O my Lord, if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship Thee from hope of Paradise, exclude me thence;
but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me thine Eternal Beauty.
Rabia Al-Adawiyya, 8th century
Lovejoy went in the main doors of the cathedral. Taking a deep breath he seemed to settle down into his heels. Slowly he walked to the left. Colored rays of light poured from the stained glass windows. Mindy noticed the brass memorial plates nailed onto the back of each chair. Each kneeling pillow also had someone's name; someone presumably dead, she thought. She didn't quite get it. All this mumbo-jumbo. Yet a certain part of her was touched that so many people had thought of so many other people. And here it was for all to see.
Why did they do it? Were there family pressures to show that they cared about the person who'd passed on? Did they think that the deceased would have wanted to be memorialized? If so, why did they bother to comply? Once the person was dead they would never know whether they bought a plaque or an ice cream cone to honor them. Did this many people really believe that there was a God to watch over their choices? Or did they simply have some sort of conceptual inertia, carrying on poorly defined ideas and memorized assumptions?
And what was Lovejoy doing here? She knew him as the hyperlogical math class buddy. She knew he'd gone on to be a physics major. Then the next thing she knew he had been in a spiritual commune.
Lovejoy walked in a very relaxed but direct manner to a chapel off to the side of the main apse. He walked up to the small altar in this chapel dedicated to children and kneeled. She joined him.
"Almighty Father God, bless me, protect me, guide me and use me. Never let me stray from Thy path, but only help me to do Thy will."
"Why do you say that?" She was more than surprised. She was angry.
"It's a prayer."
"Yes but why 'Father' God? And why 'Almighty'? Why not 'all compassionate' or 'all healing' or something?"
"Well", he started slowly, trying not to react defensively, "The 'Father' part is really something I inherited. I was brought up in the Judeo-Christian heritage. 'Father' is like father sky/mother earth. The father is the active, controlling powerful element in that duo. It goes way back in religious traditions the world around. "
"Will Lovejoy! This is outrageous. You're making me nervous or angry or both. This is so ...so backwards. Other religions have feminine forms of Divinity. What about Mary, Mother of God; Judaism's Holy Shekhina, Buddhism's Quan Yin, or Kali the destroyer Goddess of Hinduism. Mothers can be just as active , controlling and powerful as fathers. And why do you have to replay all those stereotypes anyhow?'
"I don't have to really. I know it seems arbitrary. What I'm doing is admittedly irrational or 'transrational'. Perhaps I'm trying to get in contact with a deeper part of my psyche than my conscious, sensible mind can touch. Or perhaps there's some male God out there." Sounding unconvinced himself, Lovejoy continued. "To be honest I've tried 'Almighty Father-Mother God'. It never quite fit. I felt like I was trying to start off my prayers by appeasing the politically correct gods of modern culture."
"How about just God?"
"Yeah, that's OK. But sometimes these tapes just roll out of me."
"Is it bad to change the tapes?"
"You know, for me, I don't mind changing the tapes, when they can be changed. But sometimes I have to listen very carefully to what's inside, and not try to immediately change what I find. Maybe they reflect some important, psychologically necessary structure. Besides I'm trying to get away from my thinking mind in my prayers and into some other space."
"But how do you stop perpetuating the frank sexism that twists little girls' and boys' minds?"
"I've always said that I would not pass on those sexist prayers, or the violent psalms to my children. Really, example is more important than words. If I treat all people with true respect, my children will emulate me. My prayers are different. They're a very personal thing. You've got to have self discovery before you can have self modification."
"Do you believe in prayer?"
"I definitely believe in prayer. There are actually some well done clinical studies about prayer and healing. For me, the more interesting question is 'How does it work?' Do we send out some telepathic information to the person, that we're rooting for them; or do we appeal to some invisible intermediary, like God or an angel, to help this person?"
"Do you believe in God?"
"Sure, sometimes I believe in lots of Gods. It depends upon what you mean by God?"
"You brought 'Him' up." Mindy retorted.
