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A consideration of prayer from the standpoint of social psychology online

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relate, but also the fact that a very large depart-
ment of prayer is made use of, not as an end in
itself, but solely to emphasize the moral judgment
and to further moral action.

To conclude: in the cases here mentioned we
have seen how prayer is a means in the establish-

^ Griffith, "Hymns of the Rigreda," V, IX, X.


ment of a larger self, a self more strong to bear
snft'ering, a self more open to the beauty of the
universe, a self more widely "social''. This self
has arisen, as all selves arise, out of a social rela-
tion between a me and an alter, the me representing
a need and a desire, and the alter the means of its
satisfaction. We have called this type of prayer a
completely social type, because in it the conception
of what we mean by a self has developed at least
as far for the jjrayer relation as it has developed
for the other personal relations of life. We have
a distinctly social end proposed and a social process
as means ;— the normal means for the end desired.

We will next consider more closel.y the different
tendencies which may be distinguished within this
completely social type.


In every social relation there are two tendencies.
One is the tendency to enjoy all the possibilities of
the relation, to obtnin the largest emotional expres-
sion; we shall call this the contemplative or resthetic
tendency, since it rests content with the apprecia-
tion of an object without attempting to employ it
for a definite end. There is also, however, a ten-
dency to use as little as possible of the social con-
tent and to pass on into action ; this we shall call
the practical tendency. In prayer, as in every social


act, these tendencies are present: one to make
prayer an end in itself, and the other to make it
a quick bridge to moral action.

Herrmann says: ''In the struggle of a prayer
that really comes before God, joy in God necessarily
pushes into the place that was at first filled with
passionate desire, and so such desire is moderated.
The natural desire that is born of the passion of
the creature and the joy in God and His will which
He Himself awakens, must be blended together in
a Christian prayer. — But no advice, however care-
ful, can direct us how to balance the two in any
individual instance.'" It must be noted that in the
case of the prayers we are considering, the desire
is an ethical one. and that the question then be-
comes how to maintain the proper balance between
the aesthetic and emotional enjoyment of the prayer-
experience itself, and the strictly practical employ-
ment of prayer as an aid to action. The proper
proportion of wor«ihip and service is an old prob-

fn in religion.
We notice at once this psychological distinction.
When the me is relatively exhausted, possessing no
very definite desire save possibly the desire for rest,
the prayer is apt to pass into an aesthetic absorp-
tion, a contemplative enjoyment. We find this type
very strongly in the mystics, and in men and women
who have retired from the world and who conse-

^ Herrmaun. "Communiou with God," p. 341.


quently do not feel the pressure of the immediate
life of action with its demands and desires. The
me seeks only to lose itself in the alter, and no
definite conrse of condnet need be the result of the
prayer. Peace, rest and recuperation are sought
and obtained.

When, however, the me brings to the relation a
strongly defined desire, asking only moral evalua-
tion, sanction and encouragement for that desire,
prayer merges almost immediately into action. This
is the type of prayer found among the more self-
reliant characters, or at least in the more self-reliant
moods. And these two types of prayer seem about
evenly divided. Out of a number of respondents
examined by Coe,^ thirty-seven named the results of
prayer and the religious life as consisting of ''vari-
ous kinds of satisfactory feeling", while forty men-
tioned ''help, invigoration of the will or something-
connected with duty". Tt is these forty who, as we
saw in the last section, are almost entirely left out
of account by those writers who make a too exclu-
sive correlation of religion and sex-feeling.

These two types must not be taken as mutually
exclusive or even as rigidly exact divisions. The
prayers mentioned in the last section might many
of them belong to either type. The (piestion is
rather a question of degree, consisting in the rela-
tive emphasis on the two tendencies in any social
act, the aesthetic and the practical.

»Coe, "The Spiritual Life." p. 254.


We will take up here a consideration of the first
of these two types of prayer, reserving the second
for the next section. And we shall notice how each
of the types passes, at its extreme, altogether out of
the social relationship, in the one case by giving up
the self of desire, and in the other case by passing
so quickly from desire to action that a real social
process can hardly be said to take place. Thus in
one direction we reach a pure esthetic contempla-
tion, in which the me is lost; in the other a mere
moral action, in which the alter is lost.

