In a piece for Freethought Today, Barbara G. Walker writes about how, as a child, she began noticing the problems with religious faith. She posed some tough questions to her friend Patsy:
When I was a child, my Catholic friend Patsy told me that her parents were paying a priest for special prayers to get her grandparents out of purgatory. I was fascinated. I asked, “How can you tell when they’re finally out?”
Patsy didn’t know. I continued, “And why do you have to pay? Can’t people say their own prayers for free?”
Patsy said they could, but ordinary people’s prayers don’t work as well as priests’ prayers, because priests can talk directly to God.
“I thought anybody could talk directly to God,” I said. “Yes,” Patsy answered, “but God listens to priests.”
“Well,” said I, “if God won’t listen to you, why would you bother to pray?”
Eventually, Barbara lost her faith. In the proceess, she discovered that “prayer could also serve as an assertion of authority among grownups.”
Later in her article, she talks about sacred names and why we pray, making an interesting connection to mothers in the process:
Now what do you suppose is the real meaning behind all this word magic, name magic, prayer magic? What are human beings really doing when they seek to change things in their own favor, by so ephemeral a tool as human speech?
Humans are the verbalizing animals–the ones who have a far more fine-tuned and sophisticated way of communicating than any other life-form. Inventing names for everything is the human talent. Teaching words to the next generation is the human legacy. Manipulating each other’s thoughts and reactions by words is the foundation of human culture. Names and words take on a sacredness in all human traditions.
When children learn to speak, new worlds open up to them. They can make their desires more distinctly known. They can acquire knowledge without constantly needing direct experience. They can exercise imagination, with plenty of stimulus in their cultural background of words about myth, fantasy, dream, vision, and religion.
The one thing every child knows from the moment of birth, however, is that if it makes the right sounds, a large, comforting, all-powerful entity will take care of its needs. No matter what part of the world they inhabit, a majority of humans seem to have given this entity the sacred name of Ma, or Mah, or Maa, or Ma-Ma, which linguists say refer to “mother’s breasts” in nearly all languages from Russia to Samoa, and also in the ancient tongues of Egypt, Babylon, India, and the Americas.9 The Divine Mother in Egypt had such names as Ma, Ma-Nu, or Maat. The matrilineal clan of Tibet was called mamata, meaning “motherhood” or “mineness.” In Sumer and Akkad, the Creator Goddess was named Mama, Mami, or Mammitu. The primitive Iranian Moon Mother was Mah, or Al-Mah; that same word in Hebrew meant “woman,” not “virgin,” as the gospels mistranslated it in reference to Mary. Latin Ma-ter and Greek Me-ter, “mother,” had the same roots. The Hebrew Mem-Aleph, MA, was said to be a magic charm of great power, combining the ideographs for “fluid” and “birth,” and by extension “mother’s milk.” This was written on Jewish protective amulets from the ninth century B.C.E.10 There are numerous other examples of the magical efficacy of MA.
You can check out the rest of the article in the latest issue of Freethought Today.