2007-01-10 : Some questions about worship

These are questions for those of you, my friends and readers, who have opinions about what counts as worship and what doesn't. J, Sydney, Anna are three of you I'd name - but I'd love to hear from any of you.

Sometimes we say grace over a meal. Meg brought this custom into our family from hers; or to say it another way, she brought me into this custom of her family's when she brought me into her family. Same diff. Grace is a song we sing. It's a Sufi song and it's very pretty. It goes:

O thou
The sustainer
Of our bodies, hearts and souls
Bless all
That we thankfully
That we recieve

When I sing it, I pluralize "sustainer," and by "sustainers" I mean either my family around the table with me, who sustain my body heart and soul; or else I mean fields, trees, cows, the tofu factory, whatever - the immediate earthly source of my sustenance, represented by the meal. Non-transcendent, if sometimes iconic, things I can name and point to.

Would you consider my singing this song a prayer?

The change I make to it, pluralizing "sustainer," would you consider that blasphemy?

The things I mean by "sustainers" - am I worshiping them?

If so, is this idolatry? I didn't create my family members or the fields and cows personally, but they are certainly human creations. Are they, religiously speaking, equivalent to the famous golden calf?

(Sometimes as we're eating, Elliot and Sebastian like to ask where the meal's parts came from, and say thanks. "Thank you wheat. Thank you tomatoes. Thank you cows. Thank you basil. Thank you garlic. Thank you olives. Thank you farmers. Thank you cook." Sometimes Sebastian gets impatient with this, and cuts it off with a firm "thank you sun. Thank you earth. THE END.")

1. On 2007-01-10, Vincent said:

Wait, my mistake - some of my family members, I did create personally. Not by myself, but I played an essential part in their creation.


2. On 2007-01-10, NinJ said:


Uh... well, do you care if it's worship? I bet you don't. So it's moot.

OK, here's the thing: there's a longstanding Jewish tradition that you never, ever ask God for anything because you don't know what other effects that will have. So if I ask God for a storm to not hit my house, it hits someone else's. And now it's your fault because you couldn't keep your fingers out of the magic pie.

This is obviously overridden by folk tradition, which has possessor demons, ghosts, and the evil eye. But ignoring that part, we don't typically ask God for things. We have our covenant; other stuff has to be contracted for, and it's kind of hard to figure out how to do that. (Many feel that the covenant was broken in the Holocaust. I'm not sure what to make of that.)

The upshot of this is that 1) "Worship" of God mostly comes in the form of acknowledging the position of God in the Universe. It's a meditative practice. 2) Nothing forbids you from thanking people for providing for you in some way. In fact, you have to pay for things fairly by Halachah. 3) Were it Jewish practice, the way you do things is by saying, "Thanks, God, who made the whole Universe, for making bread come out of the earth. Thanks for making grapes. Thanks for making light and fire. Thanks for making my children. Thanks for making fruit come out of the earth.  Thanks for making fruit of trees." Oddly, there's no blessing over meat; Jewish tradition implies that vegetarianism is preferable, so when you eat meat, you say, "Bless are you, God, whose word makes everything be."


This is a technical answer. The real answer is in my question: are you worshiping the stuff? Are you saying, "Wheat, there are no causes that contribute to your existence, so by speech (a sacrifice) I am making you grow." No, I think you're doing the opposite. I think you're saying, "I like my existence, and I thank all the things that cause it, and the things that cause those causes, and the things that cause those causes..."

You're just not shouting "Infinity!" at the end.


3. On 2007-01-10, Jay Loomis said:

What you are describing sounds more like tribal warriors thanking the spirit of the animal they have just killed than thanking God for letting things work out so that you can eat. Perhaps it's a subtle distinction, but I see it very clearly. In the first case, one acknowledges the wonder of the world and one's place in it. In the second, one is supplicating to one's creator.

So I would call your grace reverence, but not worship.

Here's a test: if you didn't say grace, would your family and the trees and the tofu factory become displeased and bring suffering to you?


4. On 2007-01-10, Brand Robins said:

I tend to agree with Jay. What you are doing sounds, to me, like a form of ritualized respect and honor. However, it lacks the emphasis the sense of... subjugation of the self? of veneration of the other as superior to the self?... that I usually associate with worship proper.


5. On 2007-01-10, Dave Younce said:

Would you consider my singing this song a prayer?

Probably, I guess. But what's way more important is whether you consider it a prayer.

The change I make to it, pluralizing "sustainer," would you consider that blasphemy?

No, unless that's your actual intent with it. Referring to your preferred higher power in the plural isn't a problem especially if
- You believe God is a being with more than one aspect
or - You believe that everything and everyone has a portion of deity in them. (This seems like what you've said)

Now, if my daughter started her prayers with "Heavenly Fathers" would I be okay with it? No, at this stage of her life and given our particular beliefs I would teach her to pray in the singular.

The things I mean by "sustainers" - am I worshiping them?

This may seem like a cop-out answer by now, but I'm going to say again: "Only if that's your intent."

If so, is this idolatry?

Yes and no. Yes if you're putting other sources in priority above a singular God, then you probably meet the standard in Exodus 20:3 (if that's even where you're deriving your definition of 'idolatry' in the question). No, because it's not like you've chosen another god to worship, at least from what I see. You either intend to include deity in your thanks and ask it/Him for blessing, or you specifically do not mean that, or maybe you've decided to be intentionally vague on the issue.

It's not politically correct in our era to accuse anyone of idolatry, and furthermore its just not my decision on where that line starts - it's between you and (if He exists) any God that has said that might be a problem.


6. On 2007-01-10, Blankshield said:

I would say:

Yes, prayer,

No, not blasphemy,

No, not worship.

And otherwise generally agree with Jay et al.  It's not worship if you're not placing some spiritual authority in the object of your prayer.

I disagree with the suffering test, though; I can worship something purely out of desire to worship, without fearing negative consequences if I don't.



7. On 2007-01-10, NinJ said:

Hm. Here's some interesting etymology:

Tfilah, the Hebrew word for "prayer" means "to judge oneself".

Pray means "to entreat".

You're doing the first more than the second: putting yourself in perspective with the Universe.

("judge" gets used a lot in Hebrew. A "Tzadik", often translated as a "saint" is more properly a "just person". "Tzdakah", often translated as "charity" really means "justice." It's a broadly applicable concept in the language. Man, this makes me want to take a Hebrew course. I have these little scraps of interesting information but no overarching understanding of the language.)

Also, Worship. This site lists it as a noun only, but I'd suggest that the verb form means "to pay respect to something worthy of it." So in that sense, I'd say that yes, you are. It has additional baggage that I don't think you mean, though. I'm not sure. The word sure makes me uncomfortable.


8. On 2007-01-10, NinJ said:

Oh, re: blasphemy: I don't really know what it means. This is unilluminating; in the literal sense, it's not even on the scale.

Obviously I think you're doing something good.


9. On 2007-01-10, NinJ said:

(Crap. Missing quote. Could you fix that, Vincent?)


10. On 2007-01-10, Vincent said:



11. On 2007-01-10, Brand Robins said:

MW lists it close to the OED, both stating:

"1 : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2 : to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion "

But then dictionary definitions really aren't what we're looking for, are they?


