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May 28 2010

Why prayer is nonsense – part 4

3 – But everyone knows prayer works!

This is part 4 in a series of posts on prayer. Please use the links at the top and bottom of each post to navigate through the parts. The master post is here.

even if it IS useless, what’s the harm?

Despite the evidence that most types of prayer do absolutely nothing, there are still large sections of society that employ and thus validate prayer as a worthwhile action, especially in times of desperation. Some employ it while in direct danger or out of utter helplessness, some employ it for shallow political purposes, and some genuinely believe that doing so intensely enough or in large enough quantities will actually convince their omniscient, all-powerful deity to change his course. As I’ve discussed earlier, the various qualities you apply to your deity, specifically, will flavour how you go about praying and under what circumstances. But what doesn’t appear to vary at all, is how people perceive this so-called “harmless” act. This section of my series on prayer will demonstrate that the baseline for the potential harm of prayer is anywhere on the scale but “wholly harmless”. Prayer is capable of real and tangible harm, as long as you understand that it’s not the praying itself that directly causes this harm.

This harm, entirely wrought on society at the hands of people praying, is manifold, and can be broken down into a number of categories.

waste of time and resources
In politics, the politicians involved are, of course, only human. Some might debate me on that point, but they’re certainly no MORE than human at least. In a population riddled with belief, it’s no surprise that many politicians will either be faithful themselves, or will be forced to lie about their lack of belief for fear of alienating themselves with their constituency. And they do so like to one-up one another on expressing their faith. Here in Canada, the mode is with showy prayer breakfasts — on a local level (smaller towns like Aurora and Richmond Hill, BC and larger ones like Calgary, Alberta), on a provincial level (e.g. my home province, Nova Scotia), and even on a national level. The more a politician thinks they have to gain from showing how faithful they are, the more likely they are to bring up in public how supportive they have been of the initiatives, and to play up their importance for the future of the country.

When people pray (or even meditate) rather than acting, they are wasting their own time and resources. When these same people encourage others to pray — by calling for prayer for certain parties or causes in their congregations, for instance — they are encouraging others to waste their time and resources. Those that pray regularly and for just about any topic, e.g. to relieve the suffering incurred by a hurricane or earthquake, to cure the sick or dying in your local hospitals, or to preemptively pray for the safety and security of loved ones, must de facto assume their deity is not omniscient and is willing to change his plans. They are also imbuing themselves with a false sense of having accomplished something positive with regard to these situations, which is rather galling when there’s often some direct and readily accessible method of rendering more tangible assistance. Usually it involves money, but it can also involve volunteering. When people in positions of great power (e.g. politicians) engage in it, the waste of resources and time is logarithmically greater.

I don’t suggest one’s time must be spent ENTIRELY on “useful” activities. However, in the cases of hobbies, one does not get the false sense that one has done something beneficial for, say, the starving and injured children in Haiti while one is doing needlepoint pictures of kittens. Selling those needlepoints and giving the money to Doctors Without Borders, on the other hand, would manifestly help. Praying for them will empirically not help one whit.

the failure of faith “healing”
In some specific cases, the method of rendering assistance for the unfortunate, could involve taking direct actions that could be misconstrued by a jealous deity as a lack of faith in his divine plan. When the core tenets of your chosen religion include the power of prayer to heal, parents have been known to make some mind-boggling errors in judgment with regard to their children’s health care. It’s staggeringly more common than one might think — while it’s very tempting to assume that the most galling instances are one-offs, they are practically endemic if you have a memory tuned to remember such affronts to reason for longer than a month or so. Here’s a short list of recent events from the first page of “faith healing death” search results on Google, all of which happened within the last two years:

I’m sure there are more, and more galling, instances I could point to, even within the two-year timeframe those first-page search results happened to fall within. It’s easy to look at these cases and say, “but what’s the harm in praying for someone while also getting them the medical care they need?” That mode of thinking is fine in theory, but in practice, it leads directly to fundamentalist splinter sects like the Church of the First Born and the Followers of Christ, who think the important part of that two-pronged approach is not the medical care, but the prayer, because their faith in their deity is just that large. We know, painfully, what damage that can wreak.

ask for divine guidance, get a clock stuck at 9:45
And then there are those much-less-rare instances where someone lacks sufficient information to make a proper decision. In those instances, religious folks often turn to prayers for guidance. This in itself is not a problem, unless you consider the mindset behind it.

Human beings are exceptionally talented at taking limited amounts of input and applying our mental filters to determine the best courses of action, but they are not good at first determining the validity of that input. When you pray to a supposedly almighty deity that can evidently send signs in the form of books (especially holy books) that open to a specific page, or flower arrangements that are apparently just-so, or birds alighting on your porch, your filters for what counts as valid input are severely compromised. A person in such a position will take actions and make decisions that, by all other accounts, are purely random.

The fact is, we as human beings can read “signs” into every random event when we allow for the possibility of a deity driving these random events. Very stupid decisions can be made thanks to misinterpretations of such celestial signs. This is probably evolutionary, to short-circuit self-doubt and encourage action over inaction. Good in theory when inaction gets you eaten whereas action increases your chances of survival by a slim margin. Bad when you’ve compromised rationality with a framework that allows your every prayer for guidance to make you take seemingly random actions for reasons only you (and your presupposed-to-exist deity) would understand.

Our lives are filled with so many seemingly random events — “seemingly” in the sense that they are the result of cause and effect in a manner that seems arbitrary and random to limited beings like ourselves — that it’s impossible to classify what’s a “message from the deity” and what isn’t, even assuming the existence of such a deity. Just because you’re praying to your deity on whether you should move elsewhere in the country, and you notice your clock is stuck at 9:45 (and has been since the last time it was 9:45, apparently), doesn’t mean that your deity set the clock hands to point west in some divine intervention. Especially not if you prayed any time after 9:45. Or if you had noticed the clock and assumed it was a sign. Or if you were actually planning on moving east, not west.

Any deity that would answer such a prayer must not be capable of providing unambiguous directions — it would be just as easy for that deity to provide a sign by rearranging all the words on your newspaper to provide explicit directions to where to move, as it would for this deity to stop your clock arbitrarily and hope that you happen to notice right after you pray. So, the wholly random input provided by praying for guidance is gibberish that we as human beings can go to great intellectual lengths to use to justify our decisions. If you’re using prayer as a way of getting random input for your mental logic-machines, then you might as well rely on flipping a coin for every important decision in your life. And we know what happened to THIS evil deity when he took up that particular habit.

praying directly for harm to be done
On the flip side of accompanying prayer with random action, when you look at the cases of imprecatory prayer, you will often see hate-filled rhetoric not directly accompanied by action, and we are all probably be the better for that absence. Witness this video.

The fact is, this pastor won’t directly cause Obama’s death by praying for it. If anything, he’s striking matches hoping there’s a powderkeg nearby — in this case, powderkeg being a euphemism for “someone that gets it in their head they’re an avatar of God”. If someone from his congregation were to attempt to assassinate the American President over his stance on abortion (despite the video’s sermon being riddled with inaccuracies, as with every argument about abortion ever), the blame can rightly be put on the assassin’s shoulders of course. However, at least some of the blame must be shouldered by the man that put those evil and incorrect ideas in his head.

That’s the real danger with imprecatory prayer — take a large number of people who believe in prayer, use your influence with them to teach them that your shared deity would want a specific person dead, and if even one in the audience is mentally disturbed, there’s a chance something untoward might actually happen to the person against whom you were praying. See? Prayer actually DOES work. That is, if you assume that your direct action in lighting a powderkeg, didn’t cause the explosion — rather it was God answering your prayers.

justice delayed is justice denied — since there’s no afterlife
What can also happen on occasion, in the framework wherein one must pray to one’s deity for absolution after committing crimes, is that a false sense of absolution can be wrought from praying for forgiveness. Evil people can do evil things and never receive their just desserts here on Earth, because crimes are “forgiven” in these religious frameworks and clergy will regularly give cover for such crimes. Take, for instance, the Catholic church’s stance on molestation. While they strongly discourage it, they consider it to be a spiritual crime rather than a secular one, and as such should be punished via spiritual means.

