December 24, 2020 Category: Religion


It is worth considering prayer in its variety of forms to see what it is that makes it such an integral part of religiosity.  In surveying instances of prayer around the world, and over the course of history, it is important not to expand the definition of “prayer” to encompass anything that entrances (that is: psychically “transports”); as, in doing so, anything from skydiving to baking a cake could be considered a form of “prayer”.

In virtually every case of prayer as PROPITIATION, we find that it is as much mental as it is physical.  After all, one can prostrate one’s mind as much as one’s body.  In the end, supplication is supplication.

Acts of devotion range from perfunctory genuflection to epic pilgrimage.  A show of fealty–that is: dedication to the cause–is typically the point of worship.  This tracks with even the most pithy of invocations (a “hail Mary” in Roman Catholicism, a “puja” in Hinduism, or “dhikr” in Sufi Islam) as well as with lengthy routines (the longest versions of Hindu / Jain / Buddhist “dharanis” and “kirtan[a]s”).

There is a wide array of vocalization used to show fealty–ranging from speaking to singing.  (This is not binary; as each, being a devotional act, can incorporate an element of the other).  Let’s consider this spectrum in ten different religious contexts:

  • Hindus recite a “bani”, yet sing a “kirtan” or “raga”.
  • Buddhists recite a “mantra” or “sutra”, yet sometimes engage in melodious chanting of the same.
  • Tibetan monks abide in quiet contemplation; yet engage in “throat singing”.
  • Shinto monks recite a “norito”, yet sing the “shigin”.
  • Sikhs recite an “arda”, yet do a version of “sadhana” in which they sing “ragas” (and the occasional “gur[u]-bani”).
  • Zoroastrians recited the “Ahuna-Vairya” and “Ashem-Vohu”, yet sing “gathas”.
  • Jews recite “tefilat” (like the “Nishmat Kol Chai” or “Sh’ma Yisrael”), yet sing the “kaddish” (as well as hymns like the “Y’did Nefesh”).
  • Roman Catholics recite the Nicene Creed (a.k.a. the “Lord’s prayer”), yet sing “canticles”. {22}
  • Southern Baptists recite missives addressed to the savior-god, yet sing Gospel music.
  • Muslims perform “salat”, yet tend not to sing at all (though the “adhan” / “[h]azzan” is often performed by the mu-[h]ezzin in a quasi-melodic manner).

In each case, the former are spoken; the latter are sung.  The latter takes the form of hymns–a practice that dates back to the Mithraic, Dionysian, and Orphic cults of Classical Antiquity.  And even this taxonomy is not binary, as “chants” can be performed in a manner that is somewhere between speaking and singing–as with “Zema” (the chant tradition of Ethiopia’s Tewahedo Church).

The prototypical form of scripted recitation is the (often repetitive) utterance of sacred incantation (a.k.a. “chants”).  Rhythm and cantillation is often an integral part of this invocation–as with, say, the Jewish “Amidah”.  Such a practice can be found from a potpourri of Native American rituals to countless indigenous African rituals–much of it animist.

In any case, prayer is seen as a way to show devotion toward–or, as the case may be, as a way to plead with–the godhead.  To reiterate: tribute and imprecation often blur into one another.

There is a notable difference between artistic expression that is infused with spiritual gusto (as with Gregorian chants and Southern Gospel singing) and declaiming something by rote in order to invoke supernatural powers.  The former is a matter of exultation; the latter is a matter of incantation.  The former is can be an effective way to experience the divine; the latter is little other than a scripted recitation–often accompanied by choreographed gesticulation–so as to bring about some desired result.  (Again, the distinction between communion and imprecation.)

Even if done with impassioned stridency (and complete sincerity), a scripted recitation is still just a scripted recitation.  The notion that a certain sequence of phonemes might produce a magical effect is silly–be it the incantations of a witch-doctor or a bishop.  It’s one thing to praise X from the heart; it’s quite another thing to parrot words.  Uttering a prescribed sequence words–especially when done in a tongue one does not understand–may serve to broadcast piety, but it is about as spiritual an activity as brushing one’s teeth.