12. On 2007-01-10, Vincent said:

Nope. You got it - I'm looking for theological definitions, based on all your own personal theologies. I figure that having this little conversation will make the larger conversation about religion we're having here, better.


13. On 2007-01-10, Vincent said:

...Not to say that discussing dictionary definitions mightn't contribute. I especially like J's "to judge oneself" etymology.


14. On 2007-01-10, Julie, aka jrs said:

Ya know—I wouldn't care if it were worship, prayer, or blasphemy.  I think your sung grace is important as a way to define the community with whom you share a meal.  I'd likely think the same if you sang "Peas porridge hot".



15. On 2007-01-10, Brand Robins said:

Oh, I answered about worship, but not about prayer...

I think (ironically perhaps) that while it probably isn't worship, it probably is prayer. It defines the community, gives pause and reflection, and reminds all that there is more to be connected to than just flesh on a slab.

The only difference the s makes, in my mind, is to clarify what you're praying to.


16. On 2007-01-10, Clinton R. Nixon said:

"Worship," to me, is realizing that you are not that big and important when compared to all of us and what lies in the, if you will, shared imagined space we all have, and then being happy in a group about that. Maybe even being happy in private, but taking time to. That's pretty hippy-dippy, but all that subjugation of self is just the most self-punishing, control-enforcing twisting of something holy that I can imagine.

I've been going to church a lot lately - specifically, the Eno River Unitarian Univeralist Fellowship. Our new minister actually brings up the Jesus a lot, which I like, because I'm familiar with it. And, man, do I love realizing the dual truths that:

(a) I am very small compared to the wonder that lies out there.
(b) I am part of something amazingly wonderful.

Worship is realizing that you're part of something bigger and enjoying it.


17. On 2007-01-10, NinJ said:

Heh. I use etymological definitions because I find that they often tell me what I meant to say with a word. They tell you the cultural context from which the concept evolved. Surely you see that "Self-judgement" and "To entreat" are from different cultures, just as "To miss the mark" and "sin" are from different cultures.

We use words like they're interchangeable, like you can just translate a cultural concept, but it's more subtle than that. So, I really didn't know what "blasphemy" was supposed to mean. Like, I've heard the word, but never in a cultural context I understood.


18. On 2007-01-10, Jye Nicolson said:

It actually looks like you're repurposing a prayer to acknowledge the actual chain of events that lead to you sharing a meal with your family, which is pretty cool.


19. On 2007-01-10, Sydney Freedberg said:

Prayer, no; blasphemy, no; worship, no. It's lovely, though. When I ask my priest or my beloved for a blessing, I'm not praying to them (although I may be asking them to pray for me or with me), I am asking them for one of the many kinds of help it is in their power as another human being to give. I'm with Jay, basically: "I would call your grace reverence, but not worship."

A lot of Christian theologians like to speak in terms of the two pieces of wood that make up the Cross: one vertical, connecting humanity and God; one horizontal, connecting human beings to each other. One of these is worship, the other is fellowship. That said, our relationship to God may be full of intimate love, and our relationship to our fellow human beings may be full of reverent wonder at their glory.

And remember, in strict terms, you didn't "create" any of the members of your family: You made them, by applying human effort (sex, childbirth, nurture, affection, instruction) and using existing materials (your wife's eggs, food, water). Creation, theologically, is to cause something to come into being from nothing. I have learned as a father, from the constant delightful surprises my toddler gives to me, that I may be making her, but her essential spark of life comes from a far greater One than I.


20. On 2007-01-10, Brand Robins said:

Oh, etymology is awesome. I wasn't belittling it in any way, as it gives us a look into the history of the word. What I meant by dictionary definitions not being what we're after wasn't a knock against that. It was a way of saying that the simple definition isn't nearly so interesting as the history of the word, the way the usage has changed, the way it gets used in specific terms (see Sydney's theological definition of create), and the ways in which we all use it differently anyway.

If language is a game, etymology is the history of actual play.


21. On 2007-01-11, xenopulse said:

When I was, oh, 11 or 12, a couple of Turkish friends of mine said they had a secret. But if they shared the secret with me, I'd fall under its obligation. I, curious as ever, wanted to know. So they said, whenever I see a dead animal, I have to hold on to my hair, or it'll fall out when I turn 16 (I think it was).

So I did.

Of course, I realized that nothing would happen if I didn't do it. But I had transformed the gesture—for me, it turned into a way to pay respect to the dead animal. To announce, silently and mostly to myself, that its death was meaningful, that it was an occasion worthy of noticing and acknowledging.

I cut my hair to 1/4 inch these days, but I place my hand on the back of my neck whenever I see a dead animal.

I think you might be doing the same thing.

Rituals like this are a way in which we pause to take note, and to acknowledge and express the import of a moment, event, or situation.

(Like when the GM in a FATE game offers a fate point to compel an aspect in a thematically appropriate moment, causing everyone to pause, take note, acknowledge, consider ... :)

Most rituals are in some way founded in or shaped by religion, but they're not necessarily prayer or worship just because they're ritualistic.


22. On 2007-01-11, Larry Lade said:

All of these questions are utterly nonsensical to me. Totally how many angels on the head of a pin and all that.

However, as far as "the part before eating where I shut up and glance downward out of respect for others and social cohesion" goes, yours sounds pretty darn cool. Mostly the interjection of beauty into an otherwise quotidian event.


23. On 2007-01-11, Matt S said:

Oh, hell, blasphemy and worship?

There's no object for either in my "theology," so NO.

I'm still chuckling to myself that Richard Dawkins called Pantheism "sexed up atheism." I think that's funny. I also think that's what you're doing, but I don't think it's funny. So it goes.

Oh! Reverence? Sure. I'm all for that.


24. On 2007-01-11, Shreyas said:

Thanks for asking this question. It brought me back here. I've been lapsed in religion for some time now, so these thoughts are hard to dredge up...

To me, prayer is how we salute the spiritual importance of things, so yes, I think your song is prayer.

Worship, I am not so sure about. From your description, it seems that you are acknowledging/celebrating a relationship between entities, one that already exists. That's not really aligned with my feelings about worship - I was raised among Hindu rituals, and talked with my mom a lot about abstract Hindu theology, rather than the folk theology that seems to be what's informing the practices of temples - so I ended up thinking of worship as "that stuff that happens in a temple" and analysing it as action that creates spiritual relationships between oneself and abstract beings. That's palpably different from the blessing you recite when someone is setting off on a journey, signifying that you wish him good fortune in his travels. In any case it can't be idolatry if it isn't worship.

I don't really know what blasphemy is in a useful way. Intuitively I suppose blasphemy generally describes spiritually or socially damaging practices, which isn't what you're up to.

Incidentally, I find it really interesting to see the definitions of worship that come out of the religions of the west - in my family, spirituality has never been a supplicant thing, but a relationship between equals; the same infinity resides in me as does in Krishna (sorry brand, no classical spelling if I can't use underdots) or Laxmi or that tree. We light candles to help gods find us, we feed them when they are hungry. Through their stories they are icons of wisdom and inner strength. That kind of thinking has made supplicant religion really hard for me to understand. To this day, I shudder when I hear the phrase "God-fearing."


25. On 2007-01-11, Graham Walmsley said:

I'm a churchgoer, as in Church of England.

