Saturday, December 16, 2006

Our daily bread

It’s a habit that most of us were taught as children: to say a short prayer of thanks before partaking in a meal. I have obviously given up saying grace altogether since loosing my faith, but something happened last week that got me thinking again about this simple gesture.

Often I find myself eating with groups of people – let it be family, friends or colleagues – and saying grace is often a natural activity before eating with a crowd. I’m not one to cause a public fuss over belief or tradition, so when I find myself in such a situation I politely sit by, with my eyes open, as others bow in prayer.

Such was the case a week ago, when Cori and I went out with a few friends to the local Spur Restaurant to enjoy an evening meal together. Once we had received our orders, the group bowed in prayer to offer thanks. As I sat there, with my eyes open, I suddenly found myself looking at the plate of food that had been placed in front of me. I always order a Double Hunger Buster Burger (two hamburger patties with chips) when I go to Spur, and as I sat there looking at it, waiting for the group to finish their prayer, I suddenly found myself thinking about the rationale behind saying grace.

Saying grace implies that it is God, not us, who has given us our food. But this is clearly not the case. It is only through our own effort and toil that we obtain our nourishment. The food that I was about to eat had gone through a long process to get to my table: there would have been a cattle rancher who produced the meat; a farmer who harvested the potatoes for the chips; truck drivers who transported the frozen food; a cook sweating over the grill; a waiter to bring the order to my table. If I have anyone to thank for my food, it would be these individuals who worked hard to produce it. But I also have myself to thank: it is through my effort, of working eight hours a day, that has enabled me to eat at all.

I don’t see where God fits into all of this; if he exists, what role does he play in supplying my daily bread?

Any thoughts?


David B. Ellis said...

"We paid for this stuff thanks for nuthin'"---Bart Simpson saying grace.

That pretty much sums it up.

Jason Hughes said...

I think you pretty much summed it up. I'm surprised no one has showed up to say "God created you and he created cows, ergo, god provided your Double Hunger Buster Burger!"

Incidentally, I suddenly feel hungry for red meat! LOL!

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Jason

Thanks for the comment. I guess if God created cows and created us, he would also have the power to stop world hunger. Why not create a few additional cows to feed the millions in Africa who are starving? Saying grace implies that God is the ultimate source of food. If this is the case, why hasn't he given food to those who need it the most?

This is another problem I have with saying grace.

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Anonymous said...

Kevin - Thank you for your honest thoughts about it. I have a small question and a bigger question for you - I will warn you, these are the thoughts of a Christian, but unlike many, they are also honest. You made me think; let me retun the favor:

1) If the second law of thermodynamics is right, i.e. that "in a closed system things go from order to disorer" how did (after the big bang) we go from chaos to cowboys raising cattle for burgers? Would not even evolution be bound to physical laws if the material universe is all we have?

2) Do you think it's rational to say God only exists if He answers all my questions to my satisfaction? (like - why doesn't he make more cattle to feed the hungry?) If I demanded to fully comprehend all difficulties (and there are many), then God would be no bigger than my brain and really I then would be God. Which is what many people have chosen to believe. Imagine holding science to the same standard: "There are many things science can't explain - even simple things - so I refuse to trust or even believe in science." Please consider that there may be a bigger perspective at work than ours...

Adam Richardson, Moscow

Lui said...

Adam, if I may answer your first question:

"Would not even evolution be bound to physical laws if the material universe is all we have?"

Yes, of course it would (and no one has ever said otherwise) but since the Earth isn't a closed system (due to the fact that there's a star parked next to it which beams down lots and lots of energy) the 2nd law argument doesn't hold. That evolution violates thermodynamics is merely a contemptible little fib told to you by propagandists who take you for a fool. Don't fall for it. Even a chemistry first year student can destroy this argument. It's definitely one of the least sophisticated creationist arguments put out, and like most it isn't meant to be accurate; it's only meant to sound authoritative and scientific so that people without a scientific grounding will be suckered by it.

Anonymous said...

Lui - Thank you for your comments. One more question - If energy is neither created nor destroyed - where did that star come from to beam down lots and lots of energy?

Kevin - your blog made me think. Refreshing really. I'm sorry you had a sour experience with faith; my path has been different. Though you may not believe in it, I wish you the grace of God in your journey. Feel free to say, "Thanks for nothing!" - Adam

Lui said...

Stars were formed when a mass of hydrogen and helium gas coalesced under their own gravity and drew in yet more gas, until a self-sustaining fusion reaction got under way in the centre.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Adam

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. As usual, Lui has already adequately answered the first question to why evolution doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics, so as usual I don’t have anything to add. However with regards to the Big Bang: it also bothered me sometime back to why the Big Bang – which seemed like quite a chaotic mess – would eventually result in what seems like order and complexity. Shock horror, I thought, doesn’t this violate the second law of thermodynamics? Interestingly enough, when I read up on this specific question, I discovered that this isn’t a problem at all for cosmologists.