It is this dynamic that allows otherwise good, moral people to abet serious crimes. And what’s worse, the perpetrators are often free to “sin” again, then “atone” again, then be shuffled off to some other area, in a vicious cycle wherein the real victims are largely ignored and the criminals turned into a dirty little secret rather than a subject for investigation and secular punishment. This is probably the most galling and sociopathic manner in which prayer harms society. Even if the atonement is real, it subverts the system of justice we as humans have developed in order to keep our society operational and as fair as possible to all its members. This secular system may certainly have its flaws, but they are minimal compared to demanding only contrition from its criminals, contrition that can be easily faked.

If you assume there’s no afterlife on which to rely, wherein the evil people doing evil things will be meted out justice for their crimes, then what really matters is a) rooting out their crimes and exposing them for all to see, and b) punishing the offenders in such a manner that the damage they can cause to the rest of society is staunched. Such criminals are, in a very real sense, much like cancer on society. If caught early they can be removed from society’s body and prevented from doing further harm (via prison for instance). If they are allowed to “feel atonement for their sins” and be forgiven spiritually, rather than secularly, then they can move around, and cause damage unchecked. The “immune system” of the secular justice system compromised by declaring their crimes spiritual in nature, and untold damage will happen before the body can even turn its immune system on the cancer to begin with.

the feedback loop
The commonality between all prayer and the act of giving cover for it is that when people pray, it gives credence to the act. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the prayer happens to be — that’s largely incidental. The most shameful part about society’s reliance on the baby-blanket of prayer is the fact that the feedback loop will not be broken as long as people use selection bias to describe the 25% of the time that their “prayers are answered” coincidentally, as being proof positive that prayer works.

The ouroboros prayer, whether standalone or as a function of other types of prayer, reinforces ideas that, by rights, should have been winnowed away as false after being falsified repeatedly. Prayer works like your magic rock protects you from tigers — just because you haven’t seen a tiger since picking it up, doesn’t mean there’s any correlation between the two.

I’ve more than illustrated instances where reliance on prayer does empirical harm to society. So why pray at all? And why let other grown adults rely on their baby blankets and sucking their thumbs in this manner? Why get annoyed when someone tells you that prayer is useless or nonsense, protecting the religious and their delusions?

Divesting people of their delusions is not cruel, nor is it proselytization. You have the right to believe whatever you want. You have the right to be respected as a human being and not be persecuted for those beliefs. But your beliefs themselves have no such rights — my telling you that prayer is useless and nonsense may fall on deaf ears, but my act in doing so is by no means a disrespect to you as a human being. On the contrary. I tell you to drop the baby blanket because I want you to fulfill your potential as a human being. Don’t be mad at me for that. I’m sorry that prayer can’t fix the world’s problems — I wish (/hope /pray) it could. But it can’t.

Mind you, given the crazy shit your compatriots-in-faith are praying for, I’m sort of glad that prayers don’t work. As long as nobody comes out and says “prayer is nonsense”, all these manifold ways that prayer can harm the human social body will persist.

5 – so why pray?

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Collin

    Amen, broth- I mean, well put! Enjoyed the series a great deal.

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Thank you kindly! There’s one last post in the series still in the pipes, though I would consider it more the denouement, with this post being the climax. Glad you’ve enjoyed thus far!

  3. 3
    A

    The Nova Scotia link doesn’t work: http://www.nslpb.ca/

    “When people pray (or even meditate) rather than acting, they are wasting their own time and resources.”

    It might be worth looking at Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which was developed by a molecular biologist at a medical school. Meditation/mindfulness can have positive physiological benefits for its practitioners (see the selective bibliography of peer-reviewed papers).

    Meditation, therefore, isn’t necessarily a waste of time.

    Could prayer have similar physiological effects?

