Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 11: Jesus at the Football Match
Sacrifices evolved into demands. The supernatural power has become nothing more than a projection of human desires, like a central clearing-house, to which believers send each and every single wish to be fulfilled. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) defined "to pray" as "to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessed unworthy." The supernatural power satisfies our impulse to get favors, to beg for gifts, successes and victories, to get something for nothing. God is All Knowing, yes, but somehow we always have to remind him relentlessly of our petty needs. While Santa is for kids, God is for adults. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), an English poet, pointed to this irrationality:
If [God] is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him?
If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future?
If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers?
If he is everywhere, why erect temples for him?
If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses?
If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable?
If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him?
Almost two hundred years later, American author Tad Tuleja basically pointed on the same issue: "If the entire future already exists in the mind of God, isn't His will being done, whether we like it or not and whether or not we are being good, bad or indifferent? If whatever happens is already known or 'preordained,' then isn't the plea 'Thy will be done' a mere tautology?"
Does this mean that praying is useless? Then, why do we even need to pray? I'll let wiser men and scholars answer these questions. "Prayers are to men as dolls are to children," English author Samuel Butler (1835-1902) wrote. "They are not without use and comfort, but it is not easy to take them very seriously." The efficacy of prayer has been an appealing subject in academia. In Realized Religion: Research on the Relationship between Religion and Health (2007), Chamberlain and Hall cites Dr. Fred Rosner, an expert on Jewish medical ethics, who expressed his doubt that "prayer could ever be subject to empirical analysis." Alas, the scientific Christian perspective is not more encouraging. The conclusions of Intercessory Prayer: Modern Theology, Biblical Teaching and Philosophical Thought (2005) by Philip Clements-Jewery, as well as Talking to God: the Theology of Prayer (2002) by Wayne R. Spear cannot be blunter. While recognizing "the need for guidance from the Holy Spirit as to what needs to be prayed, God can not be coerced."
If God cannot be coerced, then may an attempt to trick him be worthwhile? Again from
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar (2007) by Cathcart and Klein:
Man: "Lord, I would like to ask you a question."
Lord: "No problem. Go ahead."
Man: "Lord, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?"
Lord: "Yes, that is true."
Man: "Well, then what is a million dollars to you?"
Lord: "A million dollars to me is but a penny."
Man: "Ah, then, Lord, may I have a penny?"
Lord: "Sure. Just a second."
Nice try. And welcome to the dualism of monotheism. On one hand, there is only one god. One universal God is for All. This monotheistic principle is so important to Abrahamic religions that idolatry is considered a cardinal sin in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the Old Testament, when Moses returned from his 40-day Mount Sinai retreat, he furiously smashed the golden calf to underline the importance of the first two Commandments—First, You shall have no other gods before Me and Second, You shall not make idols—to drive the point home not to idolize anything but the-one-and-only God. Likewise, shirk (idolatry) is considered a cardinal sin according to the Koran: "You shall not serve two gods, for He is but one God. Fear none but Me."
On the other hand, monotheism promotes the concept of binary opposites: heaven and hell, rewards and punishments, sacred and profane, good and evil, kosher and tereifa, halal and haraam. In our day-to-day lives, the Oneness of God is trumped by humans held hostages by their own egoism, insecurity, self-righteousness, holier-than-thou attitude, bigotry, zealotry, barbarity, provincialism, tribalism, and sectarianism. Both competing parties in most religious wars and sectarian conflicts invoke the same One and Only God for All. This exceptionalism even spills over to non-religious sporting events. We root for our favorite athletes, varsity teams, home teams, or national teams to victorious championship at all costs—by invoking God's name while at the same time forgetting His (or Her?) Oneness. Again, this disconnect is illustrated by de Mello in Jesus at the Football Match parable:
Jesus Christ said he had never been to football match. So my friends and I took him to one. It was a ferocious battle between the Protestant Punchers and the Catholic Crusaders. The Crusaders scored first. Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. Then the Punchers scored. And Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air.
This seemed to puzzle the man behind us. He tapped Jesus on the shoulder and asked, "Which side are you rooting for, my good man?" "Me?" replied Jesus, visibly excited by the game. "Oh, I'm not rooting for either side. I'm just enjoying the game."
The man behind us turned to his neighbor and sneered, "Hmm, an atheist!"
Jesus, of all people, an atheist?
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter