Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The danger of prayer revisited

Atheist cat A follow-up to yesterday's entry, addressing a couple of comments.

First of all, thanks to all of you who left thoughtful comments and understand where I'm coming from about this topic. For anyone who found my remarks disagreeable, I am not against prayer, by any means. Hey, knock yourself out. My point is that it doesn't work. Show me proof that it works. Show me an amputee that grows a new leg because of prayer. Then we'll talk.

My goal is not to get anyone to stop praying if that brings you comfort; I know many people that feel that way, and I would never take that away from them. But I would love it if my words made someone stop and think—critically think—about their actions and the results. Think about the inconsistencies in your god answering some prayers but ignoring others. Ask yourself how much sense it makes to believe that a "merciful" god would let one child be saved while another dies.

I had an exchange with someone who said that I was an idiot and that I didn't know what I was writing about. Gee, really? I write something that is my opinion, based on my experiences, and is something that I've pondered for decades, eventually coming to the philosophy that I hold today (a constantly evolving philosophy, by the way), and I don't know what I'm talking about? I would think that I would know, since I was there as I had all these experiences, I was there as family members prayed futilely for a miracle, I was there doing the work as I saw patients succumb to overwhelming infections, I was there as I watched as thousands of soldiers were killed and wounded and brain damaged in wars. I'm willing to bet that those people all had loved ones praying for them. What sort of psychotic god allows one person to live and another to have half of his head blown off? What god deems some worthy and others unworthy? If I sound angry, I am. Don't tell me about the power of prayer.

The only thing that prayer works for is your own comfort. I won't take that away from anyone who needs it. But for actually making a difference, actually resulting in a miracle...like I said: show me that regenerated limb, and then we'll talk.

Another comment (and I am not picking on this person or intending any sort of ridicule...they have the right to their opinion, but I also have the right to refute it) stated that my attitudes expressed here are more scary and saddening than any legislator trying to solve problems through prayer. What exactly is so scary about it? My encouraging everyone to think for themselves, rather than succumb to blind faith and dogma? I suppose that would be kind of scary, especially for women like I wrote about yesterday, who was so happy to have her god making decisions for her so she wouldn't have to make them on her own. That is what I find pathetic, that anyone would willingly give up control of their own destiny and the ability to make their own path through life based upon their decisions, their abilities, their strength, and their fortitude. Freedom in religion? The only real freedom I ever felt in religion is when I got away from it. There is no freedom in dogma, there is no freedom in indoctrination, there is no freedom in being subjected to archaic laws that discriminate and subjugate women and so many others.

You know what scares me? Politicians and others who would force their religion on everyone else. I've written about this several times before, but it bears repeating. Our government cannot constitutionally mandate or promote any religion. Just because you believe that your religion is the "correct" one doesn't make it so, and doesn't mean that the government is under any obligation to force your religion upon others; quite the opposite. If you feel the need to condemn me because I don't subscribe to your particular brand, I have to wonder at your willingness to judge. I have the right to tell you exactly why I disagree with you. I also have the right to demand that my legislators actually DO something to solve a problem rather than declaring some ridiculous day of prayer. I don't want to hear about pleas to their god, I want to see active work on solving the problem, I want to see ideas, I want to see results. Get off your knees and do something!

If anyone feels the need to pray for me, don't waste your time. Instead of my salvation, I'd much rather you thought about all the misery and woe that is happening in our world, and then realize that praying isn't doing one goddamn bit of good. Maybe then you'll take a few moments and consider contributing to organizations like Nothing But Nets, Malaria No More, Doctors Without Borders, or the Gates Foundation. Malaria killed 863,000 people worldwide in 2008, 91% of them in Africa; 1 in 5 of those deaths was in children. It costs ten dollars to buy an insecticide-treated malaria net for a family, and that ten dollars will save lives. The Gates Foundation is run by Bill and Melinda Gates. You might have heard of Bill...among other things, he's an atheist who has given millions in efforts to help alleviate suffering worldwide. One of the Gates Foundation's biggest donors is Warren Buffett, another atheist.

I would say that in about 15 years of existence, the Gates Foundation, funded primarily by two godless heathens, has saved more people—and has signed on to keep developing and funding ways in which to help people in the future—than prayer has in centuries. They don’t pray. They DO. Actions speak louder than words.

This seems like an appropriate time for a classic Devo song: "Praying Hands."

You got your left hand
You got your right hand
The left hand's diddling
While the right hand goes to work
You got both hands
You got praying hands
They pray for no man
(roll over, play dead, get spiritual-minded)
Okay, relax
And assume the position
Go into doggie submission
Wash your hands three times a day
Always do what your mom and dad say
Brush your teeth in the following way
Wash your hands three times a day


  1. a constantly evolving philosophy, by the way

    Ditto. There was a word that I was searching for the other day... charlatanism. And that is what religion is. That is why there are so many offshoots that interpret small matters differently and allow them to grow to huge spritual and dogmatic differences.

    Oh, and make it right to harm other beings and defile the environment. But it is the 'witch doctor' aspect of the faithful that evolved later on, that made me turn away from organized religion.

    How can you commit so much to a concept as vague and unreliably observed as the Bible? As archaic as the Tora? Or as inflexible as the Koran?? The thing about the adjectives used to describe those books is that they are interchangable and they all lend themselves to obsolescence.

    Witch doctor. I am in an 'objectivist' frame of mind and I think that there is a weakness in large groups of men that other men seize upon and in doing so, they obtain a power that makes them 'feel' as though they are more than mortal.

    As civilizaton has become sophisticated (sophistry... not by conicidence!!), those who cannot needed to find a way to tilt power away from those who can. Playing on faith is the lever on which you can move the passions of men without their engaging their intellect.

    It explains what men don't want to understand... not that they can't. They would rather let some notion of what a cat who was prolly hungry and getting stoned thought up one day in the hot sun speak for their own intellect.

    Praying and its power is more like do to the meditative nature of prayer, not some mysticism. Jus' sayin'...

  2. Beth, I agree with absolutely everything you've said in this post and the last, but I cannot go along with Devo...not because of their sentiments or their theology, but because of their music! And the hats. How come you never see really, really skilled musicians wearing silly hats? Of course, priests and religious factotums have worn some of the silliest hats in history. Whip It: "Crack that whip. Give the past a slip."

  3. What I love about you is your ability to put into words what I'm thinking. If you want to pray, then pray. Just don't be delusional and think "God" is going to hear you and answer your prayers. Like you said, what kind of a psychotic God allows one person to live and another to die? What God would allow the Holocaust to happen or the daily starvation of children all over the world? It's beyond crazy.

    That kitty pic? It's to die for. And, now I've got one of my all-time favorite songs in my head: Girl U Want!!!

  4. Don't forget that the Templeton Foundation, an organization that tries to fuse religion into science, had a study a year or so ago on the efficacy of prayer. They tried to determine the effect on heart patients with and without prayer (you can check it out online if anyone is interested, it's easy to find).

    Even though they have this agenda of trying to validate religious beliefs through science, their experiment showed that prayer had no effect (and, actually, even had worse effects than not praying, though it wasn't statistically significant).

    Prayer is both a completely useless waste of time and just another manifestation of that dangerous magical thinking. Many of it's practitioners are only using it to tell you what they're thinking (as in Bachmann Palin Overdose). And if there was a God, as described in the OT and NT, unless you're sending him your psychic thoughts on how awesome he is, he really couldn't give a shit about anything you want.

  5. i lost a "friend"on facebook because i had used OMG in a comment on someones post,and she saw it.said she couldnt be friends with someone who took gods name in vain.good riddance.i was a bit naughty in copying and pasting her message perhaps.lol.tc love mort xx

  6. Some people are just kind of dumb -- and so they let dogma and fables do the thinking for them. I hope you deleted all their moronic comments. I would have.

  7. Some very smart people believe in prayer.
    Some very smart people don't believe in prayer.
    You wrote about what YOU believe & it is(last time I checked) YOUR blog.

    I have never read a blog I always agree with. I think that would become boring after a short while. But you never present anything in a rude or abusive manner.

  8. So hoping we can get around to more action and less hoping, wishing, praying.

  9. Terrific follow up Beth.

    I'd say this to your detractors. Looking for the signs of change you want from a deity(or deities) while others languish in pain, is blind delusion. Letting others hurt, while you wait for a deity(or deities) to change things isn't faith, it is recklessness. Waiting for a deity(or deities) to give you answers to a problem while your inaction causes suffering is cruelty. Wake up. Educate. Help others.


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