Why is it so hard not to pray in difficult times?

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Discussion by: joeyisared

I am an atheist. If people asked me what my creed is, I would refer them to the mission statement of the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

 

Our Mission

"Our mission is to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and human suffering."

 

I remain "faithful" to this "creed," but these days, it's proving difficult.

 

Last month, I quit my job. I was a senior instructor in the company's training department for financial services. For seven and a half years, that company was my home. Last year, I was promised a promotion. It wasn't given to me. I thought, "No hard feelings." Last month, I spoke to the director of the training department, talked to her about my readiness to take on a role in management, and was asked to wait. I thought about the opportunity cost of waiting for a position to open and the possiblity of another broken promise. After much consideration, I gave my company my thirty-day notice.

 

I have years of experience. I am good at what I do. I was confident I would land another job right away. It's been a month since I left my company. I have been aggressively looking for employment. So far, I have only received two interview requests from companies who, in the end, said they couldn't afford me.

 

Last night, after my girlfriend and I projected our expenses against our remaining savings, I was tempted to pray. The thought that we only had enough funds left to sustain us for two more months wouldn't leave me. I found myself getting out of bed and going to the kitchen and plainly arguing with myself. I couldn't silence this little voice inside my head saying "Now would be a really good time to talk to the god you decided to stop believing in."

 

I am putting this out there because it made me curious – why does it feel so tempting now to irrationally surrender to the supernatural? Why does Carrie Underwood's song 'Jesus Take the Wheel' seem to make perfect sense again? To be honest, I don't know. I have a suspect, though: for nearly three decades, that was my training – when the challenge seems to big for you, when the mountain seems too high or the valley seems too low, reach out to god. I suspect that praying seems tempting during these trying times because it was what I was trained to do. And I was trained well, too well.

 

Staying true to my 'creed', I am employing critical thinking to have an evidence-based understanding of a person's inclination towards prayer especially during hard times. Personally, I want to understand so that I can overcome whatever remnants of religious fundamentalism remain inside me. And this being the 'Discussion' section, I would greatly appreciate it if you would express your thoughts on the question. Thank you.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Its not hard for me, I never even consider praying. Apparently you were indoctrinated at some point in your life, probably during your childhood, and praying was the default act used during difficult times. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    On the other hand It would appear that you left your previous employment prematurely, before you had secured another position elsewhere. Probably should’ve handled that differently.

    • In reply to #1 by JuJu:

      Its not hard for me, I never even consider praying.

      This is my experience as well. It never comes to mind as a course of action. It would take a lot of training during your upbringing for this to be your first response in a time of crisis. I can’t guarantee that I’d behave rationally and I’d certainly be stressed but I know that I wouldn’t pray.

      • In reply to #3 by Nitya:

        In reply to #1 by JuJu:

        Its not hard for me, I never even consider praying.

        This is my experience as well. It never comes to mind as a course of action. It would take a lot of training during your upbringing for this to be your first response in a time of crisis. I can’t guarantee that I’d behave rationally and I’d certainly be stressed but I know that I wouldn’t pray.

        me too. I’ve been in some distressing personnel situations, even physical danger and prayer never crossed my mind. I went to a CoE primary school and prayer was a daily event. But it obviously never embedded itself very deeply.

  2. Were you ever really religious, if yes it may just be a normal reaction as a lot of people at times of stress will reach for phsical or mental things that comfort/used to comfort. I know a lot of ex-smokers, some who have not smoked for 20 or 30 years, admitting there have been times when they craved a smoke duting times of stress of pain.

    There seems to be no reason why a physchological crutch should not work in the same way. A lot of of us in miserable situations will consider things we would never think of in a fully rational state of mind. Why do you think religions target the ill, the disabled and anyone else they think might be pschologiclally ripe for converting.

  3. I’m assuming you are in the USA…

    You probably should have read this before you quit your job.

