The Purpose of Prayer Before-the-Fact
What do I mean by prayer? Prayer is asking a before-the-fact favour from some sort of supernatural deity. That favour (not yet granted) may not of necessity be a selfish wish or even something for yourself, but perhaps praying for good things for someone else (like a miraculous recovery from their terminal cancer) or for humanity as a whole like a chicken in every pot. You pray for Him to change His mind for results which you want (and presumably you think He does too). Before-the-fact prayer shows up in the win or loss column, there is, or is not a miraculous recovery from someone’s terminal cancer; there is or is not a chicken in every pot. But it is all an exercise in futility, IMHO. For example, I’m sure nearly all passengers and crew prayed for deliverance that night to remember, the night the RMS Titanic sank. Prayer didn’t alter the score. Losers outnumbered winners, so did God play favourites? The all-powerful Almighty could have saved them all, so maybe God just didn’t give a damn, full stop.
The Purpose of Prayer After-the-Fact
There’s also that prayer of thanks or gratitude that’s after-the-fact for a meal, services, good weather, a safe journey, finding your missing keys, surviving the Titanic disaster, etc. but these prayers don’t show up in the win or loss column.
Prayer and Your Time, Effort & Energy
Quite apart from your own time, effort and energy spent in the act of praying, think of all those trillions of man-hours (sorry, person-hours) wasted over the millennia by those (the great washed and unwashed) in pursuit of an illusion – that praying brought results. Do you really think either your personal world, or collectively our world today is a better place for all that time, effort and energy? No? Then I say again – what a waste. Further, no scholarly studies ever done on the beneficial results of praying have ever shown that praying works. Any time-and-motion, cost-benefit analysis of prayer would have to give those who practice it, and any management (i.e. – religious institutions) who endorses it, the Big Thumbs Down.
Prayer and Your Dreamtime
If in your dreams, you pray, would that count towards extra brownie points with God, assuming of course that praying actually yields brownie points in the first place?
Prayer and Your Pain or Gain Personal Satisfaction
Prayer is an ultra cheap way of feeling all warm and fuzzy in that you’ve done your bit to make the world a better place. No blood, sweat and tears; no pain and all gain, no hard yards to tackle. On the other hand, you could get your praying palms dirty and do some real charity or other volunteer work if you really want that warm and fuzzy inner glow.
Prayer and Statistical Results Personal
Does prayer work? If you pray, do you get proof-positive results? I doubt it. In fact I’d go so far as to say there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell – not that there really is a Hell of course. The proof of the pudding is of course, if prayer really worked, there would be miracles in that we’d all be lotto winners or at least pretty rich and famous! We’d be total successes in our employment, and in our relationships, we’d all have perfect partners and perfect children (that’ll be the day). And our automobiles wouldn’t break down! Further, the Sun would shine down on us every day of our lives; no clouds, no rain, no snow to shovel, not too hot, not too cold, just day after day in paradise. If prayer does seem to work at times on a personal level, it’s probably more a case of mind-over-matter, the power of positive thinking, and akin to the placebo pill in medicine. Every now and again, the improbable happens. Just because you prayed for an improbable event doesn’t mean the prayer worked, and therefore that there’s a God who answered it. If you pray for X, and X happens, might not X have happened anyway? Damn straight!
Prayer and Statistical Results Generic
Even if we all just prayed for good things in general, not selfish or personal things in particular, and if our benevolent prayers really worked, then you would expect that there would be no disease or suffering or criminals or warfare, etc. We’d all live in a utopian Shangri-La. But we don’t! I mean, come every Christmas and Easter, the religious elite, like the pope, publicly pray for peace on earth and goodwill towards men (and women too) among other good things. That’s noble of them. But, come next Christmas and Easter, the religious bigwigs have to do it all over again! God ignores the pope and associated kissing cousins! Now if the pope, and kin, can’t get positive results, what hope for the great unwashed? It all seems to be an exercise in total futility to me. Since a result such as universal peace in the world (as one of many possible examples), hasn’t happened; that’s obviously not the case – just read your daily newspaper headlines, then either God doesn’t exist, or He doesn’t answer prayers. If the latter, then God doesn’t give a right royal stuff about us, so why should we give a tinker’s damn about Him (being traditional and assuming the masculine)? If we don’t give a damn in return, then the Almighty’s existence, or lack of existence, is basically irrelevant.
Prayer and the Godly vs. the Ungodly
Extreme Right Wing Christian Fundamentalists are extremely fond to be in-your-face with an ‘I told you so’ every time there is an Act of God (God’s wrath) that impacts life, limb and property. From oil spills to tornadoes to earthquakes to hurricanes, the bigger and more destructive the better, because they are all signs that point to the ‘fact’ that God’s coming and boy is He pissed! Though giving no supporting evidence, such communities on the receiving end obviously (like Sodom and Gomorrah) are ultra decadent, irreligious, practice witchcraft and other pagan rituals, have a high proportion of sinners in their midst, a high rate of abortions, allow same sex marriages, and all the sorts of things to inspire God’s wrath. Since such people are clearly lost causes, there’s no point in praying for them, or for them praying for themselves.
