The Temptation to Pray.
On religion, childhood, and bearing the philosopher’s mantle.
October 20th, 2022
565 Alnitak Rd.
I had to sit down for a second, when, a couple of days ago, I realized that I wanted to pray. It is very disturbing, especially for someone who considers themselves to be principled and stubborn, to be humiliated–how is it that Darwin put it?– by the stamp of my lowly origin.
In true epicurean fashion, however, I might as well take this as a humbling return to a more accurate perspective of my own self. The religious impulse within me could as well be a worthy sparring partner.
I grew up Catholic (you can read about it in An Atheist and a Church), but today I am confidently an atheist. I have tried to leave the church, though my efforts are frustrated by an unresponsive parish. I am assuming, though, that a “hey, please strike me off the records of your church, which already is dwindling in numbers” email is not at the top of their priority.
Per church law, I am still a Catholic. However, we all know, and I evidently know so as well, that belonging to a community is much more than a label, let alone a imposed label. No pitiful law, or subsection of a law, can make me more or less of a pious lamb. And, while all of this is true, it is the older I get that I come to understand that popular saying “once a Catholic, always a Catholic”. It is an odious saying, and it is odious because, for me, it is true.
When I was a child, and I was scared, or restless, or grieving, my mother would tell me to pray. And, so, I did pray. So anxiously I would fix my mind on heavenly thoughts and put my mouth to divine work. My tongue would spill the holy words, and, who would have known, my fears would be relieved!
The difficulty with prayer is that it works (miracles, one might say). The subsequent difficulty is, however, that it can become much more than habitual. If you are not religious, or did not grow up with prayer, imagine the mental space of a child who was. Prayer, for someone like me, transforms into something like an addiction, or akin to a biological reflex. Within my body it is prescribed not only fight or flight, but also prayer. It might as well be seared into my genes.
It turns out, dear reader, that in this brief hiatus I have taken from writing, I have felt very strongly, maddeningly a times, the need to pray. Having not done so, I am comforted only by the fact that everyday I become weary of religion and superstition. I grieve the fact that, never fulfilling that pious itch, I may never be completely at peace again. However, my bitterness focuses my thoughts, and my restlessness keeps me sober. Yet, like sinuses that have been cleared, or eyes that have been unfolded, I wince at the bite of sensations that rush to defenseless body. Having lost my darling intermediary, I feel naked and alone.