There's an idea of worshipping God through something else: like when you pray to the Virgin Mary, you're not really worshipping her, you're worshipping God. If you kiss a crucifix, you're not doing anything to the crucifix, you're worshipping God-through-the-crucifix.

That's how I'd interpret the sustainers: it's God-through-the-food or God-through-the-family.

As for the song, I think it's a prayer. We often sing our prayers in church (the sung Agnus Dei is interchangeable with the spoken Agnus Dei).


26. On 2007-01-11, Meguey said:

To this day, I shudder when I hear the phrase "God-fearing."

Me too! I just don't get that part a-tall. To be in awe of, to feel humbled by, but to fear? Weird.

To me, the song is a prayer/blessing, especially by Shreyas' deffinition:
To me, prayer is how we salute the spiritual importance of things

The blessing song means pretty much what it means to Vincent:
either my family around the table with me, who sustain my body heart and soul; or else I mean fields, trees, cows, the tofu factory, whatever - the immediate earthly source of my sustenance, represented by the meal

But in my case, it also contains an acknowledgement of the transendant, gratitude for my physical, mental and emotional well-being, and awareness of the insubstantial things that sustain me, like music and art and friendship.

How about this other song that's common to our family?

May the blessings of God rest upon you
May God's peace abide with you
May God's presence illuminate your heart
Now and forever more.

Occasionally, the word Love is substituted for the word God (which, duh). It has been sung with 'Gods', plural, as well. This is sung at really important things, like births, weddings, major life changes like ordination and leaving home for college, and perhaps eventually at deaths. I'm betting most folks say "Yep, that's prayer" to this one.


27. On 2007-01-11, Valamir said:

Interesting discussion.

For myself, the words "Worship" and "Prayer" don't hold much meaning to me or have much impact on my faith.  Its not so much that I reject those words in particular but rather I've pretty much rejected Liturgy in its entirety and both "Worship" and "Prayer" have become so entangled with "Liturgy" that like "Realism" in RPGs I just don't find them very useful concepts.

The language I prefer is "Acknowledgment", "Appreciation", and "Conversation".

I have lots of conversations with God.  Most of them resemble the "arguing with nobody in the shower" comments from another thread.  I do that alot and consider it very beneficial.  I don't always think about it being God I'm talking with as I'm doing it...but on reflection I know that's who it is...because I often wind up with answers or solutions that I can't conceive that I would have thought of on my own.

When I am conciously making an effort to specify God, it tends to be very casual; something like "Ok, ok, I get it...I shouldn't be trying to take advantage of this guy, you've made your point...cut me some slack here ok?"  or "Holy crap that dude nearly killed me.  Thanks for looking out for me bro, cuz other wise I'd be d-e-d dead, right now".  Is that prayer...probably...but I see no particular need to have a word for "talking with God".

We've all seen the pros and cons of talking in Jargon in RPG theory discussions.  For me "Worship" and "Prayer" are just religious jargon that I see no point to when there are already perfectly good ways to just say it in plain speach.

In my experience, these kind of communications have gotten results more often than I could accept as being just the shear random luck of the universe.  So I really can't accept the idea of their not being some form of higher conciousness looking out for me an helping me in my daily life.  Whether that's God: Creator of Heaven and Earth, or the spirits of my ancestors is, for me, an interesting puzzle to ponder, but ultimately not that important.

So in response to your specific actions around the dinner table—to me, I recognize it as acknowledgement and appreciation.  Is it "worship" or "prayer" I don't particularly see the point in worry about that, since the very notion of the question "is it" or "isn't it" implies that there's some objective definition that matters.

Now, as to it being an actual song, sung at certain times or certain occasions...I suspect a great portion of the world's liturgical worship practices started the same just a nice localized practice that went on to become a tradition and then an entrenched dogma.  Essentially you've just devised a semi-formal Baker family Liturgy.

Being fairly pro-God / anti-liturgy myself its not a practice I would participate in, but since I doubt you're going to burn your neighbors at the stake for not singining it with you it seems rather charming.


28. On 2007-01-11, Librisia said:

Brennan forwarded this to me, because he thought I'd be interested.

I am going to echo what Brand, Grahm and Shreyas said.  I do make a caveat in this regard:

Religious practice is a communal thing.  That means that if individuals define "worship," "idolatry," "blasphemy," and "prayer," in thier own way, the words become meaningless.  I can use my cake mixer to mix drywall compound (which I do), but that doesn't mean it's still not a cake mixer, or that the meaning of the term "cake mixer" is different for everyone.  It just means that I am using it for a purpose unintended by its inventors and by most of the population.

Does it mean you have to do what everyone else is doing in order for your practice to have meaning?  No.

To that end, I would say,
Prayer: yes

Worship: hrm.  This *is* difficult. Whether you intend it or not, you are participating in honoring something greater than yourself.  I might have to agree with those who said "revering" rather than worship.  But what is the difference there, really?  Obseqious grovelling aimed at a Freudian uber-daddy?  I don't think worship has to be that way.  Cake mixer to (drywall) mud mixer, I will be a contrarian and say Worship: Yes.  It's still "mixing."

The pluralization of the word sustainer equaling idolatry.... That's only if you take the Western, classical monotheistic definition of deity to heart - which is difficult not to do if you grow up in the United States.  However, if you are willing to give yourself some wiggle room, then I would say take a look at a monistic definition of deity.  Nothing is unconnected, nothing is independent, not even (G)god.  We are all part of the divine in some way, and, therefore, are not at all separate from the Divine; we have only tricked ourselves into believing that we are.  Therefore, I would say,

Idolatry: Yes if you can't purge Western classical monotheism's definition from your psyche

Idolatry: No if you can be an imperialist honky who doesn't mind appropriating another culture's definition of Deity to suit your own purposes.

This idolatry thing also brings up the question of whether or not God is loving and kind, or is a stingy, reluctant bean counter who wants to always and forever hold all mistakes against you for eternity.  An issue Meg addressed nicely, I think.


29. On 2007-01-11, NinJ said:

To this day, I shudder when I hear the phrase "God-fearing."

Me too! I just don't get that part a-tall. To be in awe of, to feel humbled by, but to fear? Weird.

Yeah, "God-fearing" is a mistranslation of a Hebrew phrase, too; it means "In awe of God". But honestly? God's to be feared as well as everything else. God makes hurricanes, car accidents, wars, mass extinctions, plagues, and tooth decay. The question is what you do with your fears, just like in the rest of life. Do I live in fear of hurricanes? No, but I acknowledge their existence and take proper precautions. (This matters more when I'm at home on the coast than when I'm up here in the hills, of course).

This idolatry thing also brings up the question of whether or not God is loving and kind, or is a stingy, reluctant bean counter who wants to always and forever hold all mistakes against you for eternity.

Here's a little story. Jehova's witnesses are at my door. I've already called them false prophets, expecting them to fuck off.

JW lady: Do you believe God wants you to be happy?
Me: Holy crap! You think you know what God wants? Do you know the word "hubris"?

Same with "Is God loving or jealous?" The sum force of nature is not so easily contained in simple human emotions.


