Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Prayer?

     Imagine a time before mankind; a time when there were no top bananas, no egomaniacs, no whiney humanoids; a time when the Creator could enjoy his “garden” planet alone.
     Consider conditions now. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, one Deity or another, is called upon by millions of people all at once making every imaginable request from healing, to wealth.
     Does anyone consider this a reasonable scenario for either a Deity or mankind? Why would anyone create these conditions.
     What is Prayer? Before early man knew a God, did he pray?
     Prayer is generally accepted as the unique method humans use to communicate with Deities. Although this communication is generally a one-way street, there are some who claim to have a 2-way communication with Deities, but their only evidence for this is their word.
     Prayer takes many forms. Some prayers require ritualistic and prescribed positions at specific times of the day, while others take the form of a reverent and private utterance by individuals at any time of the day or night. Still others are very casual, without any formality, and take the form of a conversation with a friend. The various form prayers take is usually influenced by the culture or religion in which it is taught.
     There was no prayer until the fears and superstitions of conscious mankind encountered invisible forces which were causing unexplained and mysterious events affecting their existence. These mysterious and harassing events took many forms such as lightening, erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, fire, unexplained deaths of members of the tribe, etc., were all events early man could not explain or predict and were attributed to the actions of unseen forces. Eventually these unseen forces were identified as Deities and given appropriate names such as, rain God, fire God, underworld God, God of thunder, etc. Attempts were made to communicate with these Gods for mercy, for help, for protection from enemies, etc., and these unique communication supplications eventually became known as prayers.
     The unseen forces, “Deities,” soon became associated with visible and earthly objects. A tree that managed to survive a lightning strike became considered as “sacred.” Animals also became associated with Deities as sacred, i.e., sacred cows, sacred monkeys, sacred eagles, etc. Even some people took on an air of sacredness.  Statues and images of all kinds were created depicting not only some Deities, but most if not all of the sacred objects as well.  Eventually, even the sacred objects were worshiped in the same manner as the Deities. Today, sacred objects are worshiped and prayed to in every culture in the world. Every religious and many secular buildings contain images of sacred objects that are used in worship and prayer.
     It’s impossible to ever know what the percentage of prayers answered in the manner requested by the petitioner, versus the percentage of prayers unanswered since the beginning of mankind. Based on personal experience it would be fairly reasonable to say many more prayers have been unanswered than answered in accordance with the petitioner’s request. I believe this has been the case from the beginning of the first prayers uttered by mankind. Because Deities have not granted the requests of mankind very often, mankind incorporated a very human trait with his prayer to help the Gods listen and make decisions in man’s favor; and that was to sweeten the request with gifts. Gifts began accompanying all prayers to gain favorable results. The types of early gifts would have been the same kind of gifts that might have been exchanged or given to other members of the tribe; a favorite bauble, a prized tool, a pet animal, a collection of feathers, etc.
     As cultures became more sophisticated, highly specialized individuals who were deemed to have a unique relationship with Deities were elevated to the position of religious leader. These medicine men, witchdoctors, shaman, priests, etc. were first recognized as having magical healing powers and were the natural inheritors of the later position of religious leader as well. They were eventually the final authority for setting the rules for all religious practices, including prayers, gifts and/or sacrifices, etc., offered to the Gods. These tribal religious leaders opened up a whole new chapter in attempts to get the attention and favorable responses from their Deities. Gifts and sacrifices became somewhat related to the seriousness of the supplications and requests being made.
     Mankind had always been a hunter and warrior. Killing game for food had taught mankind about early anatomy and the stages of dying of a mortal wound by observation. This same knowledge was applied to deaths of enemies as the results of battle.
     When an animal or human was mortally wounded, its blood was spilled out of the body and the victim became dead. Therefore, the strength and life of the victim was thought to be contained in the blood that was drained from the body. For many cultures it became a practice that the hunter or the victors in battle would be strengthened by consuming the blood of the animal or human that had been dispatched. From these discoveries, gifts and sacrifices to the Gods began to include the blood of animals, human enemies, virgins, babies, etc., anything the tribal religious leader decided was necessary to please their Gods.
     Today, most of the practices of animal or human sacrifice have been discontinued. Now, gifts or sacrifices accompanying prayer requests involve making a deal such as, “if God would grant me this request, I will go to church every Sunday.”, or, “If you crawl on your knees to the top of this sacred pyramid then pray to God, he will hear and grant your request.”, or, “If God would help us win this football game, I will never say a swear word again.”
     Until the Jewish Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 AD, animal sacrifices were practiced for the atonement of sins and the adoration of God. During Jewish high holy days, the priests who officiated at the alter of animal sacrifices were knee deep in animal blood. The temple in Jerusalem was the only place Jewish sacrifices could be made. When the temple was destroyed, the Jews lost their only official and approved place to make sacrifices. If, and when, the temple is rebuilt, Orthodox Jews will again resume animal sacrifices. Temple furniture, altars and accoutrements have been constructed according to Jewish law and are now awaiting the restoration of their temple.
     In the final analysis, it would appear that prayer in all of its variations of attempts to communicate with a God, has been initiated by the superstitions and ignorance of early mankind. Claims made by human beings of hearing God’s voice or words have wreaked more havoc and dissention among men than any Deity would create. I believe that if the creator of the universe wanted to make his will and wishes known to mankind, he certainly has the ability to do so in a manner that could not, and would not, be misconstrued or mistaken. The fact that there are more than 38,000 Christian denominations, cults, or sects, and easily as many non-Christian cultures in the world today, confirms my suspicions that God did not originate the Holy message that mankind thought he had received.
     Prayer is, and has become, an empathetic exercise, and expression of courage and sympathy, for and between, people. Persons in distress are comforted in the knowledge that other persons are praying for them. Personal prayer produces the same results as personal meditation; an attitude of calm and mental objectivity; solutions to problems are mentally explored during an attitude of prayer; acceptance of adverse conditions over which we have no control is softened; visions of well-being are imagined and acted upon, etc. Prayer produces the release of personal control and anxiety over situations we are powerless to change.
     Prayer has become as ingrained in our human character as the ability to verbalize thoughts. It has been our only means of dealing with the unknown and the unknowable. Until such time as we know all there is to know about ourselves and our universe, we shall rely upon conversation with the one who knows all of the answers in the hope that he will take care of us now, and in the future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Motherless Child