From what I understand, the universe just after the Big Bang was extremely hot and uniform(i.e., it possessed a high degree of order). As the universe cooled gravity condensed matter into galaxies, planets, stars, cowboys and cows. In other words, the universe started out with low entropy (low disorder) and this entropy has been increasing ever since (i.e., disorder has been increasing).

I think this is analogous to boiling water in a closed container: if you remove the energy source that you’ve used to boil the water, the inside of the container will cool down (as per the second law of thermodynamics). What happens to the steam? It will slowly condense on the inside of the container into droplets. This is what is happening to our universe.

Now, I’m no cosmologist, so please check up on what I’ve said. And if there are any cosmologists lurking around my blog, please add your thoughts.

With regards to your second question: you are right – it would be illogical to say that a god does not exist because we don’t have answers to all the questions. But I wasn’t arguing this in my post. I was merely pointing out that saying grace does not make a lot sense (irrespective of whether there is a god or not).

Thanks again for your comments. I hope to hear more from you in the future (you are welcome to post on my blog at any time).

All the best

The Alpha said...

Maybe it's just me, but I think there is something subtly arrogant about saying grace. While it is a form of thanks, it is also an acknowledgement that for some reason, God chose to provide you with food when he didn't have to. What made him chose you? Why are you more worthy than others? I don't know.

David said...

I sometimes contemplate and privately thank the animals which gave their lives (though not willingly to be sure) to be my food. And of course, self-replicating molecules, DNA, Natural Selection, etc. for life, and food as we know it.

The Moose said...

What a great blog. An open and hopefully always honest look at your examination of faith.

When I pray before a meal, it is not an arrogant thanks that I got the meal and some guy in Africa didn't. In fact I am well aware of the many within miles of my house who don't have enough to eat. Instead, I take many moments throughout the day to acknowledge God and his providence for us. There is nothing I have that I can't attribute to Him according to my belief. Life itself is a gift. It is at these moments that I pause to thank Him for the life He has given me. We may purchase our food as a result of our labor. I believe that God has created us with abilities to do the labor. So for me, it is arrogant to not thank him for the ability to have food before you. It goes much further into what I believe as well. Obviously you have gathered that I believe in Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. If this was the only gift He had given us it would have been more than we deserved. Therefore, my gratitude is usually focused there. "Daily bread" is all we need in a day to survive.

So it isn't merely thanks for the pepperoni on the pizza that was just delivered. Instead, it is a moment that I am taking to thank Him for all He has done for me.

The other issues brought up here, such as why doesn't God send a few cows to famine struck areas. As someone who I am sure studied this before leaving the faith, I'm sure your well versed in why this occurs. It was never God's plan for people to starve and suffer. It is mankind's willful rejection of Him that has brought imperfection and suffering to the Earth. But that I'm sure is a discussion for another post...

Thanks for the discussion

Anonymous said...

As an atheist, I, for many years, sat politely and somewhat uncomfortably as others said grace. Sometimes just quietly hoping we could get past this part quickly, at other times in an argument with the ideas expressed through the grace: "Do you actually think God had a conscious hand in placing this specific meal before this specific group of people?", "What evidence do we have that God was responsible for all this", plus many other arguments, some of which have been expressed here or elsewhere by folks much more eloquent than I. These arguments, of course, were, partly out of fear partly out of courtesy, kept to a silent narrative within my own head.

Lately I have come to taking a moment to be thankful. Not to God or any other external agent. Just to be personally contemplative on my position in the whole cosmic shooting match. My thanks allow me to focus on my good fortune that I am in a position to be able to afford food in a world where, if had not won "the birth lottery" I may be hungry.

I believe the fact that I am where I am in society (clothed, housed, relatively wealthy, intelligent and healthy) is simply a function of one instance of chaos--nothing more, nothing less (an idea that is incredibly rich, if you think about it) and not a function of some benificent (or, for the majority of humans on the planet, not so benificent) super being.

I give thanks, in a way, as recognition of my position in the natural order of things, not as a method of supplication or recognition that I have been good and these are my just rewards from God (as in the Christian ethos).

More importantly, my pause to contemplate and reflect on my good fortune (thank you universe) allows me to consider the reality of those not so fortunate.

It is not the thanks of, "yay, I won, others lost", more simply the recognition that I am fortunate--for no explainable reason.

So, before meals I make a prayer of sorts: I pause, I reflect on how fortunate I am and contemplate how I might diffuse that fortune.

Just a thought about how siting down to eat food offers a good occasion to invoke a personal ritual of self reflecton--an essential part of the rational-humanist position

Anonymous said...

To your point:
While it is true that "by the sweat of your brow ye shall earn your daily bread" (our fault, not His) it is equally true that without a Creator (God) there can be no increase: order cannot spontaneously evolve from disorder. Food comes from living organisms (plants or animals) try making one of those yourself before you cease giving thanks to the One who provides all. Dogs don't typically thank their Master for filling their bowls but then again we aren't dogs now are we?