Friend Request from Jesus?

It’s surprising how much can go through your mind in three minutes. Here are some of the thoughts that came to me in my three minutes of daily prayer during Week 2 of the Atheist Prayer Experiment.

What if God’s persona is like an ordinary guy, like George Burns in Oh, God? … Please show yourself; please show yourself; please show yourself … Maybe the right metaphor is of an antenna trying to pull in a weak signal … If God exists, my brain is to be used, not set aside so I can accept nonsense … It’s hot in here … Maybe God will paint something interesting in phosphenes in my closed eyes … Why in Buddhism is there the Aha! of satori, but it doesn’t work that way in Christianity? … This is a chore … Why do people look up when they pray? God is like neutrinos; you face him just as much when looking down at the earth as up at the sky. … The gulf between me and a molecule might be about as vast as between God and me, so why should God care? … Hey—am I talking to myself here?? … Maybe God answering my prayer would feel like sticking a fork into an electric outlet.

One time I let the local church group prayer (I’ve been attending a small group once a week for a couple of months) be my prayer one day. Small group prayers are lo-o-o-ong.

One time I was in an agitated mood—I’d been arguing online about God and genocide—and it occurred to me that I’m praying to this guy. Do I actually want him to notice me? That sounds like poking a mean genie.

One time I prayed while driving and asked God to direct my attention to anything significant. Almost immediately, I saw a church-shaped house with a string of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags. What was the message behind that?

A nice discovery was that praying (or at least being meditative) while driving made me feel substantially nicer. I took it as an opportunity to be calmer, stop early at yellow lights, draw wisdom from the bumper stickers of nearby cars, and telegraph well wishes to the people I saw around me. I felt gratitude for hearing a favorite song. I saw a panhandler and reminded myself to be nonjudgmental.

I need more of that after the experiment is over.

I’ve received a lot of comments on the experiment. One person suggested singing the prayer.

Another noted that, as a Christian with waning faith, she prayed for God to show himself. She desperately wanted to keep her faith, but God didn’t oblige. So now I’m trying the same thing, but if God didn’t much care about someone already in the fold (someone who really wanted this), why should he care about my unenthusiastic prayer?

Other bloggers have weighed in. In a rare and noteworthy moment of concord, atheist PZ Myers thinks the experiment is a stupid idea, and Catholic Mark Shea agrees.

I’ve gotten more support from Dwight Longenecker and Elizabeth Scalia, and Rebecca Hamilton says that she’s warmed to the idea. (Okay—Rebecca says that it wasn’t her but God who pushed her in that direction, but let’s not ruin this moment of harmony.)

Leah Libresco suggested the Litany of Tarski, a prayer template that can be adapted to say:

If there is a god, I desire to believe there is a god.
If there is not a god, I desire to believe there is not a god.
Let me not become attached to belief I do not want.

Nice. That’s a sentiment that I can get behind.

Let me relate one more outside conversation. Justin Brierley, the organizer of this crazy experiment, asked what it would take to convince any of the atheist subjects that our prayer had been answered—that the supernatural had made itself known to us.

That’s a good question, because a lot of what a Christian would point to, I might chalk up as coincidence or dismiss for some other reason. How do I keep myself honest and ensure that I don’t discard the signal with the noise?

On the other hand, how do I trust myself to perceive the supernatural correctly? The human mind is unreliable—confident memories aren’t necessarily accurate, we imagine patterns where they don’t exist, we’re subject to mental biases, we’re tricked by optical illusions, neurosis or psychosis can appear, and so on. Is that God talking to me or just me?

Science gets around this problem by using a community to duplicate and validate its findings. There are too many excuses I could make if the experience were all my own, so I’d want to crowdsource it in the same way. Have God speak to everyone. For example, maybe the entire world has the same spiritual dream where God gives them instructions or insights, or maybe we see “YHWH” spelled out in stars. That is the kind of evidence I’d like to see—something where I have some corroboration that it is valid.

This still isn’t perfect, and “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Sufficient-advanced aliens could dupe us into imagining the supernatural when we were just seeing technology. Still, this would be a lot more evidence than we’ve seen to date.

This points to what I think is Christianity’s biggest challenge. Thoughtful Christians often say that it’s the Problem of Evil (why would a good god allow so much bad in the world?). But no, I think it’s the one that hobbles this experiment: the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. If an omnipotent God exists and wants us to know him, what’s stopping him? Why is the existence of God not as obvious as that of the sun?