From one point of view the aesthetic satisfaction
may not appear altogether social in nature. One
may obtain this kind of satisfaction, it is argued,
from a beautiful flower or a lovely sunset, or any
''impersonal" object. The relationship need not be
a social one. But, as is being pointed out by the
"Einfuhlings-theorie" at present agitated in Ger-
many by Lipps and others, the satisfaction we get
in such a case is not a satisfaction in the object as
impersonal, as dead object; it is rather a satisfac-
tion produced by the reading of some specialized
fragment of our own life into the object, and an
enjoyment of the harmonious organization of the
self thus projected. Harmony, order, unity in dif-
ference, are social categories, applicable only in re-
lations in consciousness, that is to say, as we have
already pointed out, in relations of selves. Even
the appreciation of the sublime, as Kant shows, is
an appreciation of a social relation, an appreciation


of the transcendent magnitude of the "rational"
self as over against the "sensible" self. It is
"pleasurable to find every standard of Sensibility
inadequate to the Ideas of Understanding"/ This
"respect for our own destination" we attribute "by
a certain subre]ition" to the objects of nature.

Even that scientific-a\sthetic pleasure in the or-
ganization of the universe which is quite consciously
disconnected from any religious significance and
whicli may make a deliberate attempt to get rid of
social meaning altogether, delighting solely in the
accuracy of measurement and the beauty of definite
calculation and rejecting any such practical concep-
tion as that of design and designer, — even this does
not succeed in getting rid of the social aspect of
aesthetic enjoyment. The satisfaction reached is a
satisfaction in the order and harmony which the
scientist has himself succeeded in creating out of
the mass of facts hurled at him; a satisfaction in
the completeness of his organizing power. For how-
ever little we may take any idealistic interpretation
of the nature of material facts as facts, the world
which the scientist points out and in which he takes
satisfaction is a world produced by consciousness,
the result of a very complex organization of num-
berless past selves of the scientist into a coherent
whole. His "purposiveness without purpose", — for
that is indeed the proper characterization of his

Kant. "Kritik of .Tudgmont." trans, b.v J. H. Bernard, p. 119.



world of organized law without definite design, —
is not something foreign to the purpose he rejects,
but rather a highly conscious and highly specialized
development out of that very categorj^.

If the aesthetic satisfaction is thus so personal
when put consciously in the ''impersonal" form, it
is much more so in the average religious conscious-
ness. For the religious person even the enjo^Tuent
felt in a sunset may contain a conscious reference to
the activity of another self. This may var^^ all the
way from a crudely material objectification of the
other self, as of the child who thinks, as the writer
has been told by two children, that God, represented
as a man above the sky, makes cracks through the
floor of heaven whenever there is lightning, to the
"subjective" attitude of Berkeley, who thought of
the physical universe as an impression given directly
to our spirits by the spirit of God. Or the concept of
God may be a more immanent one than this view
of Berkeley's suggests, and the satisfaction experi-
enced more like that of the above-mentioned scien-
tist, a satisfaction in the sudden expansion of a nar-
rower self into the larger self of creative percep-
tion and imagination. In any of these cases the sat-
isfaction is a social satisfaction, an enjoyment in the
increase of life through contemplative sharing in the
life of a wider self.

Of this particular type of relation, taken in the
field of religion and of prayer, the Buddhist contem-
plation gives the most extreme example. Many


