI: The image is the cover art for the RPG Call of Catthulhu, a game whose underlying premise—”cats are the only ones saving the Universe from the evil of Things From Beyond Space”

    You do realize that I am about to blow beloved nerdy atheist’s mind, right? Thank you so much. And word is that H.P. Lovecraft is cheap to free on my Kindle.

  117. black berry says

    I never discuss my atheism with extended family members…it just results in unnecessary arguments…but before family dinners the family always prays. I sit in silent respect of the practice, but at the final “amen”, I always say to myself…”abracadabra” and smile to myself…and when I’m not struck dead in my tracks, I know the imaginary friend does not exist.

  118. says

    CR:

    It seems to me the suggestion that it’s divinely-inspired hinges on the presupposition that hope is always inherently a good thing

    Yes, which is just as annoying as someone who goes on about all the beauty god created, sunrises, rainbows, waterfalls, hummingbirds, and so forth. Nothing at all about worms who can live no place other than inside a human eyeball, nothing about all the bad things which abound. Same as hope – there are people who hope they can successfully kill, somewhere, there is someone hoping something awful happens to someone else, etc. It’s better to have a reality based view, which at least shows all the picture, even if much of it is not pretty at all.

  119. consciousness razor says

    I’ve never seen one, but I’m sure they are very beautiful worms, Caine. They serve a higher purpose… of some kind. It’s mystery to me what that is, but there must be one. I ask you this: what are human eyeballs for, if not for worms to live inside them?

  120. annie55 says

    caine, fleur de mal

    Brutal and funny. And, I recently read my first Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment. (A gift)

  121. says

    CR:

    I’ve never seen one, but I’m sure they are very beautiful worms, Caine. They serve a higher purpose… of some kind. It’s mystery to me what that is, but there must be one. I ask you this: what are human eyeballs for, if not for worms to live inside them?

    Hah! There’s one sermon that wouldn’t go over well. Kind of like having hope I’d accept the fact god had a good reason for creating ticks.

  122. says

    annie55:

    Brutal and funny. And, I recently read my first Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment.

    I love the Disc. Now that’s a place I wish was real. I’d rather land there than heaven. The DEATH centered books are among my favourites, and are often poignant.

  123. annie55 says

    consciousness razor,

    Thank you. As suggested earlier, the secular response to why one is a decent person always sounds defensive coming from me. This is truly helpful.

  124. carlie says

    cicely at 103:

    I used to pray myself to sleep, every night. Surely, “if I die before I wake”, and I’m actually praying at the time, it will mitigate my vast and unpardonable (but in Real Life, damned insignificant in scope) weight of Sin!

    I used to as well, but mainly because I’d just accidentally fall asleep in the middle of it! Now that I think about it, it was a nice way to process what had happened that day and keep my mind from running completely wild with everything I was anxious about. Maybe I need to go read Greta’s posts on meditation and bring something like that back to my nighttime routine.

    annie55 at 107:

    Anyone else have loved ones who jump through hoops to assure themselves of your ultimate “salvation?”

    No, because I’m not an out atheist to anyone in my family. I rationalize it to myself by saying that they don’t need to know everything about my opinions, and that is true. Nobody has to be an open book to everyone, and of course there are things you tell certain people but keep from others (my husband knows how I like to be kissed, but there’s no need for my family to know, for instance). It’s easy for me to avoid talk about religion with them, because I live far away and the subject doesn’t often come up, and when there are social justice issues that we do talk about they know where I stand on those. Maybe I should tell them, but I haven’t seen the balance shift into that being the most advantageous thing to do yet.

  125. annie55 says

    Yes Carlie…

    Can we not practice a laissaz-faire atheism? I do not need to provoke anyone, prove anything, or constantly convince myself.

    Just as I avoid unnecessary discussion with my immediate loved ones, I avoid it with the WAL and not because I can’t keep my cool. These conversations upset people I care deeply for, people I respect.

    I’m not in the closet. It is more a tacit agreement to just make the best of things. Good with that.

  126. bad Jim says

    I just want to leave a wry comment about the Lounge. It’s my impression that much of it consists of atheists expressing the same sentiment as “I’ll pray for you” without actually invoking any magical phenomena. I find it almost oppressively nice.

  127. says

    bad jim:

    I just want to leave a wry comment about the Lounge.

    Yes, because such a comment is ever so helpful. The lounge isn’t for everyone, that’s why there are two open threads, and you are well aware of that. I suggest that if you continue to feel the need to bad mouth everyone in a thread who goes out of their way to be supportive, you go to the other open thread.

  128. ludicrous says

    Blackberry @ 130

    My oldest neice, earnest catholic, had lots of family gatherings/dinners. Over the years when they gathered around the table to say grace I never said anything but just stepped outside or to the bathroom for a few moments. Now their kids are grown I believe they are all 4 non- believers. Although it was never my intention at the time to influence the kids, no, come to think of it I guess I did want them to get that not everyone believed that stuff so I give myself a little credit for their liberation.

  129. says

    When my wife was dying of cancer, I pretty much went that route out of desperation. I even told her, when she expressed exasperation with my sudden turn to spirituality, that I was giving up rational thinking for her sake. Her entire illness was surrounded by so many coincidences and “foreshadowing” that it almost seemed as if the whole thing had been scripted, not by the God of the Bible, but by a hack screenwriter. But I suppose, in retrospect, it was my mind finding reassuring patterns in events in order to make sense of a situation in which we were all helpless.

  130. chigau (違う) says

    also, bad Jim #139
    sometimes all that oppressively nice results in actual donations which feed actual people.
    so, bless your heart.

  131. morgan ?! epitheting a metaphor says

    Hey bad Jim #139, bless your tiny little bleeding heart. Think on this, when you have the inclination. Some folks deal with A LOT of problems that our society mostly exacerbates, rather than alleviates. Then they come here, and there is a pile of folks that truly do understand that pain and offer some emotional consolation. Shit, what a sin. Do you think that compassion is a sin bad Jim, do ‘ya?

  132. says

    annie55 wrote:

    In the many cursory discussions I’ve had…I’ve never been able to answer the question of where hope comes from, if not for the possibility of “divine” intervention

    I view hope as optimism in the face of an uncertain and unknowable future. It is because we can form ideas about the future in our minds that we can form hopes and wishes. But not knowing how something will work out, a medical treatment, moving to a new city, changing careers, finding a life partner, is stressful and we can use our hope to soothe ourselves. Some may believe that a higher power can/will/does influence the outcomes of their hopes, others like myself don’t. But we all use hope to help us cope and reconcile an uncertain path with a desire for a positive outcome.

  133. says

    When it comes to hope, maybe it’s helpful to remember the story of Pandora’s creation and how hope stayed behind in Pandora’s pithos. So, long before the xian god showed up on the scene, hope played a major part in a different creation story, with a different pantheon of gods. We’ve long been weaving stories of gods and humans, and hope has generally played a starring role. It’s nothing unique to Christianity.

  134. ludicrous says

    Jim @ 149,

    Oppressed by nice? That breaks new ground in victimhood.

    If you have been fooled by fake niceness in the past, I’m sorry that happened but the odds of finding the genuine article in the future are in your favor.. This thread has been real.

  135. bad Jim says

    Morgan: hardly. The truth is that the Lounge reminds me what a hard time so many other people are having. I have to deal with a fair amount in my own life, and in the lives of people near me, and some of that isn’t improved by sharing with others who aren’t in the same situation, so I stay away. (Yes, I am pleading emotional fatigue.)

    I had no intention of putting down anyone who participates in the Lounge, and I apologize if
    that’s how it came across. I thought I was merely saying that the Pharyngulites are loving and trying to be helpful in almost exactly the same way as Christians (and, for all I know, members of every other community). Would it have been worse if I’d said that at times we’re indistinguishable from Unitarians?

    Maybe I am a monster. I thought I was saying something gently mocking about how ineffably nice people are around here. I don’t think I was wrong: you’re ardently compassionate and aggressively caring. Touchy, though.

  136. says

    bad jim:

    I thought I was saying something gently mocking about how ineffably nice people are around here.

    There was zero need for mockery in the first place. You simply decided to play asshole. It was inappropriate in every way. Now, I strongly suggest you comment no further in this thread. Thank you.

  137. annie55 says

    I’m willing to take Jim at his word…because I pleaded for kid gloves from the outset, and because I thought his comment was about safe places. Lurked in the controversial threads. Have never visited the lounge….looking forward to it.

  138. says

    annie55, welcome! They- we, I guess, funny I still want to say ‘they’ – we really are a friendly bunch, to people who don’t come here ready to be hostile to basic principles of social justice. To those people, well, yes, there are sniny claws and vorpal comments whose words go snicker-snack, and occasionally an holy hand grenade of Antioch even.

