Agency, facticity, capitalism, and prayer
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
A quick definition of agency is "agency is the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment. Facticity is "something that already informs and has been taken up in existence, even if it is unnoticed or left unattended." Facticity is in essence the "givenness" or "thrownness" of existence as Heidegger would describe it. Prayer is " in the narrow sense, the term refers to an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity (a god), or a deified ancestor." As a phenomenological point it seems to me that much of life is out of our control. In fact psychologists have a term and definition for it called the "illusion of control." It is defined as "the illusion of control" and "is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events; for example, it occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence." Kierkegaard once wrote that "I shall certainly attend your party, but I must make an exception for the contingency that a roof tile happens to blow down and kill me; for in that case, I cannot attend." So much of our life involves contingency and randomness. The "givenness," "thrownness," and facticity of life dominates much of our existence. We lack agency in much of our environmental circumstances.
So what does agency and facticity have to do with prayer? Well prayer is, and I mean prayer in the colloquial sense of the term (I don't intend to debate all the different types of prayer out there for the purposes of this blog post) a type of appeal to a supreme being with more agency than I possess. When I make a prayer towards the Judeo-Christian God I am asking for help or help towards someone I care about from a God that can control more of its environment than I can. God can take responsibility for the situation. I think one of the contemporarily fallacious arguments of American society is the trope that all success is because someone needs to "take personal responsibility for their life." Someone just needs to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and "make their own way in the world." Both parties in America believe in the meritocracy to some degree and have notions of the worthy and unworthy poor. I think much of this fallacy is predicated on the "illusion of control." For people with addiction and mental health issues this fallacy is all too apparent despite outsiders looking in on these demographics phenomenological experience and ordering them to take personal responsibility. There is a reason one of the tenets of AA is that "we saw that we are powerless over alcohol."
Prayer at its best can subvert the "illusion of control," acknowledge our powerlessness over many circumstances, and ask for help in environmental circumstances that we don't control. In a way prayer is a subversive value in late stage capitalism, despite many evangelicals slavish adherence to the prosperity gospel and a capitalist value system. Well, just a quick little post on agency, facticity, capitalism, and prayer.