    …employers only want to hire people who already have jobs and that there’s a view that there must be something wrong with you if you’re unemployed.

    http://www.npr.org/2010/11/16/131367533/some-will-only-hire-if-you-already-have-a-job

    Whoops.

    The revelation last year that many job requirements for open positions mandated that candidates already be employed seemed a bit like a joke, but the evidence that employers screened out unemployed applicants was so widespread that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission began investigating it.

    and

    Here’s the point: Hiring managers are only human. They don’t have much support in doing their jobs. If you think hiring decisions are based on careful evidence about what attributes make the best hires, think again. Few employers have the time or resources to do any studies of what predicts a good hire, let alone looking at the specific evidence concerning prior unemployment.

    http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/08/what-data-show-about-hiring-th/

    And maybe worst of all:

    A new research paper suggests potential employers think less of unemployed job candidates no matter how briefly they’ve been out of work. And it doesn’t matter whether workers quit voluntarily or were laid off through no fault of their own.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/unemployment-discrimination_n_1719337.html

    Ouch.

    I’m not trying to pile on. Indeed, I’ve personally faced this discrimination. I had to finally go back to a previous employer to get a job for a fraction of my previous salary. However, you need to face facts.

    This was delusional:

    I was confident I would land another job right away.

    Here’s some advice for anyone in this pickle from someone who has been there. You’re not going to like it. They are just suggestions, feel free to blow them off.

    1) Consider asking for your old job back. (I think this should be your first course of action).

    2) Touch base with any previous employer to see if they are hiring.

    3) Consider temp work to get your foot in the door.

    4) Scale back your cost of living.

    5) Take on part-time work or any job, even if not in your field.

    6) Consider training or a new field. I’ve recently started studying ICD-10-CM (Google it).

    7) Keep a positive outlook.

    As far as prayer, if it makes you feel better then that’s your business. IMO, prayer will be detrimental only if it prevents you from taking constructive action because you are relying on a non-existent entity to bail you out (which is exactly what that Underwood song is telling you to do).

    Good luck.

  4. On the day of the Asian tsunami over 300,000 innocent men, women, and children perished. But what was God doing while the tsunami laid waste their world? Tens of thousands of these poor people died while praying to the great pychopath in the sky.

  5. Good luck to you. Here’s the thing I learned about myself – whenever I want to up and quit because I feel that my job is holding me back or has a lowered ceiling, I need to take inventory of my entire life, in and out of work. The problems I face with one employer has a way of showing up in the next job. It really has little to do with your employer and more to do with how you are unaware of how you handle situations. Up and quitting is tough. Arrogantly been there/done that and will not do it again unless I have a plan for self-employment. People/employers have agendas and you play a role that they want. You need to bite your tongue and reflect what is best for you and how you will go about getting it in your own terms in a way that is most comfortable to you. Now make some plans and stop thinking that employers view you in as high of a regard that you view yourself. Live and learn.

    Take your pick —–Praying is an attempt to have some sort of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. It’s an attempt to be proactive while hoping you will be rescued from an uncomfortable experience from some other source other than yourself. It’s a way to calm yourself by going into your thoughts and reflect on what you need. It’s an attempt release the anxiety your experiencing by acknowledging your needs and expressing them (projecting them) onto “another entity.” My advice is to either find a way to bounce your thoughts on a confidential friend or if you’re an introvert – journaling, writing, or walking in nature.

  6. this reminded me of a time my ex was having a hard time and I said to her “do believe in god?” she said no so I asked her “do you ever pray?” she laughed and nodded.

    belief in god is not the only reason to pray. I’d go so far as to say preyer long precedes belief. children sometimes talk to imgainary friends, adults even talk to themselves sometimes. if you’ve been brought up religious then a tendency to talk to no one has just been hijacked.

    being a social ape, much of your life revolves around communication. so much so that your sense of self is reliant on it, you are a product of your culture. communication between individuals effectively creates neural pathways from one brain to another, a problem shared is a problem halved. This is so powerful that simply speaking out loud or thinking in language creates new pathways within your own brain, allbeit sometimes via your mouth into the resonating atmosphere and back into your ear, or just via the language handling bits of your brain.