I find [praying] really difficult,
like being told to push very hard on a nonexistent wall.
I have some sympathy for mimes.
— a participant in the Atheist Prayer Experiment

Photo credit: Church Sign Maker

  • Richard S. Russell

    “Justin Brierley, the organizer of this crazy experiment, asked what it would take to convince any of the atheist subjects that our prayer had been answered—that the supernatural had made itself known to us.”
     
    Justin, I for one would be fully convinced by receiving in the mail a valid check for £1000 signed by Justin Brierley.

  • Michael

    I think the whole idea is just daft.
    Why doesn’t god just reveal god’s existence. I don’t know. It goes with the other questions they never answer like if there was no death in the Garden of Edenwhy did they need food?
    As for prayer I’ve had some answers to why it seems to work sometimes.
    Small groups listen to each other’s prayers and word gets around that Fred’s car is laid up and Fred is on a low income and can’t walk very well. Since I can fix cars I nip round to Fred’s and do the business and I’m an answer to prayer. Fred could have put a notice on the board but that looks like begging – for some reason praying isn’t.
    Incidentally the revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards banned these I need prayers.
    Some of the desert fathers (and mothers) used to say that prayer was really about holding something in your mind as if god were there and this would give you a new perspective on the thing you were praying about. Obviously if that thing was asking for proof of god’s existence then you’d be in a circular arguments but they started from the idea that god did exist.
    It has the advantage that you don’t need to imagine god in any particular way or in accordance with any particular religion.
    I’ve tried it like this
    Confession – what have I done to make the world better or worse for others?
    Illumination – if there were such a being as an all caring god what things should I have done or avoided doing to make the world better for others?
    Unity – I agree that I need to do ——– to make the world better for others even if it only means turning my car radio down when I’m in a residential street.
    Of course you don’t have to have any religion at all to do the same thing but as an exercise it works out much better and more useful than this daft notion of Brierley’s. It won’t make any converts, at least I don’t think it will, but it might make some people go out and do a good deed or three and that can’t be bad

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Incidentally the revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards banned these I need prayers.

      I wonder why. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7–8)

      they started from the idea that god did exist.

      It’s interesting that Genesis also starts with the assumption that God exists. No intellectual arguments were made to support the claim.

      it might make some people go out and do a good deed or three

      In interesting question. Is Christianity true? Maybe it’s just useful.

      • Michael

        I believe Edwards’ contention was that all this was possible but not desirable because people were selfish and only asked for selfish things.
        Well Genesis was written by believers for believers not to convert anybody. It was a justification for worshipping one particular god out of many not an argument for the existence of gods.
        For centuries it was useful. Some of the old testament rules still might be – things like leaving the edges of a field unreaped so the poor could glean some grain. It might remind the fat cats not to take every penny out of the business but leave some for others. I’d guess that’s one of the rules the right wing would consider cultural and not binding today. And the “golden rule” isn’t such a bad principle.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Michael: Do people only ask for selfish things? Even in Edwards’ day, did people never ask for world peace or for their neighbor to get well?

          Morality comes from people, and some of it found its way into the Bible. It wasn’t the other way around.

  • echolocation

    I agree with you that the Problem of Divine Hiddeness is Christianity’s biggest problem. I’m a recent ex-Christian now-atheist, and this problem is what finally convinced me to de-convert.

  • Arkenaten

    I am inclined to agree with Michael. And Rebecca Hamilton is convinced if you are sincere and honest her god will reveal ‘himself’.
    It appears if you don’t chew their ankles, even the likes of Rebecca will be on your side.LOL

  • Jason

    I’m struck by the chaos of random thoughts in your mind during prayer. Have any Christians or others who practice petitionary prayer suggested that you need to quiet your mind first? I ask this because I am a meditator and my sense is that the benefit of religious prayer in the normal way it’s done is that it functions as a stress relief. And I suspect that it does this regardless of what supernatural beliefs the prayer has. In other words, as you mention in your driving experiment, prayer can have a real calming effect (never mind the fact that you don’t believe in the being to whom you’re praying!). I think these psychological and biological benefits are often what religious zealots confuse with the divine gifts of prayer.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jason:

      Keep in mind that that’s a distillation of much of the noteworthy traffic in my head over the course of 7 days. But still–yeah, it’s noisy.

