Thursday, May 17, 2007

Follow Up to G-d and Weight Loss

Although I have no plans to turn my weight loss blog into a religious outlet by any means, Shannon from Shannon's Weight Loss Journey asked an interesting question in response to my post G-d and Weight Loss. In her comment, she asked:
Do you think that praying for something (health for someone who is ill, etc) is actually heard?
Before I get down to answering Shannon's question, there is a little background that I should cover.

An interesting fact about Judaism is that it requires very little from the faithful in terms of belief. To be a good Jew, it's perfectly permissible to have one's doubts and questions about the existence of G-d. Being a good Jew is more about behavior and a code of conduct than believing a certain set of ideas. In Christianity, the focus is on faith. In Judaism, the focus is on action.

Hillel probably summed up Judaism best when he said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

The focus on action versus thinking is further reflected in the Jewish attitude about prayer. Prayer is important, but the actions people take are much more important. The quote, "pray as if everything depends on G-d; act as if everything depends on you" pretty much sums up the Jewish attitude about prayer quite nicely.

Jews have always wrestled with G-d. Although the Torah says we are the chosen people, it also makes numerous references to how stubborn, disobedient and naughty we were (and still are). We are not infallible. We are human. We make lots of mistakes. We mess up, and are expected to do better next time. Unlike many religions, however, Judaism encourages questioning, debate and argument. One doesn't have to unconditionally believe in G-d to be a faithful Jew. One simply has to follow the law as if G-d exists.

Of course even the law is subject to interpretation. Jews have argued about the Torah and what it means for centuries, and not everyone agrees. What makes Judaism different is that when two Jews disagree on a point of Torah, it's perfectly acceptable. I've seen (and remember fondly) people getting into huge arguments during Torah study, where they get really worked up. They argue their points passionately, but when the discussion is over, they pat each other on the back and say, "good argument." We debate, discuss, and wrestle with Torah. We don't always agree, and it's not a requirement.

So now, to finally answer Shannon's question, my answer is I don't know.

In a sense, I think that prayers are heard, simply because I've noticed that "the law of attraction" as described in books like The Secret does seem to work at least some of the time. I've had it happen in my own life, and I've seen in happen in my friends' lives. Whether that should be called prayer, positive thinking, or just creative goal-setting, it seems to work at least to a degree. There have been studies that suggest prayer may actually help heal the sick, so it's hard to know for sure.

It might help, and it certainly can't hurt. Sending positive thoughts and energy out there into the universe certainly can't do any harm.

I don't think, though, that G-d has a Request Department. G-d doesn't sit around waiting for, listening to, and evaluating the merits of, prayer requests. There aren't a group of angels sitting on a cloud somewhere separating the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the unworthy. My view of G-d is much more faceless and impersonal than the commonly-held Christian ideal. I don't see G-d as a "personal" god. If I do the right thing, G-d isn't sitting back in his cosmic lawn chair applauding. If I do the wrong thing, G-d isn't sitting there scowling, trying to think of the best way to punish me. I see G-d as an energy, something closer to The Force from the movie Star Wars, not as an omnipotent man keeping score of my good deeds and sins as I go through life.

Rather than prayers being granted explicitly by G-d, I think we hold the burden in making our wishes come true. Prayer does more to focus our attention on what we should be doing. If I pray to find a new job after I've been laid off, what I'm really doing is focusing my attention on the task at hand. As I pray, I clarify the steps in my mind that I need to take: I need to get a resume together, to start researching companies, to make phone calls, and start responding to job opportunities.

In the case of the blogger who prayed not to eat candy, I think her prayers simply focused in her mind the fact that she really didn't want to be munching on unhealthy food, and she herself decided she didn't need it. Because of my own beliefs, I have a really hard time with the idea that G-d heard her prayer, waved his hand, and the urge to eat a Snickers bar simply vanished. It's just too magical for my world view.

When it comes to my own weight loss, I don't see a lot of point in praying about it. I'm fat because I ate too much and exercised too little. I wasn't paying attention to that aspect of my life, and for a long time I didn't care. Now things have changed, I suddenly do care, and it's up to me to do something about it. Even if G-d did listen to my prayers, the onus is still on me. Let's face it, I could pray all day to be thin, but if I'm sitting on my wide backside eating bon bons all day, I'm not going to lose weight. There are no miracle weight loss solutions. Prayer or no, I still have to eat less and exercise more over a long period of time before I'm going to be at a healthy weight.

I own my weight problems, not G-d.


Toknowhim said...

I posted a comment on your "G-D and Weight Loss" entry...please see it.. Kim

Shannon said...

You do a very good job explaining your beliefs! Bravo to you!

On a different note, have you spoken with a doctor or professional about what caloric intake you should be at? It just doesn't seem normal to me to be as hungry as you say you are. THAT, in itself, adds a TON of negativity to an already grueling process! Just a thought...