2007-01-25 : Worship followup

Some questions about worship

As a religious teenager, I'd've answered yes to all 4 questions. Imagine teenage religious me answering old cranky atheist me:

"Yes, it's a prayer. It doesn't matter whether you intend it to be one, at all. For instance, if you were to kneel right now and 'Heavenly Father, thank you for the food, Jesus' name amen,' that would be a prayer no doubt - who cares whether you believe or intend or want it to be."

(One of the things I have in common with teenage religious me is, we both hold a person's intent, contrasted with their actions, in low regard.)

"Yes, it's blasphemy. There is one sustainer. On the other hand, it's an iffy prayer to begin with, since it didn't mention Jesus - Jesus is the way we come to God. But I'll give you that 'Thou the Sustainer' means Heavenly Father, out of neighborliness, and now you've blasphemed against Him.

"Yes, it's an act of worship. Yes, it's idolatry. When you incorporate blasphemy into prayer, it's obviously idolatry. In fact, you're worshiping Satan, old cranky atheist Vincent, and your name for Satan is 'things.'"

Teenage religious me - honestly I was an anxious, joyless little prig.

My answers now are identical, only they include the phrase "delicious, delicious blasphemy."

1. On 2007-01-25, Vincent said:

Okay, that's not true at all, about my answers now. However, I'm admitting that it's not true only because I stayed up until 2:30 this morning talking about religion and giant robot wangs with J, and letting the joke stand would be betraying our conversation. J would be right here, comment #1, like "but ... that conversation we had?"

For penance, I promise to write a post about the meaning I do find in religion.


2. On 2007-01-25, Brand Robins said:


I was about to ask you what you think you're blaspheming against, Mr. Atheist.

As for intent vs. action—that depends much on how you're defining religion. In public action intent means shit. In personal vision it means everything. So is religion about public ritual or personal belief?

Because historically it was once all about the first, and now for many of us has become all about the second. For most of humanity over time, however, its been somewhere in between.

It's one of the reasons why atheists often have a hard time identifying ancient atheists—because many of the ancients marched in the parade, because they weren't doing it for god, they were doing it for the city-state. But if you don't count intent, then....


3. On 2007-01-25, Ben Lehman said:

I'd ask teenage you: "So, where does it end?  If I say something that can possibly be construed as mean 'God' is that then either prayer or blasphemy?  'cause now I'm worried."



4. On 2007-01-25, Neel said:

Brand, I have no doubt that the first atheist was out there on the African savannah, snarking that it was awfully convenient that the spirits told the shaman that the first fruits of the hunt go to the shaman.

The first prohibitions against blasphemy probably date to about five seconds later.


5. On 2007-01-25, Meguey said:

I'm so glad you're not a joyless, anxious little prig anymore!


6. On 2007-01-25, Brand Robins said:


Yea, but was he an athiest or a skeptic? And did he pray to the spirits? Or did he just mouth the words so he wouldn't be fed to the saber-tooth tiger?

Speaking of which, I got to play with a fossil of a saber-tooth tiger's fang the other day. Damn but those things are freakish and terrifying.


7. On 2007-01-25, Vincent said:

Sebastian said to me the other day, "dad, why am I scared of the dark?"

"Why, son," I said, "it's because that's where the saber-tooth tigers are."


Actually in the real conversation I was reassuring, not jokey and mean. I'm making everything jokey and mean today, though. Curious.


8. On 2007-01-25, Neel said:

For me, an "atheist" is someone whose best adequate explanations for any phenomenon do not involve gods. Mouthing the words is, er, a typical human response.

Once, as a kid, I was visiting some of my relatives in India. One of my uncles was trying to organize a group of people to go visit a temple, and my dad made some comment about how proper Brahmins didn't need to go to temples because we performed all the relevant karmas ourselves. Without missing a beat, my uncle said, "Exactly—that's why I need to visit a temple!" and the entire room cracked up.


9. On 2007-01-25, Brand Robins said:


That's fabulous.


