Saturday, February 20, 2016

Prayer Is Not Witchcraft

I prayed on this porch when I was teaching on prayer last fall in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I ran into a former student of mine and we began talking about philosophy and religion. One of the things they said was that someone told them that prayer is witchcraft. The student asked me, "What do you think?" True or false?

I told them the correct answer is: false. Why?

Cnsider the statement: Praying is witchcraft.

Let's define 'witchcraft' as: magical things that are done by witches ; the use of magical powers obtained especially from evil spirits.

In my forthcoming book I define 'praying' as: talking with God about what we (God and I) are doing and thinking together. (In Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, now in the editors' hands.)

On these definitions clearly prayer is not witchcraft or some form of witchcraft. In fact, in many Christian cultures who take witchcraft seriously, the people are praying against witchcraft. Sociologically, Christians who pray construe prayer and witchcraft as fundamentally different. To equate them would be itself witchcraft. (When I was speaking in Kenya the Kenyan pastors told me about "diviners," and how the Christians were praying against them.)

It is true that prayer and witchcraft both make sense within a broader worldview that is nonphysicalist. I, as nearly all who pray, share a nonphysicalist worldview. But this doesn't make the two equivalent, or make prayer a subset of witchcraft, any more than saying baseball is tennis. They are both sports, yes. And they are not the same.

In 45 years of studying prayer, spirituality, and sociology of religion (PhD, Religious and Theological Studies, Northwestern University), I have never read a single scholarly essay arguing that praying is witchcraft. Perhaps some Christians have used prayer as witchcraft (or superstitiously), but that doesn't mean prayer is witchcraft any more than finding people who use power drills as toothpicks means a power drill is a toothpick (which would be stupid, as stupid as a Christian using prayer as witchcraft).