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prayer -- noun: A practice of communicating with one's God.
praying -- noun: The act of saying a prayer. [Credit: Ninjawords.com]
A Brief History of Prayer
The act of asking for some kind of favor from some person in a superior position. Negotiating from a position of weakness. In extreme situations, kneeling and clasping hands in front of some person in order to demonstrate to that person that he has nothing to fear from the supplicant. It is very difficult to throw a dagger when in such a praying position.
Hey, Christian! Yes, you! Can you add two and two and arrive at some real number below ten? You can? Well, I'm not really sure you can. On the one hand you know that a physical person can be harmed by another physical being. On the other hand, your definition of your God includes invincibility. Your God can not be harmed in any way whatsoever. The question then is, do you expect to continue to teach your children to pray to your God by telling them to kneel, placing elbows on a bedside, and clasping hands? I shall bet that you will continue to do these silly things, and continue to get your children to do similar silly things. Why? Because I believe that there is no hope for you -- you have been taught some things from infancy, and you simply can not change.
Little Alex asked me to suggest to you to at least face Mecca and talk into a megaphone when praying to your God. Might as well cover all the bases.
The Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis
A spaceship from another planet is orbiting Earth. It sends a PLM (Planetary Landing Module] to Earth. ETs emerge wearing spacesuits. This probably also accounts for many ancient statues and cave drawings of gods having unnaturally large heads, or with heads with one large eye. Earth people observe ETs accomplishing things in various ways, including the use of Walkie-Talkies. These particular devices are not as advanced as our Radio Shack models, as their use requires two hands, rather closely together. This explains why people thought that one could "get things" or "to get things done", by talking into thin air, and accounts also for the Judeo-Christian hand positions while praying.
Communicating with the orbiting mother ship was a bit more involved. A console was set up on the ground, but it was not high enough for the operator to use while standing. He had to kneel in front of it, and again use both hands rather close together to tweak the knobs. This explains kneeling and altars.
Can't you just hear the ET saying something like, "Our Leader, up there in the mother ship...", while a observing Hebrew scribe is jotting down, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."
The Witchdoctor Hypothesis
Witchdoctors, as you know, are nothing more than primitive religionists. This particular witchdoctor felt the need to bolster and maintain his unearned prestige within the tribe. He had his shill hiding in the bushes, or perhaps in a cave. They had memorized a prescribed dialogue. When he noticed that some tribesmen had "accidentally" stumbled into his chat with the gods, he began their spiel, with the shill disguising his voice, and perhaps making up "magical" words. Concurrently, the witchdoctor assumed some uncommon, tho not necessarily unnatural, poses, such as clasping his hands together, or raising his hands straight up, or perhaps kneeling. Anyway, something very simple, something that every member of the tribe, even the infirm, could easily emulate. For variety, this scam was operated without the shill. It was important, you see, for the dupes to believe that the system worked even when the god remained silent. This stunt, mercilessly repeated ad nauseam, had to have impressed the hell out of everybody. Because religious praying is still with us today!
It's the old "Ask, and thou shalt receive" stunt. If it works, it reinforces belief in the process. If it doesn't work, it is conveniently forgotten.
The Self-Hypnosis Fallout
Nature is infinitely tolerant. It doesn't rejoice when you are correct, and it doesn't despair or laugh when you are wrong. And, it doesn't rush in to explain your error if you happen to realize a desired result while using a wrong approach.
For example, if your crops are dying for lack of moisture, you might go out and dance and it will rain. Nature will not come and tell you that it would have rained whether you danced or not. You, however, may come to the erroneous conclusion that dancing can cause rain. This may result in your family dying of hunger later, when instead of preparing for a drought by building an irrigation reservoir, you BELIEVE that you can get rain by dancing.
Similarly, prayers sometimes do produce desired results, even if there are no spiritual entities to listen to them. It is a well-known psychological fact certain forms of prayer are nothing more than conversations with oneself. That is, forms of self-hypnosis. Such exercises sometimes help by bringing problems into sharper focus, and by eliminating distractions.