30. On 2007-01-11, Brand Robins said:

Worth noting, on our beloved etymology front, that fear (as a noun) comes to us from the Old English word that also meant "sudden calamity or misfortune." Also, some of the middle English variants of the word put much more emphasis upon "ground for alarm" or "formidable and worthy of solicitude" than the current definitions normally do.

So, do we fear hurricanes? Well, by the current sense of the word, maybe not. But do we, when we approach hurricane season and live on the coast, have a sense that their could be something formidable coming, or have reason to suspect that the thing coming could cause sudden calamity?

To move that to fearing God... I could be alone here, but I often feel anxiety about the future, about my ability to deal with the sum total of the world and everything I must face, and often have to acknowledge that there are things out there that can crush me without noticing I passed under their foot. If God is the biggest thing in the universe, the force (intelligent or not) who can save or damn me, the one that knows my future and plans(?) for my success or failure... well, then doesn't it make sense that some of my generalized anxieties, my sense of the universe's formidable nature, my understanding that sudden calamities can befall me at God's will (or just his allowance), that some of that would attach itself to God?

And at that point don't I fear God? Just a little maybe? And might that not be justified when I, a fallible and sinning being, look into the blank face of eternity and perfection? Maybe I'm more afraid of my own faults than his majesty, but the emotions become reflexive, and one can lead invisibly to the other. Describing them poetically, I may well use the term "God fearing."

Not to mention the other aspect of religion that rests importantly with me—religion as challenge, not as comfort. When I think of God as the one who protects me, who is my staff and my shepherd, then fear is the last emotion that comes to mind. But when I think of God being the one that will test me to my utmost, who will wring every drop of effort from my soul to prove me, who will call me to leave everything comfortable for a higher, harder, and more dangerous calling... then fear sets in again.

But perhaps that's only because my conception of God has more than a little Kali/Shiva in it.


31. On 2007-01-11, Brand Robins said:


As a side note, its always fascinating to talk about Hinduism in this context—as it isn't just so different from much of Western religion, but is different from itself. The Tamil Shdra Kali worshipers and the Gujarati Brahmin Krsna worshipers, for example, have very different takes on just about everything we're talking about.

I'd love to get into that with you, if you've a mind to talk on it. But perhaps we should take it off this thread? You can email me at the usual place.


32. On 2007-01-11, Sydney Freedberg said:

Brand: "don't I fear God? Just a little maybe? And might that not be justified when I, a fallible and sinning being, look into the blank face of eternity and perfection? Maybe I'm more afraid of my own faults than his majesty, but the emotions become reflexive, and one can lead invisibly to the other. Describing them poetically, I may well use the term 'God fearing.'"

Well put. One of my great moments of spiritual terror occured in my years as a self-proclaimed agnostic, at all of 13, when I read C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity for the first time and was confronted with the idea of a Being that genuinely desired me to be good—and that would never stop.

Christian: "...for me, it turned into a way to pay respect to the dead animal. To announce, silently and mostly to myself, that its death was meaningful, that it was an occasion worthy of noticing and acknowledging. I cut my hair to 1/4 inch these days, but I place my hand on the back of my neck whenever I see a dead animal.

Ritual: Yes.. Meguey can talk about the importance of ritual—even (looking at you, Ralph) when it gets solidified into liturgy.

As a reporter I'm on the Pentagon's email list, so I get a press release every time a servicemember dies in Afghanistan or Iraq. Name, age, rank, unit, usually some detail about the circumstances (if I read "...when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV" much more I'm going to start screaming). When I have a second, and the stomach, I always try to read these and say the name aloud.


33. On 2007-01-12, wundergeek said:

Woohoo! I get to be controversial!

Here's my verdict:

Prayer: Yes
Blasphemy: No
Worship: Yes

Now before I explain my reasoning, I'm going to add the caveat that as someone who was raised Catholic my first impulse is to say "wow, that's really weird". But then, I think that's because Catholics tend to view anything that's even vaguely mystical with suspicion.

So here's why I think it's not blasphemy but is also worship. It seems to me that this prayer you say at dinner shares a lot with Buddhist philosophy. And according to the doctrine of the Anonymous Christian postulated by Karl Rahner, other religions that don't view Christ as the Savior can still be a path to salvation as long as those religions promote virtue and don't deny the existence of the infinite nature of god.

So my take is this, if Buddhism can be recognized as a religion with virtue and a virtuous Buddhist can be said to be an anonymous Christian, then there's no reason why I should view your prayer as blasphemy. It's not a viewpoint that would be called correct within a Christian framework, but it could be correct according to a Buddhist(ish?) tradition.

By the same token, I would count this prayer as worship. It's not a worship that makes a lot of sense to Catholic-leaning Christians like myself, but if we can say that Buddhist practice counts as worship then it seems that this would count too.

(And here I'm picking on Buddhism because it seems to share some philisophical elements and is something radically outside of the sphere of Christianity. My actual knowledge of Buddhism is very small, so forgive me if I get all kinds of things wrong here. This is just my two cents.)


34. On 2007-01-12, JamesNostack said:

I wonder if the reaction to "God-fearing" so far is mainly due to how our enormously secular, liberal, feel-good culture conceives of Deity.  "Oh, of course God-fearing is for someone who's kind of messed up, or psychologically inadequate, or poorly adjusted.  God is to be reverenced, but not feared, silly rabbit!"

But I totally don't think that's been a common understanding of the term these past millennia.

Take a look at the crazy shit in the Old Testament, with Space YHWH showing up every so often to tell you where to get off.  If you had those experiences, or thought they were likely to happen to you, damn right you better be scared of God.  Having an all-powerful authoritarian space monster insisting that you leave your homeland, or breed with this woman, or kill these unbelievers—when you don't want to do any of these things—that's a scary-ass thought.

I think we don't groove with the "God-fearing" meme to the extent that we don't think we're going to be called to sacrifice our first born son, build an ark, or smite whoever it was God was always wanted smitten.  That concept of religious obligation is extremely aberrant in modern American society, but the concept is real enough around the world and through history.


35. On 2007-01-12, JamesNostack said:

By the way, by "secular, liberal, feel-good culture," I'm not trying to wage any kind of culture war or cast aspersions about anybody.  Even the more religious groups in our culture aren't really all that religiously-oriented from an historical or world-wide perspective.


36. On 2007-01-12, Nathan said:

are you truely thankful for these things, or are you thankful for your ease in attaining them?
would you be as thankful for the food if you had to work a bit harder for it?
is worship out of guilt?  what causes these feelings?
i think worship contains an element of fear.
do you think if you don't thank the sun, that because of your selfishness it'll no longer be there.
to me it's a sort of weird "hand washing" ritual.
it's good to question things, it's not always good to question things.  ?
you could substitute "god" with the unknown.
i know what the word soul represents to some, but to others it has a different meaning.
if ritualizing certain aspects of meal time has a personal benefit to you and your family than that's what's really important.
actions and reactions speak much louder than ideology.  like the most interesting part to me, was that Sebastian tried to cut to the chase, and just thank the big two(sun + earth).  really you could pretty much go on for hours thanking everything that had a hand in making people's food, but i'm much more interested in why that happens.
so i guess i didn't answer your question.


37. On 2007-01-12, Nathan said:

i'd just like to add that it's odd that religion supposedly teaches us to live without fear, but religion is really fuled on it.