      I’ve done a bit of meditation here and there. A fascinating process, but I’d have a lot of work to do to improve.

      The practical aspects of meditation certainly are a benefit. When Christians point to the value of prayer, I wish they could extract the meditation benefit from the supernatural benefit.

  • Vksun

    “the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. If an omnipotent God exists and wants us to know him, what’s stopping him?”

    Divine hiddenness is a product of ones refusal to give due consideration to what is revealed (Jesus/scripture) and perhaps a rejection of possibly the only thing that God has asked for, which is openness/desire to receive moral transformation from God. In other words God has revealed Himself as well as what needs to be done – problem is not lack of information, but a rejection of it. Yes, there are multiple claims, but that does not mean that none of them is right/good claim, nor does it mean that one should not give due consideration to what is said.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Vksun:

      (1) I see very little in life that could be interpreted as supernatural.

      (2) Why take the Christian route? Why not any of the thousand other religions? Pascal’s Wager applies to you as much as me.

      • Vksun

        It is the existence and majesty of the universe itself that gives one a reason to give due consideration to existence of God. If it is God who created with laws, there is no need for God to keep breaking the laws (except perhaps in unique cases, as per His prerogative).

        I did not say that one must consider Christian route only. One can give consideration to all worldviews. You tell, what better/greater issue than the issue relating to sin and need for moral transformation? If one were to meet God and say that she/he has not given due consideration to issue of her/his own sin and moral transformation, as that is supposedly just a “Christian route”, I am not sure that takes one very far, in front of God who is just/righteous/moral. One’s sin should be troubling a person regardless of and independent of all the arguments about religions etc. If that is summarily ignored, I think there is no excuse before God.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          what better/greater issue than the issue relating to sin and need for moral transformation?

          Oh, I dunno. Maybe tangible help with problems here on earth. Water shortages, famine, war–that sort of thing.

          Does sin bother you? Then define it away. Poof–it’s gone with simply a redefinition.

          And now we’re back to the reality of improving life here on earth. Once you’ve dismissed the invented concept of sin, you can roll up your sleeves and pitch in.

        • Vksun

          “Oh, I dunno. Maybe tangible help with problems here on earth. Water shortages, famine, war–that sort of thing”

          Moral transformation would make a person even more to ‘love the neighbour’ and hence do more of the help with famines etc. Instead of saying ‘dunno’, is it not critical to take a stand on what is important and why? Or pray God about it for clarity of priorities etc?

          “Does sin bother you? Then define it away”

          Jesus summed up the entire law as ‘Love God.. Love your neighbor as yourself’. I take that as a good measure, whichever way I look at it. Once again, in the suggestion for prayer experiment I gave earlier, I mentioned repentance of known wrongs and asking to show/convict of unknown wrongs. Sure, that is not essential part of prayer experiment, but your choice, again. I am not sure if anyone can stand before God and justify that she/he really does not know what sin is.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Vksun:

          Moral transformation would make a person even more to ‘love the neighbour’

          Preachers and priests have demanded moral transformation within Christendom for 2000 years, and apparently it hasn’t happened. What’s to change now? Why is your demand realistic?

          Why don’t we drop the God diversion and get on with making life better?

          I am not sure if anyone can stand before God and justify that she/he really does not know what sin is.

          Sin against God is an invented concept. Sin against people makes sense … except that you wouldn’t call it “sin”–you’d call it wrongdoing or harm or something similar.

        • joeclark77

          Why would an atheist care about wrongdoing or harm or whatever? I’m with vksun, I think you’re bluffing. If you do, by chance, find yourself one day standing before the throne of God, would you suppose He would fall for any of your lines? This is a hypothetical situation that you might want to bring up during your next daily prayer session.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Bluffing about what? There’s a difference between absolute moral truth (for which no one seems to have any evidence) and the (non-absolute) morals that we all appreciate.

          Lines? What deception of God do you imagine me trying to make?

        • joeclark77

          I imagine you telling Jesus that you didn’t know there was any such thing as good, evil, conscience, or sin, and sure you would have felt guilty and repented if only you’d known. But it would be a bluff. With your concerns about war, famine, etc, it’s clear that you actually do have a sense of good and evil and you don’t live as a consistent philosophical atheist. You are at least partially aware of your own sins, and you do not write off your conscience as as irrational social programming in your DNA.

