Mythos and Religious Practice

A lot of religions, monotheism in particular, ask their followers to submit to God through certain practices, like prayer and abstinence (e.g. Lent or Ramadan). It is also common for religious people to talk to God, asking for forgiveness or guidance at certain milestones in their life. This has always struck me as weird: surely God has already decided who to forgive and your requests won’t change the course of Its plan; your devotion should be evident through the state of your mind, that God could read, and so the practices are redundant. It becomes stranger still when God requests that we implement Its judicial system, by stoning homosexuals or casting out people of other religions; hasn’t God already got a judicial system in place?

I was watching a BBC drama called Orphan Black, and in it there is a strange religious zealot who becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting an unrepentant, murderous woman into his family. As he held her and emphatically asked God to forgive her for her wrongdoing, there was just the hint of desperation in his words. Perhaps I was projecting this, or perhaps he is a good actor, but either way I got the impression that the zealous demands that God forgive her were not actually for God at all. There was just a sense that it was a personal ritual; he needed permission to forgive her, for what she had done was so relentlessly incongruous with his religion (and general moral sensibilities). It was a practice. By asking God to forgive her, he permitted himself to forgive her and take her into his family.

It started to dawn on me that religious practice doesn’t necessarily have to assume a God. What you need is the ritual. The ritual doesn’t convey any truth, but it offers a catharsis. Religion and its practices can be used as a tool for mourning and grief, celebration and joy or even progress and forgiveness. When God forgives what is really happening is a human is forgiving through the lense of a practice or metaphor. God is a metaphor for what is: God is; I am. It is not necessary to posit a conscious, personal, powerful God with real punishments and rewards. God is a spiritual metaphor for an entirely natural phenomenon: our lense of the world.

Exactly what that lense is is only implied. I would argue that the lense is one of labels and categories, something humans are wont to do (even if we try to transcend it). We cannot forgive a person until they have been put into the category of the forgiven, so when we say “God, please forgive them” the speaker is actually asking themself for permission to forgive. It is a rite, but God is only the system of categorisation, which we actually do ourselves, after we will ourselves to do it.

Prayer, similarly, may be the opportunity for us to organise in our minds the things we really do want. The practices look like a delegation to God to take responsibility for our lives. And, in fact, if a religious practice is carried out in the assumption that God is real, then religious practices very much are a surrender of our autonomy to a God. But seen as a personal ritual, in which one is imploring themselves to change their perspective or acquire wisdom, then the poetic ritual begins to make some sense. Religion appears to make more sense without a God than with.

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24 thoughts on “Mythos and Religious Practice”

  1. The atheist hallucinates his own alternate reality of prayer and religion and then justifies it with yet another hallucination based on a BBC screen play.

    It is just as irrational for the atheist to use himself as the authority for one his own hallucinations, as it is to use a hallucination courtesy of the BBC.

      1. Alla,

        Since you don’t know what religion actually is, you must hallucinate your own definition of it all with the purpose of making atheism work out for you.

        That’s because believing that everything just happened all by itself (the fundamental dogma of atheism) is so obviously stupid.

        1. RE: everything happened by itself. I refer you to my earlier post.
          RE: the definition of a religion. Tell me my error.

        2. RE: Everything just happens all by itself. I refer you to my comments on your previous post.

          RE: The definition of religion. Do your own homework. Demanding that I spoon feed you is not only intellectual laziness (a characteristic of the atheist mind), it is cheating.

        3. Alla,

          As a university student I took knuckleheaded university professors like you and demonstrated to the entire class why you’re all so very stupid.

          It was easy because all you have are hallucinations and insults.

  2. Again, you are profound. The need for ritual in our lives seems quite apt. Why we do not rate religions on their ability to deliver it is beyond me. The telling point though is the demand that we surrender our autonomy to a god, through His priests, of course. I see the development of religion through the lens of the nuclear family group back when we were hunter-gathers. In such groups there are those who can achieve status through physicality and those who, failing that, achieve it through their wits. The latter group is the source of all shamans, priests, etc. All driven by the desire to control others (not necessarily for nefarious means, but control nonetheless. Religion (not spirituality) is still about control, no where more than in the militant structure of the Catholic Church.

    1. If I pick the right religion, I hear apologetics can be very profitable. Of course, I could also up the ‘woo’ content of a post like this and become a spiritual mystic.

        1. I didn’t mean to insult you my friend but having read a lot of apologists writing who in trying to redefine god say gods are us, god is the universal something or ground of being among other things, I couldn’t resist it

        2. I’ve noticed I omitted the sentence “God is; I am; … therefore quantum mechanics”. I knew the post was missing something.

  3. And, in fact, if a religious practice is carried out in the assumption that God is real, then religious practices very much are a surrender of our autonomy to a God.

    In fact,it was a main purpose, it is a surrender to God.

    Note: I not agree the linked blog, but too lazy too write a long comment. Try to limit myself to few main ideas.

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