    if you’ve ever had psychotherapy you’ll know your therapist gets paid for sitting down doing virtually bugger all while you talk out your issues. because humans find such actions theraputic it’s hardle surprising praying was an easy sell.

    prayer can work. it doesn’t set off miracles happening by an absent minded god who took his eye off the ball until you reminded him of his purpose, but helps rationalise a problem. it helps calm people because they’re engaging in an action that has through evolution, been beneficial so there will be some emotional reward. the act of meditation in itsel is helpful, it gets the subject out of a nagative loop of problem>no imediate solution>problem….

    so maybe religious people have been right occasionally when deciding to pray over a problem. they give their brains a chance to reflect and vocalise issues. the solution sometimes seems to arise from nowhere, similar to sleeping on a problem. believers will see this as god talking providing an answer, arrogant atheists like me see it as me providing an answer subconsciously.

    it’s all baout unlocking the creative nature. praying, sleeping, shamanism, getting stoned… all ways of giving your brain a break from the constant demands of your ego to get on with what it does best

  7. if you’ve ever had psychotherapy you’ll know your therapist gets paid for sitting down doing virtually bugger all while you talk out your issues. because humans find such actions theraputic it’s hardle surprising praying was an easy sell.

    My guess is that I came out of the womb thinking and reflecting my thoughts in my head. I remember pondering questions when I was a toddler. Some people are unaware that they have a voice inside themselves – strange huh? I would think that religion and prayer simply piggybacked onto what many of us introverts do naturally.

  8. Rather than saying “Praying’s dumb, you’re an obvious ex-Christian”, I’ll say you put your point across well.

    Your piece obviously shows, openly relates even, that you largely understand the illogical mindset stress inflicted upon you.

    During hard times for me recently I’ll admit staring at the stars and drunkenly contemplating some Norse Mythology. Not for any purpose or claim, but for the fact it isn’t uncommon for us to drift into fantasy. That’s why fiction, fantasy novels exist. We answer to the reality of science, truth and reason. Imagination isn’t a crime nor synonymous with religion.

    That’s why after reading your piece, I shuddered when I discovered post #1 was just the response I’d predicted.

    All the best, OP.

    • In reply to #13 by Timothy McNamara:

      Rather than saying “Praying’s dumb, you’re an obvious ex-Christian”, I’ll say you put your point across well.

      Where in my post do I say anything about being dumb?

      That’s why after reading your piece, I shuddered when I discovered post #1 was just the response I’d predicted.

      It would appear to me that you decided someone was going to attack the author, then that confirmation bias caused you to misinterpret by comment.

      The author asked a couple of questions and gave a brief explanation of his experiences. He seemed to answer his own questions and I just pointed that out. How did that make you shudder?

  9. Were as I, being wheeled into an operating theatre five years ago for a possible fatal heart operation, was not in the least tempted to apply for favourable intercession from a mythical super being. Go figure.

  10. I can understand this. I was raised a fundie christian. I deconverted in my mid-twenties and now lack a belief in any deity or anything supernatural. About two years ago, my son was born at 27 weeks gestational age, weighing only 1.36 ounces. He survived, against some steep odds, four and a half months in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit and came home. We thought the NICU was tough–that was vacation compared to keeping him alive at home. I’ve never been in an actual fox hole, but sparing the details, it was and continues to be hell, an emotional, terrifying, roller coaster for my family and I. Throughout this experience, the emotional stress did allow the the thought of prayer to enter my mind once. The prayer started out cynically and ended quickly with “and if you do actually exist and you can hear me, you’re a fucking asshole”. Though, at no time during the prayer did I actually believe there was a god and that I was doing anything meaningful–it was an irrational action brought about by fear and desparation. Ultimately, science, technology, medicine, and the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, etc. kept my son alive. My time in the “fox hole” strenthened my atheism. I don’t beat myself up for that silly decision to pray.

