In the slipstream of my experience the concept of prayer is a reverent petition to God – the God in all caps – the Alpha and Omega of all human beings. It has been a bit of a let down for me in my childhood when I prayed to him every night for a two-wheel bicycle for me.
Every noon I waited for my father to come home from his office with the bicycle. It never arrived. I realised that it was unlikely God would take his attention away from the universe in order to give me a bicycle.
Prayer mania spiralled into surreal fantasy until late in the 20th century. The ancient belief in the romantic idea of prayer phenomenon refused to accept the futility of chasing an illusion.
In Christianity, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in the Bible – “Father give us each day our daily bread” (Mathew 6:11) is probably the best written prayer in the English language. Now nobody says this prayer as nobody believes that God provides food.
Devout Muslims pray five times a day to the Muslim God Allah (at sunrise, noon, post-noon, sunset and evening) after doing woozoo (ablution).
God is addressed in a liturgy of prayers of various world religions. Prayers involving the name of a God have become established as a common spiritual practice in both Western and Eastern spiritual practices.
Many people are still unable to open up and analyse that prayer is not an email to God, asking him to deliver something a person has requested. It is a bit of hit and miss – coincidence. We can satisfactorily analyse prayers and find that they are never answered.
In the autumn of my life and to date I have seen no evidence of any divine being throughout my entire life. I am totally convinced that there is no God who is listening to any prayer. The three examples below will show that prayer is a waste of time.
On May 13 2004, an American businessman Nicholas Berg was captured by the Islamic fighters in Baghdad. Televised prayer meetings and candle lit night vigils were held in his home town of Westchester in Pennsylvania, USA. Two days later, he was beheaded and the corpse was flown home to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
On October 8 2005 an earthquake wiped off three generations of people in the Pakistan- administered Kashmir, killing 75,000 people. The irony is that it followed the reversion to orthodox Islamic practice by Mirpuri fellow country men and women in Bradford. Men have reverted to their old Muslims clothes and grown beards. The women have begun to dress in black Burqa, Hijab and Niqab (face veil with a slit across for. Eyes)
In May 2008 Pope Benedict prayed for the victims and their families after a cyclone hit Myanmar. He prayed to the same God who caused the storm killing up to 113,000 people and making over one million homeless. He asked all countries to send aid for the victims. If prayer worked he could just have asked God to send aid from heaven.
Viewed from an opposite perspective, Napoleon said, “God is on the side of the Army with the best artillery”. No prayer is needed.
I was brought up in Manipur where Meitei Vaishnavs were taught to pray to Krishna. Songs in Bengali dialect like ‘Krishna namer nauka alai, Radha namer kandari hobe’, meaning praying that Krishna will serve as a boat while Radha, will be the boatwoman (to ferry you over the unknown celestial ‘Baitarani River’.
When misfortune befell one, perhaps with tuberculosis or cancer, a family member would consult an astrologer who would then work out on his horoscope with a small fee that certain planet especially the Saturn was influencing the person.
A remedy would be a prayer with a bizarre array of offerings to the planet, such as milk from a black cow, a tuft of certain grass, a few grams of gold etcetera. Or, he might suggest a dish of rice pudding and a bunch of bananas.
All these beliefs are beyond educated intelligence and bereft of any scientific merit. But people do believe them as they believe in a God.
I remember an old man from Wahengbam Leikai, Imphal. Having seen the well-fed, well-moneyed American GIs during the War, he used to do Shani Puja (Saturn worship) one Saturday a month, offering “phola’ – flattened rice soaked in milk, flavoured with sugar, banana, resins etc. I used to go there sometimes with a friend to eat phola.
At the end of the puja he will do a ‘dandabot’ ie prostrate himself on the floor and loudly pray to the planet that in the next birth he be granted to be born as an American.
The prayer phenomenon is pie in the sky – utterly useless. Though traditionally believed to be fruitful in the 20th century, the growing impact of scientific investigations and interpretation
of the existence of God has led most people to abandon it in favour of a more metaphysical understanding of the hopelessness of prayer.
It can not be disputed that religions began before science when the earth was regarded as the centre of the universe, not a planet that orbits round the sun.
In the past 150 years Darwinism and evolution became increasingly propitious. Now they have a strong staying power because they are scientific facts with solid evidence to support the theory.
For a prayer one needs a God. Without God prayer is invalid. There are reputed biographical and autographical accounts of God, which we keep hearing from theologians in their continuing thrall of messages that God has been sending to them. They need scientific verifications.
The delightful praise for the wonders and the infinity of God does not stand up to the New Age model of God. All these flamboyant and grandiloquent words merely rent crass absurdities and serve only as a thin edge of the wedge of a gigantic collective imagery of a living God.
The religious leaders objectify and universalise the reality of the existence of God by citing spiritual promises which are non-existent and therefore prayers are waste of time and energy.
The Semitic prayer books and Hindu Bhajans written and introduced by deeply religious men in the past (nobody is writing anymore) are like electrical conduits to communicate with God. They help immensely in getting people accept that there is a God in Heaven, who would answer their prayers.
The believers are further primed with what prayers could do for them such as, Jesus allegedly said: “If you ask my father anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). “And then my father will give you anything you ask him in my name” (John 15:12-17).
There is a prayer in the Vedas – the Gayatri mantra – the foremost mantra in Hinduism, which has been the theme of Hindu Prayers for 3,000 years. “Tat savitar vareniam – bhargo devasya; dhimahi – Dhsyo yan prochodayat”. The English translation is: “Let our meditation be glorious light of Savitry; may this light illuminate our mind”. Most mayang Hindu Indians used to say this every morning.
Despite so many prayers and bhajans for thousands of years the Muslim invaders from outside India took the hell out of them. It was simply because of Turkish guns and not Allah, which the Hindus had never heard of.
The raison d’ être of prayer is faith in God with the hope that what one is asking for has a fair chance of deliverance. For some unfortunates it is the cutting age of hopelessness, like a
drowning man trying to clutch at a floating straw, hoping that it might save his life.
We all live in hope that tomorrow will bring a better world for us. But hope is not self-filling spa water, which God keeps topping up. We have to have a cut-off point when we see that prayer does not work. The reality is that it leaves nothing of substance when faced with the challenging world of modern living.
The chance of a camel going through the eye of a needle is more likely than a salient woman’s prayer answered when asking God to save her husband dying of lung cancer.
The importance of prayers is the delight in the brief but elegant uplift of human heart to God, who people imagine, is listening to them. Daily prayers were introduced as they plucked at the heartstrings of the believers, recognising the interrelationship between musical harmony and vocal human hearts with a reawakening of the mind and the senses.
The lissom harmonised music elevates human thoughts to some sort of inner spiritualism from the fevered part of consciousness. It gives people an extra piquancy to their hype, a farrago in their obsession with God in quite an adolescent way.
To me in fact, their music is better than it sounds. And for me prayer is a waste of time.
The writer is based in the UK