classifications of religions deny that Buddhism has,
strictly speaking, any prayer connected with it; the
place of prayer being taken by what is termed "med-
itation". Even ill the so-called "prayer- wheels",
the particular phrase most often used is simply a
phrase of adoration: '"Om, Mami Padme, hung",
translated by VV. Simpson as "Adoration to the
Jewel in the Lotus, Amen", a sentence of highly
mystical, symbolic meaning. And in the Buddhist
Suttas this type of exercise is prescribed for the
man who would be religious: "Let him be devoted
to that quietude of heart which springs from within,
let him not drive back the ecstasy of contemplation,
let him look through things, let him be much alone.""
If prayer is to be confined to a definite asking of
particular benefits, or even to a consciously assumed
relationship between two selves, this type of reli-
gious exercise cannot be classed as prayer. It seems
as anti-social as the Nirvana of the Buddhist seems
anti-conscious. But the contradiction of terms in-
volved in an "enjoyment of nothingness" has been
pointed out too often to need further discussion.
Lnconsciousness can only be experienced and en-
joyed as a state of relative peace after the weari-
ness of a conscious being. In the same way, the
Buddhist contemplation is no transcending of social
relationships. The alter is a more highly abstract

" Simpf5on, "Bucklhist Praying Wheel." p. 28.

= Max Mtiller, "Sacreil Books of the East." XI, The Buddhist
Suttas, p. 211.


self, but it is still a self. The end sought is rest,
that rest which comes to the self of immediate de-
sire through appreciative sharing in a self which
symbolizes the movements of infinite ages of time,
— the self of widest aesthetic contemplation. For,
as we have remarked above, the Buddhist form of
meditation is the type of "prayer" which most re-
sembles the aesthetic experience, and like that ex-
perience it is best interpreted as a social relation,
by means of the doctrine of Einfiihlimg already dis-

This type of prayer-relation is not confined to
Buddhism. It marks the completion of the mystic
ecstasy in any form. It is what St. Teresa calls the
"stage of contemplation". It is a stage which has
passed beyond the strife of selves.

For the time being, the alter completely dominates
the consciousness. If the me, the self of definite
purpose and striving, is sufficiently given up, there
ceases, for the time being, to be any distinction of
objective or subjective. For as we saw above,^ this
distinction only arises when the activities of on-
going consciousness meet some check which calls
out a dualism between a purpose and a conditioning
means. In the mood of aesthetic contemplation there
is no such check. The extreme of this mode of con-
sciousness is the mystic trance, or unconsciousness,
due to a complete absence of the conflict which is

' Section I.


essential to conscious life. Thus this type of prayer
reaches its final limit first in aesthetic contempla-
tion and finally in complete absence of conscious-
ness. We shall find a similar limit reached in the
other type of prayer which we shall consider later.

Consciousness returns again after the mystic
trance as soon as the life-activities meet with a
check. This may be due to some external interrup-
tion or to needs of the organism. The self which
finally issues to meet the next conflict is determined,
not by the fact that there has been a trance or a
sleep, but by the nature of the last two selves and
the relations sustained by them. It follows that any
ethical value which may be attributed to the mystic
trance is to be accorded to it on account of effects
produced in the resulting self, rather than on the
ground of the trance itself. Neither is it to be con-
demned on that ground.

There are many prayers which do not go to the
extreme of the mystic trance which are yet to be
classed as belonging to the aesthetic type of prayer.
All prayers which lay stress on the peace to be at-
tained by the giving up of the individual self, rather
than on any resultant efficiency in action, come un-
der this head. Adoration, rather than petition, is
the keynote of prayers of this kind. And when
there is petition, it is for deliverance from weakness,
weariness and sin — the result again of a wish to
abandon the old self. In the Vedic i)rayers we find


examples of this type, which recur again throughout
the history of prayer.

"Hail to thee, mighty Lord, all-potent Vishnu !
Soul of the Universe, unchaugeable,
Hoi}', eternal, always one in nature, —
Whether revealed as Brahma, Hari, S'iva
Creator or Preserver or Destroyer," — '

and thus for several pages of pure adoration, con-

"Lord of the Universe, the only refuge
Of living beings, the alleviator
Of pain, the benefactor of mankind.
Show me Thy favor and deliver me
From evil."

Then, after six lines of descriptive adoration, this
statement follows:

•'I come to Thee for refuge
Renouncing all attachment to the world,
Longing for fulness of felicity.
Extinction of myself, absoi'ption into Thee."