  11. I simply cannot understand “the urge to pray when times are bad.” What is it but an indulgence in superstition and a waste of time? That there are neither gods, angels, saints or souls seems to me to be a very obvious fact. An implication of this fact is that none of these entities can possibly help you through hard times. You must help yourself, or perhaps better, try to find people who will help you. This will not be remedied by pretending that a great Sky Daddy cares about you and wants to help you. Either get used to it, or start pretending that Sky Daddy hears your prayers. The latter would be about the same as pretending that a large check will soon arive in the mail, but if that doesn’t bother you, that’s your business.

  12. What is praying anyway? Is it intense wishful thinking, talking to yourself, pretending that you are a telepath? Is there a correct method (and an incorrect method), degrees of efficacy, a ‘proper’ way? Anything quantifiable? Oh I see, its delusional.
    Now you can move on into the real world of cause and effect. Its such a relief when a great burden of enervating silliness is lifted from your life.

  13. It seems fairly simple to me. Anyone who has an urge to pray hasn’t really ridded themself of the belief that maybe there really is an invisible sky pixie looking out for them. I’ve never had any urge to pray even in a number of life threatening situations such as car crashes, motorbike crashes and having to climb down a cliff to rescue the idiot dog from from the sea when he slipped down the cliff and fell in.

    In a difficult situation ones time is better spent looking for logical solutions and least worst case scenarios to aim for than hoping a non existent deity will suddenly decide of all the millions of people who die horribly each year, you’re the one he’ll inexplicably help.

    In fact as with all things religious, praying just stops you making the right choices, or at least the most logical ones, and taking responsibility for ones own fate instead of abdicating it like a headless chicken.

  14. You’re an atheist
    You’re having a difficult times
    No matter what you do, nothing’s works

    So from your past self
    You feel the urge to pray
    To ask help from God, who you think doesn’t exist

    That’s imann, that’s faith
    Even if your mind told you not to believe in God, your body believe in God

    I’ll start by arguing about how or why I think God exist
    Lets see,
    Atheist believe in science right
    You’re saying gravity force exists, magnetic force exists, can you describe the way it looks?
    The wind, the light, the weight
    All of these, you can feel it
    Yet you can’t see it
    So how can you say that God doesn’t exist just because you don’t see Him?

    The reason you’re feeling as if you want to pray is because your body feel the need to go to Him
    to ask for His guidance
    yet it’s His own Will to decide if He wants to help you or not
    because He’s God, He’s our Master
    and we, His creations are just slaves

    which is why even when disaster, dificulties happens,
    it’s His own Will to make us feel it, suffers from it
    He wants to teach us something
    He wants us to go back to Him
    He misses our prayers of asking help from Him
    because He also Loves you

    Still, if you want to argue about God exists
    I’ll give you another argument

    We, humans are living in the 3rd dimension.
    The drawing on a piece of paper, the shows on television should be in the 2nd dimension right.
    Do you also believe that there’s a 4th, 5th and 6th dimension?

    Scientifically, only the objects exist in the higher dimension able to see the objects in the lower dimension.
    Like us, humans who see the drawing on a piece of paper,
    Can the drawing see’s us

    Even the fact that Earth is round
    you only confirmed it the moment when Neils Armstrong went to space
    What if you go farther?
    Isn’t it possible for you to find something else?
    Just because you can’t prove it exists does not mean it’s not exist

    Perhaps God is there in another dimension, different from us
    that He can see us, but we can’t see Him

    Thanks for reading
    p/s: I’m a Muslim , and I’m proud of it

  15. I’ve been praying to Him (God) a lot

    Some of my prayers, He answered them quickly

    Some of them, He answered them slowly, when the right moment comes

    Some of them, He answered them in the Hereafter

    It’s because He’s God,
    He knows what’s Best for us
    So He answered our prayers in the Best Times
    or maybe He decides something else for us
    Because that something else is Better

    Just because you think it’s good for you doesn’t mean it’s good
    , Just because you think it’s bad for you doesn’t mean it’s bad, It might be the Best things ever happen in Your Life

    But then, don’t stop praying
    Because He loves hearing your prayers, until you yourself become bored of them (praying)

    Just my 2 cent

  16. Praying is basically talking to yourself, which can and does help us to determine solutions to our problems. I wouldn’t sweat it. If we want to be rational and logical all the time, forget that, it’s not possible. We’re not Spocks. We do weird, quirky things all the time that make no sense and doing so does not undermine the core of our atheism.

