Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reflections on an Atheist's Prayer

As a person of faith, it can be frustrating to intellectually engage  with atheists as their attitude is often smarmy, zealous, intolerantly proselytizing anti-religion.   So it was a pleasure to come across a post by "The Irish Atheist", who had converted his horror of the war in Syria to compose "An Atheist's Prayer".  

In reproducing this creedal cri-de-couer, a bit of the phrasing has been modified to make it more universal-- I hope that does not cause disfellowship.

I will not advocate war, because I will not support killing others to bring peace.
I will respect the government I helped elect, even when I do not agree with their decisions. I will always remember that I speak with both my voice and my vote.
I will take the time to educate myself on what is happening in the world around me. I will remember that if I’m going to speak on a subject, it’s my duty to speak intelligently.
I will sincerely thank a veteran for his or her service.
I will do something today that makes me uncomfortable. I will light a candle in a cathedral, hold hands with a Muslim as they pray. I will step into a synagogue and listen. And I will savour the knowledge that I did so because it was my choice and my freedom to, not because it was required.
I will debate my intellectual opponents with respect, without personal attacks, because the freedom to engage in the exchange of ideas deserves the highest respect.
I will buy a book on a subject I know nothing about.
I will treat strangers with kindness. Every act of kindness will be my prayer.
I will tell someone that I love them, not just assume they know. I will tell them as soon as possible.
I will not forget a troubled region when it falls from the headlines. And if I encounter an opportunity to help someone from a war-torn nation, I will take it. 
I will continue to pray the Atheist’s Prayer, the prayer of action and deeds.
These are admirable ambitions which reflect "the better angels" of our nature. Alas, we often fall short of our ideals.  Catholics understand "original sin" as a sin nature which tempts us to choose temporal, selfish  pursuits which fall short of the person we ought to be. 

As much as I am impressed by the Irish Atheists intentions, I suspect that the "Atheists Prayer" could lapse like most New Year's resolutions or become platitudinous prayer instead of being one of action and deeds. 

Making the world a better place also involves forgiveness.  That is not an ordinary human impulse as to err is human, to forgive is divine. And to accept efforts of redemption. This is where I fear "The Atheist Prayer" falls short.  It gives aspirational affirmative action but does not allow for inevitable imperfection. 

Praying to God can be caricatured  as sending out a supernatural wish list.  Perhaps that is how puerile prayers are perceived by non-theists.  But more mature prayer involves meditation, contemplation and a radical openness to action looking beyond oneself.  It is said that prayer does not change God, but that good prayer changes you. 

Ignatian Spirituality centers on an Examen, which is a quick prayer that includes: 

  • Presence (acknowledgement of things more than oneself); 
  • Gratitude for the good things each day; 
  • Review of experiencing God's presence
  • Sorrow where one's shortcomings are acknowledged and forgiven; and
  • Grace- Discerning how you feel

Jesuits will take a 30 day silent retreat based upon this methodology so that they may embody the charism of contemplation in action. 

While I may differ with The Irish Atheist on theological and ecclestiastical issues, I appreciate his impetus as expressed in "The Atheist's Prayer" as well as his respect for others' beliefs.  The world would be a better place if more heeded the action items of his creed.  

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