Thursday, July 25, 2013

The non-power of prayer

I don't like to offend anyone. It's not my nature to hurt people, and when I do hurt them I feel terrible for such a long time, probably too long, and always apologize. So I don't say this lightly: It is so painfully obvious that prayer is the largest crutch in the universe. It's one thing to believe in a deity, but to sincerely believe prayer works is beyond delusional and is a refuge for the feeble-minded.

Imagine a parent who so blindly loves her drug-addicted son that she continues to enable his habit through denial and excuses. When we witness this from the outside, it's clear as day to us that the boy is taking advantage of his mother and she is blinded by her love for him. She will do anything for him, except the right thing, which is to call him out on his lies and deceit and cut him off from her until he learns through tough love.

Now, substitute the mom with a believer and the son with a god. The believer will pray to their god, just like the mom will talk to her son and ask if everything is all right. And when the son continues to let her down by lying and doing drugs, she resorts to denial and makes excuses for her son. When the believer prays for something and it doesn't happen, they make excuses and enable their deity (God will answer my prayer eventually; God has a plan; God just said not yet, who am I to question his timeline?) and use denial if anyone challenges the effectiveness of prayer. 

And just like when you can plainly see this boy is lying to his mother and using her, why can't these believers see that prayer doesn't work, that religion is lying to them and giving them false hope? 

I've often used the phrase, "When you step outside ..." and in this case it couldn't be more poignant. When you step outside of prayer and look at it without blind, mindless faith, what you'll find is 100 percent variance that doesn't need excuses, it's just pure math. When you ask for something and it doesn't come true, it's not some deity denying you because of some master plan, it's because no one is listening. It's merely natural variance, indiscrimination, que sera sera.

I'd like to present an interesting non-biased double-blind study on prayer. It was used as an example in at least a couple of books I've studied. And this study is only one of dozens that have all had this same outcome.

A doctor and his team monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals, all of whom received coronary bypass surgery. The patients were divided into three groups. Group 1 received prayers and didn't know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers and didn't know it. Group 3 received prayers and did know it. Prayers were delivered by the congregations of three churches (Minnesota, Massachusetts and Missouri). The praying individuals were given only the first name and initial letter of the surname of each patient (presumably that's enough for an omniscient deity to locate these patients). They were told to include in their prayers the phrase "for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications."

The results, reported in the American Heart Journal (April 2006), were clear-cut. There was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not. What a surprise. 

There was, however, a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who didn't know one way or the other. I bet you have already surmised that the ones who knew they were being prayed for had a better recovery, right? Quite the opposite, actually. Those who knew they had been the beneficiaries of prayer suffered significantly more complications than those who did not. The power of prayer doesn't hold up, not even a little. And this result is not an anomaly, it's absolutely the norm, which again seems so obvious.

Religious people will be quick to dismiss this as mere coincidence, but if the results favored prayer, all religions would be quick to count this as proof of a divine power and praise god. Instead, they will continue to live in denial with wishful thinking, useless praying and can't-lose logic. 

What do I mean by that? Christians say god answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no and wait. How can you lose? If what you want happens, he said yes. If it doesn't, he said no. If it happens eventually, he must've said wait. That's can't-lose logic, a popular theme in religion, because if there's a scenario where real logic steps in then faith has no place, and religions can't afford to lose parishioners.

Let's again remove ourselves from being offended by terminology and substitute god with a sack of potatoes. Let's say you need $500 and pray to the bag of potatoes. The next day your accountant calls and says she discovered an error in your tax return and you'll be getting an additional refund of $650. The bag must have said yes! 

Or maybe six months after praying to the bag, your aunt dies and leaves you $700 in her will. That means six months ago the bag of potatoes must have said "wait."

Or, if you never received any extra money sent your way, then the bag must have said no. It's absolutely wishful thinking and infallible attributes given undeservedly to a god. 

Petitionary prayer is rendered moot with an omniscient god since that implies he'll already have taken all of the information about our needs and desires into account when deciding what to do. Remember, he has a plan, right? His benevolence implies he will act in our best interests unless there is a good reason not to (and if there is such a reason, our prayers will not remove it). Prayer, then, should never change a god’s mind; petitionary prayer should never work (and of course it doesn't, but not because there's a god with a plan).

In my research, I discovered a website called Why Doesn't God Heal Amputees? Though I think the site hammers this point ad nauseum, it's the perfect point nonetheless. Ever notice how prayers that get "answered" can ALWAYS be explained by random occurrences? Why is it that god never actually answers the impossible prayers, such as growing back a limb or curing a child of Down Syndrome? 

Let's try an experiment: If you're a believer, identify someone in your community who lost an appendage in a war or car accident; go to your priest or pastor and have him ask the Sunday congregation to go home that night and pray to your god to grow back this leg or arm for this poor individual. And I don't want to be misunderstood here: If the person is fitted for an artificial leg or arm, that is not a notch in the win column for your god. I mean a real arm or leg needs to grow back. Let's see what happens. Have them keep praying for this every day until it happens. Will all of those prayers reach this god? Will he continue to say no when so many people want this? He's omnipotent, right? Surely growing an arm is mere child's play for a god who created everything.

Of course all of this wouldn't happen because the priest would look at you like you were an idiot. And why is that? Because real miracles don't happen (I'll post something on this phenomenon in the future) and they don't want to pray for something that so obviously won't happen. Again, they can't afford to have any doubt in their followers. And the enablers will surface no doubt, saying something so reprehensible as, "God has a plan and he must want this person to be disabled for a reason." 

One final word on prayer: The pope, which is a man-made title/position and arrogantly appointed "infallible closest person to god," prays every Easter for peace, and every year peace is NEVER achieved; if anything, war escalates with each passing year. If the person closest to god can't get him to intervene then who can? Presumably he's the holiest person on earth, and his prayers fall on deaf ears every day. If god can hear prayers, and he's omnipotent and omnibenevolent, wouldn't peace on earth be something he'd like to see? 

If your answer is war is a byproduct of freewill, then why pray to god for peace? And if we have freewill, then why give us commandments? Using freewill as an argument is just another way for the believer to be an enabler to their god.

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