This adoration is not, as Ellis says it is with the
African tribes he mentions," and as several of the
narrowly utilitarian writers have assumed it to be
in the case of all such prayer, a lively sense of
Ijenefits to come, and a method of placating the
deity in order to obtain them; there is a distinct
satisfaction found in the adoration itself. For sat-
isfaction always accompanies the solution of any
conflict in consciousness, and here the solution means

^ Monier Williams. "Indian Wisdom," pp. 51S, 520 ; Puranas.

- A. B. Ellis, "Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the West Coast," p. 80.


giving up the weary and dejected me and obtaining
in place of it a share in a wider and completer life,
through that projection of feeling which we liave
known as Einfiihlung. All emphasis on the infinite
character of that other life brings increased satis-
faction, since it is a life in which the worshipper
has at least a contemplative share.

This type of prayer is found in all religions. A
more modern example of it, essentially the same in
tone and even in words, is the following from George
Matheson: "In that light let me lose myself,
Lord. — Not the unconsciousness of self which comes
from emptiness, but that which comes from deeper
fulness. — Not in death, not in apathy, not even in
self-depreciation, would 1 forget myself, but only
in Thee."^ This is again an example of that ac-
tivity of the social self which we have called Ein-
fiihlung, the process of living in a life which you
recognize as in a sense not your own, but which for
the moment at least vou live more intenselv than
you are living the life which you call yours. It
means a weariness on the me side of consciousness,
and a consequent transfer of emphasis to the alter

St. Teresa thus describes the completely passive
state of the "finite" self, in her account of "perfect
contemplation": "The Divine Master stands teach-
ing him without the noise of words, and suspends

'Times of Retirement," p. 272,


his faculties, because should they operate they would
rather hinder than help him. They enjoy without
understanding how they enjoy. The soul is burn-
ing with love, yet does not understand how she loves.
She understands sufficiently that it is not an enjoy-
ment which the understanding obtains by desiring
it. It is a gift of the Lord of Heaven, who gives
like Himself."^

Prayer literature is full of prayers of this kind,
in which the need is not a narrowly practical need
of any particular external object, but a need of ref-
uge and rest in a larger experience. This is ac-
companied, as we have seen before, by frequent ex-
pression of weakness and sin, and by a desire, part-
ly to receive new energy, though such desire takes
us over into our second division, and partly to have
the past self blotted out, to lose it, to find rest from
it, — the kind of rest which Schopenhauer declared
was only to be found in temporary forgetfulness of
desire through aesthetic contemplation. Many of
the psalms are of this order, hardly asking for any
individual comfort, but taking refuge in the con-
templation of a power that is untouched and un-
moved. Thus the one hundred and second psalm
begins with a description of the psalmist's miseries:
"My days consume like smoke, and my bones are
burned as a fire-brand. My heart is smitten like
grass and withered and I forget to eat my bread,"

'The Way of Perfection," p. 142,


and so on for eleven verses. Then there follows no
request for individual blessing; there is no adora-
tion for the sake of the benefits to bo obtained l)y
such ])raise of the deity; the psalmist finds his own
comfort in remembering the greatness of .Jehovah.
"But Thou. Jehovah, wilt abide forever, and Thy
memorial name unto all generations. Thou wilt
arise and have mercy upon Zion; — This shall be
written for the generation to come; and a people
which shall be created shall praise Jehovah."

This same mood is expressed in tlio lines of
(^lough :

"It fortifies ray soul to know
That though I perish. Truth is so." '

Tt is suggested also by the classic test of our
fathers which demanded that a man should be will-
ing to be damned for the glorv of God. Assertion
of such willingness must be regarded, not as bra-
vado, nor as a sneaking attem])t to get something-
out of God by heing so subservient, but, at least in
its purest form, as a very real tribute to the tri-
umphant power of Einfiihlung, resulting in a de-
sire to contribute to the glory of the greater self
even at the cost of tremendous expense to the lesser

The ritualistic form of prayer, as against the "in-
dividualistic", may also be classed with the aps-
tlietic type. Tt is again a relation of selves, but
this time it is the conmiunitv-self which takes the

* Page. "British Poets of the Nineteenth Century." p. 702.



place of the me, and enters into relation with the
ideal alter. For the individual participant, the re-
sult is of the type already noticed in the prayers we
have been considering.