(Sometimes, a simple sound is used simply as a way to facilitate contemplation–as when Hindus use “Ohm”.)

When we behold a well-performed Gregorian chant or Southern Gospel music, the aesthetic value is in the musical prowess; whereas the psychical value is in the emotive ejaculation.  Such value exists independently of the Faith tradition that animated the vocalization, and of the dogmatic system in which it was couched.  We admire the music because it is BEAUTIFUL, not necessarily because we suppose it is somehow theologically significant.

The Mormon Tabernacle choir is worth cherishing, irrespective of the fact that the Church of Latter-Day saints is a deranged cult that believes ridiculous things.  As with sonatas or paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the aesthetic value of the work exists independently of the religious context.

(We might even go so far to say that the vast majority of chants–nay, scripted prayer in general–have nil artistic value, and so no real value at all.  Note, for instance, the Soka Gakkai chant of “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, the Baha’i “Allah-u Abha”, or the eponymous Hare Krishna mantra.  In each case, a banal utterance is repeated ad nauseam, as if redundancy somehow yielded potency.)

Art–be it musical, architectural, literary, or pictorial–can certainly capture the sublime.  What deludes us, though, is the fact that something that is aesthetically pleasing can be misconstrued as spiritually profound…when it is nothing of the sort.  Such misapprehension stems from the fact that certain acts elicit emotive reactions that can be interpreted as “transcendent”.  As mentioned, such spectacle is believed to be a way to commune with–or “get in touch with”–the divine.  The more melo-dramatized, the more it is supposed to have preternatural effects; and the more likely one is expected to remain in the deity’s good graces.  Such sacralized rigamarole is taken to be spiritual; its dramatic flare is seen as an indication of spiritual prowess.

The psychoactive repercussions of ritual prayer–especially when communal–are obvious to impartial observers.  Insofar as the prayer is scripted, it has anxiolytic–even hypnotic–effects.  If the prayer is ecstatic, it is intoxicating; if it is solemn, it induces a pleasantly comatose state.  The effect is either titillation or mental lethargy.  Either way, cognitive impairment ensues.

The chemical equivalent of these self-induced states is either chlordiazepoxide (a.k.a. “Librium”) or benzodiazepine diazepam (a.k.a. “Valium”)…depending on the prevailing neurotransmitter (serotonin or dopamine).  If the former, the induced mood is serenity; if the latter, the induced mood is exhilaration.

And so it goes: By being flooded with serotonin, one is plunged into a state of bliss.  A well-timed dopamine rush will elicit a kind of titillation.  Either way, an otherwise sedentary frontal lobe ensures the mind of the supplicant remains intellectually inert…even as he is left with the impression that he has somehow miraculously breached some crucial threshold (whether in his level of “consciousness” or his standing with the deity-in-question).  Awash in an alluvion of one neurotransmitter or another, the illusion is achieved.  With the pre-frontal cortex in hock and the amygdala in overdrive, one can’t help but be seized with a sensation of being transported.  This is interpreted in various ways: as being infused by a holy spirit in the Abrahamic Faiths…or as achieving “transcendence” in New Age mysticism. {6}

Of course, prayer is not necessarily like taking barbiturates.  As mentioned, there are forms of prayer that can be healthy–namely: the contemplative kind.  Genuinely spiritual activity is achieved with one’s critical faculties fully intact.  After all, prayer should be about sobriety, not intoxication.  Put another way: Prayer should not require one to be deluded.  There is nothing sublime about emulating a programmed robot.

But to the True Believer, this is all beside the point.  He ardor to believe is what really matters; and the fact that he really, really, really wants to believe that it is his most cherished beliefs that account for the incredible experience (i.e. of transcendence) that he had, when performing propitiations IN THE NAME OF those very beliefs.  The fact that he had such an experience is, for him, incontrovertible proof of his claims.