    The main thing you need to be able to get along in a community like this, one formed or revised or whatever to be a social-justice-oriented space, is the ability to listen, to say sorry, and to listen some more. Because you’ll make mistakes. Everyone makes them. Every one. The people who react to their mistakes with “Oh, sorry, thanks for telling me, I’ll try to fix that,” are treated kindly, for the most part, and aimed at resources helping to explain the way something went wrong.

    The people who react to being told “Hey, that’s kinda problematic, isn’t it?” with “OH YOU TYPICAL FTBULLIES CAN’T HEAR DISSENT WHAT AN ECHO CHAMBER YOU LEFTIST ISLAMOGAYHOMOFASCIST ASSHOLES ARE UNBELIEVABLE WHY DON’T YOU GO BACK TO SOMEWHERE THAT ISN’T HERE FREEZEPEACHFREEZEPEACHFREEZEPEACH (ad inf.)”, and then start getting aggressive, well, again, sniny claws and vorpal words and snicker-snack and messy things.

    I think you’ll like the Lounge, though. Their niceness is pretty much a group-renewable resource, and there are a fair number of pretty committed producers. :)

  139. says

    annie55:

    Have never visited the lounge….looking forward to it.

    Please do. That is a safe space, a haven if you will, away from the storms the rest of the threads can turn into with ease. It’s a good place to get to know a lot of the other people here, and you can talk about anything and everything.

    You’re a very nice person, Annie, and I’m really happy to have you here. I think your voice will be a valuable one, and new perspectives are always a good thing, keeps us on our toes.

  140. bad Jim says

    Holy shit! It all boils down to the phrase “oppressively nice”? What sort of hothouse flower repairs to the fainting couch over something like that?

    I get shit from everyone I meet about what a good person I am, because of my domestic situation. This grates on me because, as you all know, I’m not at all a good person. Nevertheless, people I barely know insist I am and express their gratitude. I’d leave town to escape my reputation if I could.

    It does say something about this bunch that I could get such a reaction in comments to a post about someone concerned about how their questions might be received. Mine was an insider comment, of course, and fair game; no complaints on that score. I didn’t mean it to be mean, quite the contrary, but clearly I hurt people; I’m sorry.

    Wasn’t the author of the email

  141. says

    Gonna two-post, cause I gotta go lie down, mea minima culpa.

    Like anteprepro, I don’t really have a prayer reflex because I wasn’t raised to pray, ever. My sister and I had free hands from the start; one Catholic and one Protestant parent in the 60s in the UK meant a lot of unhappiness on both sides. So we weren’t baptised by either, and we got away to Canada as soon as we could find passage.

    When people say they’re praying for me, or have prayed, or whatever, I usually just say ‘thank you for the kindness’ in a sincere manner, because I think it’s a fair assessment of the transaction’s value from my side (it’s nice to know someone’s thinking kindly of me), and yet is an unalloyed nice, polite, and appropriate thing to say to someone in return, sidestepping the need for interaction about our opinions of one another’s belief systems. They’re clearly meant in kindness (and the ones that aren’t, I think we all know the type, well, my response to those ones on the street tends to be, ahem, a digital signal in the analog world), and I can appreciate them on that level.

    For that matter, my partner has a small pagan shrine in our apartment here (she visits about 1/3 time), which she uses when it suits her. I’ve never minded the smell of most incense, so no worries there. And if she knows one of my friends or family are hurting, she’ll do some of her pagany stuff…*shrug*…she doesn’t expect me to do any of it, just to not be overly noisy when she’s about it. Which, y’know, not hard, it doesn’t take up much time, whatever she’s doing.

    So yeah, I figure the world’s short enough on kindness overall that I’m not going to clamp down on people’s all-too-rare willingness to give some out in public, even if I think the method of kindness they choose will have no more effect on making anything better than it would have if they’d just left some herring out in the sun*.

    Y(L/km)MV, of course, offer void in Elba and Saint Helena for historical reasons**.

    * Except that of course things will be better after the sun-herring has gone, while the prayer doesn’t even have the effect of being something bad that would go away eventually.

    ** I never didn’t make that up, it’s no kind of not unvoid there.

  142. Ingdigo Jump says

    I didn’t mean it to be mean, quite the contrary, but clearly I hurt people; I’m sorry.

    Lying.

