Praise the Lord! (without gagging)

Much liturgical prayer is about praising God and extolling His greatness.  This tends to fill atheists with scorn: If God is so great, why does He need humans to remind Him of the fact all the time?

But as an atheist who worships a non-existent God, I now see the point:  Of course, this abstraction, this immaterial concept, this psychological crutch, this non-existent God is going to need some plumping up if I expect It to help make vital decisions in my life and help me face adversity and fear.  Maybe if I praise Her and tell Her She’s omnipotent and call Her the Queen of the Universe, I’ll convince Her, or at least myself, that She can help me with my little problems.

In fact, I have seen myself and so many other people change in ways they never would have believed possible by asking God for help that I sometimes think: “God is truly amazing, to be able to accomplish all that, and without even existing!  How much could I accomplish, how many people could I help, if I didn’t exist?  Not many.”

Seeing it that way, reading all the praise prayers that strike me as so tawdry otherwise, ends up feeling sweet and inspiring: Yes!  My little non-existent God can do all this and more!

Now I can hear the Mourner’s Kaddish (“Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name…”) or the 23rd Psalm (“…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil…”) and feel a profound or jaunty hopefulness, like singing Whistle a Happy Tune:

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I’m Afraid…

You may be as brave
As you make believe you are…

The point is not to reduce God to the power of positive thinking.  If someone had asked me to sing praises to the glory of my God before I had made praying to Her a daily practice, there’s no way I could have taken them seriously.  You can’t build faith in God, existent or non-, from nothing, through tepid oblations or making believe.  Daily practice and communal support are prerequisites.  My point is, after I had done the work of making my non-existent God a felt presence in my life, the praise prayers of traditional religions made a lot more sense to me.

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