We can take note of the histrionics–at times lugubrious, at times devotional–exhibited by supplicants in cults of all stripes.  From the flamboyant gesticulations of rapturous Pentecostals (as the Holy Spirit surges through them like an electrical charge) to the spastic gesticulations (“shuckling”) of Haredim, the human capacity to be nutty is on full display.  (They engage in a daffy repertoire of convulsive bobbing–as if they were simulating an epileptic seizure.)  This is not spirituality; it is buffoonery.

When we behold such behavior, we can be certain that there is nothing resembling contemplation–let along self-reflection–going on.  Indeed, spasmodic propitiation–be it the frenetic Hassidic “nusa[k]h” or the more fluid Sufi “sama”–is a sign of delusiveness.  Such antics are taken to be a kind of exultant–nay, rapturous–communion; but it is in reality a kind of auto-hypnosis.

It is difficult to engage in critical reflection during paroxysms of religious fervor.  Ecstasy is all fine and dandy; but it is inimical to analytical thinking.  Ironically, that is exactly its APPEAL.  Rigorous logic is a buzz-kill.  Objectivity isn’t fun.  And critical reflection requires one to exert cognitive effort, minimizing its appeal to those looking for revelation.

During propitiation, dramatic mannerisms are often used to show how immersed in the act one happens to be is not uncommon.  Note, for instance, the Balinese “kecak” routine (made famous in the film, “Baraka”).  Jews who engage in the aforementioned shuckling are engaging in an exaggerated form of “davening” (movements intended to invoke divine power).  Why engage in such zany antics?  Participants are under the impression that they are getting god’s attention via a display of frenetic rocking.  There is clearly some sort of pathology at play when people engage in this sort of daffy behavior–a fact that is plain to see were we to translate it to any other context.

When one person does it, we refer to it as “mental illness”.  But when a group of people do it in a coordinated manner, we refer to it as “religiosity”–or, as the case may be, “worship”.  This begs the question: Why this dubious taxonomy for labeling human behavior?  The impression is that mental illness–conventionally conceived–cannot be collective, it can’t be conditioned, and it can’t be sanctified (all three of which characterize religiosity).  Consequently, we feel, a new category is warranted if we are to make sense of such conduct.  Such spurious categorization–call it “prayer”, as if it were the same as quiet contemplation–exempts it from the sort of critical scrutiny we’d feel justified in applying were such behavior to occur in other contexts.

As a matter of etiquette, we are indisposed to consider cult activity a kind of dysfunction, let alone a pathology.  So we give it its own categorization (religious “Faith”); and just call it a day.  The distinction may not be sound, but it is collegial.  The problem with this taxonomy is that–in countenancing it–we are forced to suspend judgement in a singular context.

To reiterate: In any other context, the kind of thinking / behavior we observe with the more outlandish exhibitions of religious observance would be accurately recognized for what it is.  Loony.

There needn’t be anything delusive about spirituality.  Yet we are obliged to pretend otherwise…out of politesse.  For religionists who insist on not being subjected to critical scrutiny, the de rigueur approach is thus: Sacralize a dysfunction, render it the basis for a Faith community, and PRESTO: It suddenly becomes inappropriate to call it a “dysfunction”…or a “pathology”.

Other than intellectual dishonesty, there are myriad problems with this.  To pretend that a scripted / choreographed routine is anything other than an ingratiating enactment is to conflate lower mental functions (emotive ejaculation) with higher mental functions (critical reflection / deliberation).  One ends up treating activity in the basal ganglia, amygdala, and the hypothalamus (i.e. the limbic system) as if it were activity in the prefrontal cortex.  Doing so is to conflate contrived affectation with deep introspection.

The logic behind scripted / choreographed prayer is quite simple: The more one repeats, the more one will understand.  Of course, in reality, this is not how cognition works.  Quite the contrary.  The more one repeats, the more one is CONDITIONED.  Ritualized prayer precludes the need for mental discipline (Aristotle’s “enkrateia”; Kant’s “maturity”) because all the thinking is dictated to the supplicant.  Genuine spirituality is predicated on autonomy.  Ritualized prayer is based on heteronomy.  