38. On 2007-01-12, Sydney Freedberg said:

Mine isn't. Nathan, please don't generalize ahead of your evidence.


39. On 2007-01-12, Sydney Freedberg said:

Sorry, a bit curt there. To expand:

Yes, I certainly have fears related to religion, but what really frightens me is the idea that God doesn't exist, and neither do I: If there's nothing more to the universe than matter and energy, nothing but mechanistic processes randomized by quantum indeterminacy, then I'm nothing but a meat robot myself, and my consciousness is the illusory byproduct of neurochemistry, and when I think I'm feeling love, or gratitude, or fear for that matter, there is really no "I" to feel, nor love either.

My struggle to believe in God is my struggle to believe in any kind of hope at all. "Please, God, exist!"


40. On 2007-01-12, James_Nostack said:

Heh: you know, Sydney, in some versions of Zen you don't exist, although that's me phrasing it badly.  It's comforting, once you get used to it.  Come to think of it, thank God I don't exist!


41. On 2007-01-12, Brand Robins said:

Actually, thats more or less true in many schools of Buddhism, not just Zen. In other schools you have to work really hard not to exist. In others there is existence, but there is no you.

I could go on, but I am not and there is no on.


42. On 2007-01-12, Vincent said:

Well, I'm pretty sure (in a folk epistemology sense) that there's a me, but I'm also pretty sure (in a folk cogsci sense) that it's a meat robot.

No loss. I make a perfectly acceptible meat robot, and was no great shakes as an immortal soul.

Also, I typed "toaster."


43. On 2007-01-12, Vincent said:

Hey everybody! A bunch of you said "not worship." How come? If I sang the song "sustainer," and meant God, as the song was written and intended, would you change your vote?


44. On 2007-01-12, NinJ said:

Looking back, I can't tell if I said "not worship" or "worship". I asked a bunch of questions instead. Typical.

I'd say that, if you meant God, that it would be worship, given the etymology of the word. I think it's worship anyway; you're revering the processes that contribute to your existence.




45. On 2007-01-12, Matt S said:

Vincent, I would change my vote. I'd think you're a bit off (as I'm prone to do, given my own views), but it'd be worship. You have an object for your behavior, which I think is required for the act of worship. Since I know you don't think there is one, I said you weren't worshipping, you were revering.

If there's nothing more to the universe than matter and energy, nothing but mechanistic processes randomized by quantum indeterminacy, then I'm nothing but a meat robot myself, and my consciousness is the illusory byproduct of neurochemistry

So what if it is? That's nothing to be afraid of. You don't have to like it! But, being afraid of it doesn't make any sense to me. If it is the way things are (and I strongly believe that it is the way things are), then you're tying yourself into fearful knots for irrational reasons.

Suppose your "fears" are correct. Doesn't change the fact that you love and get mad and like ice cream. So what?  Fretting about stuff as "just neurochemistry" as though that's somehow basing and devoid of meaning is like getting mad that you breathe "oxygen" rather than just "air." At least you're breathin', I say.

Meat Robotic and loving it,

P.S. We exist, says I.


46. On 2007-01-12, Dave Younce said:

My answer absolutely hinges on that distinction.


47. On 2007-01-12, Mo said:

In my very little corner of this very big world, whether or not what you Bakers are doing is prayer or worship is predicated entirely to your conception of what is sacred.

If I were singing the same song in the same manner as you do, and someone asked me if what I was doing was prayer or worship, then I would have to say yes. I would probably bristle for a moment at accepting the terms, but that's because the words themselves still hold the tendrils of different understanding from back in a time where I was a different person, and had been taught to think a different way. Those words still have shadows that don't belong to them, but it's not their fault.

Here, I take particular joy in the sense that the words divinity and divination have a common quality of seeking to them: this sense of reaching for, this veneration and adoration for the More Than. That we can and that we choose to create such beautiful things out of chaos despite the lethargy, apathy, cynicism and distraction that entreat us to not bother - that's the sacred. That despite our limitations we reach and we forge and we create - that's the sacred.

So when you sing to the sustainers, you sing in adoration for the More Than that you and Meg and your boys have reached for and grasped together (or in the sacrifice that others have made to sustain you). You sing in communion for the More that you have built, and in petition that it continue to reach, and in honour, homage and praise for the sacred quality of it. Or, to put it in those words that have shadows for me: you pray in worship of it.

Is it blasphemy? In that context, how could it be? With the reverence it is performed with, and the community it is performed by and lacking any delineation that the qualities of G/god might be something distinctly unconnected to the self, it can't be blasphemy.

Is it idolatry? This is a word that has too much shadow to even come close to. It doesn't belong to me. If I were to push on my belief around it, I might say that formalized religious perceptions of G/god that try and make G/god into a distinct anthropomorphized package are what I might have used the word for, though that doesn't really point to anything helpful.


48. On 2007-01-12, Brand Robins said:


If you said, "God" and meant "thou who art greater than I and before whom I bow" then I would probably think it was worship. If you mean "that which is more than I, and in which I rejoice" I might, but would want to ask you some questions first. Really, as Mo says, a lot of it depends on what you're meaning and feeling at the time.

As for idolatry... what a silly word. Considering that some of my best friends do worship idols (literally or symbolically), I don't really even know where to go with that.


49. On 2007-01-12, NinJ said:

Well, given that your friends worship idols, I think you have a very clear model for what idolatry is. Do you think it's that?

To me, idolatry is like worshiping the miracle of the phone receiver when really it's the whole network that makes the cool stuff happen. Some people might say, "I'm worshiping the phone network by worshiping the receiver," but you never learn how a switch works if that's the case.

(Hey, I'm really pleased with that metaphor! I'm going to use it a lot until it's annoyed everyone!)


50. On 2007-01-12, Brand Robins said:

The problem with the word "idolatry" is that it doesn't, in my experience and study, have much of anything to do with people whose religion actually involves the veneration of an idol.

The way I'd define it, personally, has more in common with your definition. It could also include lots of consumerist idols—folks that worship their fucking Porche, for example.

But the general use of the word seems to smack of religious superiority to me. i.e. "We worship GOD while you worship a ROCK." When, of course, the speaker doesn't understand what the person venerating the rock is actually doing.


51. On 2007-01-12, Blankshield said:

I considered it prayer, but not worship, and gave my reason already, but I'll flesh it out a bit.

I said "It's not worship if you're not placing some spiritual authority in the object of your prayer."

Worship, as I understand it involves at a minimum, acknowledging spiritual authority.  Whether you are worshiping God or Bhudda or Kali or the uncarved block or the kung fu janitor in the basement matters very little.  What matters is that you are acting as though this person/thing/concept is more spiritually advanced than you are, and that you will approach it to learn and trust* it to teach.

As above, I'll note that I don't consider fear of reprisal to be a required component of worship, although it historically and currently is pretty darn common.  (Hell and damnation, karma, etc.)

*Trust here includes a whole spectrum of approaches, from the blind faith of zealotry to the 'bargaining with god' approach that's been mentioned here a few times (NinJ?  I think)

ps: I always say toaster now.


52. On 2007-01-13, Rev. Raven Daegmorgan said:

I'm afraid my answer is not very long, though it is complex: Life is worship.

Likewise: Everything is a prayer.