    • In reply to #26 by XFR Stone:

      Praying is basically talking to yourself, which can and does help us to determine solutions to our problems. I wouldn’t sweat it. If we want to be rational and logical all the time, forget that, it’s not possible. We’re not Spocks. We do weird, quirky things all the time that make no sense and doing…

      Agreed. Five years ago my new born nephew was near death. I’m a lifelong atheist and I began to pray (just in case I was wrong) I guess I took Pascal’s wager. My nephew survived but has had some minor problems that he’s in therapy for. I realize now that the panic is gone that I realize he survived because he was a short drive away from an excellent children’s hospital.

      • In reply to #27 by matt1162:

        In reply to #26 by XFR Stone:

        Praying is basically talking to yourself, which can and does help us to determine solutions to our problems. I wouldn’t sweat it. If we want to be rational and logical all the time, forget that, it’s not possible. We’re not Spocks. We do weird, quirky things all the ti…

        Quran has something to say about it: (10:22) He it is Who enables you to journey through the land and the sea. And so it happens that when you have boarded the ships and they set sail with a favorable wind, and the passengers rejoice at the pleasant voyage, then suddenly a fierce gale appears, and wave upon wave surges upon them from every side, and people believe that they are surrounded from all directions, and all of them cry out to Allah in full sincerity of faith: ‘If You deliver us from this we shall surely be thankful. *31
        (10:23) But no sooner than He delivers them than they go about committing excesses on the earth, acting unjustly. Men ! The excesses you commit will be of harm only to yourselves, (Enjoy, if you will) the fleeting pleasure of this world; in the end you shall all return to Us, and then We shall tell you what you did.

        Maududi writes *31: This particular ‘sign’ which testifies to the truth of belief in the One True God is innate in human nature and hence can be witnessed by all. However, as long as the means of self-indulgence are plentiful, man tends to forget God and exults in his worldly enjoyment. But as soon as the means which have led him to his worldly efflorescence are gone, even the most die-hard polytheists and atheists begin to appreciate this innate sign testifying that there indeed is a God Who has His firm grip over the universe, and that it is the One True God alone Who is all-powerful and Who holds sway over all that exists.

  17. In reply to #21 by Arkrid Sandwich:

    It seems fairly simple to me. Anyone who has an urge to pray hasn’t really ridded themself of the belief that maybe there really is an invisible sky pixie looking out for them. I’ve never had any urge to pray even in a number of life threatening situations such as car crashes, motorbike crashes and…

    I think when we do this it is not prayer rather than hoping for the impossible. I know there is no gods who will save the day. But it is a knee jerk reaction to do this. Even if you know your wish will not come true. Not without some doing of your own.
    It can’t hurt to dream there will be funds in your account by some miracle. It is only dreaming.

    There are constructive ways to to solve a problem that can involve a bit of escapism . I think that asking god to provide you with cash is greedy. I mean there are many more people who could use the cash more no?

    Prayer in my opinion involves reciting something written in some book specifically to be a prayer. Like the holy father prayer popular with catholics.
    Asking god or the boogie man for cash is not praying. It is wishful thinking.

    Why does Carrie Underwood’s song ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ seem to make perfect sense again?

    Asking jesus to take the wheel is just irresponsible when you know it is just a delusion that traps you like honeysuckle traps a bee . Because it is not real not true not logical.

    When you feel this way substitute the word jesus with the name of your dog. Fido take the wheel for example , it will create the same effect I am sure of it.

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