Atheists especially are a lost cause – they’d never be caught out praying for themselves or anything else for fairly obvious reasons. Now the question is, are atheists, gays, those who have had abortions, devil worshipers, and sinners in general plus other irreligious basket cases more likely than Christian Fundamentalists to go bankrupt, suffer tooth decay, have a shorter lifespan, have more automobile breakdowns, be more prone to lose their house keys, have horrendous golf outings, be hit by lightning, or have bad things happen to them in general? I very much doubt it. There’s not going to be much statistically different between the populations of the super ultra religious right and the super ultra irreligious left, excepting the former tend to have achieved on average significantly lower educational levels.
Prayer and Causality
In any event there is no cause and effect link between prayer and results. If I pray tonight that the Sun will rise in the morning and it does so, shall I therefore conclude my prayer was answered and therefore if I hadn’t of prayed the Sun would not have risen? Well maybe someone else prayed for sunrise and God answered them instead. But if you pray to win lotto and you do so, can you therefore conclude that God wanted you to be rich and famous since it’s unlikely that anyone else prayed for your good fortune? Any link between prayer and results can be summed up with the phrase “shit happens”, even good shit happens, but we’re not talking about God’s shit.
Bad “shit happens” too of course. Take the recent Hurricane Sandy, the perfect storm, the super-storm, the Frankenstorm, the mother of all storms, whatever. I’ve no doubt millions of people that were in harms way and were hard hit by Sandy prayed big time for that not to happen. Sorry, God had His headphones on and didn’t hear you, or He didn’t give a damn. But you really can’t win against the faithful who will always counter that argument that God doesn’t exist to hear your prayers or that God didn’t care by saying that if they hadn’t of prayed Hurricane Sandy would have been much worse. And those who prayed and survived will of course thank God instead of the luck of the draw.
Prayer and Sports
Speaking of another common usage of prayer, you’ll get fans and players alike on both sides of a sporting contest praying to God for the Big Win (and the megabucks that often is associated with being king of the hill). What absolute nonsense. What sheer stupidity. The phrase “God’s on our side” is rubbish. Not even the Almighty (as a theoretical concept) can give victory to both sides simultaneously. God, assuming a God, doesn’t give a damn about your insignificant event – He’s neutral, so why bother praying? Leave God out of it. God is irrelevant to you insignificant little contest.
Here’s a thought experiment. Take a city with two professional baseball teams, like say Chicago. If all the people in Chicago, even in the entire United States or the entire world for that matter, prayed for say the National League team, The Cubs, to win every game, and none prayed for, or actively prayed against the American League team, The White Sox, would the National League team have a perfect winning record and the American League team a perfect losing record at season’s end? Or, would raw talent, training, practice, expert coaching, a clued up manager, and pure luck (that’s the way the ball bounces) have something to say on the matter of final outcomes? What do you think?
Even without prayer, God’s missed a golden opportunity here. God could easily, assuming a God of course, do this scenario. He could ‘make it so’. There would be no serious moral or ethical consequences to life and limb and the national economy and social structure. It’s only a game. So if The Cubs have a seasonal outcome of 162 – 0; and The White Sox a seasonal outcome of 0 – 162, that would be so statistically improbable that it would just about prove the existence of the supernatural and therefore a supernatural figurehead – the Almighty.
Prayer and Conflict
When it comes to all out conflict, that is to say war, even civil war, every country, every part of their defence force, every soldier, intones that ‘God’s on our side’. Whether it’s a local sports event between teams or individuals, or a global conflict between nations, there can be only one winner, and therefore, the Almighty can’t be on everyone’s side. To claim otherwise is to act in the logically equivalent way of pissing into the wind.
Prayer and the Laws of Physics
Given the relatively low electromagnetic energy output of your brain that’s required to pray, and the inverse square law of physics (doubling the distance results in just one quarter the strength), your message to God would quickly become indistinguishable from the ever-present background electromagnetic noise, both artificial like radio/TV waves o the natural background ‘hiss’ of the entire universe (known as the cosmic microwave background radiation). God can’t ‘hear’ you. Further, prayer can only propagate outwards at the speed of light maximum, so if God is having some R&R out around the Centauri system, it will be four years plus before He gets your message, which doesn’t do you much good if you’re sinking in quicksand. As for vocal prayers, well they won’t get beyond Earth’s atmosphere. In space, no one can hear you pray. So by all means wish upon a star, but consign God to the rubbish bin.
Prayer and God’s Comprehension Abilities
Another absurdity about prayer if you think about it, consider this analogy. Could you listen to and comprehend thousands upon thousands of individuals all yakking to you at once, all on differing subjects, and speaking in many different tongues? No? Then what makes you think even God could manage it, or any deity for that matter?
