Jun 242011

Muslim at prayer in Ortaköy Mosque

Photo by Vince Millett

Before I really get into my Thought, let’s do a quick refresher on what the four steps of every moral action are (as described in “The Present in Motion”).

First there is intent, which is deciding what we want to do.

Then there is initiation, when we begin the action.

Third is execution, which is when we actually complete the action.

And the final step is the effect of our action.

All of which can be shorthanded into IIEE.

Similar Patterns

In developing these theories about faith, I end up studying a lot of different faith movements, and in “The Gauntlet Is Thrown,” I brought up Chaos Magic, one of the more obscure ones I’ve researched. I consider systems of magic to be a type of faith, so I do research them from time to time.

In beginning my first studies of systems of magic, one of the first things to strike me was the moral steps of casting magic spells. The pattern is I–E, meaning that an effect comes about from intent alone. No, that doesn’t mean that there is no initiation or execution, it just means that those steps are delegated (to spirits, the universe, etc.), and that they may not be explicitly acknowledged.

Does that pattern of steps look familiar? Does the intent to effect connection remind you of any practice in popular faith? I’ll give you a moment to think about it.

. . .

Done thinking? Here’s the answer:


Prayer has the same exact patter of intent to effect that magic does. When we pray, we are putting forth an intent and expecting an effect based purely on our intent being made known. We delegate the initiation and execution of the action to God, angels, the universe, or anything else we can think of. And that is, in practice, the same exact thing as magic.

That discovery is struck me pretty hard. It threatened to change everything I thought I knew about prayer.

At the same time, though, I knew that magic didn’t feel the same as prayer. Even though I was looking at them and seeing the exact same pattern, I couldn’t bring myself to take seriously the idea that they were indeed the same thing. I just couldn’t put my finger on why they felt different. All I knew is that there seemed to be some “thing” that separated them, and that this “thing” stayed barely out of reach.

Recently, though, I’ve grasped it, and it makes a whole boatload of sense. The “thing” is attitude.


In any moral action we can take one of two basic attitudes.

The first attitude we can take is that of submission. This is when the faith tells us what we should intend, and we align our intentions with what we should.

The second is an attitude of authority. This is when the faith doesn’t tell us what we should intend, so we essentially author our own actions. A subset of the authoritative attitude is the rebellious attitude, when the faith actually does tell us what to intend, yet we go with our own intent anyway.

The attitude of submission is where modern prayer typically fits in, because if we don’t align our intentions with God’s will, our prayer won’t get answered.

However, with magic an authoritative attitude is necessary, as the system allows any type of intent you can think of.

Such a simple concept, yet it’s really quite powerful in explaining and understanding faith. Let’s look at some more quick examples of attitudes in play:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.

- Apostle Paul, his first epistle to the Corinthians

This is an example of Paul taking an authoritative attitude in giving out commands. It seems that he had no particular guidance in what to command on this issue, so he commanded as he deemed necessary.

Here’s another from Christianity:

The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

- Jesus Christ, the Gospel According to John

Here we have Jesus (presumably talking about himself in the third person) claiming that he does nothing except what he sees his Father doing. This is an extreme attitude of submission, where the only actions that are ever taken are the ones given to him by his faith (through his Father).

Okay, were those easy enough? Let’s try a trickier one. See if you can guess which attitude is present here:

3. Ideals, not rules. I find ideals far more useful than rules. Rules are a poor substitute for a moral compass, and they don’t require critical thinking. So choose your values, your ideals. Maybe Respect? Bravery? Peace? You get to choose, but choose. And then stick by them.

- Drew Jacob, “The Heroic Life”

This one is a bit more complex. At first glance, it would seem that it is authoritative, since the faith doesn’t give you values and ideals but instead makes you choose them for yourself. However, it’s really an attitude of submission, because once you have chosen your ideals and values, you are to submit to them in all of your actions.

In Practice

Attitudes are important, because they define our relation to the faith in any given moment. Is the faith telling us what to do? If so, are we doing that? The answers can range from religious movements such as Islam (the word islam means “submission” in English) to Chaos Magic (which allows a wide range of intent for most actions).

So what about you? What other attitudes do you see present in the practice of religions or faith?

C Luke Mula

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Google+

  2 Responses to “The Attitudes We Assume”

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  1. Some great observations here. I’ve considered before how the way I or others pray is sometimes more like magic than the kind of prayers God would desire. One extreme, but very common, example would be an athlete praying to win a game. For someone to even make such a prayer would indicate that they must have given very little thought to what God’s will would be, as it is difficult to imagine someone actually believing that God would prefer their team over another. What would seem to be implicit in that prayer is the belief that God may grant the prayer precisely BECAUSE the person prayed it, especially if it is prayed in faith. This would definitely be more in line with the authoritative attitude.

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