53. On 2007-01-13, Nathan said:

i had a couple of thoughts walking to work(exactly 22<—joking...), and was able to jot them down on an old grocery receipt.
i was thinking about what Clinton wrote, how he feels "small" and that it's somehow reassuring.  i feel that we're all puzzle pieces of indeterminant size.  maybe i've never felt "big" to know what feeling "small" is like.
sometimes the amount inside is as great as the amount outside.  is "inward" looking that different than "outward" looking?  is knowing yourself also knowing others?
what's of more importance, me or a tree, and how is that judged?


54. On 2007-01-13, Jeff Z said:

Well, Vincent, it doesn't matter to me what you call it. I find all those terms far too loaded to touch. What matters is that it fulfills your needs, whether they be spiritual or social.


55. On 2007-01-16, Jake V said:

Worship suggests regarding a higher being as such. When you give thanks, are you directing them to a higher spirit or force, something more mundane, or nothing at all?

Prayer suggests communication. Are your thanks intended to be received by what you're directing them to, or is it an undirected ritual?

If I understand you correctly (and please correct me if I don't) your thanks would be neither prayer nor worship by this figuring.

Blasphemy and idolatry are more difficult as they're functions of religious systems, so their definitions are dependent upon one's frame of reference. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have teachings, some explicit, some implicit, that the other two would call blasphemous. An accusations of idolatry, similarly, is depends on the assumption that the thing being worshiped is unworthy of that worship.

The only way I could figure this as being blasphemous would be if it's not prayer, it could be taken as mocking various animist beliefs. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition (where I'm more familiar), I can't say it is. If it is prayer, many systems would call it heretical.

If it is prayer, as above, it would be an act of idolatry within any system that recognizes the concept and doesn't hold the recipients of the prayer as proper recipients. If it isn't prayer, then it's more vague. Some religious systems would hold anything taking the place of prayer, worship, or religious practice as idolatry.


56. On 2007-01-16, NinJ said:

Hey, you know what, everybody? The word "Judaeo-Christian" is a word that Christians use to mean "Christian, but I'm willing to admit that the good Christian values I've got are shared by other religions, and besides I have some reservations about the cultural Christianity I was brought up in. Now I'll mention Taoism."

I've never heard a Jew use the term "Judaeo-Christian" except in very specific circumstances, like referring to a period of history among a certain set of citizens of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

When you don't know much about a religion, assuming it's just like your own is pretty pigheaded. So cut it out.


57. On 2007-01-16, Meguey said:

I wish there was a similar-but-different word/phrase that was easily understood as "the mostly-mainstream Western religious and sociological culture shaped largely but not exclusivly by Christianity". Any ideas?


58. On 2007-01-16, Brand Robins said:

I've heard some Jewish scholars of religion use "Judeo-Christian" when discussing the historical development of religions, mostly when comparing things like "the Judeo-Christian tradition" with "the Dharma-San??tana tradition" or something similar.

But using it in a general sense is a lot like using linguistic families in a discussion of languages. In the sense, say, of "well in the Indo-European language the sky god is called Zeus or something similar."


59. On 2007-01-16, Sydney Freedberg said:

I get aggravated by people making sweeping generalizations about other folks' faiths too, but there is some fire to that smoke. From my admittedly amateur study, besides the obvious historical common ground—e.g. the holy stories of the Abrahamic patriarchs reacting explosively with the cultural milieu of the Hellenistic world - there are real similarities among the mainstreams of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that mark them as a distinct "family" among world religions:

1) the very idea of "scripture" and "canon," i.e. a specified set of sacred texts endorsed by the authority figures of the religion as being of extraordinary value, and whose proper interpretation is the object of intense study and debate. (The Indian Mahabharata, for example, just doesn't seem to fulfill the same function culturally).

2) monotheism (even if the "mono-" has three Persons), i.e. the idea that the divine is a unified entity possessed of will and consciousness, and that while it may manifest in various aspects of the material world, its whole truth is above and outside the universe. This aspect also manifests in a corresponding impatience/intolerance for animist and similar traditions.

3) the idea of an eternal, individual soul whose good and evil aspects are somehow judged at death and which, if deserving, will ultimately be resurrected in the body (an idea that has Egyptian roots and which is alien to mainstream pre-1st Century AD Judaism, but which is common to all three faiths since then).

4) the idea that some things are good and some things are evil, not merely as two aspects of some greater balance or two perspectives on the same truth, but as a matter of cosmic principle, and that each individual's choice between good and evil is something of profound importance.

Note that I haven't listed anything about what good and evil are supposed to be, specifically; everyday ethics tend to be pretty similar in all faith traditions, possibly because societies that preach "cheat everyone you can" and "hurt others before they hurt you" don't tedn to last very long.

Obviously there are other faiths that share any number of these traits, and there are a host of profound differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and within each tradition. But nevertheless I think it's possible to speak intelligently and meaningfully of a Judeo-Christian or, more accurately, a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.


60. On 2007-01-16, Brand Robins said:


Well, you'll hear the term "Abrahamic religion" from time to time. The problem, however, isn't as much the term as the assumptions that come with the term. When you speed dump into logic-boxes, you get a lot of unassociated baggage in any category.

(For example, most people forget, when saying "Abrahamic religion" that Mandaeism and Baha'i are in there too.)


61. On 2007-01-16, Sydney Freedberg said:

Whoa! Crossposting!

Brand, I've honestly never understood the Baha'i. And I haven't even heard of Mandaeism. Going boldly where angels fear to tread, is it possible to give a quick summary of each?


62. On 2007-01-16, Brand Robins said:


Rather than do my own clumsy statements, I'll just point you at Wikipedia. I've skimmed their articles on the subjects and they don't instantly offend me, so....

I will mention that when I once took a "what religion should you be" test years ago, I posted 98% Mormon and 97% Baha'i.


63. On 2007-01-16, Sydney Freedberg said:

Interesting. Baha'ism seems pretty squarely in the J-C-I family. I'd take a stab at putting Mandaeism in the Gnostic/Dualist branch, which is related but distinct—emphasizing salvation through secret knowledge available to initiates, rather than salvation through faith and good works open to all. But that's me speaking off the cuff after one Wikipedia article.


64. On 2007-01-16, Brand Robins said:


Right there you hit one of the big problems of categorization of religions: any given religion will have splits within itself and will fit into multiple categories. It pretty much doesn't matter how you set them, they'll still end up spilling constantly. For example, many branches of Christianity fit into the Gnostic branch you set forth, and some of the Dualistic religions (some branches of Zoroastrianism) don't.

This doesn't have to be a problem, when everyone remembers what the labels are for. However, as humans we have an unfortunate tendency to mistake the label for the actual thing and have a need to simplify to common denominators. When those two things happen together, someone's belief is going to get squeezed.


65. On 2007-01-16, Sydney Freedberg said:

Yeah, that's why I said "mainstream" of Judaism-Christianity-Islam above. There's a distinct family of faiths that have strong influences from both the J-C-I and Zoroasterianism, but which adopt a fairly standard and recognizable combination of Gnostic and Dualist ideas that, in my mind at least, set them apart from either parent.

