Monday, June 21, 2010

The danger of prayer

Prayer Yes, you heard me.

A big story among my Facebook friends recently was that the state legislature has designated Sunday as a day of prayer in Louisiana, hoping for divine intervention concerning the disastrous oil spill.

"Thus far efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail," state Sen. Robert Adley said in a statement released after last week's unanimous vote for the day of prayer. "It is clearly time for a miracle for us."

The resolution names Sunday as a statewide day of prayer in Louisiana and calls on people of all religions throughout the Gulf Coast "to pray for an end to this environmental emergency, sparing us all from the destruction of both culture and livelihood."

Of course, Sarah Palin had to weigh in with a tweet: "Gulf disaster needs divine intervention as man's efforts have been futile. Gulf lawmakers designate today Day of Prayer for solution/miracle."

I honestly do not understand this sort of thinking. I spent far too many years seeing dear relatives die of cancer after hearing people pray for a miracle (after treatment failure); pleas for divine intervention rather than putting our own knowledge to use, or doing further research in order to find ways to help others; and prayerful requests for finding a missing child, hoping that just this once, God will spare this one...apparently either ignoring the hundreds of others who go missing every year, or even worse, deeming them unworthy of being rescued.

Why do I say this is dangerous? Oh, I know it really doesn't hurt, and I know that many find it a comfort. I don't deny anyone that. However, I find that relying on a mystical solution to a very real and present danger does no good in finding a real time solution, and can even retard (and I use that word correctly) progress.

Years ago, I remember talking with a woman at a potluck dinner; this was the ex's church group. (Feel free to have a chuckle at imagining me at this group.) She said, "I'm glad I have God to make decisions for me, so I don't have to make them for myself!" I think I died a little inside at hearing her say that. I have never forgotten it, and I can tell you that I never want to be that way. To quote Nine Inch Nails, "I'd rather die than give you control."

religious-logic You can approach this in two different ways. If you don't believe in God, you understand that your destiny is in your own hands. It is entirely up to you to make the decisions that concern your life; the responsibility lies upon you. You learn to make decisions based on the outcome of your previous decisions. If the consequences turn out badly, you learn to make different choices. If you never learn, you are the one that will ultimately deal with the results of your own bad decisions. In my life, I have made both good and bad decisions (as have we all). I accept full responsibility for them, I own them, and I will deal with the consequences. I don't accept blame for the behavior of others, but I do accept my own response to such behavior. I'm like the Outer Limits, baby. I control the horizontal. I control the vertical.

If one does believe in God, as did the woman who was so delighted to have God making decisions for her, I have to wonder at her selfishness in wanting God's ear in order to have him be the decider. This was a comfortable suburbanite, a woman not lacking in food, shelter, health care, or any other amenities; my mind was and is blown at her arrogance in assuming that her petty little problems trump those of the mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria, or is starving to death, or is slowly but inexorably dying due to an overwhelming parasitic infection. Or for that matter, the woman right here in New York or Chicago or L.A. who is seeing her child starve, or watching them die because they don't have reliable health care. Yes, it happens right here.

I've always felt that if there is a god, he'd get pretty impatient with people praying for guidance as to whether or not they should buy that new car or stick with the old one a while longer, or praying for their team to win the Super Bowl, or praying for an answer to that age-old dilemma...Dear Lord, should I get a boob job? Guide me, Jeebus!

We have brains, people. We have reasoning, thinking minds. Personally, I believe that came about through evolution, but even if you believe in the alternative, you still have a mind and life experiences with which to make your own decisions. Use these things!

A little story for you. Got a call Sunday morning when someone couldn't find their keys. They'd looked everywhere, and they were nowhere to be found. Got another call later on, and the keys were still missing. I started walking through the steps of when I saw them last, retracing our movements and activities, and I eventually hit upon something that triggered a memory. The keys were found. The response? "Praise the Lord!"

Before you get your undies in a bundle, no, I'm not saying that I wanted or needed praise at this moment, and I am most certainly not comparing myself to any deity; I was just very happy that the keys were found. My point is that I led them to find the keys by using logic and reconstruction; there was no divine guidance involved.

Relying solely on prayer for the solution to problems is foolish and dangerous. When it comes to a disaster like the oil spill, it is even more so; there will be no "divine intervention" in this oil spill. It was caused by human failures and greed, and it will eventually be solved by human ingenuity and technical knowledge (although too late to save so much of the region's wildlife, ecosystem, and the residents' livelihoods). The Louisiana legislature's declaration of a statewide day of prayer is not only unconstitutional (they "urged" people to pray, which they cannot do according to our Constitution), it is a futile effort and distraction from the task at hand. Palin's endorsement of the prayer and belief that it is the only possible solution to this clusterfuck is utterly absurd.

