Religion and exploitation in one tidy homonym by mattsteinglass
March 18, 2010, 12:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A spelling mistake in a pretty good post I won’t link to, because it’s annoying to call attention to people’s typos, alerts me to the nice confluence of two expressions, one idiomatically mainstream and one originating in increasingly accepted regional dialect:

To “prey on” something


To “pray on” something

The latter expression was one I’d heard, but hadn’t been consciously aware of, until the terrific 1998 film “The Opposite of Sex”. A pregnant 16-year-old Christina Ricci breaks up with her religious Christian boyfriend, who can’t believe it’s happening: “I prayed on this!”

Religion can be a beautiful thing, but I’ve never been fond of the idea of praying for divine intercession to achieve specific results on specific issues. That’s superstition, whether you’re stuffing notes in the Western Wall, lighting a candle at Notre Dame, bowing your head at an Assemblies of God church, putting money into a wooden model of a chariot to be cable-carred up to the stupa of Sule Pagoda, or promising to dedicate your life to charity if God will just let the Capitals win the Stanley Cup this one time. All charming in their own way, as long as the people involved don’t seriously believe in what they’re doing. If they do, then “praying on” things becomes the mechanism that allows them to be “preyed on” by charlatans.


7 Comments so far
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I guess, but I mean – that’s what prayer is to almost everyone who does it. Not a meditative act or a form of self-reflection, but an actual supplication of supernatural power for intervention in ones’ life.

Certainly most people who believe in God think they’ve got the Ultimate Power at least somewhat in their corner. My church called it a “personal live relationship with God” (and, of course, said that it “wasn’t religion!”) Isn’t that the whole point? Stained glass and hymns are pretty, yes, but people suffer through Lent and Ramadan because they want something in return.

Certainly the Bible supports the intercessory view of prayer – “ask, and you shall receive.” I don’t think people are kidding when they fervently pray that their loved one be cured of a fearsome disease or return safely from war. The charlatans are the so-called holy men who are telling them it’ll work.

Comment by Justin St. Giles Payne

Possibly. But I think praying to be forgiven for one’s sins, at least, does not fall into this category.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

“Dear God, please forgive me for my sins, oh, and also I’d like a pony” is how that prayer usually goes, I think. It’s a lot like the child affirming what a good boy or girl he’s been in the preamble of his Dear Santa letter – it’s just a setup for the wish list to follow.

Comment by Justin St. Giles Payne

According to Ambrose Bierce, to pray is “to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”

On the other hand, Paul recommends to the church at Phillipi “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

In either case, it’s like a citation you make up.

Comment by citifieddoug

Perhaps It would better to have more theories and fewer beliefs. Instead of proving people wrong about their flawed misconceptions, focus on stressing the added convenience of changing their minds; then we all have the advantage of learning something. A theory can be revisited and revised… wherever evidence leads. A belief just carries too high a profile, is it wise to want to tote such a load?

Comment by imeasure

“If they do, then
‘praying on’ things becomes the mechanism that allows them to be ‘preyed on’ by charlatans.”

Right. We all know that irrational thinking in one area or context equals irrational thinking across the board. That’s why people who believe in God can’t, as a rule, drive a car. Or operate PCs. They think the microwave is alive. And laughing at them. Which is just as silly as thinking any of that religious stuff.

Seriously, though, where does this article of folk wisdom come from? I figure that you, as a subscriber, would know. Specifically, where is the scientific evidence for your claim that belief in the power of prayer equals an overall disconnect with common sense, rationality, or both? Links, please.

Had the word play of your piece been more clever or original, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Comment by savio

I dispute the contention that we are having a discussion.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

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