The Problem of Prayer
As we have seen, it was generally assumed well into the twentieth century that the effects of religious belief were beneficial and religious belief the healthy norm. ‘True’ or not, religions promoted morality, provided guidance through the travails of life, and generally inculcated ‘healthy’ attitudes towards, and understanding of, both the self and the world. Even non-believers were disinclined to dispute its mostly beneficial effects, seeking instead to find ways of achieving the same ends by new, indeed better, means. That religion was susceptible to its own peculiar pathologies of fanaticism, bigotry and superstition was admitted by all parties, but Psychology, judiciously incorporated into religious understanding, could provide means of identifying and tackling these. Such a strategy would, in many eyes, even be essential if religion was to retain its cultural credibility and role in modernist societies. There is a conundrum though—should we ascribe the qualities of believers to their beliefs, or the nature of the beliefs to the qualities of the believers? If I am a forgiving individual is this due to my having taken to heart the Lord’s Prayer, or does my forgiving temperament incline me towards a creed in which forgiveness figures so centrally as a virtue? Clearly, it would make little sense to offer a generalised answer either way.