It's possible for well-thought-out categories to reflect important realities, not merely our own preconceptions and intellectual convenience. That said, any description of reality is going to be less complete than reality itself, and categories are always imperfect. "The map is not the territory"—but damn, I don't want to go somewhere without a map.


66. On 2007-01-16, Vincent said:

Wikipedia on Mandaeism and Baha'i, linked.


67. On 2007-01-16, Brand Robins said:


I'd say all categories reflect important realities. However, many many of them aren't the realities of things being categorized, but of those doing the categorization.

Much like maps, the way we categorize tells us something about power and politics and all that jazz. (And I'll stop there before I get way, way off topic, instead of just the way off topic that we're at now.)

So while I do agree with you about going places with maps, I also am sure to always remember what my map doesn't show and that the map was made by someone with a vested interest that may not be mine.


68. On 2007-01-16, Charles S said:

Oddly enough, the exercise of categorizing religions is taken very seriously by the Baha'i. I've read long arguments between Baha'i practitioners and Mormons over whether Joseph Smith was a prophet (Baha'is categorize him as a minor teacher).

NinJ, agreed on the Judeo-Christian thing, although I think there is the other use of it where Christians start talking about Judeo-Christian belief when they want to pick and choose bits of Leviticus because Jesus forgot to say anything hateful about gays (no one here is doing that, but it always seems that when homophobic Christians want to talk about how God hates gays, they start talking about their Judeo-Christian traditions).

And Sydney, where are you getting the idea that the mainstream of Judaism believes in the idea of judgment of good and evil at or after death? I'm pretty sure you are wrong on that, where ever you are getting it from. That Christians read the Old Testament to support the idea of judgment of the eternal soul does not mean that Jews read the Torah in the same manner.

Sorry to just kind of jump in out of nowhere way down in the discussion.


69. On 2007-01-16, Sydney Freedberg said:

As I understand it, that's been a fairly mainstream concept in Judaism ever since the 1st Century AD's Pharisees, who gave rise to the medieval rabbinical tradition. (The Sadducees mentioned in the Gospels, by contrast, are apparently the priestly caste that had no patience for new-fangled, non-canonical ideas like the immortality of the soul, and who got wiped out when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD). I don't think it's anywhere near as central to Judaism as it is to Christianity and Islam, but as I understand the ideas that "after I die, if I'm good, my soul will go to Heaven" and that "one day the Messiah will come and put the world aright" are commonly held by religious Jews.


70. On 2007-01-17, MikeRM said:

[Wrenches thread back, probably temporarily, to original topic]

Vincent, if I sang that song it would be prayer and worship and not blasphemy. If you sing it, with different intents, I suspect it's not any of the three. What it is, is an important acknowledgement of your connectedness with what is beyond yourself, something that has been tragically de-emphasized in Western culture since the Renaissance (IMO).

Personally I love liturgy, I write liturgy (in the sense of texts with a spiritual reference, intended for repeated use in ritual contexts) and I rejoice at any evidence that anyone else anywhere else is using and enjoying liturgy (in that sense).

Meguey, no question in my mind that your other example is prayer. But is this?

"May your life fit you like comfortable clothing.
May your soul open like a flower or a fern frond,
Your love flow like water ??? not like blood,
And the dance of your journey be like sunlight on the leaves."

I wrote that for my classmates in a celebrants' course I did - a diverse group including at least one atheist, a Druid, a Buddhist and two witches (that was the term they used), plus various people who didn't know exactly what they believed but knew it wasn't what they'd heard in the churches of their childhoods. They'd all had tough times, as you do.

So is it prayer? Or just good wishes? I suspect that the answer is similar to my answer above - if I say it, it's prayer, because I'm always implicitly acknowledging the presence of God (viewed as a being beyond myself). But other people's mileage would vary.

Boundary cases can be either annoying focii for argument or thought-provoking aids to better understanding (I was going to say better definition, but I'm not actually all that interested in definitions per se, only as they aid understanding). Vincent has given us some good boundary cases here and provoked some interesting discussion.

Oh, and I wish my blessing as above for all here. Whatever that means and for whatever it's worth. Perhaps it's just a statement about my own positive intent towards people in general and my preference that they be happy and fulfilled.


71. On 2007-01-17, Charles S said:

Well, on the Messiah, its more complex than that. The idea of a individual human messiah is rejected by Reform Judaism, but is embraced by some branches of Orthodox Judaism. The afterlife question is more subtle still. I think many religious Jews imagine an afterlife, and will (for instance) console themselves with the idea that their dead daughter is in heaven, but I think the idea that we live on in the memories of others is even more important, and I think the religion itself is largely quiet on the subject, and it certainly isn't supposed to influence how you live your life. Most of which is radically different from Christianity and Islam, which are very concerned with the afterlife and Heaven and Hell.

I am not Jewish, so my understanding is second hand, but both my spouse Sarah and my partner Barry are Jewish, so my second hand is relatively intimate.

Also, there's this weird thing where non-Jews often think of Orthodox Jews as religious Jews and Reform Jews as non-religious. I'm not sure if you are doing that or not when you say religious Jews.


72. On 2007-01-17, GB Steve said:

Well, I'm an atheist so I'm not really an authority on blasphemy but I am interested to know what you mean by "bless".

I've also got some other questions which, whilst they may appear rather direct, are not a criticism of what you do.

Are you asking someone/thing for some kind of favour or just a non-committal nod in your direction?

Perhaps you want acknowledgement from these sustainers that you are using whatever bounty you have in the way they intended?

It seems to me that you are asking someone or thing to do something for you. Do you actually expect them to deliver on this entreaty, and it what way? Or is silence taken as accord? Is it just to make you feel better about the whole thing?

And what is this soul and how is it sustained by the stuff that you want blessed? Does the blessing help with the sustenance or would it work even if it weren't blessed?

It could be that you just want to acknowledge your support network, in which case, I'm not sure why you have to ask them for something else, surely thanks itself would be enough or perhaps some service rendered in kind to those who can appreciate it and understand its provenance.

Personally, I don't give thanks for my food but I do try to eat food that has been created with the least waste, the least cruelty and the least global impact. I see that more as not being selfish rather than any particular religious statement although the same ideal can certainly be arrived at through religion.


73. On 2007-01-17, NinJ said:

Reincarnation is a common belief among religious Jews and has been for centuries; it's only been in the last couple that, in an attempt to assimilate into Christian society, Jews have put aside the idea. To the rest of us, we don't discuss the afterlife because it has no impact on our lives. Sydney, you're really talking about your own religion here and a historical view of Judaism that stops evolving around the time your religion started.

When Christianity came into existence, Judaism was about 2000 years old. Now it's twice that. It didn't stop changing because you came up with the cool new thing.

Charles, thanks for the link.


74. On 2007-01-17, EthanR said:

New to the site, just my $0.02:

It seems to me that the original intent of the song Grace was to be a prayer, worship, and giving thanks to the Christian God.

I've never heard it before, and I don't know your family's history, so that is just my interpretation of what you have written above.

The change you've made, and whether that is idolatry or blasphemy, really depends on how close to the original intent you guys still are. Personally my family says a prayer over meals once in a while, but our tradition is to be very loose and unformulated because it seems that formulistic prayers lose there power.

