As a person of faith, it can be frustrating to intellectually engage with atheists as their attitude is often smarmy, zealous, intolerantly proselytizing anti-religion. So it was a pleasure to come across a post by “The Irish Atheist“, who had converted his horror of the war in Syria to compose “An Atheist’s Prayer“.
In reproducing this creedal cri-de-couer, a bit of the phrasing has been modified to make it more universal– I hope that does not cause disfellowship.
I will not advocate war, because I will not support killing others to bring peace.
I will respect the government I helped elect, even when I do not agree with their decisions. I will always remember that I speak with both my voice and my vote.
I will take the time to educate myself on what is happening in the world around me. I will remember that if I’m going to speak on a subject, it’s my duty to speak intelligently.
I will sincerely thank a veteran for his or her service.
I will do something today that makes me uncomfortable. I will light a candle in a cathedral, hold hands with a Muslim as they pray. I will step into a synagogue and listen. And I will savour the knowledge that I did so because it was my choice and my freedom to, not because it was required.
I will debate my intellectual opponents with respect, without personal attacks, because the freedom to engage in the exchange of ideas deserves the highest respect.
I will buy a book on a subject I know nothing about.
I will treat strangers with kindness. Every act of kindness will be my prayer.
I will tell someone that I love them, not just assume they know. I will tell them as soon as possible.
I will not forget a troubled region when it falls from the headlines. And if I encounter an opportunity to help someone from a war-torn nation, I will take it.
I will continue to pray the Atheist’s Prayer, the prayer of action and deeds.
These are admirable ambitions which reflect “the better angels” of our nature. Alas, we often fall short of our ideals. Catholics understand “original sin” as a sin nature which tempts us to choose temporal, selfish pursuits which fall short of the person we ought to be.
As much as I am impressed by the Irish Atheists intentions, I suspect that the “Atheists Prayer” could lapse like most New Year’s resolutions or become platitudinous prayer instead of being one of action and deeds.
Making the world a better place also involves forgiveness. That is not an ordinary human impulse as to err is human, to forgive is divine. And to accept efforts of redemption. This is where I fear “The Atheist Prayer” falls short. It gives aspirational affirmative action but does not allow for inevitable imperfection.
Praying to God can be caricatured as sending out a supernatural wish list. Perhaps that is how puerile prayers are perceived by non-theists. But more mature prayer involves meditation, contemplation and a radical openness to action looking beyond oneself. It is said that prayer does not change God, but that good prayer changes you.
Ignatian Spirituality centers on an Examen, which is a quick prayer that includes:
- Presence (acknowledgement of things more than oneself);
- Gratitude for the good things each day;
- Review of experiencing God’s presence
- Sorrow where one’s shortcomings are acknowledged and forgiven; and
- Grace- Discerning how you feel
Jesuits will take a 30 day silent retreat based upon this methodology so that they may embody the charism of contemplation in action.
While I may differ with The Irish Atheist on theological and ecclestiastical issues, I appreciate his impetus as expressed in “The Atheist’s Prayer” as well as his respect for others’ beliefs. The world would be a better place if more heeded the action items of his creed.
|[Detail of mosaic at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, New York City]|
On May 20, 1521, a 30 year old soldier named Inigo de Loyola who was serving in the Viceroy of Navarre’s army to defend against an attack by the French on the city of Pamplona. Although the Spanish army was outnumbered, the vain and haughty Inigo wanted to fight on. But a cannonball shattered one of Inigo’s legs and broke the other and he needed to be carried home to his family castle in Loyola.
It was a long convalescence over several months, and Inigo had nothing to do but read. Inigo preferred the Sixteenth Century version of soap operas–Romance novels, but there were none to be had. All his familial castle had was a book on the life of Christ and a hagiography (book on Saints’ lives).
Inigo had complications with his convalescence. His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, all without anesthesia. The procedure was unsuccessful and attempts to make Inigo battle ready failed and left him with a permanent limp that ended his military career. Moreover, Inigo’s health declined and doctors told him to prepare for death.
Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.
Desperate, Ignatius began to read the religious books. This vulnerable state made the once haughty Inigo to be open to the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God. The more Inigo he read, the more he considered the exploits of the saints worth imitating.
Inigo noticed that that after reading and thinking of the saints and Christ he was at peace and satisfied. Yet when he finished his long daydreams of his noble lady, he would feel restless and unsatisfied. The Society of Jesus (a.k.a. Jesuits) consider this to be the beginning of Ignatius of Loyola’s conversion and his techniques of spiritual discernment which he later incorporated in the the Spiritual Exercises.
So it could be said that it took a cannon ball to get Ignatius of Loyola’s attention.
Personally, I am satisfied for less dramatic experiences of the divine than being struck by lightning, a cannonball or other such theophanies. But the Spirit works in mysterious ways.
Recently a viewer of ABC Family’s 700 Club asked a trying moral query for a Bring It Online segment. Ivy asked:
I’ve been trying to forgive my husband for cheating on me. We have gone to counseling, but I can’t seem to forgive, nor can I trust. How do you let go of the anger? How do you trust again? God says to forgive, but it’s so hard to do. I want to forgive, so we can get on with our lives.
Co-host Christi Watts noted: “I think forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things in the whole wide world to do, and especially when it comes to a spouse, because that’s one of the ultimate betrayals.”
Longtime 700 Club host Pat Robertson looked into the camera and responded: “Here’s the secret: Stop. Talking. About. The. Cheating.”
Among the right reverend’s analytical approach to infidelity, Pat Robertson suggested that men have a tendency to wander a bit so the goal is to make a wonderful home so your husband is not tempted to roam. He noted that there is a lot of pornography out there, which entices men every day.
The 82 year old Robertson also counseled that the betrayed spouse ought to remember why she married him in the first place. Other considerations should be: Is he handsome”; Does he provide food, shelter, clothing and is nice to the children. Robertson asserted that the betrayed spouse should give him honor and fidelity. Robertson ended his monologue by proclaiming: “Thank God you have a marriage that is together, that you live in America, and that good things are happening. Okay, next question.”
This advice seems strange and less than spiritual than pragmatic. Christians believe that forgiveness is intrigral to our salvific history. Jesus taught: ” If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (MT 16:15).
Forgiveness is difficult and a divine virtue but it does not necessitate forgetting the sin. Catechesis which tried to explain how God treats sin suggests that forgiveness is like a wound healing on the body–the individual is made whole through healing yet a scar remains. In fact, if we could forget, we would not need to forgive.
The challenge is forgiveness without forgetting and being embittered by the experience. Perhaps that is where Robertson’s ramblings about remembering the good things can be put in context.
I would take more of an Ignatian approach and observe about the virtue of detachment. St. Ignatius of Loyola had recognized the charism of “Finding God in all things” but discerning what things draws you away from God and what things draws you closer to divine virtues.
This is not the first time that Pat Robertson has made controversial pronouncements on the intersection of faith and the real world. This observation about overcoming unforgiving impulses about fidelity sounds in sync with Iranian imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who divined fault lines with the fairer sex, only without the burka.
With such special counsel from Pat Robertson about forgiving infidelity, it is important to remember that the 700 Club name dates back to 1962 when the fledgling televangelist sought to find 700 members who would contribute $10.00 a month to keep him broadcasting on the air in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It does not refer to the number of times to forgive or levels of infidelity.
h/t: The Blaze