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Regarding Prayer

If you look for a definition of the word "prayer" you'll most likely find a reference to a solemn plea for help or expression of thanks addressed to God.  The famous painting above is called The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer.  The martyrs, of course, are located to the right, kneeling at the feet of some saint standing tall. A lion is posing in center-left, looking I think rather proud, but not evidently vicious.  They're clearly in the Colosseum or some other amphitheater.

That the martyrs are praying is clear enough from their posture if not the title of the painting itself.  Given the definition of "prayer" stated, though, just what are they doing?  Requesting God's help?  I suppose that's possible, though it seems a situation where help won't be forthcoming (though the lion seems as likely to ignore the martyrs while pacing disdainfully about as to devour them).  I'd suggest they're not expressing thanks, but I know and have referred to in this blog the story Tertullian told of the crowd of Christians who went to a Roman governor's house demanding to be killed.  Perhaps these martyrs are supposed to be thanking God for bringing them to the arena to be dispatched.

I've also seen "prayer" defined as communicating with God.  That I would think would include begging him for help as well as thanking him, and any other form of communication.  But the prayer I'm most familiar with is a form of communication by which God is asked for something, or thanked for something.  Very often, forgiveness is what is asked.

This kind of prayer is clearly the kind one would expect to be directed to a God who is, most of all, a Lord.  We ask favors of a Lord, seek to placate him, flatter him, and avoid punishment.  We seek to rise high in his service and so be an object of his bounty and respect.  We're beholden to him for our very existence.  He has the power of life and death over us and our loved ones.

Prayer is called ennobling, but this kind of prayer doesn't seem so, to me at least.  It seems more in the way of debasement.  It debases not merely we who pray, but the God we pray to in such a manner.  Is the Deity merely a Lord, a Master, who wants things done and done in a particular way by his many inferiors?  A Master, however good, is a Master nonetheless.

This kind of speculation was probably indulged in by Nietzsche, who thought Christianity to be a slave's religion.  I can't recall, really.  It's been quite a while since I read Frantic Freddie, but it seems familiar.  And it seems in a way appropriate enough.  But I can't recall whether he understood, also, that a slave to a master, or a vassal to a lord, may not only be debased but devoted, indeed enthralled in devotion; fanatic in the service of a master or a lord.

There are many things which can be prayed for besides forgiveness or favors.  Courage, for example, or being a good and devoted servant, dedicated to protecting the interests of the Lord and Master, extending his dominion, seeing to it that others are good and faithful servants, rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.

Debasement and fanaticism go well together, in a strange way.  Such is the fate of those who only follow orders.

This post first appeared on I, Ciceronianus; Causidus, please read the originial post: here

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Regarding Prayer


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