THE LORD’S PRAYER – AN ANALYSIS
A topic of concern to many politically active groups and individuals is the “lethargy” they perceive to be prevalent amongst non-politically active people. They wonder how it is possible to persuade people to move from inaction and lack of respond-ability to action and respond-ability to the social environment.
In the field of Feminist Theology, questions have been asked as to whether the Catholic and Anglican Churches have been responsive enough to poverty and oppression of their constituencies, and if not why have Church members not objected.
There is an argument that we are evolved for maximum respond-ability to our environment, both material and social, against which the demands of socialisation militate and thus prevent a capacity for authentic response.
Our images and our mythologies provide the psychological framework from which all our actions proceed. The psychoanalytic term, projective identification, refers to that dynamic in which, not being able to see a quality as applying to ourselves, be it good or evil, we project it onto another thus constructing either an idol or an enemy, depending upon the particular quality.
It is accepted that language use provides the ideological framework from which our beliefs and actions proceed.
Given that daily prayer is central to Anglicans and Catholics, and given that prayer incorporates both language and fantasy, it may be well worth while to examine such prayer to see what kinds of imagery and mythology is involved, and to see what kind of ideology is constructed.
It seems to me that that the language and imagery of The Lord’s Prayer has the one-who-prays project all that is strong and capable of action onto the other which is named ‘God’, constructing the one-who-prays as impotent and in need of salvation, incapable of action and incapable of imagining alternatives to the status quo.
Text of the Lords Prayer.
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
(Anglican version adds: For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen).
OUR: Why ‘our’ and not ‘your’ or ‘his’ or ‘hers’? By replacing ‘our’ with an alternative, the significance of ‘our’ is brought into relief. ‘Our’ – the collectivised ‘us’. Makes of us a group, and the idea of ‘group’ establishes the ‘non-group’ – the ‘out of the group’. Like the social construction of ‘deviance’, as soon as we articulate ‘our’, we at the same time construct the ‘not our’ . That is to say, the ‘other’, who’s ‘not of us’.
FATHER: The notion of ‘father’ is absolutely laden. Associated with father consciousness is conditional love. i.e. love as a reward for doing the ‘right’ thing, as opposed to mother consciousness which loves unconditionally. Not only reward, but its obverse – punishment. Reward and punishment constellate the notion of judgement and judgement implies a final authority. In other words ‘father’ represents the ‘damacles sword’.
WHO: This seemingly innocent word, personalises the abstract concept. It makes human what is not necessarily human. By constructing a concept as human we give the effect of solidity and finiteness. A material object which by definition DENIES the possibility that ‘father’ is a concept and socially constructed rather than the possibility that it may be of nature and therefore un-negotiable.
ART: i.e. ‘is’. For some thing TO BE has the effect of rendering material, what may not in fact BE material. A similar effect may be obtained by using ‘lives’ or ‘abides’ as in e.g. ‘Our Father who lives in heaven’. Not only have we made material what is an abstract notion, but by ‘placing’ that notion we reinforce the concretisation of it.
So far we have fantasised an ideal, we have established the ‘we’ who are the agents. We have endowed the concept with the properties of ‘father’ and we have ‘brought him to life’. He lives. He exists… but he exists ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE NOMINATED HIM TO EXIST.
Where exactly have we placed him, and what does our placement of him, tell us about us? What are the alternatives? Where could ‘he’ live? Imagine the possibilities. In our back yard? In our living room. In ourselves? In our own bodies? No, he is placed, he lives, in ‘HEAVEN’.
OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN: What better way to organise and remove from threat, our ‘object’ our ‘effect of god’ than to ‘place’ that object where it is untouchable, unexaminable, unseeable. By examining the associations we have with ‘heaven’ we see further examples of our construction. ‘Heaven’ is UP not down. ‘Heaven’ is ABOVE not under. We construct heaven as utopia. The very definition ‘heaven’ itself constructs all that is not ‘heaven’ i.e. ‘hell’, ‘earth’, ‘underground’, ‘unconscious’.
