Monday, September 3, 2012

Atheist Prayer

Gentle Reader,

I used to be a Christian but have become an atheist over the course of my life.  Being an atheist, however, does not mean that I have lost certain behaviors or patterns of thought that came naturally to me in my previous existence.  For example, I find myself wanting to pray for the safety of a friend or loved one who is in a potentially dangerous situation.  Or, I might find myself wanting to pray for answers or for a sense of peace when confronted with an especially difficult problem.

This impulse to reach out to something beyond ourselves is a natural part of the human condition.  In many aspects of our daily existence, we repeatedly call upon experts, authorities, and others who have knowledge or access that we do not, as we work to resolve various situations.  It isn't difficult to imagine how this impulse can lead to "calling upon the ultimate" when we are faced with the deepest and most important questions in life.

A theist is comforted by the belief that he can call upon the almighty governor of the universe in pursuit of answers, but an atheist does not have this option.  With this being the case, I think it can be helpful to have some other thing to focus one's hopes and intentions upon when working through stresses.  This "other thing" is by necessity something of our own imagining, and is therefore not a real god, being, or presence of any kind.  Even so, having this "other thing" to focus on can help to make us feel like we made ourselves heard, even if only to ourselves, just as having a strong vocabulary can make it easier to make our thoughts specific and definite, both when communicating with others, and also when talking inside of our own heads.

For me, this "other thing" takes the form of the old Greek pantheon.  Obviously I do not believe that the Greek gods are real in any sense of the word.  However, because there are so many of them, and because each of them represents certain specific things, they are useful as something to focus on when confronting various issues.  Again, it's not that I expect anyone outside of myself to hear my call and respond to it.  The "gods" simply give me something to focus on while I crystalize my hopes and intentions.  There is a certain peace in saying to one's self, "I explored my feelings, and this is what I truly feel, and I sincerely hope that however it turns out is for the best," and then sending that intention out of one's self into the world.  It's releasing an emotional burden.  Sure, it's just a trick of the human psyche, but it's a powerful one, and probably part of the reason why theistic belief developed in the first place.

Which gods relate to which areas of life is a pretty flexible question, but here is how I would summarize it.

Aphrodite - beauty, love, romance, sex
Apollo -  art, creativity, hobbies, self-improvement
Ares - competition, conflict, fitness, sport
Artemis - independence, introspection, perseverance, self-determination
Athena - academics, justice, philosophy, reason
Demeter - horticulture, moderation, nutrition, wellness
Dionysus - entertainment, food, frivolity, pleasure
Hades - death, loss, mortality, separation
Hephaestus - advancement, finances, obligations, work
Hera - communication, empathy, relationships, understanding
Hermes - change, emergencies, planning, travel
Hestia - community, domestics, family, friendship
Poseidon - animals, balance, nature, resources
Zeus - questions of the ultimate and the existential

I don't know if this idea will resonate with anyone else, but I was thinking deeply on it today, and decided to share my thoughts with the world.  Take it or leave it, and use in good health.

Ever Yours,

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