The Danger of Religious Prayer versus Spiritual Prayer

The public prayers of conservative Christians are embarrassing to me, and I find myself uncomfortable sharing with strangers the fact that I am an ordained member of the Christian clergy. I was recently in a situation in which I once again experienced this unsettling, self-conscious feeling.

I was with a group of strangers in a new neighborhood who had gathered to cook some burgers on the 4th of July. As we were breaking up and heading for our respective homes, one member in the group asked if it would OK to pray and give thanks for our country and our freedom.

I hesitated, but given that the person had asked permission, I too reluctantly said yes.

The prayer itself was appropriate until the closing, at which time the tone of the prayer shifted and became clearly a Christian prayer. Offering a Christian prayer thanking Jesus Christ, and God our Father for our freedom to a group of strangers was one more example of Christian insensitivity and lack of humility that left me feeling uncomfortable for those in the group that were not Christian.

This article is my attempt to put into words why I felt embarrassed to admit that I am a Christian, and share with you why I believe “religious” public prayer is a dangerous form of human narcissism.

I believe that when prayer is offered publicly, “spiritual” prayers should replace “religious” prayers.

We Live In A Religiously Diverse World

We live in a religiously diverse and interconnected world; a world that is rapidly growing smaller as we become more connected and interconnected through technology. We are no longer isolated tribes living on an isolated tribal island.

How we communicate our religious beliefs, and what we choose to communicate matters. Not only because of the religious diversity that surrounds us, but because our words can be instantaneously communicated around the world.

Unfortunately, like the example I cited above, our prayers rarely respect the religious diversity of our global human family. They are often far too “religious” and filled with religiously “tribal” terminology and language that;

  • ignores the reality that others may not share “our” tribal beliefs and
  • is insensitive and disrespectful to those who choose to not only believe differently, but to those who may choose to reject religious faith beliefs entirely.

Atheism and agnosticism are “religious” beliefs about the nature of ultimate reality that also need to be respected.

It is clear that tribal religious narcissism, a growing lack of humility, respect and compassion for strangers, and our judgmental insensitivity to those who have different faith beliefs, is creating much of the conflict and violence we see in the world today.

If we want our behaviors to match our faith beliefs on the importance of unconditional love and compassion, then we need to be more conscious and sensitive to the possibility that those around us might belong to a different religious “tribe” and may therefore hold very different faith beliefs than we do.

If our goal is to create a compassionate and peaceful global human culture, we need to replace our particular religion’s tribal prayer language with a more gentle and compassionate universal spiritual language. We all have the right to pray how we want to inside our faith communities, but it is important to remind ourselves that even inside of our faith communities “tribally specific” religious prayer is a form of human conditioning that unconsciously reinforces our “tribe’s” insensitivity toward those who choose to believe differently.

This is especially true for Christians who seem to have a deep need to pray publically, and whose prayers tend to be “tribal” or ethnically religious in both content and language. It is a rare Christian that asks for permission to offer public prayer, but even when permission is sought, the prayer language almost always reflects that of the Christian “tribe”.

Public prayer, especially in the presence of strangers, needs to reflect spiritual prayer language, not the religious prayer language of a specific religious tribe.

Our Nation Is No Longer A “Christian” Nation

In the past, our nation was considered a “Christian” nation. That is no longer true. We are rapidly becoming less “religious”, less “Christian”, and more religiously diverse.

We are a nation of many “tribes”——atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus, Jewish, the spiritual but not religious, those who embrace a more evolutionary or naturalist spirituality, those who are anti-Christian because they have been harmed by other Christians or Christian clergy in the past, traditional Chinese, traditional African, Sikhism, Juche, Baha’i, Shinto, neo-pagan, Unitarian-Universalists, and Scientologists.

Despite the growing presence of “religion” and “ethnic religious beliefs” in our national and global politics, there is clear evidence that rigid ideological religious beliefs are creating evil in the world; not love and compassion.