  143. says

    Monitor Note:

    bad jim @ 157:

    Holy shit! It all boils down to the phrase “oppressively nice”? What sort of hothouse flower repairs to the fainting couch over something like that?

    That’s enough, please. This thread isn’t about you, so if you absolutely must continue, please click over to Thunderdome, where if anyone wishes to continue this with you, they can do so. Please remember to stay on topic if you wish to contribute any more to this thread – the topic is dealing with prayer and the need for it. You may wish to review the commenting rules. Thank you.

  144. says

    Caitie Cat:

    For that matter, my partner has a small pagan shrine in our apartment here (she visits about 1/3 time), which she uses when it suits her. I’ve never minded the smell of most incense, so no worries there.

    Heh, upthread, Ibis brought up smudging. I do that, not because I believe it will cleanse the house spiritually, but because it’s a tradition of my culture, and it has a deeply calming effect on me, as well as my partner. I also love the smell of sweetgrass and cedar, so that doesn’t hurt.

  145. says

    Caitie Cat:

    They- we, I guess, funny I still want to say ‘they’

    You really do need to get over that. You’re very much part of we. :)

    You made me smile. Thank you. :)

    Funny part? I did it again in the same post:

    I think you’ll like the Lounge, though. Their niceness is pretty much a group-renewable resource,

    Gonna need to keep working on that one. :)

  146. says

    Gurk, that 162 was in response to Caine, sorry, was working volunteer shift at the theatre again tonight, and the walk home has meant a second set of meds tonight, so I’m a wee bit zizzy around the edges, like unhemmed, y’know? Stray hairs sticking out in the wrong direction, fumbling words, having trouble with forgettiquette.

    Goodnight, Hordelings.

  147. phere says

    I haven’t read all the responses, but I think being full-blown atheist makes it easy to overlook those in the middle. Well…not quite in the middle but not quite *here* either. Our responses to those still in the journey is often akin to Borderline Personality Disorder where there is no grey area – people are either on the island or not. I am a victim of BPD – my mother suffers from it – and it’s brutal. One’s unfavorable personality quirks (like my lack of desire to leave a message – you’ll see if I call and call me back if you want..or not. This has escalated into huge family drama with every little thing I have done wrong, most of it not at all true, is vehemently thrown into my face.) I think we tend to forget that there is often a journey. None of us were full-blown believers one second and full-blown atheists the very next second.

  148. Azuma Hazuki says

    To the email writer: don’t worry, this place has a reputation for being a bit of a shark tank, but we will always help a heart in need. You sound like a good person, and have gotten lots of good replies so far. Definitely do check out the lounge, as it is a safe space as has been pointed out.

    This world breaks us all, some of us in ways that leave us permanently crippled physically or emotionally. Some of us are completely destroyed, and will die, or live a living death. If we can prevent those things from happening to you, if even by small things like offering support, just ask; simply knowing one is not alone does wonders for one’s mental health. Humans are a social species, and loneliness will permanently warp you if it continues too long, as I learned all too late.

    And, stay angry. The fact that you even had to start a prayer with essentially “if you’re not actually a Lovecraftian horror…” tells you all you need to know about the conception of God most people have. I am not an atheist, but will never, ever be an Abrahamic religious follower for exactly this reason. Stay angry. You are up against billions of people who will at least pay lip service to a twisted, nightmarish God-concept and through their minds and hands plunge this world into aionion despair. Stay angry. But come to us when it gets to be too much.

    @41/Rutee

    Byakuren isn’t entirely benevolent. You must have noticed her spell card Great Magic “Devil’s Recitation” is a retooled version of Shinki’s desperation attack, no? Shinki, the woman with six gigantic wings who rules over Makai (= “demon realm”) and whose territory has all sorts of flying eyeballs and such in it? She extended her life through black magic, and Symposium of Post Mysticism (IIRC) states as much and that she “probably can’t enter Nirvana.” And she keeps a temple full of youkai, several of whom are still just as murderous as ever; Murasa will still sink ships if she gets the chance, no one knows what Nue’s deal is…about the only remotely safe one of the lot is Kyouko, who’s essentially an anthropomorphized manifestation of, er, the tendency of things to echo in the mountains. Then there’s the simmering religious feud between Toyosatomimi no Miko’s Taoists and Byakuren’s Buddhism, with Mamizou brought in to complicate things…

    Madoka isn’t exactly supreme, either; Kyuubey granted that particular wish because it still suits his ends. That series is basically Sailor Moon meets Faust, with all the nightmare fuel that implies.

