Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Answers in Pandeism: Part II: Prayer

I noted in my previous post having received this email:

I am a 17 year-old that has been thinking about becoming a Pandeist for the past few days. Currently, I am a Christian and come from a background of Christians. I have read a lot on Pandeism recently and have a basic understanding of it. I share a lot of similar beliefs, but I just have a few questions:

Do you acknowledge the existence of Jesus?

Do you pray?

What do you do as a Pandeist? Do you congregate (as in a church or synagogue)?

If I change to Pandeism, how should I approach my parents about not being a Christian anymore?

If I convert, what is some advice for beginning the conversion from Christianity to Pandeism?

Here I will answer as to prayer -- and indeed, I have been asked by several people in recent memory: "Do Pandeists pray?"

Well, prayer means different things to different people. Satirist Ambrose Bierce defined the word to mean: "To ask that the laws of the Universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy." And indeed, to most prayer probably connotes speaking to some external entity, separate from themselves and from our Universe (but having immense power and likely conceived as our Universe's Creator), and asking of that entity that the course of existence be altered in some way to suit the desire of the asker. There is, one must admit, an oddity to this concept. For, if ours is a deterministic Universe, with an omniscient Creator which already knew all the outcomes before the Universe was created even -- indeed if ours was a Creator which had an infinite number of Universe-unfolding options before it and the power to choose whichever one fit its plan -- then all prayer (answered or not) would simply be part of this predetermined effort.

But suppose our Universe is not predeterministic? Well then we must consider the Butterfly Effect. Meteorologists using computer models were once stunned to discover that, if a butterfly in the Amazon flaps its wings one time, instead of sitting still for that one time, this extremely minor disruption of the atmosphere is enough to begin a snowball effect. That tiny flap nudges a tiny bit of air which would not have been nudged; that tiny bit of air impacts the flow of larger whisps of air. The perturbations continue expanding upward and outwards until they effect the entire ecosystem, until for example atmospheric currents are affected such that a hurricane which otherwise was going to hit Houston instead hits New Orleans. A different set of people are maimed or killed, a different set of properties are destroyed. The course of the entire world, ultimately, is affected.

The popular science fiction depiction is of time itself simply healing over these wounds to continuity; that if a future spaceship crew were to travel back to our time and change a few things here and there, things would still end up pretty much as they were. Worse yet, there is often the depiction that events and circumstances have changed but the people have stayed the same.  A cardinal example of this is in the Back To The Future movies. Marty McFly goes back in time and briefly interrupts his parents from getting together, jeapardizing his existence; but in the end not only does he reunite them, they end up living a much more fulfilling life than before. But, despite their lives being now utterly different lives, Marty McFly is still born!! His parents still have the exact same children (all three of them), meaning that whatever other upheaval has been caused to their lives, they still ended up getting the exact same sperm (itself unaltered by intervening changes in diet and other habits) fertilizing the exact same egg at what was thusly necessarily the exact same time. Simply put, this is an impossible outcome (especially given how Marty's interference with the past affected so many other people whose lives intersected with those of his parents, with for example everybody at that high school dance experiencing a set of musical timing different from what they would have experienced but for his being there. In fact, due to any moment of his interference at all, he still would never have been born; his parents would have produced a different genetic combination in their offspring, different looks and characteristcs and interests.

So what has this to do with prayer? Well, most any 'answered' prayer would be a pretty big perturbation in existence itself, it would essentially have an outflowing effect which altered the entire future, who would even be born. If a hundred years ago some prayer for a recovery from an illness for example, or for a team to win a ball game, were granted by the typically imagined external force, no person alive today (including you and I) would exist; a completely different set of people would populate the space, born at different times and with different stories. Oh, we'd likely have the same nations and cultures and so forth, but different people would have been born into them and promulgated them.  So, you see, there is some science fiction to the idea of the answering of a prayer, especially where it is at the same time supposed that, for example, certain sperms are supposed to meet certain eggs, and so certain people are especially destined to have been born.

But aside from the questionable logic applied to the effects of answered prayers in a deterministic or nondeterministic Universe, Immanuel Kant more seriously and pointedly declared:

"The wish to talk to God is absurd. We cannot talk to one we cannot comprehend — and we cannot comprehend God; we can only believe in Him. The uses of prayer are thus only subjective."

This is a point closer to the concern of Pandeism.  Now, naturally, Pandeism logically deems our entire Universe (and all of our lives) to simply be fragments of our Creator, existing within its continuing unconscious exertion of the sustainment of existence. The pandeistic Creator has thusly temporarily (for a few hundred billion years, which for it pass essentially instantly) ceded its ability to have any sort of prayer-granting power. Nor would it make any sense for it to grant prayers if it retained such power, since our existence more likely serves to answer the very question of how a Universe turns out absent its ability to interfere. But it must be acknowledged as well that Pandeism accounts for things such as miracles, prophecies, and yes, the appearance of eficacious prayers (as experiences across all faiths) as manifestations of the unconscious power of our Creator. It would anecdotally seem that for some few, 'prayer' brings results. But these results are not occurring because our Creator is listening and wish-granting, but instead because we are part of our Creator. Like many an athlete who spends countless hours training in his sport, and then credits God for his good performance, we are simply failing to recognize where we might be responsible for generating our own effects, good and bad.

Before I go any farther down this road though, this is not 'The Secret'; this is not 'The Law of Attraction.' Pandeism does not propose that any person may through the power of positive thought alone 'attract' success or experience the effects of answered prayers. Indeed, Pandeism does not require that efficacious prayer really exist as a phenomenon at all, it simply accounts for if it so happens that it does exist. Pandeism first and foremost demands a logical approach; it demands recognition that the vast majority (possibly all) of efficacious prayers are simply coincidence. If nine out of ten people die from a given disease and ten out of ten pray to recover, then the one out of ten who does recover will be one who prayed for it. If a hundred thousand fans watch a sporting event and are evenly divided in allegience to the teams, about half of the praying portion of that fandom will get what they sought. And if an athlete works diligently at his sport, he will likely see his prayers for victory answered, even as an opponent's prayers go unanswered. What Pandeism explains, then, is that if there is any such thing as an 'answered prayer' (as many faiths and cultures contend) this phenomenon will be best accounted for by the pandeistic model.

So, getting at last to the long-about answer to the question, "do Pandeists pray?" -- no, not 'pray' exactly. I think Pandeists are likely to engage in very deep and meaningful meditation, to seek to feel connected with our Universe both at as broadly and at as many levels as we can. Certainly Pandeists will be inclined to have gratitude towards our Creator for our existence, and will seek to demonstrate that gratitude by engaging in that best sort of 'prayer' of all, the one where you put your hands to work doing things that will help reduce suffering and increase happiness in the world. And, at last, Pandeists will seek self-understanding and self-betterment, for if we are all part of our Creator, what better way to seek its assistance than to seek the aid of the part of our Creator that is ourselves?

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