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PRAYING IN CAVES

Wayne Everett Orgar

January 1999

Many years ago when I was in the Air Force, I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa is a strange place. It blends it own history with the culture of Japan and the United States. It's crowded in the southern part of the island but the north tends to be less inhabited and filled with small farms. Most of the jungle was destroyed in WWII but those things that live close to the ground seem to have survived nicely. I enjoyed riding my bike on Sunday mornings along the East China Sea through the tiny fishing villages. Sunday mornings are also a thing of joy to those of us who aren't religious.

Those of you who have been stationed there may have taken the same tours I did. The NCO (non-commissioned officers) club sponsored them on Saturday mornings typically. One day I took a tour that went up into the hills of the north. The tour bus stopped outside a cave that was for all appearances empty. The guide, an American NCO, led us into the very dark cave without telling us what to expect. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could make out about a dozen human figures sitting in a rough circle. It was still too dark to tell why.

The guide reached for the side of the cave near the entrance and flipped a switch. A small spotlight suddenly flashed on, focusing on a large phallic shaped stalagmite rising up from the center of the cave. The spotlight gave us enough light to see what the humans were doing. They were praying to the stalagmite. It felt like an ancient European cathedral in there. To this point no one had talked from the time we left the bus and entered the cave. There was a reverent silence.

We quietly filed out and got on the small, cramped, Japanese tour bus. Why were they praying? Our tour guide explained that this natural phallic symbol was a fertility symbol to these believers in Shintoism. Most of the people praying were older women, presumably grandmothers, who were in fact praying to increase the chances that their granddaughters or others would become pregnant.

Most of the tour members, being good Christians as most military members are, chuckled at this obvious superstition. Everybody knows that you don't help anyone's fertility by praying to a stalagmite (See my essay, "It's A Miracle").

The point is, these people believe this to be true . They likely have anecdotes to show how this sort of prayer helped. It would not surprise me to find out that some doctor did a study that allegedly showed better fertility in families that prayed to this stalagmite than those families that didn't pray. These families could point out how all their beliefs give them hope and comfort. Since they believe in the supernatural, nothing rules out the possibility that praying to a stalagmite helps fertility.

Once you believe in the supernatural, anything goes. Virgin births, rising from the dead, demons, and talking bushes are all supernatural beliefs. There is no reliable and valid evidence for any of these things. Do you honestly respect the faith of the cave-praying people? How can you respect your faith in a virgin birth?

If you think it is fine to believe in faith despite the evidence or lack of evidence, you must approve of others doing the same, even if you don't agree with their beliefs. Millions of people believe in faith that an angelic being named Maroni, Son of Morman, gave Joseph Smith golden tablets in Palmyra, NY. They believe that someone named Jesus lived for a time in North America. Despite signed statements witnessing the existence of these golden tablets, Christians will point out the lack of reliable and valid evidence supporting these beliefs. However, when others point out the lack of reliable and valid evidence for things like a virgin birth, Christians fall back on faith as the justification.

You would not accept this sort of hypocrisy in any other religion but your own. Why do you think the accounts by your religious writers are not biased, distorted, or misleading when you view the accounts of all other religions as being so? The best approach is to use a method like the scientific method that provides evidence that can be verified by anyone, regardless of his or her beliefs. This approach has stood the test of time. This approach has given us a longer life span, more reliable food sources, better shelter, a means of exploring our planet and the universe, and enhanced communication ability.

Of course, this approach often forces us to change our mind in the face of uncomfortable facts. I suspect this is why so many people avoid applying this sort of thinking to their beliefs. It is emotionally upsetting to change our preconceived erroneous notions. The people praying in caves don't want to and either do most Christians.