    Still definitely better than Yahweh though.

    [/end geekery]

  149. thinksanddrinks says

    I think that the most important thing is to leave everyone to follow the music that they hear. If they hear theistic music, that’s fine, as long as they do not try to force it down anyone else’s throat. If they hear atheist or agnostic music, or any music between that and theistic music, the same applies. I feel no need to persuade anyone else to follow my path. If someone asks me for assistance, I try to guide them to what seems to make sense for them (and I fully expect to be at least partly wrong). Follow the path you find most suitable to your needs.

    Some (make that many) people will object to that. That’s fine, but examine why you object to it. I didn’t say not to make public your atheism or theism. Go right ahead. Please do. Make public arguments in favor of your position. However, do not demonize the opposite view. You will not get converts that way. Say what you believe in, and why, but do not attempt to force or intmidate anyone. That is simple civilized behaviour.

    In any case, to the OP: If it hurts none, do as you will. As others have pointed out, if it soothes you and helps you to think things through, it hurts no one, including you.

  150. cicely says

    cubist:

    FYI: The image is the cover art for the RPG Call of Catthulhu, a game whose underlying premise—”cats are the only ones saving the Universe from the evil of Things From Beyond Space”—is likely to sprain some of PZ’s brain circuits.

    Thanks for the tip-off; it is now bookmarked for my Squidmas presents list.
     
    Still think the pic would be a winner on a tee shirt. Goodness knows I’d beg for one.
    -

    But I suppose, in retrospect, it was my mind finding reassuring patterns in events in order to make sense of a situation in which we were all helpless.

    Pretty much, yeah. After all, finding patterns in the world around us is, even now, a way of life, despite the reduced danger to most people today of wild animal attacks, and with the existence of weather reports that are usually better-than-guesswork. It’s part of what our brains do, to justify their keep.
    -
    I see “hope” and “aspiration to have/be/do something better” as being close kin; with hope sort of as aspiration’s more passive counterpart. Perhaps even as aspiration without action/follow through.
    -
    Nonono, CaitieCat! You Have Been Assimilated! You are we.
    *sound of grinding gears and mysterious clanking noises, smell of scorching insulation*
    -

  151. says

    @ thinksanddrinks

    However, do not demonize the opposite view.

    Let us not pretend that religious views are as neutral as you appear to wish to make them seem.

    For a large part, and in proportion to how strongly those views are held, religions cause an incredible amount of harm by espousing anti-humanist and anti-scientific views of the world. These viewpoints are all the more dangerous in that they are acted upon. No-one is complaining of a denatured, harmless style of religion that supposedly exists in the music that you listen to.

    Perhaps you should unplug your headphones for a while, and observe more carefully how this shit goes down in the real world.

  152. cicely says

    I thought I was merely saying that the Pharyngulites are loving and trying to be helpful in almost exactly the same way as Christians (and, for all I know, members of every other community). Would it have been worse if I’d said that at times we’re indistinguishable from Unitarians

    I’m not quite sure how to break this to you, bad Jim, but Christians, Unitarians, atheists…we’re all the same species, with the same needs and the same means of responding to those. You’re going to see resemblances.
     
    “Only human.”
    -

  153. says

    thinksanddrinks @166:

    However, do not demonize the opposite view. You will not get converts that way.

    Speaking up and out about the reality of religion and the immense amount of damage it does is not demonizing. Also, don’t assume anyone here is looking to convert people.* Assumptions are not wise, and you won’t find it easy going here if you plan to run on them.

    I will also point out that the more marginalized groups you belong to, the more damaging religion becomes: women, people of colour, children, LGBTIA people, all of them, more at risk from religious organizations and people. You do no one any favours by attempting to minimize the damage or downplay the truth.

    Pharyngula is not populated with people keen on quiet accommodationism. Attempting to scold everyone won’t go over terribly well, either. If you read all the comments, which you are supposed to do (see http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/rules/), you would have noted the majority of them are well-balanced, yet acknowledging the reality and context of various situations. Working on well thought out replies, minus assumptions and painting with a broad brush will work out better.
     
    *You either are not reading previous comments, or you’re ignoring / not comprehending what you’ve read. Many people have spoken up about not being atheists, and there has been no evangelizing going on.

  154. Alex says

    Hi annie55!
    I would say welcome, but I comment here so rarely that it would sounds hollow. So anyways, nice that you delurked and have fun :)

    Can we not practice a laissaz-faire atheism? I do not need to provoke anyone, prove anything, or constantly convince myself.