          What I’m saying is, during your daily prayer session today you might want to imagine you’re in this hypothetical situation: Jesus has caught you bluffing. What would you say? You never know… this exercise might come in handy one day if the situation actually occurs.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JC:

          I imagine you telling Jesus that you didn’t know there was any such thing as good, evil, conscience, or sin

          Sin, as a crime against a nonexistent god, is invented. The other things, obviously, exist.

          you don’t live as a consistent philosophical atheist

          Show me the inconsistency. I see none.

          you do not write off your conscience as as irrational social programming in your DNA.

          Slow down a bit and you’ll put your foot in your mouth less often.

          It’s not irrational. We’re social animals, so it’s not hard to see why natural selection gave us what we call “morals.”

          Jesus has caught you bluffing.

          Why would this be useful? I’ve never done this.

  • stop2wonder

    “Let me relate one more outside conversation. Justin Brierley, the organizer of this crazy experiment, asked what it would take to convince any of the atheist subjects that our prayer had been answered—that the supernatural had made itself known to us.”

    This one is an easy one to answer and it’s the standard answer I use when confronted with this question….

    “I don’t really know what it will take for me to be convinced, but if there really is an all powerful, all knowing God, then He will know what it would take.”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And add to it: And since God obviously hasn’t given me that information (and probably won’t), what does that say about the moral character of God that he’s consigning me to hell?

      • JohnH

        That is assuming that God is consigning you to hell for not knowing Him; relatively few sects or religions believe that and many that previously did have step away from that position (Catholics for one).

        • Kodie

          That’s assuming anyone has any plausible idea what god really wants. The way people describe what god wants according to what they believe or they heard or their church teaches gives me the impression they are just making up what they want to be true. If people feel like it’s “right” that good people get into heaven even if they refuse to hear from a god who never calls, isn’t that just made up? Who are they to step away from a position they decide is no longer accurate and replace it with a friendlier accommodation? I think they are just trying to get more people to like their church instead of the hell-is-scary church. Neither one actually knows, but it’s part of the package they’re selling, and the people buying it are deciding for themselves. How do the parishioners know which church is telling the truth about hell? They’re believing the authority of whichever church they decide to belong to, based on what?

          It’s like deciding which store to buy furniture – this one has lower prices but no warrantees. This one has warrantees, but their shit is crap. Is it more important to have a stylish couch or a comfortable one?

  • machintelligence

    What bothered me most,and what led to my rejection of God was the problem of desire for worship. If God is all powerful, all knowing and perfect in every way, what possible reason would He have to want to be worshiped? It would be regarded as a character flaw in us lowly humans, it must be a more serious problem for a deity. I took it as evidence that God(s) had been made in the image of man, rather than vice versa.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That does seem to be the simplest explanation.

    • JoeC

      Well, in Catholic Theology at least that isn’t a problem,

      You have no need of our praise,
      yet our desire to thank You is itself Your gift.
      Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to Your greatness,
      but makes us grow in Your grace,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord.

      That’s part of the “Preface Of
      Weekdays In Ordinary Time IV”

  • Dave Gardner

    A news story a couple of years told of a young boy and his family visiting the Oregon coast. The boy was standing near the surf when a larger than normal wave washed him out into the turbulent waters. The family and others on the beach immediately started praying to God to save him and, indeed, he was rescued and returned safely. When interviewed these people pointed to the supernatural intervention of God, rather than to the very natural intervention of the person who actually rescued him.

    This, of course, raises some questions. First, why should it even be necessary to pray to God to rescue the boy? Shouldn’t God be doing it automatically? And if God actually did intervene, why is he playing favorites? Why doesn’t he answer the prayers of all people who are suffering? Why doesn’t he intervene to spare pain, suffering and misery for all people? Apparently, if God exists, he’s willing to ignore those people who don’t pray or who follow other religious beliefs. Some God!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      As long as God answers my prayer for a parking space, I’m happy!

      • Jim

        Oh.My.God. Today, out of over 100 spaces, I got the closest parking space to my office! Of course I’ve been parking in that lot 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year for 15 years, and get that space about twice a month on average. But still, this must be god answering my prayers, right? It can’t be coincidence that Bob mentioned just this event as proof of god?

        Conformation bias is the whole problem with this prayer experiment. Any who doesn’t have an experience of god will be labeled as insincere, forgotten and dropped from the data set. Anyone who does have any kind of experience will be hailed as a convert. I’m glad Bob is blogging this just as a curiosity, but I don’t see any valid results coming from it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I dub thee “Blessed Jim”!