This inflexible religious ideology, a religious insensitivity to the needs, beliefs and rights of others, and a growing narcissistic lack of mutuality, love and compassion for those of other religious tribes, all contributed to the deaths of over 100 million people in the 20th century alone.

Because ethnic religious intolerance and violence is growing in severity, the need to awaken a more spiritually enlightened human consciousness; a consciousness that tames the collective primitive ego narcissism of our human species, is becoming increasingly urgent.

If the prayers of all of our world’s religions, both inside and outside our churches, could learn to adopt the non-dual prayer language of our world’s great spiritual mystics; an inclusive spiritual prayer language that respects and honors the religious diversity of our world, I believe our human species would become more compassionate and peaceful.

The Problem: Our Primitive Ego Is Concerned With Self-Identity, Not Unconditional Love And Compassion

Developmental psychology teaches that the primary goal of our self-focused primitive ego; the ego of our unconscious inner-child; the part of our human ego that controls the behaviors and thoughts of almost every living adult, is that of establishing a clear self-identity for itself.

Our primitive ego scans the world through the lens of its many beliefs and “certainties” so as to insure that the tribal boundaries between its sense of  “me”, and those who are “not-me”, are clearly defined. It also thinks dualistically in judgmental, either/or, black-and-white terms.

In other words, it maintains it sense of “self” by assuming that its beliefs are always right, and the beliefs of others; those who are “not-me”, are always wrong.

When our self-identity” is strong and clear, our primitive ego feels happy and safe. Thus, our primitive ego “loves” religious prayer because the “absolute certainty” of our religious beliefs supports and strengthens its sense of self. “I” am a Christian. Or “I” am a Muslim. Or “I” am an atheist. Or “I” am Wiccan.

Because the primitive ego of our inner-child is happy and content when its self-identity is strong and un-ambivalent, insisting that our religious beliefs reflect “absolute truth” is more about our primitive ego making sure that “our” beliefs are absolutely right”, than we are about the actual “truth” or “accuracy” of those beliefs.

Don’t take my word for this. Just pay attention the next time someone challenges your firmly held “beliefs” and you will “see” the energy of your primitive ego for yourself.

Spiritual prayer on the other hand, frightens our primitive ego because spiritual prayer is focused on personal responsibility, non-dual unity, compassion, unconditional love, mutuality, respect, non-dual mystical seeing, gratitude, thankfulness, and our human co-creative inter-connectedness.

The focus of spiritual prayer is not on tribal identification, but rather on a more unity based, contemplative, collective, co-creative responsibility for the unfolding evolution of creation itself.

In other words, spiritual prayer has no sense of “us vs. them” for our primitive ego to compare itself to and thus make the boundaries of its self-identity clear. Because children like clear, well-defined boundaries our primitive ego will always resist the use of spiritual prayer.

A Personal Note

So in closing I would like to offer this personal note to my Christian friends and all of my readers who have other tribal, non-Christian religious beliefs.

If you are truly serious about your faith beliefs, I would urge you to practice humility and show the world the compassion and unconditional love of an awakened, enlightened consciousness; not the consciousness of your primitive ego’s “religious” beliefs.

I have been on my spiritual journey for many years, and my understanding of what it means to be a Christian has changed, and hopefully matured, over those years. I am an ordained Christian clergy, but like you, my understanding of the nature of the Initiating Consciousness, and my interpretation of biblical scriptures has been shaped by the journey I have been on, and the subjective experiences I have had on this journey.

I do not assume that your religious or spiritual beliefs are the same as mine. So lets talk. Perhaps we can help each other deepen our understanding of this amazing thing called life.

Life will continue to offer all of us daily opportunities to learn about and offer love to others. So lets practice kindness and do no harm to those who might believe differently. We are all just attempting to make sense of life and this amazing universe as best we can.