    I think that yes, in everyday life, that is often the way to go. In particular, as many have noted above, there are more important things in life than atheism or “atheistic purity”. Most commenters on this blog would probably agree that certain social justice issues are first, and atheism more or less a corollary. But your phrase laissez-faire atheism leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like you would like to tell atheist/freethought activists to shut up and stop being provocative. In many societies, christianity and theistic religion have such a priviliged position in society, and do much harm in different ways, that activism and outspoken criticism are necessary. Even in the mostly secular countries in Europe, the church has so much say in public life that it is very jarring. You can’t ask the atheists to stick to the laissez-faire approach when there is a strong theistic lobby practising a very non laissez-faire approach.

    As an individual, you don’t have to justify being nice and laissez-faire, mind you. It’s not for everyone, and not everyone is even in the position to be outspoken.

    Just as I avoid unnecessary discussion with my immediate loved ones, I avoid it with the WAL and not because I can’t keep my cool. These conversations upset people I care deeply for, people I respect.

    Then, it’S the nice approach for you. No problem with that :)

  155. teejaykay says

    Yay! Welcome, annie55! Don’t sell yourself short, less educated does not mean lack of wisdom, common sense or healthy curiosity.

    @Alex

    Even in the mostly secular countries in Europe, the church has so much say in public life that it is very jarring. You can’t ask the atheists to stick to the laissez-faire approach when there is a strong theistic lobby practising a very non laissez-faire approach.

    This is true, though not so much in my experience where I live. It’s far more easy for me to be a quiet atheist but I still get a little ticked off by some people, obviously. Most of the time they’re just confusing.* There are some offshoots of Christianity that I deplore, obviously. I suppose the best example is the schism within the mainstream Lutheran church, which I sometimes bang on about with friends –a small offshoot is pissed off that women can be priests in the vanilla Lutheran church, they separated into its own different entity and elected their own bishop. Laestadianism, well, I know a person whose life was utterly ruined by how fundamentalist their parents were.

    * Sadly, one of the times when I got slightly ticked off / confused was when a humanist organisation
    came up with this [sarcasm]brilliant[/sarcasm] idea of doing a publicity stunt where they offered to give you a porn mag in exchange for your bible. Obviously, a group of believers did the exact opposite stunt a little later on… bibles in exchange for porn mags.

  156. Alex says

    @teejaykay

    If you sometimes get ticked off at atheist/humanist association for such reasons, you’ve also come to the right place it seems :)

    And yes, if you want to criticise and piss off “the church” because of their hypocritical and unhealthy relationship to sex, exchanging bibles for condoms for example would have been a better choice.

    Concerning the discussion about women priests, I encounter such discussions every once in a while

  157. Alex says

    @teejaykay

    If you sometimes get ticked off at atheist/humanist association for such reasons, you’ve also come to the right place it seems :)

    And yes, if you want to criticise and piss off “the church” because of their hypocritical and unhealthy relationship to sex, exchanging bibles for condoms for example would have been a better choice.

    Concerning the discussion about women priests, I encounter such discussions every once in a while and I just dont know what to say. My gut reaction is ‘good for the women that they dont get involved in that nonsense, but then, what it boils down to is them being denied yet another influential and (in their community important) position. So i usuly don’t say anything…

  158. teejaykay says

    @Alex

    Oh, I know I’ve come to the right place. I’ve been haunting this place for a year or two, only commenting sporadically myself!

    Re: women as priests, my gut reaction is mostly exactly that exclusion. I may not have a lot of love for the church, but I’ve even less patience for “a woman can’t do a man’s job!” attitudes.

  159. carlie says

    BadJim, I’m willing to take your explanation at face value, but let’s not keep that conversation going. Something was said, it was taken a particular way, you explained that wasn’t what you meant, ok done.

    I’m not saying that I’m quiet about things that matter. I’m not going to yell at my grandma that she’s wasted her life in church, because that doesn’t do anything but antagonize my grandma and sour the entire family. But if my grandma starts talking about x political issue, I will tell her that my views are different and explain how I think the application of that issue actually hurts people and why. Not wearing an A+ necklace to Christmas dinner doesn’t mean that she doesn’t know where I stand on issues that count. And I don’t mind if someone else tells her religion can stuff it (and if they want, I’ll tell their grandma that in exchange).