Like I said, just my $0.02


75. On 2007-01-17, Brand Robins said:


The Grace song Vincent posted is a Sufi song, so it's unlikely to be targeted specifically at the Christian God. Maybe the Islamic God. Who may or may not be the same God, depending on who you ask.

(For those who may not know: Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that, in some cases, has become a separate religion from the parent. As a movement its noted for its saints, miracles, generally peaceful and non-worldly position, and amazingly good poetry.)


76. On 2007-01-17, Brand Robins said:

Oh, and dance. Whirling dervishes come out of the sufi tradition of Turkey.


77. On 2007-01-17, Ben Lehman said:

No, no, and no.

Since it isn't addressed to a divinity, it isn't prayer by definition, it can't be blasphemy 'cause you aren't insulting God (He's just not there) and likewise, idolatry doesn't enter into the picture (you aren't worshipping an idol instead of God because you aren't worshipping anything at all.)

It is, however, desecration, since you're taking something sacred (a song of prayer) and repurposing it for something secular (a paen to your family members.)  I don't think that there's anything particularly wrong with that desecration, but there it is.



78. On 2007-01-18, Meguey said:

'Thou' in this song means, to most Sufis, 'the One, the perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty; the only Being, united with all the illuminated souls that form the embodiment of the Master, the spirit of Guidance'


79. On 2007-01-18, Matt Wilson said:

I think that if you, Papa B, want to look at what you're doing as a ritualistic observance of things that bring meaning and comfort to your existence, I might call it prayer.

I dunno if I'd call it worship, unless you're in reverence maybe of the inexplicable and extraordinary nature of your family's existence and how awesome (in the old-school 'awe' sense) it is. Worship is kind of about recognizing and appreciating something greater than yourself, and maybe you see your sustainers that way. Maybe you don't.

I can't begin to answer the blasphemy thing.


80. On 2007-01-18, Charles S said:

Although, really, some term for the group of religions that derive from a particular root religion (1st century Judaism spawned both modern Judaism and Christianity, as well as being an ancestor to Islam and the Baha'i faith, and is possibly a cousin to Mandeanism; classical Hinduism has the same relationship to another bunch of religions as classical Judaism has to this set) seems useful.

NinJ, you are welcome for the link. I found it by the incredibly lazy route of googling "Judaism afterlife."


81. On 2007-01-18, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

I'm of the mind that it can only be prayer or worship if it is intended to address some mystery larger than yourself, something that doesn't quite fit nicely into any boxes, that gets a cool name like God, Gaia, G-d, what have you because those carry with them the appopriate ambiguity.  Thanking cows, tofu factories, even the sun pure and simple, is good mindfulness, but that alone I would not call prayer or worship.

(Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't prayer or worship for anyone else at the table.  When I have been at a local Episcopalian Church, I say the words to prayers, but I'm not really praying or worshipping.  At best, I abstract enough to get to a sort of appreciative mindfulness.  Most of the people around me, though, are praying, are worshiping.)

Not that there aren't tons of reasons to invoke things like the cows you eat in your prayers, but unless they are invoked in a way that makes them part of a broader spiritual mystery, they then become idolatrous—be it in the golden calf sense or the if you see Buddha on the road sense.

I take the idolatry to be taking a particular object or objects for the divine mystery itself.  If you aren't even invoking that category in the first place, then I have a hard time calling idolatry.  And, honestly, I'm not sure idolatry itself is really that big a deal when it happens from time to time, so long as the object of idolatry does not become habitual.

As an aside, on the whole Judaism chord, one thing that has often struck me as important to appreciating modern expressions (plural) of Judaism is the diaspora and midrash.  Diaspora because it lies at the root of a lot of diversity (and unity) within the faith, midrash because it gives amplitude to biblical text without actually adding to the most essential kernel of the Torah.  It's a really admirable and sophisticated approach to textual reverence.  But, hey, that's just my goyishe .02;)


82. On 2007-01-18, NinJ said:

Midrashim are clearly a working of Biblical text into a new context, realigning the meaning of the original text. They define its core.

They are liturgical practice that gives weight to a moral stance by supporting it with select passages. Emphasis on the "select".

There are two ways to read a text, according to Jewish tradition: Drash and Pshat. A Pshat reading is where each word means only its most obvious meaning. This is the meaning we give to children as they first learn the basics of the stories, and this is the level that those who "believe in the literal truth of the Bible" are usually working on. Then come the Drash readings, the reading between the lines, the interpretation. This is done lots of ways: by comparing passages that contradict each other and manufacturing explanations; by using the numerical readings of the words (a Hebrew letters also being numbers), by anagrammatizing them, whatever. Obviously, this is a very subjective practice and tells more about the commentator than the historical origins of the text. Fortunately, what's most interesting is the perspective of the commentator; they're the ones living at a particular time and telling us what they saw. And we give them the benefit of the doubt: what they saw, yes, it was true, but the way you're reading it is wrong. This is why...

Here's a page of Talmud. In the center is a segment of primary text. Around it are commentaries. And commentaries on those commentaries. And commentaries on those....

This is the Babylonian Talmud, canonized about 1500 years ago from its oral sources (it's still often called "oral torah"). Once it was written down, new forms of oral liturgy came into existence and continue to evolve today.

So, the kernel, which kernel is that? The kernel where God brought the Israelites to Canaan, where they burned the city of Aa to the ground and salted the earth? Or the one where God chastized the Israelites for celebrating the drowning of the Egyptians because of their lack of empathy?


83. On 2007-01-18, Larry Lade said:

Talmud is cool. It's the original hypertext.


84. On 2007-01-18, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

I would call the kernel the entirety of the primary text, with all its seeming contradictions that seems to demand the layers and layers of commentary.  No one said the kernel had to be some tightly coherent theological masterpiece.  But that loops back to my notion that religion is defined by reverence for a mystery, and the way in which I have heard serious Jewish scholars speak of Midrash, of the respect given to those who have contributed to it, of the way of posing alternatives and framing disputes...well, my brain sort of just moves that way, so I dig it.


85. On 2007-01-18, NinJ said:

Well, Ian, you said that it doesn't "add to the kernel", where what I think is interesting is that it does add to the kernel - it doesn't destroy what has come before, and it continually reconstructs it so that it's simultaneously prescriptive in a manner appropriate to the immediate moral needs of the commentators and descriptive of their contemporary environment.

I think we're saying the same thing, but I want to know if we are or not, and I'm not certain.


86. On 2007-01-19, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

*laughs* I'm pretty sure we are just saying the same thing in slightly different semantic registers.  Tomato, tomato (which amuses me when I type it rather than say it).  I have a pretty quirky semantic register:).


87. On 2007-01-19, NinJ said:

I would call the kernel the entirety of the primary text, with all its seeming contradictions that seems to demand the layers and layers of commentary.

Ah, yeah, I think I was misreading you: you're saying the "kernel" is the Tanakh itself; that doesn't change over time, but its meaning does, through Midrash. Right? I'm just considering that meaning, the living part, to be the kernel. I mean, literarily, the Tanakh is the kernel, but practically, as a religious tool, as moral instruction, the ever-evolving meaning is the kernel.


88. On 2007-01-19, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

yep—I'm there with you:).  I just tend to think of the kernel as the stable yet generative primary, but your way of putting it doesn't really differ in substance from how I think about it.


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