The melody or music that all religions are attempting to harmonize or sing for the world is called peace, unconditional love and compassion.  If all religious faiths could drop their collective primitive ego’s tribal identities and learn to sing together and support this beautiful melody, what an amazing song our global human community would be singing.

I am convinced that until we all mature our collective primitive egos and our need for an inflexible religious tribal identity, our collective voices will continue to be a cacophony of meaningless religious tribal noise, chaos, and violence.

If we could all learn to eliminate tribal religious prayer language, and embrace a more contemplative spiritual prayer language, it would be a giant step toward the creation of a peaceful and more compassionate global human culture.

No matter how strongly our primitive ego believes something to be true, it does not mean our beliefs represent absolute truth. It only means we would really like to believe our beliefs are true. Allowing our primitive ego to go beyond our subjective understanding of “truth” is giving our primitive ego permission to “become” God.

If we could stop “selling” our tribal beliefs as “absolute truth”, and embrace the humility that we are talking about an ultimate reality that will remain a mystery to our finite human intellect, we would no longer be inclined to disrespect others by “assuming” that “we” hold the “right” understanding about the nature of “ultimate mystery”, or the “right” interpretation, accuracy, or relevance of “our” tribe’s religious scriptures.

We would be to busy learning to be kind.

We would be too busy learning to do no harm to those who believe differently.

We would be to busy awakening our enlightened adult consciousness and taming the arrogant narcissism of our frightened primitive egos.

We all live on the same planet. We are all members of the same tribe—–it’s called humanity.

Let’s see if we can learn to harmonize together… it is a beautiful melody.

Review & Commentary

  • Laura Smith

    Beautifully stated! You articulated my thoughts exactly. I wonder why there is such fear in letting go of the dogma, particularly in public? I consistently find that when I open myself to other traditions or faiths, instead of weakening, my own faith is enriched. Thanks for sharing.

  • Br Graham-Michoel bSH

    While I am unashamedly Catholic, but I hasten to add, Liberal Catholic, I find myself appalled by the arrogance of some of my Christian brothers and sisters, of all denominations, who’s public petitions to the Almighty are of a demanding nature – that their manner of prayer is correct, ( and the only way to pray ), and that everyone else must follow their pattern. This dogmatic approach is harmful and most certainly disrespectful to many, not least people of other Faiths who are standing by.
    What Dick Rauscher articulates so well might well be needed to be heard in every corner of the Church. I recently attended the Ordination and Installation of the new Anglican Bishop of Wellington in Aotearoa New Zealand. The prayers and intercessions were breathtakingly beautiful and inclusive. There is then hope!
    Br G-M

  • I live in an institution run by a wonderful Christian group, but the prayers at meal time drive me nuts.

    O Lord, I just thank you so much for the beautiful day you have given us, and um, I thank you for the etc. etc. In your name, Amen

    Was the “Lord” Jesus or God. Must have been Jesus since we mostly pray in Jesus’ name. And do we just thank, or does that imply something else?

    What would I say if asked to lead? O God of wisdom, mercy, and love, we thank you for your presence with us in this room, etc. etc

    I’d like a sample of what you might consider a prayer without tribal vocabulary.

    • Thanks for the feedback Claralice. I just came across this good example of spiritual prayer.

      Our Mother, who are in all the earth. Holy is your truth. May your wisdom come. Your circle be one, uniting heaven and earth. Give us today a nurturing spirit. Heal through us as we ourselves are healed. Lead us into fullness of life and liberate all that is good. For the Wisdom, Presence and Goodness are Yours in power and glory now and forever. Amen
      (The Lord’s Prayer, Dominican Sisters, Great Bend, Kansas)

  • BobNaumann

    Couldn’t agree with you more. However to keep our history straight, we were not founded as a Christian nation. Most of our founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and possibly Washington (although he declined to discuss his religious convictions) were Deists, not Christians.. This is why they fought so hard to keep religion out of the affairs of State.

    • Thanks for the reminder Bob. We forget our roots too easily.