HALLOWED: Praise, accept, define, celebrate, see as good and viable…
HALLOWED BE: Not ‘we hallow’, ‘we praise’ ‘we see’, but ‘hallowed be’. Removal of the agent ‘us’, makes appear as natural that ‘our’ object ‘god’ is real and that its very reality DEMANDS that it ‘be hallowed’.
THY NAME: The materialisation of our construction.
THY KINGDOM: Construction of ‘god’ as being king and ruler – un-negotiable, all powerful. The supreme authority, and concretising the concept by ‘placing’ it in a definable ‘kingdom’, with its suggestion of vastness, boundaries, enemy, subjects.
COME: May our construction of our ideal object be realised. We assume future verification of our construction of our object.
THY WILL: That is to say, our construction of the object ‘god’ and our endowment to it of attributes and powers. In other words, ‘thy will’, is a concretisation of our hopes and fears. Our desire for god is then transmuted to ‘god’s will’, when in reality ‘god’s will’ is simply our own will, projected to our construction of our object ‘god’.
BE DONE: Removes the agent. Evoking the desire that our will, our construction of the object ‘god’ be universalised. The construction of our will as universal, reduces the probability of the ‘other’ who is not of our beliefs. i.e. reduces the ‘not us’, reduces ‘the enemy’.
ON EARTH : In reality. Our psychological reality. In our daily business. That we act out and live out our fantasy.
AS IT IS IN HEAVEN: As we have constructed it in an IDEAL sense, and removed it to an untouchable ‘place’ out of reach and scrutiny.
GIVE US: The collectivised ‘us’ which constructs the ‘not us’. ‘Give’ suggests impotence on our part. The alternative ‘allow us to find’ reduces the impotence a little. ‘We will seek’ places us as responsible. But ‘give us’ renders us impotent. We must wait to be given. We cannot find on our own behalf.
OUR: Collectivised ‘us’ which constructs the ‘not of us’.
DAILY: Not only are we NOT agents of our survival and must wait, but we must wait EVERY DAY. Daily we are impotent, daily we must concede and accept our impotence. Imagine an alternative… ‘Give us our weekly bread’. This way we would have a respite for six days at least, but no… we are impotent and we must wait to be rewarded DAILY. For what…?
OUR DAILY BREAD: Bread. Not cake, or fruit, but the very basic ‘staff of life’. That which is fundamental to survival. That is to say, we do not have a right to survival. Our survival is contingent upon our being daily rewarded by this ‘father who lives in heaven’. We do not construct ourselves as agents of our own survival. As if this is not enough. After all this, we must also be FORGIVEN.
FORGIVE US: The collectivised ‘us’ which removes the individual as agent. We are ALL to be forgiven – no exception. For what?
OUR TRESPASSES: What exactly is the nature of our ‘trespasses’? What do we understand by ‘trespass’? To move to a place which is out of bounds. By what definition is something out of bounds? By what definition do the boundaries exist and what is the nature of that which is not within the boundaries? That is to say, what is the nature of that which exists ‘out of bounds’? The word ‘boundaries’ also concretises. It has the effect of presenting a real, concrete place that we must not be out of bounds in. Imagine for example, replacing the words ‘forgive us our trespasses’, with ‘forgive us our attempts to imagine an alternative’. We may see then that the ‘out of bounds’ is not a place, but instead, the ‘out of bounds’ is OUR CAPACITY TO IMAGINE ALTERNATIVES. To be “out of bounds’ is to not pay accolade to our constructed object which is ‘god’. That is to say that to ‘trespass’, is to recognise that ‘god’ is simply a construction. A social construction of reality. In other words, TO TRESPASS IS TO NOT BELIEVE OUR OWN FANTASY.
AS WE: Collective ‘we’ which constructs the ‘not we’.
FORGIVE: With this word, we identify with the constructed object. We make ourselves in the image of our constructed object. We accord ourselves the capacity to ‘forgive’. We glorify ourselves and construct ourselves with the same right to ‘forgive’ as our constructed object.