In undertaking a scripted orison, the votary prostrates not only his body, but his mind.  The benediction becomes an act of sycophancy.  Reciting an assigned script–in ANY context–has nothing to do with edification; it has to do with inculcation.  This process is emboldened when the mutual-reinforcement of communal rituals is involved.

Coordinated high-jinks–embroidered, contrived, performative–couple with a hefty dose of groupthink.  Such propitiation is more affectation than it is contemplation; more an overwrought performance than a spiritual activity.  The appeal of communal prayer (especially when scripted / choreographed) lies in the shared experience it offers.  When people are doing something that they feel is “special”, they often want to share it with fellow travelers.  Having a shared experience–especially a shared SPIRITUAL experience–is enticing to anyone who otherwise feels alone…and who is seeking guidance / camaraderie.  Religious ritual informs us: Such a person needn’t feel like he is going through things on his own; he can take comfort in the fact that others are with him, by his side.  “You are not alone,” is one of the most comforting things of which a human can be informed.

So what of prayer as a cultic phenomenon?  Communal prayer is predicated on a tribalistic cast of mind.  As with any other tribal behavior, it is about belonging, having a shared experience with fellow travelers, and experiencing the collective euphoria it elicits.  However, being tribalistic, ANY communal activity / thinking entails that all the drawbacks of tribalism.  For it translates to exclusionary conduct / sentiment (which invariably involves the marginalization–and derogation–of the other).  Being a part of something grand invariably requires a demarcation of insiders and outsiders (those participating in the program vs. those who aren’t “with us”).

The catch, of course, is that there are plenty of other ways to engage in a shared experience with one’s brethren (and thus to foster communal solidarity).  Indeed, there are practices that do not involve either groupthink or collective delusion.  That is to say: There are communal activities that are not tribalistic in nature.  One need not abandon secularism (or humanism, for that matter) in order to achieve this laudable goal.

The notion that everyone should be following the same script is anathema to free-thought (on the individual level) and to cosmopolitanism (on the social level).  The proposition that in order for one to pray one’s hands must be clean is even more ridiculous.  (If there was anything that completely misses the point of prayer, it is ablutions.)  Moreover, if god is omni-present, it doesn’t matter in which direction one is facing.  Or what style of attire one is wearing.  Or which language one speaks.  Or in which venue one happens to be located.  Or what time of day it is.

A key feature of communal prayer is piety-signaling: broadcasting to one’s brethren how dedicated one is to the anointed program.  It is that kind of illusion that explains why maudlin exhibition is so commonplace in communal prayer.  By participating in a shared experience, supplicants can feel like they “belong”.  They have an opportunity to be accepted by others; to “fit in”; to be a part of something larger than themselves.  The prospect of such an arrangement is especially enticing for the existentially disoriented (i.e. those who feel adrift at sea).

The explanation for this phenomenon is the universal (inherent) predisposition toward tribalism: Our urge to do things WITH the designated group AS an anointed “us”.

Bottom line: If one’s relationship to the divine is personal, then it only makes sense for prayer to be personalized.

Ritualized prayer is intended to enthrall–by either soothing or titillating.  This happens wether or not sonorous utterances are produced.  A choreographed routine of arrhythmic genuflection and a prescribed sequence of sounds is treated as a magical incantation.  Thus a mere pantomime of (something remotely resembling) spirituality is passed off as “spirituality”; and we are all expected to demure.

Barring “dhikr”, prayers in Islam are not so much incantations as they are prescribed exposition recited in an attempt to curry favor with a cosmic overlord.  One does not need to countenance pseudo-scientific theories of NLP to see that repeated affirmation has an effect on one’s habits of thought.  (It is no secret that if one says something earnestly enough to oneself, frequently enough, for long enough, one eventually comes to believe it.)

