If you pay a computer to say your prayers for you, are you still praying?
The question came up earlier this year when a company started a Web site in which a computer would -- using a synthesized speech system -- say three prayers a day for anyone willing to pay the $4.95 monthly fee. The price, however, depends on the length of the prayer.
If the computer is our vehicle of prayer, it might give new meaning to the dreaded "blue screen of death."
Is prayer by computer still prayer? And, if not, does that mean there's a right way to pray?
The New York Times (online) Magazine takes up that topic today.
"Prayer is like other activities," the Rev. Daniel Henderson said. "You learn from people who are already good at it." Henderson is the former senior pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, one of several mega-churches in the Twin Cities. He's one of several members of the clergy who talked to writer Zev Chafets.
Chafets doesn't answer his own question, but the anecdotes are priceless:
Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, they go to church to pray," (Rabbi Marc) Gellman went on to say. "Why else would they be there? But Jews are different. People come to temple to identify with other Jews, or socialize. The writer Harry Golden once asked his father, who was an atheist, why he went to services every Saturday. The old man told him, 'My friend Garfinkle goes to talk to God, and I go to talk to Garfinkle.' There's a lot of that."
How does one define being "good" at praying? Holy crap.
Computer prayer is just as effective as any other kind. This can easily be proven by science.
And also, "a fool and his money are soon parted".
Probably the same way you'd define being good at anything: whether you get out of it what you want, or how satisfied you are with your praying. Now, I don't mean calculating the %age of times you prayed for something specific and received it. Anyone who goes into prayer with the mentality that it's all about asking will soon become pretty discouraged.
For example, most Christians consider prayer to be a conversation with God. I'm sure you can think of people who are excellent conversationalists, and those with whom each meeting is an exercise in awkwardness.
How you know someone is good at prayer, I don't know. Churches offer seminars on improving one's prayer life, and there are certainly many books on the topic, but most people keep their prayer life to themselves, and I'm pretty sure those who toot their own horn on the subject are missing the point
Addressing the point Bob asks, is programming a robot to recite scripted dinner conversation effective? How about singing your child to sleep? Give a toast at a friend's wedding?
It's not the words that are important, it's the conversation, the presence.
I see prayer a a form of meditation. You repeat familiar words. It brings a kind of peace of mind and clarity. Maybe that's knowing what God wants. The difference is whether you believe a divine being is involved. I don't see how doing it with others or alone makes much difference.
I am reacting to the idea that one might learn to pray from other people who are already "good" at it. This strikes me as a ridiculous idea. Can we judge methods of prayer like we do diving competitions, or take lessons like we would for playing a musical instrument? How do we know someone is good at it? Are their wishes granted? Do they have a calmer disposition than we do? W\hat's the standard to achieve?
Maybe the computer has been programmed with the perfect way to pray and if we are not into the idea of paying the computer to pray for us, maybe we can pay for online praying lessons, on a monthly subscription of course.
Prayer can be a rote recitation of standard words, as Grace is at our dinner table. This doesn't make it less valuable. The point is to remind ourselves of something, of our appreciation for what we have.
Prayer can be a deeply felt and intensely personal experience. Beyond the occasional emphatic request for just a little more patience when dealing with my small children, prayer for me isn't really that 'intense'. It can remind me of what I know I need to do.
Prayer can be a rote recitation with others, such as going to a Roman Catholic Mass. The Holy, Holy or Gloria are the same every single week - same words, same (usually) music. It reminds me that I am not alone, it reminds me of the others I share this with.
So ... I suppose prayer's function is to remind us of something. Of our participation with others in faith, or our own needs, of our thanks, of our community ...
A computer won't do any of these. Prayer requires participation. In my opinion a monthly electronic funds transfer doesn't qualify.
(unless it's to MPR's sustaining membership drive, eh?)
this makes me want to shoot myself in the head.
come on people...
"The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."
It seems to me that most of the posts in the Religion category precipitate sniping by atheists toward those who believe in a higher power. Why?
If you believe that life is finite and there is nothing more, why deride those with different views? More importantly, why post comments on a blog discussing "The right way to pray" if you do not believe in prayer?
I did love the article and made think about how we miss the direction of prayer. I fleshed it out my response.