          Surely God will smile on the rest of your existence, both here and in heaven.

        • Blessed Jim

          Thank you SO much! Jim is such a dull, common place name. From now on I’m signing all my blog comments as Blessed Jim. You have SAVED me from anonymity.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          :)

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    Actually, I agree with most of what you said, especially about biases and “How do i know if I’m talking to myself or not.” Oh, how I agonized over this and that, and saw that there were so many traps. A couple include:

    There is the Joseph Campbell theory that all religions lead to this mystical experience of God, but it’s a bad idea to mix your software, so choose one religion and follow that, respect the rest but don’t mix them up. But how can you, in good faith, follow a religious practice if it makes exclusive truth claims and you believe it’s the practice itself that leads to the experience? You’re already messing with the software, so to speak. So you need to truly believe that which you by definition don’t believe … just loads of fun.

    Another is William James’ pragmatism, i.e., if it works for you, it works for you and terrific for you. That one is even a tougher box because you’re pretty much already conceding that whatever happens to you has no real meaning elsewhere, even if there’s a couple of thousand years of tradition and similar testimonies about it. It sounds open minded, but it ends up closing the mind to the idea that there can be a truth. So you’re left with, well, this works for me, which is a very good way to communicate to other people. But it’s also a limit, since it denies the possibility of truth.

    A general thought: In the end, I look at it as evidence and proof. Evidence are facts and testimonies — basically, stuff — that hint at a fact. Proof is when we are satisfied that the evidence shows a certain fact. It’s certainly messy and hairy. But you have to know what you are satisfied with.

    Evidence is of course subject to interpretation, and it’s difficult to convince others that your interpretation of the evidence is correct. I have spent some time on JFK assassination message boards, and trust me, there are many people who would rather come up with a preposterous story to explain away evidence rather than admit an obvious fact. On the other hand, at the end of the day, we’re making a judgment call that we know could be flawed, but we’re pretty sure things point this way or that. In faith, it’s similar.

    All this is to say: There is an experience of Jesus Christ. I know what you mean by satori, but it doesn’t quite jibe with a single Christian experience. But Christianity has pentecost. There is the moment of belief and repentance. There is also an experience when it’s clear that what you are experiencing is coming from outside of you. It’s impossible to communicate that. So far, I’ve experienced that at Mass and by praying the Rosary, and a couple of other times in prayer.

    There are also (and I want to write a book on this) the mental experiences associated with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Relaxation, recognizing and overcoming unwanted thoughts, building a fundamentally positive outlook on life, gratitude and optimism … these things can create the kinds of changes that religions promise and can actually feel like religious changes. (Meditation creates similar changes.) And thought distortions about a religion can lead to a serious sin-and-repentance cycle that distort one’s outlook on faith.

    The difficult in communicating the experience of God is there is an experience of God that comes outside, but there is also spiritual practice and stuff like CBT where it’s clearly coming from inside. When it happens — and it does — it happens through you, so if you were so inclined, you could always say you are doing it. But even that path can also lead to more and more questions.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bill:

      I know what you mean by satori, but it doesn’t quite jibe with a single Christian experience.

      That was my point. However, I came across a Christian example (more about that in the post on Friday).

      There is also an experience when it’s clear that what you are experiencing is coming from outside of you.

      And ex-Christians say that they were deluding themselves when they attributed feelings like this to supernatural sources. The brain can fool us, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

      I want to write a book on this

      Go for it! I’ve done a couple. It’s a challenging but rewarding experience.

      • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

        I’m looking forward to your satori post. It didn’t happen in Paris, did it? :)

        “And ex-Christians say that they were deluding themselves when they attributed feelings like this to supernatural sources. The brain can fool us, as I’m sure you’ll agree.” Oh yes, that was my point was well.

        Let me tell you just one story — but there’s lots of them. I was in a two bedroom apartment in Manila, sleeping alone. I woke up in the middle of the night and the room felt like it had an evil spirit — no other way to describe it. Just a heavy, oppressive sense in the room. So I prayed and that heavy spiritual sense went away. I went back to sleep. A few minutes later, a friend of mine (and agnostic) comes into my room and says she just woke up and that there’s something in her room, and that it feels like … something evil and oppressive. But that it isn’t in my room.

        Now, neither of us had talked to each other in between, neither of us were awake when this thing came by, and it apparently moved from prayer. How did that involve my own brain? How did it involve her brain? We both felt it independently and it was scary enough to make us take action.

        In the morning, we told this to a friend of ours who was sleeping on the couch, an atheist. He said he felt it too, and he angrily said it was just “negative energy” moving around.

        Any interpretation you go with — my prayer against what I perceived was an evil spirit, the atheist’s insistence that there was some purely materialistic cause, and my lady friend’s decision that whatever it was, she was getting away from it (she believed it was an evil spirit, ultimately) — is still based on evidence.

        To me, the fact that it moved from prayer — well, I suppose you could say that created positive vibes that in turn drove out the negative vibes — tells me something. Those positive and negative usually attract in the material realm, but let’s say it happened somehow. Now, you can argue that this was all natural forces at work, except that there’s an equally plausible explanation that whatever happened in a spiritual realm, could have happened within natural forces. But what it tells me, no matter what the explanation, is at the very least that Christian prayer produce some kind of good energy.

        You could further comment that, well, maybe that’s just personal to you, that I was producing the good energy through my own spiritual practice. I wouldn’t have an answer to that, except that I was there, and sure seemed like this thing really didn’t like my reading of the Bible. And when I went home and told this story to my Aunt who was a very no-nonsense Methodist believer, she said she’d only heard stories like this from missionaries.

        Now, a second incident: Another girlfriend of mine went to a house where some relatives of mine lived, and the man who lived there had committed some pretty horrible things. After about 20 minutes, she asked to leave the house. She said it should be exorcised. She was an agnostic as well, until that moment. But she said there was something there, and that she felt it change her thinking, focusing her thinking very hard on her own personal weaknesses and put her mind almost in a tunnel vision of negativity so she couldn’t see anything else but her own failings. She sloughed it off with her mind and that’s when we left. She said it was extremely disturbing. I felt the same negative energy, too, though not quite the same strength, but also felt my mind oriented toward my weaknesses and slipping into a self-absorbed tunnel. We left and prayed the Lord’s prayer outside in the backyard before going back inside. She became a believer after that. There was no doubt in her mind that there was something outside of her affecting her. She was a UPenn grad, and had been very rationalist.

        There were just two examples — both involving negativity — that I can’t deny. There are many many more, and many involve positive experiences, where two or more people have the same spiritual experience without talking to each other. I’ve also had a friend healed from prayer.

        In any case, I thought I’d share these two experiences with you. It’s clear you are having a positive experience of prayer. I wish you well on that.

        • Kodie

          I can believe you felt some sense of dread and that after an intentional approach of calm concentration, it eased, but I can’t believe you are speculating that it could be negative energy as if that’s a naturalistic explanation, or that that’s how an atheist sleeping on your couch would explain away your supernatural explanation.

        • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

          That’s what the atheist said … negative energy. He seemed quite irked that my lady friend and I would suggest something spiritual had occurred. Since all three of us had experienced it independently, he couldn’t place the experience as only happening to me. I never really bought his explanation, and I don’t think he did, either. He was pretty pissed off and didn’t want to discuss it further.

          As far as my speculation on naturalistic explanations, well, I was trying to address his point. I suppose there could be clouds of negative energy around … who knows?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Intriguing anecdotes, Bill. Thanks for sharing.

  • ZenDruid

    Having heard from religious sources that prayer ‘works’ and seeing no concrete results, I am led to suspect that the activity has something to do with Pavlovian conditioning. Does “pious and heartfelt prayer” tickle the limbic reward system? Does saying the word ‘Amen’ automatically release dopamine?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And what’s up with the emotional highs people get from going to a charismatic service (Pentecostal, etc.)? I think that natural explanations are sufficient; no need to imagine a deity.

  • Ted Seeber

    On the satori question- as a Zen Catholic I’d suggest first reading the Platform Sutra, then the Gospel of Matthew, then attempting your prayer experiment.

    Somehow, I find a full understanding of the paradox, enhances the parables of Christ in strange ways.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the tip.

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  • Joan

    My friend,
    I support you in your experiment and am praying for you!
    Your desire to see God is at the heart of prayer. Tell God about the “Problem of Divine Hiddenness” when you pray.
    Would you please consider the Catholic perspective on prayer?
    Here is a great video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FNZ-_WuMkA&feature=relmfu
    Peace!

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