By now any of you who have read my posts on this site know that I’m atheist – not an Atheist – just a man without enough certainty of knowledge to take sides on the issue. Technically that defines me as agnostic (the Greek “a” prefix meaning “without” and the word “gnostic” meaning, approximately, knowledge). Agnostic, however, is often used for one who is “seeking”, when used in the religious sense – so I prefer the more definitive “a” “theist”, without a god.
Nice preamble, now to the point. This evening I watched a TV show called Fight Quest on Discovery, an obvious play off their successful series on martial arts. The protagonists were learning the French Savate form of fighting (in a week, of course they were already fighters). Just prior to the defining fight (a set up, of course) one was taken to the church in Marseilles to pray – and the side bar said this was the norm for the French fighters.
Much of the press, and all of the group that Bill O’Reilly calls the “secular progressives”, say that President Bush in his open admission of praying to God each morning is asking God to tell him what to do. The fighter said it right, “I always pray before a fight – so this is nothing new to me. I don’t pray for victory or help, I pray for strength and courage to do what I must do”. Our President said a similar thing, although not so succintly, in his recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News – and has said it often before. I pray that I may have the strength and wisdom to do the right thing.
I have no problem with that, I do the same. In my case it is an introspection rather than an appeal to a higher authority, but it is yet a prayer. One can never be sure that one is right in one’s decisions, but the decisions have to be made. Some of the faithful pray to God for guidance in their decisions, that could be taken as resigning their judgement to the interpretations of the scriptures. I think that fighter, and our President, pray only for that indefinable calm/strength to look at the future with clear eyes. It matters not whether there is a God to answer the prayer, it matters only that the prayer is offered and the man has the humility to see a greater purpose outside himself.
A disclaimer, I notice that my only examples are President Bush and the anonymous Savate practitioner. I don’t mean that to be an endorsement of either in general, I chose them as they were the testimonies I’d just seen.
A greater purpose may not be a universal purpose, it may just be one defined by the random events of evolution that have brought us to being mankind. It doesn’t matter how you read it, or define it, there is a value set that is ingrained in most of mankind. Whether we find it within our selves, or in the communal conversation with our God, is a personal matter. What is important is to live by those values, and to make our decisions with regard for them.
There are those within each of the many religious communites of the world who do act according to interpretations of scripture – but most of the religious act according to the universal principles that may for some be written on stone tablets, and for others be the simple gift of humanity. When the action is the observance of some “laws”, such as Kosher or meatless Fridays, then it is innocuous. When it involves violence against others who don’t obey those laws then it is a matter for concern for all.