Rational Rituals or 'Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain.' (Analysis on Practices of Prayer, Religious Ceremonies and Rituals)

By Madigan, Timothy J. | Free Inquiry, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Rational Rituals or 'Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain.' (Analysis on Practices of Prayer, Religious Ceremonies and Rituals)


Madigan, Timothy J., Free Inquiry


. . . Ritual, prayer, and religious affirmation.9 generally involve a suspension of one's critical faculties--a refusal to be completely honest with oneself. The situation cannot be assimilated either to beholding or acting in a play or to participation in a game. In all these cases one is willing to admit, even in unfeeling interruption are resented, that there is some make-believe. In the case of religion, hardly anyone would be prepared to admit this even to himself.

The philosopher George Santayana (1863 1952) considered himself to be both an atheist and a Catholic. His reasoning powers would not allow him to accept the dogmas of the Catholic church, but he still appreciated its aesthetic charm and its ability to get across moral truths through the use of pageantry, ritual, and ceremony.

I, too, was raised a Catholic, and I share Santayana's intellectual qualms about its doctrines. However, I am somewhat less sanguine about its use of traditions. While I can admire the beauty of a church ceremony, I am also aware of how it can be used to manipulate people's feelings and keep them beholden to the institution.

Even as a child I was interested in the ways in which church practices affect one's personal life. I can recall trying to reach a state of ecstasy by saying the rosary, something that other Marian devotees seemed to achieve with ease. While dutifully reciting the prayer associated with each bead, however, I was also wondering how the repetitious recital would bring about an altered state of consciousness. I never did achieve rapture. No doubt this is why Zen masters are prone to whacking their students in the head with a stick-to get them to attain enlightenment by stopping their thoughts about enlightenment. Perhaps if someone had smacked me with a crozier I might be a Catholic still.

At any rate, my faith had a firm rational foundation. I was interested in logical justification of beliefs. The rituals, I felt, served a purpose, but my main concern was intellectual integrity. After studying both Western and Eastern philosophy in college, I came to see that the basic premises of my religion were shaky, and I could no longer accept them. I still admired the church services, but I felt that I could not remain in an organization whose central teachings I no longer accepted, regardless of the comfort of its rituals.

I suspect that this is why the issue of humanist rituals is so problematic. Humanists are by their very nature unconventional. Such nonbelievers as Comte, Durkheim, and Dewey assiduously studied religious customs and mapped out the ways in which these helped to meet the existential needs of human beings while promoting communal harmony. Each in turn advocated devising secular alternatives to these religious rituals. But in practice such secular rites of passage seem artificial, or resonant of a "me too" attitude.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Rational Rituals or 'Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain.' (Analysis on Practices of Prayer, Religious Ceremonies and Rituals)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?