THOSE: The collective ‘not us’, which constructs the ‘not those’, which is us.
WHO: The collective ‘not us’, concretised, personalised.
TRESPASS: Imagine alternatives. Alternatives are of the nature of trespassing. That is to say that alternatives are the enemy and not of the ‘natural’ and ‘given’ ‘territory’ which is our construction.
AGAINST: The ‘not of us’, must, by definition, be AGAINST us. Imagine for example, that the ‘not of us’ may be quite happily living in ignorance of ‘us’. By the construction of ‘those who trespass against us’ we construct an OPPOSITION, our enemy, who is CONNECTED to us in its TRESPASSING against (injuring) us.
AND LEAD US NOT: Imagine the effect of the alternative ‘we will not go’. The phrase ‘lead us not’ however, constructs us as not being capable of assuming responsibility for survival in ‘foreign’ territory. We must be protected from this possibility by the ‘father’. WE MUST BE PROTECTED FROM IMAGINING ALTERNATIVES. Reinforcement of impotence. Recalls and reinforces the constellations of ‘trespassing’.
INTO: Concretises ‘temptation’ as a place. Reinforces the notion of boundaries.
TEMPTATION: This is an interesting one. This is the first suggestion that ‘we’ may not be as impotent as we have constructed ourselves to be, but note how quickly and successfully this possibility is destroyed. ‘Temptation’ suggests firstly, the notion of AN ALTERNATIVE. Secondly, an alternative which may be DESIRABLE. That is to say, a ‘some thing’, not of our construction, which we might find to be pleasing. A ‘not of us’ which may be tempting or appealing to us. A ‘not of us’ which may demand attention from us. A suggestion of a spontaneous appearance of a possible alternative. INTO TEMPTATION locates the alternative as a ‘place’, whereas the ‘alternative’ may well be an IDEA – a conflicting concept. That is, God forbid! that the alternative is the capacity to see that the construction of ‘god’ is simply a fantasy, and nothing else.
BUT DELIVER US: That is to say, protect us and liberate us from the possibility that we may lose our fantasy.
FROM EVIL: The capacity to see through the construction is constructed as evil, as sin. That is to say, whatever does not reinforce our construction of ‘god’ must be rejected as EVIL.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. With this phrase, all that has been said above is reinforced. The psychological dynamic of projective identification ensures that ‘kingdom’, ‘power’ and ‘glory’ must needs be invested on the object of creation and not incorporated as qualities of the one-who-prays.
With the “Lord’s Prayer”, an object ‘god’ is constructed by virtue of the language alone, and to that object, qualities are attributed. Qualities of power, omniscience etc. Not only is the object ‘god’ constructed’, but also the subject ‘we’, those who believe, is constructed. Just as a guild is organised for the dual purpose of including and at the same time EXCLUDING, so is a guild of ‘believers’ constructed with the dual purpose of both including the ‘we’ and excluding the ‘not we’. The “Lord’s Prayer” has the effect of constructing a ‘god’ and of placing that construct in another object of construction which is ‘heaven’. It has the effect of constructing the ‘we’ as impotent, vulnerable and dependent, and moreover has the effect of constructing ‘us’ as potential trespassers, that is to say, capable of contemplating an alternative, but determined not to even entertain the possibility of an alternative. It is this refusal to contemplate alternatives, that is to say, our choice to REMAIN unconscious to alternatives, which at the same time constructs us as impotent and in need of our construction.
The following is an alternative prayer in which the one-who prays constructs a position of agency and personal power.
An Alternative To the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father and Mother
In whose image we imagine an ideal
And whose grace resides in us
Made in your image
Hallowed be our name
Our kingdom come
Our will be done
We affirm to act
for our daily bread
And that of others who share our world
We will not remain blind
To alternative ways of imagining our world
We will not be afraid
To consider alternatives
And to act on those alternatives
If they are in the spirit of our desires for the world
In a spirit of love for our people.
(For ours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever.)
Port Pirie, SA 5540