"The answer's not so easy. Sometimes I am so angry at organized religions for what they've done, and not done. And my last fourteen years with this group, which I once thought was the best spiritual work group around, has left me all but wanting to avoid any idea of God." Lovejoy continued. "And yet part of me keeps praying before I get up in the morning, and later on finding time to read the psalms or meditate. These are moments well spent. I calm down. I feel reassured. I feel like the reinforcements have come. And I'm not willing to just say it's all psychological."
"Oh come on! You're the one who chose parental terms for your God. How much more psychological can you get? The place in your head that used to be filled with omnipotent parents needs a new tenant when teenage separation pushes the biological parents out.
"You cling to the concepts of the spiritual world so you can feel more secure. You said it; you feel 'more reassured'. It's safer to believe in a structure to our fate that we can appeal to through prayer, than to accept cold hearted evolution and the uncertainty of random chance."
Lovejoy responded. "Why is it better to accept some twentieth century version of truth in science than to find reassurance in archetypal psychological structures. I also believe in pragmatism. And the pragmatic fact of the matter may be that we can get a deeper sense of fulfillment and security if we use ancient strategies that are probably neurologically well embedded in us by now."
"That's part of the question isn't it?" Mindy asked. "If the brain's wiring dealing with such things as God and fate is already partly determined by our genes then we're swimming upstream to try to change it with a culture's education. Still I can't turn my back on what I believe to be true. And the scientific explanation just seems more believable."
"Maybe it's more believable to you, but not for everyone. Look at the statistics. People involved in their religions have lower rates of depression, faster rates of healing, and cope more easily with life's disasters."
"And you think that God's responsible for that?" Mindy asked incredulously.
"Could be, but that's not my point. What I'm suggesting is, maybe religious culture is more effective in working with social and emotional issues because it works with how our brain is hard wired. Let's face it, preachers are better at motivating people than the average scientist. Maybe religious thinking 'goes with the flow', neurologically speaking."
"You have been out of touch for fourteen years haven't you. Anyway, maybe those statistics you quote are related to the social connectedness of people in organized religion. If we developed a better sense of community in our neighborhoods, regardless of God, maybe we'd get the same benefit."
"Well, how do you explain the prayer studies? Those patients didn't know they were being prayed for, and yet they still did better." Lovejoy persisted.
"I don't know. If I have to choose between believing in God or believing in telepathy, I think I'd choose telepathy. At least I can think of a possible scientific mechanism for telepathy."
"Fine. But I have to honestly say that when it comes down to being alone, in a sacred space, I have no trouble praying. Sometimes, I feel there may be no God, no spirit world and no afterlife. Still, at other times, like now, I don't feel hypocritical at all talking to Adonai - Elohim and Jehovah."
"Who are they?" Mindy asked.
"Hebrew names for aspects of God. God is too big to put under one rubric."
"And too big to fit into one gender, or one religion for that matter." Mindy asserted.
"I'm OK with that. In fact, maybe all of this world, the explosion of sense data we have been confronted with since birth, is too much to be explained by one paradigm. Maybe we need your scientific viewpoint and some smorgasbord of religious views and frankly anything else we can come up with to sort out this universe. And even then how can this mind, a subset of the universe, comprehend the entire universe?"
"Yes. Sure, Godel's theory. I believe that we can't see the forest for being a tree. But surely you can't expect me to accept every superstitious notion that comes along!" Mindy said.
"What?" Mindy asked.
"Why did you say 'Gesundheit'?"
"I don't know? It's just polite I guess."
"It's a superstition." Lovejoy stated.
"What do you mean?"
"It goes back to a belief that a sneeze was a body's natural attempt to expel an evil influence, a demonic 'ectoplasm' if you are a seventeenth century European. But it goes back much further than that."
"OK, so we have a lot of superstitions lingering on. Why shouldn't we get rid of them, once we recognize them."
"And replace them with new superstitions which are not yet recognized as such. I think I'd rather acknowledge my superstitions as such, instead of burying my head in the newest one."
"Why do you persist in calling scientific knowledge superstition. It's exactly the opposite! You're beginning to sound like Sidney." Mindy was exasperated.
"She started the E-group. She thinks science is another religion."
"A woman after my own heart!" Lovejoy laughed.
"Oh yes, but she's very technical about it. I think she's dogmatic if you ask me."
Soltrey@humanmind.net is copyrighted July 2000. All rights reserved B.T. Brian Brown.