  160. says

    my names are Leonard Wilsonian want to testify to the how world of my good experience with Dr UDUEHI the spell caster, my wife ran away from our marriage after 3 years of marriage because she was felt i was not the right man for her due to the fact that she was been deceived by her friends in her working place . and she also took our only son along with her so after she left i was not my self because i loved her so so much so i vowed not to rest until i am able to bring my wife back home because i knew she was be deceived by her friends so i began to look for what to do so one day as i was browsing i saw a post about this Dr UDUEHI of [somewhere] on how he helped a lady to restored her relationship so i decided to give him try believe me when i tell my story to Dr UDUEHI him assure me three days my wife will come back home and that was what actually happened so with these great thing Dr UDUEHI has just done for me i have promise to always share his testimonies for others to hear bye

  161. jamessweet says

    Heh, I wish that type of prayer made me feel better. It would be nice to have something easy like that I could do when I’m afflicted with pointless worry and/or anxiety.

    As long as you know the score in your conscious mind, I’d say look at it as a lucky break that it works for you.

  162. says

    Monitor Note:

    Leonard Wilson please do not post third parties’ email addresses here without their express permission. An alert has been sent to PZ regarding this.

    If you wish to evangelise on behalf of this Doctor, I suggest you do so in the Thunderdome.

  163. Alex says

    re “Leonard Wilson”

    Little known fact, many marriages fail due to lack of punctuation.

    but in seriousness,
    I have had a terrifying case in my neighborhood where a woman was convinced by a guru that her husband would come back to her, at a certain date no less. Everything was arranged by her, including food catering and venue, for a second wedding, of course to a devastating end for all involved.

    @teejaykay

    I’ve been told it has nothing to do with women in men’s jobs.
    It’s because Jesus died for our sins, not Jesina, duh.

  164. Pierce R. Butler says

    Many years ago, I greatly embarrassed myself when suddenly awoken by an earthquake and crying out, “Oh Gawwwd!”

    Very soon after, I at least partially redeemed myself by jumping up right before my bedside bricks’n’boards bookshelf toppled over onto where I had lain.

    Our brains may succumb to the infantile reflex of calling for help and the conditioned cultural programming of theism, but we still have all our other mental resources – just remember to call on those when in need.

    And don’t construct tall b’n’b shelves within 100 miles of the California coast.

  165. frankb says

    Even though I was the son of a fourth generation minister I have no habit of saying prayers for special occasions and I dropped the custom of saying ritual prayers when I was out on my own. Apart from meal times my father and mother never prayed or talked of religion outside of church. So I have no feel for this struggle others have. I have aquaintances who ask for prayer in troubling times but I will reply about wishing them well or thinking about them. Giving and taking comfort between atheists and theists aren’t all that different, one group will mention god and the other group won’t.

  166. says

    @Azuma: Wrote something, then realized “Fuck it, this is not the place.” But I don’t want to delete it. See Off Topic Thread. Or don’t. I don’t care.

  167. says

    For a large part, and in proportion to how strongly those views are held, religions cause an incredible amount of harm by espousing anti-humanist and anti-scientific views of the world. These viewpoints are all the more dangerous in that they are acted upon. No-one is complaining of a denatured, harmless style of religion that supposedly exists in the music that you listen to.

    Just gonna forget that a lot of progressive causes are also motivated by religion then? Yes, religion is a vector upon which discrimination spreads – so too has humanism been.

  168. says

    I can’t quite get my head around it yet…for me “atheistic purity” implies a lack of compassion, understanding, and even humor. But the three qualities are easily found right here in this thread.

    Nah. I don’t even think the straw vulcans want those gone, and they’re kinda far and few between when it comes to anything but apologizing for -isms.

  169. says

    Pierce:

    Many years ago, I greatly embarrassed myself when suddenly awoken by an earthquake and crying out, “Oh Gawwwd!”

    Pffft, as someone who experienced many SoCal earthquakes, that’s downright mild. The first one, which was major, happened when I was around 9/10. Naturally, I was sleeping. Eventually I woke up, and wandered off to see what A was doing. She was sleeping, woman could sleep through a bomb. Stuff is falling, the bed is actively moving about the floor, my dog is freaking out, and I finally yelled out “Jesus Christ, Wake the Fuck Up!”, which didn’t work. Another three times did, though.

