What Happens When Atheists Pray?

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A lot of people seem to think that, by believing in the myths of a religion, they will acquire some sort of privilege above all other people—they can become those chosen by their god to impose his will on the world around them. In return for their dedication, they expect some kind of payoff—a manifold return on their investment. So they pray for what they want. Sometimes they get it. More often they don’t. From this many conclude there is no god. Of course they would be more accurate to conclude that there is no god that fits their image of deity or, if there is, he’s not inclined to give them what they want. At least not just because they want it. And, in the final analysis, if  your god won’t give you what you want, what good is he?

But stop and look at this the other way around. Suppose you were a genuine omni-cubed god, how would anybody know you were around unless there were places and times you weren’t around? But you can’t ever not be around if you are omni-cubed. And how could one ever expect that such a deity would be directed by the personal wishes of one person among the vast number populating the universe? So let’s start by accepting that, if a prayer is going to be answered in a personal way, the answer won’t come from the omni-cubed god, if he exists.

Many people think that, if they only believe in god, then he will exist and solve their problems for them. That is mere magical thinking. Suppose, however, a believer comes to know the existence of god and understand a part of his very nature. Such a knower, self-aware of the power and limitations of divine action in the finite realm, will not seek the unattainable. A knower is aware of how to act efficiently in context to foster destiny and how to accept the enhanced understanding of reality that comes from analysis of each adventure.

Put another way, anything you would get from divine reality must be in accordance with the divine will. It must also be a bonus that can be delivered through the higher functions of mind, emotion, motivation, and experience. Even the Bible says that King Solomon prayed for wisdom and was also the wisest of all kings of the Hebrews. If the human mind indeed contains a spiritual connection through which the more positive attractors of behavior can be illuminated and strengthened, this is surely the domain in which the correct attitude of receptiveness to concepts that will fill a cavern of desire can be translated directly into enlightenment.

But what of the atheist, the person who cannot or will not believe in a personal “god”? And here we come to a basic paradox in the human limited concept of spiritual faith. Just as the individual “names of god” have no meaning in and of themselves, so the individual “beliefs in god” are also meaningless. An atheist who needs and knows that he wants a shot of wisdom is going to get it from somewhere. And it makes little difference whether we believe or science shows us it is from some otherwise imperceptible level of divinity or from the associative capabilities of the human mind. And if it comes from that mind, it does not matter whether it emerges from the physical architecture of the brain or from some inherited or learned cognitive process.

In the final analysis, what happens in life that matters is defined by the satisfaction of basic drives, be they human or divine, to make life better for ourselves and the generations that come after us. And that is a high destiny that all may share, regardless of their imagined or real relationship to some undefined “higher power.”

To truly know what you need is to possess it. And that is the key to true creativity. And that is real magic.

—Dan Massey