Take control. Be responsible for your weaknesses and your strengths. OWN your life and know that you have the ability to control how you respond to personal disasters. Realize that disasters are either caused by natural phenomena or by our own negligence; tornadoes, hurricanes, et al, are not divine retribution for sin, they are caused by weather patterns, and in the case of this oil spill, by ignoring regulations and warning signs. Illnesses are sometimes random, sometimes caused by our own behavior. Stop blaming random shit on whatever god you worship and stop expecting that he will intervene on your behalf.

Believe in yourself.

And watch this video, a response from a Gulf resident, to the "drill, baby, drill" mentality. My reaction was a mixture of grief and rage.


  1. you are so spot on about how the owning 'it' has to be on us.



  2. 'God is dead... and no one cares... if there is a hell... I will see you there' -Hersey, NIN

    The danger in relying on God is that it allows for responsiblity to be shrugged off. When those BP dollars start to flow and people being to make a new life for themselves, I wonder how much that their faith will be responsible for then?

    'The opiate of the masses', to paraphase Nietzsche. And like most drugs, one of the effects of religion is a surpression of vital functions of the human body, like objective and rational thought.

    Honestly, I don't have a problem with people ascribing to deism a power over the things that they don't see and that science and psychology can't give a concrete answer for. I happen to think like we are to fish or to a species somewhere in the jungle, it is posible for another higher 'reality' to exist in a dimesion outside of ours.

    But even in that example, the realities occur simeoutaneously without there being a conscious awareness, where the two (or more) realities have any knowledge of each other.

    Not only does 'no one care' if there is a God, I don't think that HE really cares much about us. Explains a lot of the suffering that he allows to go on in this life. Again, along with not getting an good enough explination for why biblical actors did not resemble who I thought the characters in the Bible should look like, God's indifference towards us and his son; his anger and his petulance, made me as a child, decide to find something else to believe.

    I think real hopelessness begins with the faithful. They want to have the reality of their imagination so they indulge in dangerous 'magical thinking' that leads to things like changing textbooks to suit the needs of those who cannot concieve of why the world moved on certain principles and the principles that they believe in don't work which is why they failed in the first place.

    Praying is giving up if it is done without a corresponding action to make something else happen. Faith is an action that says to me, 'I have done something and anticipate a result from my action.' Now, if one so choose, they can pray.

    I guess prayer gives you something to do while science and others who believe that their choices and the consequence of their decisions will have more of an effect on the Gulf and the world in general, go about their work. After all, if you aren't part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Getting out of the way is a good compromise, and if prayer gets it done, then pray away.

    Whew.! Haven't unloaded on the 'religilous' like that in quite a while! But 'Ulysees' invokes Gods in his speech... but it is for his choices and his actions that he asks for consideration.

  3. There is divine intervention, but it isn't the kind of divinity the churches know anything about evidently. When I can't find something I simply stop and say "Please show me where it is" and I find it. It also happens with decisions, but it usally takes longer the more inportant the decision. God does not hate fags or abortion doctors, send hurricanes or oil drill explosions. God does not answer one person's prayers and not another's. It's the false idea of a whimsical, unpredictable god that's the problem. Divinity resides safely in the human intelligence as you pointed out. And that's where the prayer should be directed amd should have been directed before the oil rig went to work.


  4. When I first saw this "day of prayer", I was incredulous. Glad you made an entry on it :o)

  5. I like DB's comment, too. Reminds me of something I heard, "Prayer does not change the world; prayer changes people and people change the world. Let us pray." If there's a god, if there's a miracle, then it is the miraculous working of the human brain--miraculous both in its capabilities and in its tenacious inabilities and disabilities. Still, I don't consider brains or tulips or pearls to be created miracles; I consider them to be evolved and miraculously beautiful.

    As to the suffering of sensate creatures, I recommend Bart Ehrman's God's Problem.

  6. Prayers are for the lazy and unimaginative.

  7. If you live it the way God taught it, you have more responsibility AND more freedom at the same time than you can imagine. Your own feelings toward God and prayer scare/sadden me much more than legislators trying to solve a crisis made by greed and corruption through prayer.

  8. I have nothing against prayer per se, but the truly spiritual people I know believe in active prayer. I find that a concept much easier to understand.

    Very well written piece. ~Mary

  9. Compelling piece Beth, and an equally moving video. We do need to believe in ourselves and each other. We also need to make action more of our lives than fantasy.


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