Get off your knees and stand

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I've been taking a self-paced training class at a local technical training center for the last month, and I'll typically take a little break half-way through each session to walk around the building in order to avoid DVT's and falling asleep. So yesterday I was strolling around and saw this bumper sticker on a parked vehicle:



Now, I believe in the idea of good and evil. Not as some weird third party, supernatural entity, but the idea that each of us as individuals has the capacity for both, and that the point of living is to foster the former and suppress the latter. Not because some supernatural being tells me to, but because it's right and ethical to do so.


I've studied the practices of religious people enough to know that prayer (or meditation, if you prefer) has intrinsic value to people who do it on a regular basis. From what I've read, the benefits can include lower stress, a calmness of mind, lower heart rate, and other things that can only be described as "good." In my quest to be a non-asshole Atheist, I try to understand the deep personal value people of faith place on prayer.

But this - this idea that "prayer" is the best defense against evil - this I don't get.

While realizing this is flippant, do these people think that if they just pray hard enough, their deity will come on down and smite the evil-doers?  Do they think that praying will force the evil-doers to see the error of their ways and make changes for the better? Really, what does this mean?

From my perspective as an Atheist materialist, the best defense against evil is to stand up. Is your government suppressing a peaceful demonstration against tyranny? Stand up. Do you believe that an invading force needs to be resisted with all the assets at your disposal? Stand up. Do you believe that defending your neighbors against evil is the right thing to do? Stand up.

Most Americans don't find themselves in those situations. But that doesn't mean there are no opportunities to stand up. Take the Patriot Guard Riders, who stand up for the families of fallen veterans against the evil that is the Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk. Or The Innocence Project, who stand up for death row inmates by exonerating the innocent. Sadly, there's plenty of evil in this world, and plenty of chances to stand up, if we choose to do so.

I'm not saying that people of faith don't stand up when it's required. History is full of stories of their bravery, and in many cases, their faith (and their practice of prayer) gave them strength to do what was necessary. But to imply that prayer alone is what defends us from evil? No. People defend us from evil. People of courage and conviction. People who stand up.

7 comments:

Steve Buchheit said...

"While realizing this is flippant, do these people think that if they just pray hard enough, their deity will come on down and smite the evil-doers? "

Actually, yes they do. It's called intercessory prayer.

Janiece said...

Because that outcome occurs so very frequently?

John the Scientist said...

It happens often enough that they can cherry pick the times it does and ignore the rest. Bad behavior often brings down negative consequences of natural origin. I mean, Yezhov and Beria got what was coming to them - eventually. If that was direct Divine intervention then God took his own sweet time about it.

Phiala said...

Alternately, meditation/prayer may well be a good (possibly even the best) way to combat evil within yourself.

Which, granted, has nothing whatsoever to do with the likely intent of that bumper sticker.

Janiece said...

John, I think that your comment about bad behavior bringing its own consequences is the truth - whatever deity may be out there seems pretty hands-off at this point, or what's the point of faith?

And Phiala wins.

Megan Broutian said...

The part I don't agree with is that prayer is the BEST defense against evil. It might be A defense against evil, it might even be A GOOD defense against evil, though arguably not the BEST. And since I view this from my lapsed-ish-catholic, God-fearing position, that's all I will say about it.

Janiece said...

Megan, that's fair enough, as this discussion is subjective at best.