     A mother prepared an area for the baby she was about to deliver. She collected and placed enough food in the area for the baby to live on until she became an adult. After all preparations had been completed, she placed the baby in the midst of all of the food she had collected, then departed, sealing the space to protect the baby. She would never see the baby again. The baby would grow to adulthood in this sealed space before leaving to begin her own life. When she left her protected childhood space, she would possess all of the knowledge and skills her mother had, and would know where to find food, a mate, and how to prepare for her own babies.
     Sounds like science fiction, some futuristic method of child rearing. How could a mother ever consent to this kind of scenario? Well, there are many mothers who follow this same pattern. I’ve had the privilege of observing and witnessing one part of the procreation of a motherless child.
     I was sitting on a ground level pipe rack on a bright, summer day in a petrochemical plant site in Brownsville. My official duty at the time was “fire watch” for a group of maintenance men who were welding and fabricating new pipe in the rack.
     As I was monitoring the work being done, I noticed a black ground wasp, about 2 inches in length, flying in what appeared to be a search pattern very low to the ground, near where I was seated. She finally landed between my feet and began circling in a random pattern as if she was intent on locating something. The texture of the ground was a dirt and caliche mixture. She soon stopped and began digging in a spot that was composed of more dirt than pebbles.
     Her front legs were busily scraping at the ground in front of her, while her back legs were kicking the dirt and dust back and away from the hole she had begun. As the hole became deeper, she would dig a little, then back up kicking the dirt out of the hole and out of the way. Deeper and deeper she continued digging for approximately 20 minutes. During the process of excavation, she would emerge frequently to circle the immediate area of her mining site before continuing with her task.
     After she had apparently prepared the hole to her satisfaction, she again circled around the entrance a few times, then selected a pebble and placed it over the entrance of the hole. She then flew off in the direction of about 10 acres of mesquite brush and tall grass and weeds just outside of the plant site perimeter fence, about 50 yards away.
     She was gone for about 10 minutes before returning with a plump green caterpillar about half her size. She returned to almost the very spot of her excavation. She laid the caterpillar down and began circling the area in search of the hole she had dug. Within seconds, she located the pebble, removed it, then proceeded to carry the caterpillar down into the hole. She almost immediately exited the hole, circled the area for a second, picked up the same pebble and placed it over the hole, then flew off again.
     I didn’t think she had remained inside with the caterpillar long enough to lay an egg, so after she left and while she was gone, I rearranged the appearance of the area around her soon to be nursery. I moved some stones around and scuffed up the area being careful to leave the pebble covering her nursery undisturbed.
     About 15 minutes later she returned with a spider almost as large as she was. She laid it down near my feet and proceeded to survey the area. She made a few rounds of the space between my feet and soon located the pebble covering her den. She picked up the spider and carried it down the hole again, head first. She soon emerged, made a few circles around the entrance, then backed down into the hole. It was then that I realized that she was in the process of laying an egg. She had secured enough food for the baby to reach the pupa stage before emerging on its own as an adult.
     When she emerged and left for the last time, she again placed the pebble over the entrance and began scraping and kicking dust and dirt over the pebble to secure it. She inspected the covered site for one last time, then flew off to repeat the process again for her next baby. She would do this for approximately a dozen babies before her life ended. She would never know any of her babies, nor would the babies ever know their mother. All of her babies would have inherited their mother’s instincts and knowledge of how to live without any instruction from her.
     Many species of insects, birds, and animals have no relation with their prodigy. The young grow up with instincts that have been programmed into their genes without instruction from a parent or other adult.
     As humans, we have trouble understanding this kind of relationship with offspring – then at times, wish child rearing were more like the wasp or butterfly. The offspring of many species as well as humans require a long period of child rearing to pass on instructions for not only survival, but for achieving some measure of quality of life. In this child rearing we find more delight and pleasure, than pain; more reward and fun, than work.