Prayer and the Power of Positive Posture
Chances are, when you hear the words “let us pray” you go into prayer posture mode – palms held together, fingers pointing skyward, down on your knees, head bowed, etc. Of what possible relevance could adopting this that or another posture make? If your prayer is worthy of God’s attention, then it doesn’t make any difference if you’re standing on your head or hopping up and down on one leg or doing push-ups or chin-ups for that matter. It’s the thought that counts, not the posture you adopt while think those thoughts.
Taking note of positive posture, banging your head against or humping the Wailing Wall (I’m not quite sure what anatomical action is going on here, perhaps it’s a unique form of Jewish fitness exercises or perhaps the participants have been out in the noonday sun too long), looks plain ridiculous, though that’s not hardly unique – looking ridiculous that is. Take Islam for example…
Prayer and the Power of Proper Geographical Orientation
In certain religious cultures, like Islam, not only must you adopt a just-so posture (and doesn’t it look ridiculous too all that bowing and scraping to nobody in sight), but you’ve got to position that posture with respect to your geography. If you’re 179 degrees east of Mecca, and you have to face Mecca (that too is ridiculous for Allah doesn’t live there anymore), do you face towards the west, or look straight down, since Mecca is for all practical purposes under your feet down through and including the centre of the Earth? And if you’re 180 degrees opposite, does it matter if you look due east or due west (or again straight down)? Even if a devote Muslim were but 100 miles from Mecca and faced in that general direction, that is towards the horizon in that general direction presumably, that line of sight, because of the curvature of the Earth, would pass way over the top of that alleged Holy City.
If geography is important, I can only assume that praying in church (or on some other so-called sacred or holy site) is more effective than outside the boundary of such a zone. But such a concept strikes me as being irrational – but who said religion was rational?
What does a deity care about geography anyway? Presumably He’s somewhere up there. Again, it’s the thought that counts, not your position with respect to some manmade structure. But who says that logic has anything to do with religion – it doesn’t. Logic is not religion’s strongest point, rather it’s weakest.
Prayer and the Big Picture
As noted above, if prayer actually worked we’d have no poverty, world peace would be the norm, and all would be perfectly fit and well and live happy ever after. The Big News headline of the day would be something like “Jane took her dogs out for a walk in the park”. So praying for anything is quite an outdated concept. Just look at the state of the world around you. Prayer doesn’t work on any sort of statistically meaningful level. Further, as in the case of supposed miracles (see below), prayer validation is also a highly selective bookkeeping exercise by religious institutions in that a hit is documented and displayed for the entire world to see; a miss is never mentioned or discussed.
Prayer and Miracles
If you pray for X, and X happens, it matters of course about the probability of X happening anyway. So praying for the Sun to rise in the morning isn’t in the same league as praying for the Chicago Cubs to win all 162 regular season games. Now the question arises, has there ever been one absolutely ironclad documented case of someone(s) praying for something(s) that are so absolutely unlikely to come to pass that it has to be defined as a supernatural miracle when it in fact did come to pass. Has such an event ever happened such as to convince a panel of say Nobel Prize winning recipients, or a panel of Supreme Court judges that a miracle by prayer has happened and therefore both the supernatural and the power of positive prayer exists and has been established beyond all doubt? If so, I haven’t read about it. And it’s no use saying that this or that religious has voted in the affirmative for such events since they have a vested interest in being bias in the affirmative. Based on any judgment by any neutral panel of umpires, miracles by prayer have not, repeat not, had their bona fides ever verified.
Prayer and the End Times
God’s coming! God’s coming!! God’s coming and boy is She ever pissed!!! You hear that every day in just about every possible way from those Right Wing televangelists, the Westboro Baptist Church, and those hellfire and brimstone Christian Fundamentalists who have convinced millions of sheep (their flock) to pray for the Second Coming and the End of Days, the End Times of the Book of Revelation and the sooner the better. Alas, the world has been hearing that message for 2000 years now without results. Talk about crying wolf – the sky is falling; the sky is falling! Okay, so where is the Almighty already – She who must be obeyed? With every passing day that goes by without a no-show, the raw egg on the mugs of the evangelists, etc. just keeps on getting smelly and smellier as it gets more and more rotten. Of course the reason for the no-show is that not only doesn’t prayer work, it has nothing to work with. God doesn’t exist and the sooner the sheep see through the bovine fertilizer, the flock can just get on with their real lives.
Prayer and Psychology
Despite all of the above, maybe prayer gives you that warm inner glow and thus is maybe psychological beneficial to you; peace of mind and all. If so, that’s where the benefits begins and ends
Prayer and Concluding Statements
Belief in the power of prayer won’t go away because on average more good (or at least neutral) things happen than bad things. One can say that’s because of the billions who pay for good (or at least neutral) things and if those billions didn’t then there would be more bad things than good things happen in the world.
However, IMHO, if no one had uttered a single prayer over the past several millennia, would the world as you know it be ultimately any different? I’d bet the family farm the answer would be in the negative. Prayer or no prayer; it’s the same old world.
I contend that the proportion of good (or neutral) vs. bad is 100% independent of prayer. There’s no statistical evidence to the contrary. Therefore, the power of positive prayer, pray tell, is 100% absolutely and totally irrelevant.