Suffice to say, all methods of “creating your own reality” are a hoax; as the practitioner invariably comes to confuse the fabricated reality in his own mind with Reality–as with shamanism, sooth-saying, etc.  (For those who are suckered into this spiritual sham, this is not the only option.  One can just read, “The Secret”.)

A final point: The notion that if one prays vociferously enough, one will sway god (and thus fate) in the direction that one desires is not only preposterous, but utterly perverse.  For the (implicit) COROLLARY is that when bad things happen to good people, one did not pray vociferously enough.

To illustrate the point: Imagine two innocent (nay, wonderful) people who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  In both cases, friends and family (who we will assume are also wonderful people) pray vociferously for the life of their loved-one.  In one case, the afflicted person dies a grueling death; in the other case, the afflicted person miraculously recovers.

In either case, we are supposed to believe that all is as it should be; that it’s all part of god’s plan.  The outcome in any given case can–in part–be attributed to the degree of groveling performed…and that, WHATEVER happened, it happened according to god’s will (the provisions of god: “ahkam”).  God being ostensively benevolent, we are thus expected to countenance the proposition that whatever happened–no matter how heinous–is JUSTIFIED and GOOD.

It is the passions that drive the creation of great art; and there is no doubt that religiosity evokes strong emotions.  A key point, though: Insofar as it is scripted, prayer behooves the practitioner to stunt his higher cognitive functions in the name of “spirituality”, forcing him to adhere to prescribed thought-routines that were not of his own making.  Doing so enables the passive-minded votary to thoroughly delude himself…and then call it “getting in touch with [insert conception of the divine here]”.  This is only possible insofar is one prostrates one’s mind.  This is a very tempting prospect: “Worry not; for GOD is at the helm.  So all will be well.”  The ensuing alluvion of solace can be magnificently overwhelming.

When genuinely spiritual, prayer is not a spectacle.  It is not a performance (and certainly not an exhibition).  It is extemporaneous (“in the moment”) and personalized.  It is based on autonomy, not groupthink.  This is, in part, a matter of allocation of resources: mental, physical, temporal, and even financial.  Prayer needn’t be incompatible with a judicious allocation of thought, action, time, and money.  The point of prayer, after all, is to expunge the noise, not to create more of it.

It should go without saying that most activity commonly referred to as “prayer” is a colossal waste of all of these resources…regardless of the amount of consolation or euphoria it may confer.  (Solace and ecstasy are not inherently valuable; and they are often deleterious when predicated on delusion.)  The “as long as it makes people FEEL good, it’s worth it” rationalization is a non-starter.  Try universalizing this half-baked maxim for half a minute, and see what boneheaded things it can be put in the service of legitimizing.

Make no mistake: Pragmatically-speaking, scripted / choreographed prayer serves as a splendid spiritual prosthetic; and so it has tremendous appeal for the spiritually handicapped–especially for those hankering for something to FOLLOW (esp. people who are chronically awaiting instructions).  Indeed, prescribed worship routines provide the supplicant with the enticing illusion that he is “getting in touch with” the divine…even as it does nothing of the sort.  One may just as well throw choreographed prostration to the wind and just take some ‘shrooms.  (Indeed, psychedelic drugs offer a plausibly “transcendent” experience for anyone who is not concerned with staying in touch with Reality; which is why some people just take a hit of acid and call it a day.)

For the strict religionist, praying is like following directions in an instruction manual.  The Sunnah is like a spiritual “vade mecum”: Do it correctly and some ethereal contraption will be activated.  HOWEVER, stray from the script / choreography, the thinking goes, and the astral mechanism completely breaks down.  (This is commensurate with the idea that the Koran is a celestial guidebook for the life, the universe, and everything.)

It seems not to occur to votaries: If connected-ness with the divine were somehow predicated on the production of a particular sequence of phonemes (or the conducting of a pre-determined internal monologues; or the pantomiming of specific gestures), votaries in so many different religions would be unable to claim parity of (alleged) success in the attempt.

