What if I decided to pray for the people in the areas threatened by Irene? Being not an earnestly religious man, my first thought is that it would be insincere, afterthoughtish, almost ornamental. It would not demonstrate any sudden and profound return to faith, but rather an “it can’t hurt” mentality. I doubt God would listen to me anymore than He’d listen to anyone else; perhaps he’d listen even less, considering my Nietzsche-spotted past (and present). But if I feel compassion for humanity, will God feel it with me? People often say, “You can always pray.” But if I don’t really completely believe that I’m speaking to the supreme being (and He presumably knows I don’t believe), does He spurn me? Does He require complete faith in Him, a willingness to speak the same words as His son–“Let your will be done, Father, not mine”–before He can find it in Himself to take heed of me?

What does it mean for me to pray, being only halfheartedly religious (or, positively put, religious in my own way)? My first thought is, it means desperation, or perhaps hope, that some powerful being in the clouds just might be ready and willing to step in and assist a humanity that has comported itself none too cleverly. But must I, we, first lose all arrogance and see ourselves as flawed, evil creatures–“a wretch like me”–lest we never have any hope of receiving His guidance at all? If, due to the transgressions of Adam and Eve, our Original Sin is in being born, then we are God’s Original Sin. Whether compassion towards us assuages His guilt or unjust punishment reroutes it, a prayer must be an innocent act. Like the parent of a child eating vegetables dipped in honey, He would never disdain a prayer as long as it gets done and with good intentions, no matter the agnostic cost. For if the prayers are answered, the only cost might just be a little piece of disillusion.

[On the Other Hand]: If a prayer is only made when someone needs something (the word for prayer in French means “request”), then doesn’t the selfishness inherent in Christianity lead to an eternally flawed, self-absorbed, and destructive humanity?

A truly good God would listen to prayer made by a person who lives a decent life even if he doesn’t adhere to the ephemera–books, papers, websites, TV programming–of a religious life.

[On the Other Hand] The alternative is that you have to sacrifice all of your worldly pursuits like careers, families, et cetera, in order to be completely accepted by Him, in order to truly live a purely religious life. But if Christianity includes prayers, then it includes an element of self-servingness, which contradicts the mandates of the purely God-serving existence. Even if you pray for a million people to survive the hurricane, it’s only because either a) you don’t want to hear about people dying for no reason and it would make you feel bad to hear of such a thing, or b) you’d feel guilty for not having prayed. It’s like you have to give up complete control over your “destiny” to God and never pray again. Of course, if the people die, that could lead to an ultimate decision that “God” has as much control as you do, i.e. he has no power, i.e. a God without power is not a God, i.e. there is no God.

So if Man gives up his power because he has none, and then sees that the world is chaotic, his natural conclusion is that God has no power therefore he doesn’t exist, is that what you’re saying? And if Man can’t pray to Him, then what good is He?

[On the Other Hand]: I’m saying that prayer demonstrates an absence of faith more than it demonstrates a plenitude of it. If God exists, then the world is in his hands, and nothing you can do will affect what He decides to do with it. So, in the words of Tom Scharpling, cool out.

I see. In any case I just don’t want people to die, any people. I guess what I’m saying is, if it’s something you want to do, not you as in “YOU” but anyone, go ahead and do it. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m thinking about it.

[On the Other Hand]: Stop thinking and start not doing.

Great talk.