    “Those that pray regularly and for just about any topic, e.g. to relieve the suffering incurred by a hurricane or earthquake, to cure the sick or dying in your local hospitals, or to preemptively pray for the safety and security of loved ones, must de facto assume their deity is not omniscient and is willing to change his plans.”

    Why is there a definite cause/effect relationship here? I know people who pray who don’t make that assumption. There’s also a whole line of platitudes connected to the idea that people can’t control God’s will; for example, “God works in mysterious ways.”

    “They are also imbuing themselves with a false sense of having accomplished something positive with regard to these situations, which is rather galling when there’s often some direct and readily accessible method of rendering more tangible assistance.”

    Yes, it’s good when people can directly help a situation, but sometimes people both act AND pray. For example, I donated to the Haiti relief. What’s the harm if I were to pray as well? In addition, often people can’t do a lot to control negative situations and must use other coping mechanisms aside from acting in order to cope. Tangible assistance isn’t always available. When there’s no clear solution, emotion-based coping may be the most effective choice. When my cat was hit by a car, I couldn’t actively do anything to make myself feel better, so I had to rely on social support and a lot of crying. If I were someone who prayed, prayer could have helped me get through that experience. An online friend’s daughter was in a car accident today and there was nothing I could do to help other than write a kind word. For me that was telling her she and her daughter were in my thoughts, but I know she’s someone who believes in prayer. If I were a praying person, I might have been able to give her even more comfort. In my thoughts/In my prayers, what’s really the difference?

    “It’s easy to look at these cases and say, ‘but what’s the harm in praying for someone while also getting them the medical care they need?’ That mode of thinking is fine in theory, but in practice, it leads directly to [my bold] fundamentalist splinter sects like the Church of the First Born and the Followers of Christ, who think the important part of that two-pronged approach is not the medical care, but the prayer, because their faith in their deity is just that large.”

    I don’t understand the cause-effect relationship above. How does praying in addition to giving medical care lead directly to a disregard for the medical care itself?

    “So, the wholly random input provided by praying for guidance is gibberish that we as human beings can go to great intellectual lengths to use to justify our decisions.”

    What’s the harm in using something random to help make a difficult decision rather than making a random decision? (Did you see the season finale of “How I Met Your Mother”?)

    “justice delayed is justice denied — since there’s no afterlife”

    This argument relies on the assumption that there’s no afterlife and won’t persuade someone who believes in the afterlife. Who are you trying to persuade with this post?

    I agree with a lot of what you say in this section, except that I don’t see the root problem as bring prayer. Hypocrites, organized religion, and evil (child molesters) are the ones acting harmfully. When people do ill in the name of religion, the people are the problem.

    “This secular system may certainly have its flaws, but they are minimal compared to demanding only contrition from its criminals, contrition that can be easily faked.” How about misuse of the death penalty?

  4. 4
    A

    Erm, are you screening or did my post just fail?

  5. 5
    A

    I think my post is being blocked as spam. I’m cranky.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    Sorry. 3+ links in a comment = spam, unless you log into an account rather than posting as anonymous. If it happens again, e-mail me and I can pull it out of the spam bucket. Didn’t know if there’s anything substantially different between the three attempts (other than, attempt 3 didn’t close link number four, so your entire comment was a link), but if so, I can try to restore one of the others instead.

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    Like I said below, sorry this didn’t get through. Lots of solid criticism here, hope you don’t mind if this response is long as a result. I was getting a bit expansive on my points in part 4, and it didn’t benefit from as much editing as it deserved, so I probably should have cut a bunch of points where I didn’t argue them as effectively as I could. You know, rather than going for the “destroy every argument preemptively” tactic, I could have just made the best arguments more solid.

    On the other hand, I could leave them all in and refine them as much as possible, given that, if sbh’s prediction is at all accurate, this series might actually have some longevity on the ‘tubes. Or maybe this is all just an exercise in stroking my own ego. In public no less. I dunno.