  170. says

    I’ve always seen hope and inspiration as the idea that things could be better than they are and an idea of how they could be better, myself. One hopes because things could be better, or more just, or more loving–and before anyone says it, no, things could not always apparently be better. Sometimes the situation sucks through and through and there is no improving it. One feels inspired because solutions or partial solutions occur to one.

    No deity needed, merely the necessary introspection or analysis for a solution. :)

  171. hyrax says

    I don’t pray anymore, exactly, but I do vocalize wishes and frustrations. I’ll just say aloud “I really hope this works out” or “Oh no please don’t let this be the case.” But it’s not directed at anyone, and it’s not as if I expect it to actually have any effect on things. It just helps, somehow, to say it aloud.

    On a related, and less work-safe, note: one odd consequence of becoming more firmly atheist is that my swearing has gotten a lot stronger, because I’ve basically substituted “god” for “fuck.” So now my most common expletives are “fucking dammit!” and “fuck’s sake!” I’ve even mostly dropped “god” during sex– saying “oh fuck” seems more fitting than “oh god” anyway.

  172. Alex says

    @hyrax

    I’ve even mostly dropped “god” during sex– saying “oh fuck” seems more fitting than “oh god” anyway

    Talk about stating the obvious :D

  173. says

    Quit praying to the god you don’t believe in.
    Still need to pray? Pray to you. “Best part of me, please do something about x.”

    Chances are this is probably what you’re doing anyway, but without wording the spoils the mood. With a word you’ve been taught to think has more depth to it.

    Now, I would think that the way this is phrased everyone would be generally supportive, but I know that doesn’t quite play out that way with any group on the internet. Tough it out, if somebody is a major jerk about it don’t keep responding to them- give the persistent the last word fairly quick and they simply won’t hurt you nearly as much.
    Or don’t. You can still learn a lot when you push yourself dangerously close to a meltdown. Your call really. At the first sign of foul weather you can gamble staying outside or just withdraw if you’ve already put up with enough shit today and getting wet is going to push you over the edge into miserable territory.

  174. says

    andrewriding:

    At the first sign of foul weather you can gamble staying outside or just withdraw if you’ve already put up with enough shit today and getting wet is going to push you over the edge into miserable territory.

    That’s a nice way to phrase it. Sometimes you’re in a mood for a storm, and sometimes you aren’t.

  175. gussnarp says

    I’m super late to this party, but my answer would be: Time.

    It just takes time. Or maybe it doesn’t ever happen. But I passed through almost every imaginable stage in religious belief from devout evangelical who believed in God and Satan as real beings acting in the world, to Christian who didn’t believe in any organized form of religion, to pagan, to Buddhist (sort of), to agnostic, to full blown militant atheist.

    And sometimes my brain still says: “God, make this pain go away. Please God don’t let me get another migraine”. These aren’t actually prayers, though. I don’t in any way think there’s a god that I’m asking for anything. It’s just a verbal form that I’m so accustomed to that my brain generates it in times of distress. And I’m pretty much OK with that. I’m less OK with the fact that I still knock on wood and I cannot stop doing it, and I am literally thinking of all the horrible things that could happen every time I do it.

    But with time I did stop actually praying. I did stop fearing Hell and Satan and come to feel completely confident that they, along with God, are complete and utter fictions. But it just took time, more than anything.

  176. dshetty says

    I’m what you could call an extreme agnostic, and to the bone, a secular humanist…I still find myself, in moments of extreme stress, essentially falling back on the “prayer” release.

    So you are where I was about a couple of years ago.
    But there is only so many prayers that go unanswered before prayer stops having any (emotional) use (in my case a prolonged suffering of my diabetic grandmother). I ran into this to pray or not when my dear aunt was diagnosed with cancer – and to avoid the feeling of helplessness I thought maybe I should pray – However I just couldnt convince myself that this would have any use – Pascal’s wager for prayers just didnt work. So I spent the time thinking of happy times spent with my aunt. And I think I was better of .

    But ultimately praying by yourself for whatever you feel helps you isn’t an issue at all – whether you are agnostic or religious – as such, even *militant* atheists do not care what you do in the privacy of your home.

  177. nancymartin says

    Definitely a lurker and intimidated by the folks on here (I find I can get from a to c without going through b which doesn’t make me the best at expressing myself). But the way I feel about it is that Agnostics are still seeking proof which is a good thing. Keeping an open mind is always a good way to go. Personally, it took me some time to make that transition from Agnostic to Athiest. FWIW, I also think ESP would be really cool if it could be proven but it hasn’t been so for now I now I don’t believe in it.