What we find, though, is quite the contrary.  For, as it turns out, the endeavor of, say, Scientologists to expunge “engrams” from their mind by “auditing” one another is just another variation on a timeless theme.  The aim is invariably to achieve some elevated state of consciousness–one that is free of any of the handicaps that prevent one from flourishing (or, as the case may be, that keep one dissociated from the divine).  The Vedic term for this is “moksha”; and each Faith purports to offer THE way to bring it about.

  • Hindus aim to achieve “vipasyana” / “dhyana” / “dharana” (i.e. one-ness with “Brahma[n]”, embodied in the godhead, Brahma[n]) by reciting sutras from the “Brahma Samhita”. {9}
  • Jains aim to achieve “samayik” by performing the “Namokara” mantra (as tribute to the “Panch[a] Parameshti”). {9}
  • Buddhists aim to achieve “nirvana” (liberation) by getting past the veil of illusion, “maya”, which is the source of all suffering. {9}
  • Sikhs aim to achieve “sadhana” by reciting their five “banis” at sunrise, whilst supplicating at a “gurudwara”.
  • Druze aim to unite with the “Aaqal al-Kulli” (cosmic mind) by reciting material from the “Rasa’il al-Hikma”.
  • Taoists (votaries of the religion; not practitioners of the philosophy) invoke the powers of their various gods by lighting profuse amounts of incense, then reciting incantations from the Diamond Sutra.
  • Christians aim to be part of the body of Christ (e.g. by partaking in the Eucharist).
  • Rastafarians aim to get in touch with “Jah Jah” by doing “Nihabinghi” chants.

We observe the same phenomenon when Orthodox Jews engage in “fillah” (be it via the “kidda” or “amidah”) by simulating what can only be described as an epileptic seizure (repetitive, spastic bowing known as “shuckling”) whilst facing the Wailing Wall–as if gesticulating in the prescribed manner was how one best ways to commune with the divine. {10}

There are all sorts of ways that people attempt to commune with the divine–from Nimbaditya’s Vedic “You are me, supreme divinity; and I am you”…to the SAME WORDS by Sufi mystic, Rumi and Christian mystic, Angela da Foligno.  (The Christian variation on pantheism / panentheism is the notion of “pleroma”: the fulfillment of the divine in everything, everywhere.)

The dopamine-rush conferred by exaltation (especially when ecstatic; and especially when rendered a spectacle) can be easily misconstrued as some kind of profound spiritual breakthrough.  (“It works!  This REALLY IS transporting me. I can FEEL it.”)  Far from liberating one’s mind, such seductive routines typically PROGRAM one’s mind.  They enthrall the supplicant…while deluding him.  The intoxication is easily mistaken for transcendence.  Simply label this sensation–this FEELING of empowerment–something mystical-sounding (e.g. “chakra” or “aura”), and suddenly it seems to take on preternatural qualities.

Alas, such ersatz spirituality is endemic to ALL esoterica.  The appeal lies in the fact that one need only SAY something in particular, and move one’s body in the right manner, and magic will ensue.  It is a prescribed routine of recitation and gesticulation.  The in-the-moment sensations that result from such shenanigans serve as confirmation of its lofty claims.  (“I can feel the holy spirit!” exclaims the convulsing Pentecostal to himself as he basks in a mesmerizing dopamine rush.  It’s as if his speaking in tongues were irrefutable verification of his outlandish suppositions.  (How else to explain his internal state?!)

The more ecstatic practitioners of prescribed prayer may as well just skip the shenanigans and treat themselves to a hefty dose of mescaline, psilocybin, methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, or DMT.  Heck, they could just cut to the chase and take some LSD.  (Such “tripping” comes in handy when one is–as it were–main-lining dogmas.)  In both cases (chemically-induced bliss and dogma-activated bliss), the result is essentially the same.  The only difference is that the drugging-approach is not choreographed; rather, it is extemporaneous, even chaotic.  Either way, autonomy goes completely out the window.  For one gleefully relinquishes sovereignty over one’s own mind in favor of “higher powers”.