His private desires, even his private sins, — his
private self, in other words, — is lost in the larger
community-self which needs help and regeneration.
The needs of this community- self are more constant
in character; hence we find the use of set forms of
prayers. There is less emotional stress, except in
times of great public need. Under ordinary circum-
stances the ritualistic prayer is not a prayer of high
tension. Any emotion attending it is not of the
violent kind which attends a crisis in the emergence
of a new self, but rather the steady and cumulative
type which attends an emphasized repetition of
some part of a chain of habit. The constant repeti-
tion by an entire congregation of the refrain "We
beseech thee to hear us, God, ' ' has undoubtedly an
emotional accompaniment, but not the cataclysmic
accompaniment which occurs in an ethical revolution
within the self of immediate desire.

To completely carry out the discussion of the ritu-
alistic type of prayer, it would be necessary to go
exhaustively into the subject of group-psychology.
The influence of a surrounding religious "commu-
nity" gives great reinforcement to the religious
strivings of the self. "When we live in the midst of
Christian people, the sense is awakened by which we


may see God."' Wo have ranked the ritualistic
iirayer, however, under the aesthetic type, because
the individual loses himself and his own desires in
a wider self, and emerges, not with a strong incen-
tive to any particular action, but calmed and soothed
by the momentary forgetfulness of his narrower
self ill the face of a wider reality. The diiYerence
between this type and the other aesthetic type we
have been describing is that the me loses itself, not
directly in the perfect alter, but first in the larger
but still finite alter which we have called the com-
munity-self. In this connection we note that the
ritualistic form of worship flourished most in times
and communities in which the possibility of individ-
ual access to God was not so emphasized and indi-
vidual res])onsibility to God not so insisted upon.

Moreover, the efFtn-ts of the ritualistic churches
aim at securing conformity with the religious life
and habits of the community, through confirmation
and religious education, rather than at any individ-
ual religious experience of the type emphasized by
the churches which insist on conversion. We shall
see later, in connection with prayers for conversion,
the intensely emotional nature of the crisis attend-
ing the sudden formation of a practically new self.
Tn times of revolt, of non-conformity, of democratic
insistence on the rights of the individual soul, that
soul's personal relation to God assumes an imi)or-

' Herrmann. "Conjmunion with God," p. 190.


tance which for other times and other temperaments
may seem egoistic in the extreme. The personal
nature of prayer-meeting "testimonies", the com-
mon assumption that all the powers of good and evil
in the universe were intensely concerned in the out-
come of the fight, and that God would have suf-
fered a permanent lack if victory had not been at-
tained, — these things are usually regarded with de-
cided aversion by a more ritualistic temperament.
For him the individual is but one member of a com-
munity, and it is God's care for the community
which is the important thing. The part of the indi-
vidual is to learn, gradually and without violent up-
heaval, through the jjrocesses of training, confirma-
tion, and a regulated form of worship, the duty of
conforming to the tradition which the community
has found to be of value. This is the significance of
the ritualistic type of prayer. Although it aims
ultimately at a practical result, we class it under
the aesthetic form, because the end is, for the indi-
vidual self, a cessation rather than an accentuation
of striving.

Prayers of thanksgiving also come under this gen-
eral classification. They belong to a form more
like ordinary social intercourse, but verging on the
{esthetic type of prayer in their contemplation of
ideal beauty and goodness. But the me is here
more prominent; it has a definite part to play; it
does not merely lose itself.

Prayers of the aesthetic type, the type we have


been considering, aim then at a definite social end —
the widening of the self, not necessarily through
ethical activity, lint through the contemplative shar-
ing of the life of a larger self. The need of prayer
of this kind is felt at moments of depression and
despair; this fact has led Guimaraens to claim that
the ''prayer-mood" is at twilight, when the bodily
need for rest and recuperation is felt.' And in the
attainment of the desired end, the one thing em-
phasized by all religious teachers is the giving u})
of the individual will. St. Teresa- says, as we have

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Online LibraryAnna Louise StrongA consideration of prayer from the standpoint of social psychology → online text (page 5 of 7)