Sunday, May 14, 2006

Prayer and why some need it, a first 'quick look' at human nature

I was watching the ABC news coverage of the rescue of the two Australian miners when a reporter approached a hooded woman praying on her knees at the mines fence. As the TV crew approached she would not show her face and screamed out ‘go away it’s our prayers they need not your pictures’. Nutter I thought obviously losing it a bit. A couple of days later on CNN I see a large African American filmed praying in the street for petrol prices to come down. This ‘god botherer’ is going a bit far I thought. As I live in a Muslim country five times a day I hear the faithful called to prayer (by a not so melodious voice) over a very loud p.a. system. What’s all this praying about I thought, whom does it help, what’s the motivation behind it?

Motivation principals and introduction

All individuals are motivated and knowing what motivates individuals (and why they may change behaviours due to their motivations) can be quite a complicated matter. Motivation can be defined as: “The emotional forces, wants, needs, urges or drive within us that influence our behaviour” or ‘a willingness to exert high levels of effort conditioned by the efforts ability to satisfy some individual need’.

Needs, Wants, Urges Defined

Needs, wants, urges (lets group them and call them “cravings”) ‘are internal states that make certain outcomes’ or results appear attractive. ‘When a craving is not satisfied tension is created within us which in turn stimulates an urge or drive causing us to seek a solution or attain a goal in an attempt to satisfy the craving and thus reduce our tension’. A vivid example of how this works is the craving smokers experience particularly when they are trying to quit.

Basic Maslow and the “Hierarchy of Needs”

Abraham Maslow felt that the basic human needs were arranged in a hierarchical order. He based his theory on healthy, creative people who used all their talents, potential, and capabilities. He defined two major groups of human needs: basic - including physiological, such as food, water, sex and sleep and psychological such as affection, security, and self-esteem. The basic needs are also called ‘deficiency needs’ because if an individual does not meet them, then that person will strive to make up the deficiency. The higher psychological needs are called ‘growth needs’. These include such things as justice, ‘goodness’, order, unity, glamour, status, beauty and self-fulfilment. Deficiency needs Maslow argued take priority over growth needs. People who lack food or water cannot attend to justice or beauty.

Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy
Self–actualisation (top of his pyramid of needs)
Growth, Achieving one’s potential, self-fulfilment
Self Esteem
Self Respect, Status, Recognition, Autonomy, Achievement
Belonging, Social Activities, Love, Affection, Acceptance, Friendship
Security, Protection from danger both physical and emotional
Physiological (base of the pyramid of needs)
Hunger, Thirst, Sleep, Shelter, Sex and other bodily needs

Maslow proposed that due to the immediacy of the need for such things as food and water that they are primary source and direction of a person's goal. A need higher in the hierarchy will only become a motive of behaviour if the needs below it have been satisfied. He therefore proposes that each level must be fully satisfied before a person can strive to reach the next level. Maslow also proposed that lower level needs where satisfied externally and those on higher levels internally.

Motivation Principles

All human motivation is basically selfish, i.e. people do things for their own reasons not for our or another’s reasons.

All people are motivated and will continually move either toward or away from propositions

You cannot motivate other people because all motivation comes from within i.e. personal cravings.

People’s motivation is constantly changing in response to their ever-changing personal priorities

Religious organisation inspire or “utilize others motivation”, to gather their adherents by finding out what individuals want (salvation?) and why they want it (fear of their own mortality?) and then go about convincing them (the helpless) that they are the best or only chance of getting it.

So why the prayers

Firstly prayer is a ritual and the value of ritual was once explained to me as something we can do in times of stress to help us cope in situations that we have little or no control over. Ritual in its simplest for can be demonstrated by the old “I’ll make a cup of tea” by the aunty at a funeral. It is the carrying out of a reaffirming well learned set of behaviours that show we can still function and at least retain some level of self-control that motivates us.

The writer of the website “rantsoflogic” expands the explanation of the need for prayer in the following paragraph (abridged and edited)…

‘Prayer acts like a release valve. It's like talking to a close friend who never interrupts and is more than willing to listen to us ramble on and on about our problems without batting a eye or looking at their watch and saying "I've really got to go". Even though there may be no one there, prayer has a beneficial effect. He goes on… ‘The same effects can be accomplished through activities such as meditating, talking to a close friend or a therapist, writing in a journal, listening to soothing music in a nice warm bath, taking a walk, visualizing a peaceful place, exercising, or even having sex. These are all methods of slowing down and getting in contact with ourself, focusing on ourself for a change and releasing unwanted pent-up stress so we can view our situation with a calmer, more logical mind. Vocalizing our fears, even to the bedroom walls, helps to lessen the vice-like grip that keeps us wound up. We are, in effect [when praying], shining light on the hulking things lurking in the shadows and changing them into less harmful beings or even into figments of our overwrought imagination. When praying ‘we may think we're talking to an all-loving deity, and if that makes us feel comfortable, so be it; this process helps you to reaffirm our sense of self and to recognize the fact that you are only human and cannot take on the worries of the entire world. In prayer, ‘ we acknowledge our weaknesses and actively confront our fears and apprehensions in a safe environment without fear of judgement or ridicule.’

So if the writer is correct and I think he/she is, prayer is the selfish act of satisfying one of our basic motivations and will be most likely be geared around where we are on Maslow’s hierarchy at the time we are praying.

Gandhi explains that prayer is a means of freeing us form excessive attachment to the material world (paraphrased):

‘[When] the sordid everyday world is too much with us the practice of complete withdrawal of the mind from all outward things, even though it might be only for a few minutes everyday, will be found to be of infinite use. Silent communion will help us to experience an undisturbed peace in the midst of turmoil, to curb anger and cultivate patience.’

Again the act of praying is undertaken for self-serving reasons.

Back to our lady at the fence and praying for others…

Duke University studies - MANTRA II study of 2005: Duke University reported on their third double blind study into remote healing in The Lancet magazine -- the leading British medical journal -- for 2005-AUG. The study involved 748 patients with heart problems. They were divided into four groups:

One were assigned people to pray for them

One received MIT (music, imagery and touch) therapy

One received both distance prayer and MIT therapy

One received no additional therapy

There was no significant difference among the four groups in terms of clinical outcomes.

Collins Cobuild English Dictionary – Harper Collins Publishers, 1995
The Pocket Oxford Dictionary (Fourth Edition- revised) –
F.G. & H.W. Fowler, Oxford University Press, 1946
A Theory of Human Motivation - A. H. Maslow (1943)
Originally Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.


Apostle John said...

Interesting post -- and interesting comment on my blog. Thanks. I've replied to it with a post tonight.

David said...

I read through your most recent post, after you left the comment, "Why pray...does it work?" on my blog. I thought you raised some interesting points. I hope to respond on my blog

leb said...

dear caliibre, thank you for your question on i have tried to write a little reply from my perspective, albeit a little crude. it's on i hope you will find it helpful

thank you

Anonymous said...

Dude... prayer does work, at least from your end as a "relief valve" then it's worth something. But just because it isn't as tangible as a cup of tea or having sex, doesn't mean it "don't work". Ciao. IMP

Eddie said...

Hi there, just wandering the blogosphere and I found your blog. I really enjoy how this all works.

This is one to watch.

Many thanks,

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