For the communicant, this abdication of autonomy is all fine and dandy…so long as the enchantment is sufficiently potent.  (Why think for yourself when you’re invoking powers higher than you are?  Rational faculties are a liability!)  The trick is to convince oneself that one is privy to THE ONE TRUE WAY of accessing the divine.

To reiterate: a choreographed / scripted prayer is not only about prostrating oneself PHYSICALLY.  After all, the point of outward prostration is to represent inward prostration.  Whilst in the thrall of exaltation, it SEEMS as though something paranormal might be happening.  As the supplicant’s nucleus accumbens becomes awash in serotonin, he is often seized by a marvelous burst of euphoria–leaving him with the distinct impression that he might be experiencing the sublime.

What the supplicant misses is that his own subjective state does not necessarily reflect (objective) Reality.  For what he ACTUALLY PERCEIVES is not the biochemical phenomena of neurotransmitters running amok.  Rather, his personal “inner” (phenomenological) experience is of some rapturous and bedazzling episode of “WOW”…thereby confirming everything–and anything–he wants it to confirm.

Votaries in EVERY Faith insist that THEIR version is effective.  And so it goes: The Christian’s attempt to be filled with the Holy Spirit can be held to be just as “successful” as the Toltec Shaman’s gambit to channel the energies of the spirit-world or the Druid’s bid to harness the nascent powers of the forest around him.  The validation of the process lies entirely in the participant’s impressions (read: the triggered release of his own neuro-transmitters); as if such jerry-rigged subjective states somehow indicated what was happening IN REALITY.

Having an enthralling experience can be conceptualized in myriad ways; and can be readily put in the service of corroborating whatever dogmatic system happens to be impinging upon a person at that time.  The fact that people of so many different creeds have extremely moving episodes of “transcendence” when meditating in no way lends credence to their DOGMATIC claims…any more than it confirms the presence of the Abrahamic deity for Jews, Christians, or Muslims.  No matter.  FOR EACH practitioner, the experience will be taken as testament to the verity of his own Faith.

Naturally, each supplicant is apt to FRAME his experience of this phenomenon in terms of his own doctrinal positions; and so attribute it the Faith he champions.  By perceiving such rapture in that way, he will take the sensation as indubitable validation of the tenets of his FAITH.

That Jews AND Christians AND Muslims AND Sikhs AND Druze AND Jains AND Hindus AND Buddhists AND Wicca AND countless others (including freethinkers who embrace spirituality) can all experience some form of transcendence reveals that it is not the religiosity PER SE that is the clinching factor when it comes to getting in touch with the divine (for experiencing “transcendence”).  Each religionist takes his own subjective experience as validation of his own theology–neglecting to notice that EVERY OTHER religionist is apt to do the same.  That Faith practitioners of ALL stripes have analogous experiences demonstrates that it is not religiosity that accounts for the phenomenon.  There is clearly something else going on.

Clearly, self-induced beguilement (be it a trance or a bout of self-induced rapture) is a universal phenomenon.  Each religionist is apt to privilege his own superstitions over those of THE OTHER.  It’s always the other guy who’s being “superstitious”; MY beliefs are a matter of “Faith”.  Cults are what OTHERS do.  I’m “religious”.  When it comes to the spuriousness of dogmatic indulgences, WE are the singular exception.

The mere suggestion that the tenets to which WE subscribe as just accidents of history is intolerable.  That we’re engaged in a charade analogous to the other guys’ charades is inconceivable…lest we’re doing all this for naught (a verdict that is unacceptable).  Hence a collective narcissism is invariably at the root of ritualized (communal) prayer.  “I happen to have been born into the milieu that enjoys pre-eminence.  My unique position is, as it were, written in the stars.  Divine Providence has made it thus.  Lucky us!”

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