And these we call, grandchildren.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Monotheistic Diety

What do we know about the nature of the Judeo/Christian Deity?
Biblically described as: He, Yahweh, loving, jealous, forgiving, patient, omnipotent, eternal, merciful, angry, vengeful, truthful, peaceful, light, mighty, terrible, changeless, wisdom, spirit, all knowing, creator, etc.

Where did this information come from?
From the collection of ancient texts used to compile the Old & New Testament bible by a series of Bishop’s Councils first convened in Nicea in Bithynia (Turkey), by the Roman Emperor Constantine I, approximately 1,686 years ago (325 AD). Many ancient texts were submitted to be considered for inclusion in the final group of texts for biblical authority, but only a few of these texts were selected.

How old are the earliest written texts regarding the existence and character of the Judeo/Christian Deity?
The oldest texts were written approximately 2,400 years ago (600 BCE) when Hebrew elders began writing the first books of the Old Testament while in captivity in Babylon. The stories of Abraham were transitioned from oral to written form approximately 800 years after his death; and approximately 200 years after Moses and the exodus event (authors unknown). The gospels of the New Testament were transitioned from oral to written form approximately 40 to 150 years after the disappearance of Jesus (authors unknown).

How long has Modern Man populated this planet in tribes, clans, villages, or cultures?
Lucy is the common name of AL 288-1, is composed of several hundred pieces of bone representing about 40% of the skeleton of an individual Australopithecus afarensis. The specimen was discovered in 1974 at Hadar in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar Depression. Although Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago, it is generally accepted that the ancestors of modern humans originated about 200,000 years ago in the Middle Paleolithic period in southern Africa. By 70,000 years ago, humans had migrated out of Africa and began colonizing the entire planet. They spread to Eurasia and Oceania 40,000 years ago, and reached the Americas by 14,500 years ago. During the Abraham event, the world was populated by approximately 25 million people in various stages of cultural development.

How old is the Monotheistic Judeo/Christian Deity?
There is no written record of a Monotheistic Judeo/Christian God existing prior to the Biblical story of Abraham. The Monotheistic Judeo/Christian God has only been in existence for the past 3000 years. God and the Jewish nation came into existence at the same time in the story of Abraham. Christianity came into existence as an offshoot of Judaism and has continued the theology of a Monotheistic Deity which became expanded into a Trinity. The Christian church was born with the compiling and selection of written materials to be included in the New Testament Bible by the many Councils of Bishops who made decisions about how the first Roman churches would be organized and supported by authority. Weekly services for the proletariat became a necessary practice in order to reinforce the new doctrine and theology of “the Church.” This frequently assembled practice has permeated the Christian culture with continued mythological growth.

How does a God Myth continue to grow?
Prior to the existence of a Monotheistic Judeo/Christian God, there existed a wide array of Gods. Gods who would or could meet the particular superstitions of the people. Families often had several Gods in the form of small replicas for each member of the family. Whenever people traveled or moved it was necessary to carry these Gods with them. Choices of Gods were influenced by local cultural practices as well as geographical locations. How effective these Gods were depended upon the belief in what each God could do for you. In about 1000 BCE, the Monotheistic Judeo/Christian God was introduced as the Alpha God who was capable of being or doing everything, and even more, than any of the lesser Gods could be, or do. There was no physical replica of this Alpha God to carry around. The belief that he was everywhere made it all the more convenient to adopt this new God.

It was a common belief that this Alpha God created first man from the material of the earth and woman from his rib several million years ago; then approximately 2000 years ago the Alpha God sired a son with a human virgin female. It was also believed that the son of the Alpha God possessed some of the same powers as his father. Since it had been a long held belief that humans possessed a spirit that departed from the body upon death and made its way to an afterlife, it also held that the son of the Alpha God, being born of a human female, also had a spirit. However, the spirit of the son of the Alpha God did not follow the normal protocol of the times. Instead, it was believed that his spirit, also possessing the same powers as the Alpha God, remained and continued to exist among men. Thus was born the unique and Holy Trinity.

Today, the images, replicas, and idols of the many Gods still exist. Even the Alpha God has obtained a foothold in several cultures under many different names. How much power these Gods possess is measured by the devotion of their believers. No proof, facts, or corroborating evidence is required of the Gods existence or power, only a steady diet of myths, legends and traditions are needed to sustain a belief system in the Gods.

Belief is a multifaceted concept which does not necessarily require a basis in fact or truth.

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.