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Prayer: The Ultimate Hypocrisy
If you ask your average Christian, they will tell you that prayer works.
Christians, as well as any other religion that engages in the practice of petitioning their god(s) with prayer, actually believe that their god alters the physical properties of the universe to specifically accommodate their request, regardless of how their petition might affect someone else. This has been brought to example many times by the comparison of the Christian who prays for sunshine to grace their weekend outdoor plans, but the farmer next door is praying for rain because even one more day without will ensure the destruction of his crops and leave him broke for the entire winter.
The fervent belief that many Christians have regarding the effectiveness of prayer comes about only by virtue of what their holy book says, and not on actual or statistical evidence. In the bible, the character portrayed as Jesus makes a number of promises on the topic of prayer. In the book of Matthew, Jesus is given credit for stating that whatever is asked for in “His name” will be granted. He promises that if one has a level of faith compared to the tiny mustard seed, they will be able to cast mountains into the sea. Not to mention the whole healing thing. The truth of the matter is that prayers get answered in the favor of the petitioner at about the same rate as doing nothing at all. In fact, double blind studies have shown that many sick people who know they are being prayed over actually fare worse due to performance anxiety. The convenient explanation that is used when these types of prayers are not answered, even when the situation being prayed over ends up getting worse, is that their god works in mysterious ways and those ways should not be questioned. We lowly human beings are not meant to understand the higher mind of god, you see.
It’s Not Always Physics
Then there are the prayers that do not require the bending and twisting of the natural world to accommodate a need. It’s not always a request a change in the weather, the avoidance of destruction by natural disaster or the eradication of some terminal illness. Having spent over a decade as a Pastor, I can tell you with great certainty that most prayer requests are quite simplistic and usually involve a need that can be met by either helping hands or an infusion of cash. A repair to a home or a vehicle is offered up, or school clothes for the kids, etc. When these needs are met, they are perceived as granted prayers. Mind you, I would be less skeptical if these needs were met without the petitioner notifying anyone. But, the reality is that these needs are not met because of divine intervention or providence, but because the prayer requests were made known to other humans. Through the camaraderie that surrounds their common belief, fellow believers are called into action. Donations are made, people show up with hammers and plywood or a box of clothing magically appears on a doorstep.
This is not god, people. I venture to say I would be less cynical about the whole process if it were genuine altruism. But it’s not. The same results occur when Atheists band together to help our fellow humans out. The only difference is that we are not trying to impress a god, or anyone else for that matter, and by virtue of the fact that we are not acting with the expectation of a reward in heaven or to avoid some sort of divine retribution, our actions are a true definition of altruism. But I digress…
When called into action to help out their fellow believers, the faithful will happily tell you something like “the hand of god touched their heart and moved them to action.” When confronted with the fact that unbelievers are equally generous, many Christians will respond with their belief that we are agents of Satan who, of course, masquerades as an angel. It is no secret that a vast majority of Christians believe that someone who does not have Jesus “living inside them” cannot commit true acts of kindness and selflessness, and that those of us who are professed atheists are immoral, unethical, selfish, baby-eating, Satan-worshiping cretins who would not know an act of kindness if it jumped up and bit us in our infidel butts.
Time For A Reality Check
No matter how loudly or how fervently prayers are offered, the petitioners are only talking to themselves. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, sinkholes and every other natural disaster, bar none, are in no way effected by the petition of prayer because there is nobody listening. In fact, it can even be questioned whether or not the event would even be referred to as a disaster without population. A hurricane over the ocean isn't a disaster, nor is a volcano erupting on an empty island. As well, people are “healed” through medical science, the natural (evolutionary) healing abilities of the human body, our desire for self-preservation and our emotional and psychological conditions.
Christians cling to prayer because if they suddenly acknowledged the evidence that surrounds its ineffectiveness, it would force them to acknowledge all of the other inconsistencies and contradictions that pellet their faith by the shotgun of reality.
The fact remains that people still die in third world countries of diseases that can be cured with a bottle of aspirin. They still die of starvation and thirst because of a lack in the availability of food or potable water. They are still murdered every day by tyrannical despots. Ethnic cleansing is still a reality. Slavery is still a reality. Human trafficking is still a reality. Honor killings are still commonplace. Child abuse and molestation are still rampant. When unbelievers point out the obvious lack of concern by their god, the inevitable doctrine of a "fallen world" and "free will" is tramped out. This is, of course, just another example of the “higher/mysterious” excuse for the obvious absence of the divine.
If The Blind Could Only See
Blind faith is what causes an individual to ignore the sheer abundance of statistical data that prove the utter ineffectiveness of prayer, either by itself with respect to the human condition, or in toto with reference to natural disasters. There is a scientific explanation for most of the “miraculous answers” to prayers, and what cannot be explained is simply just unknown and does not mean it is supernatural. It takes a huge contortion of logic to reconcile a “loving and just god who hears and answers prayers” with the millions of faithful believers who continue to endure unimaginable suffering every single day.
It takes an astounding level of ignorance to attribute the lack of alleviation of this human suffering to an explanation as mundane and enigmatic as it being outside "his will" or not being in accordance with “his plan." The whole "free will" explanation and the effect that the "fall of man" has on our world is equally asinine, as is the belief that afflictions and suffering are somehow the fault of the victim due to their insincerity or the existence of unrepentant sin.
Yet, countless numbers of people still cling to the belief that they are talking to god and that god hears them and is working things out "for the good of those who believe." They choose to remain ignorant to the psychology that explains those "feelings" that god is communicating with them. They believe that god guides them, denying the science of natural human intuition, which our species has developed through millions of years of evolution.
The Ultimate Hypocrisy
Time spent praying may offer comfort to the faithful because they believe their efforts are effective, be it for personal reasons or for the benefit of others. The truth is that prayer is a placebo, and a dangerous one when it involves the ignorance toward science and medicine. Prayer is a perfect example of doing something for oneself and calling it helping others. It’s the ultimate form of hypocrisy. This has been proven time and time again and will not change until people realize that two hands engaged in works are far more effective than two hands clasped in prayer.
Al Stefanelli – Georgia State Director, American Atheists, Inc.