Somehow, the basic argument of atheism — "There are no deities, and if you believe in one, you're a deluded fool" — never seemed quite convincing to me. This is not to say that I have any firm concept of God; when pressed, I tend to recycle Tom Robbins' explanation of the divine as (approximately) Creation divided by Destruction, a stance which tends to sidestep both the mystical and the dogmatic, but one which is not likely to satisfy any serious spiritual hunger.

With seemingly everyone from Depeche Mode to Johnny Cash looking for a personal Jesus, someone to hear their prayers, I occasionally find myself wondering if, in my status as Not Exactly An Unbeliever, I have any business engaging in prayer at all. It's not so much a question of "Non sum dignus" — "I am not worthy" — as a question of protocol: what's allowable, and what's over the line?

To some extent, I've defined the parameters myself. It would never occur to me, for instance, to turn in a laundry list of personal requests; it's just not the sort of thing I do, and if I did, there would always be the question of "Do I deserve this?" And when I find myself asking this question, I almost always end up answering it in the negative. So I'm not likely to pray, for instance, that the state lottery vote should pass and I get dealt some winning tickets, or that the gathering storm change direction, or that the object of my affections may find an opportunity to reciprocate. As the pastors say, God is not a slot machine; no, not even if you're Bill Bennett.

And maybe this reluctance hinges partly on the notion that if there actually is a divine plan, it can't possibly be as clumsy and inept as the things I plan, and therefore I should not attempt to muck around with it for some vague personal gain. Which perhaps doesn't leave me a whole lot to say except "Don't let me get in the way of more important things."

Or, as the Christians put it, "Thy will be done."

The Vent

8 May 2003

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