Is it everything today, or just on the intertrons? Because I'm frequently jokey and mean on the intertrons. I'm really sweet and soft spoken in real life though.


10. On 2007-01-25, Vincent said:

I ... don't really know. Practically all my human interactions so far today have been online.

This is the third-saddest sentence I've ever written.


11. On 2007-01-25, Mo said:

I'm really sweet and soft spoken in real life though.


Sweet to some people, some times, maybe. Me, mostly.

Soft spoken? Never.


12. On 2007-01-25, NinJ said:

You're just lucky I woke up stupid late after going to bed stupid late and had to hustle all day to get shit done for Dreamation, so I just saw this post now.

Lucky, I tells you!

I've been thinking about it a lot, too. I think the "fun" comment I made was when I wanted to stop pointing with vector arithmetic and just give the distilled arrow. But the reason it's fun, that's where the arrow's pointing.

But I guess that's for the future post.


13. On 2007-01-25, Curly said:

The storefront Buddhist temple downstairs has a cardboard box full of oranges, marked 'FREE'.

I've been grabbing one each morning, when I walk the dog.

They're really good.  I figured it was because they ripen for a few days
on the ancestors' altar, before they're put in the FREE box.  Either that or they're blessed with kung-fu powers.

The other day, there were bundles of long, red, unused incense sticks in the box, too.  It occured to me then that the oranges—like the incense—were in the box so that people would have a supply to bring-in and offer.  Not take away and eat. I took another orange anyway, and ate it.

Today I didn't take an orange, but only because we were on the other side of the street, and I wasn't going to cross the damn street just to steal an orange.

So.  Was it a desecration to take the oranges, when I thought they were for eating?  Intent doesn't matter?

I even thought that it might count as a prayer to eat the orange.  Does sincerely intending it as a prayer make it one?

Now that I know they aren't for eating, is my blasphemy worse?  Or does bad intent count against me/ even tho good intent doesn't spare me?

What about being too lazy to cross the street—is my sloth to be commended, because it stopped my reign of blasphemy?

Delicious, delicious blasphemy.

What should I do tomorrow?


14. On 2007-01-25, Jarrod said:

Been meaning to mention how much I enjoy reading your blog instead of lurking amidst the e-shadows.

Growing up in California under the wing of an evolutionary biologist, I had never seen a bible or met an outwardly self-identified theist until I moved to Kansas at 11. As a child, people who wore religious slogans on t-shirts frightened me beyond description. I felt like I was in David Koresh's living room.

It took me a lifetime to come to terms with spirituality myself... and I'm still frightened of the mob to this day. :)


15. On 2007-01-25, Jarrod said:

Eat another orange... reverently.


16. On 2007-01-25, Vincent said:

Well whatever teenage religious me would've thought, my answer NOW, Curly, is:

1) If you think that some particular action will maybe make the other big brainy chimps hit you with sticks and leave you for the leopards, maybe don't do that action. Unless it seems really worth it.

2) I don't suppose that anyone other than the big brainy chimps cares, at all, what you do. (The big brainy chimps care only insofar as it touches them; see 1.)

3) Unless the orange has an opinion on the matter. Ask it. Remember that silence is the voice of complicity.


17. On 2007-01-26, Avram said:

You people! First you got me to go buy a copy of The Jungle Books, then you got me to go buy some oranges!


18. On 2007-01-26, Charles S said:

Yum, oranges. :)


19. On 2007-01-26, Charles S said:

Oh, and very much looking forward to the future post.


20. On 2007-01-26, Curly said:

Today I watched a pretty girl light an incense and bow to it.

Didn't take an orange.

There are now also chinese newspapers in the FREE box.
I don't know if they're for reading or burning.

I also realized that I linked to the wrong storefront image, above. The temple with the oranges is devoted to Guan Yu, Lord of Magnificent Beard ?????????.

He's usually depicted with a big stick in his hand, and there are altars to him in police stations and Triad headquarters.  So the brainy chimp advice is appreciated.


21. On 2007-02-09, Porter said:

"joyless little prig."
I disagree, you were quite fun as a teenager :)


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