    The Nova Scotia link doesn’t work

    Here’s a cached copy of the Nova Scotia Leadership Prayer Breakfast page. It was working when I started work on this post about a week ago, at least. Cache is from May 15th 2010. Guessing it’s down now because it took place on April 15th. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:0Xi1xW8kb_QJ:www.nslpb.ca

    Why is there a definite cause/effect relationship here? I know people who pray who don’t make that assumption. There’s also a whole line of platitudes connected to the idea that people can’t control God’s will; for example, “God works in mysterious ways.”

    I was hoping to play that card in part 5 when I tied together all the arguments across all the parts, especially those in part 2 – know your deity. I’ll tip that part of my hand early though, just because it’s you. :) Those that suggest “God works in mysterious ways” and that people can’t control God’s will assume that their deity is a “has a plan” deity, and not an “answers prayers” deity, so the only reason to pray to such a deity is to praise it. Any deity that requires praise but won’t change anything, is not a particularly good one. So, why pray at all in this case?

    Meditation, therefore, isn’t necessarily a waste of time.

    Could prayer have similar physiological effects?

    I actually conceded this in part 1. It works with or without a deity, but not outside your person. So I needed to clarify right off the bat that while logically dissecting the various types of prayer, meditative prayer was a special case that I wouldn’t tackle because it does have an effect. And it’s not necessarily a POSITIVE effect, as mentioned in the comments.

    As a personal coping mechanism, the only real harm that can come from it is the self-reinforcement of the prayer construct via what I’ve called the ouroboros prayer. That, and if other people see you pray, and something coincidentally goes your way, selection bias will teach those other people that prayer works. I understand the need to feel like you’re doing something when you’re powerless in a situation — I’ve felt powerless in situations before, and it eats at you — but praying isn’t exactly constructive. Telling people that you wish them the best is great. Telling people that you are petitioning your shared deity for assistance might create a sense of camaraderie and shared struggle, but I can’t countenance faking such a thing and reinforcing someone’s delusions when I view such delusions in contradiction of reality to be damaging.

    So, maybe what I’m saying with this is, the real harm in telling someone who believes in prayer that you’re praying right alongside them, is that you’re basically telling them that their prayers are worthwhile. When they’re empirically not.

    You can hope for the best, when you don’t know the probabilities and can’t make accurate predictions as to the outcomes. You can tell others that you hope for their well-being, too, which will potentially boost their spirits. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, we wouldn’t be humans if we didn’t empathize with others in bad situations and hold out hope for the best possible outcomes. That doesn’t mean prayer is effective — only that portion of prayer that tells the other person that you empathize and hope for the best outcome. It sounds like a linguistic hair-splitting, but it’s not. One involves a delusion of a deity, the other doesn’t.

    I don’t understand the cause-effect relationship above. How does praying in addition to giving medical care lead directly to a disregard for the medical care itself?

    You’re right, it’s much more nuanced than that, and that assertion needs significant rewriting. It’s more that coupling prayer with medicine encourages people already steeped in belief to employ selection bias and assume that the important part isn’t the medicine — it’s the prayer. A good analog is when cancer victims pursue a homeopathic or naturopathic medicine regimen that doesn’t work and leads to their death, eschewing the chemotherapy altogether, as a direct result of seeing other people taking the non-useful naturopathic route in tandem with the chemotherapy. When nonsense is given cover by real medicine via our tendencies toward pluralism, people really die needlessly. I can’t help but see that as a real problem.

    What’s the harm in using something random to help make a difficult decision rather than making a random decision? (Did you see the season finale of “How I Met Your Mother”?)

    Haven’t seen any of it. I know… I know… It has NPH in it. So I do need to see it. Frankly, if you have to make a difficult decision and you have a time limit, you will make better decisions by having only valid input and the best input available. If you have no other choice, and have to make a split-second decision with very little input, I suppose “praying for guidance” is as good a method as picking one or the other decision and committing as early as possible to ensure your survival. Probably some evolutionary pressure toward doing so, in fact.

    This argument relies on the assumption that there’s no afterlife and won’t persuade someone who believes in the afterlife. Who are you trying to persuade with this post?

    Good point. I’m taking that as granted because it’s outside the scope of the prayer series. Do you think I could get away with just asking the reader to make that assumption? It IS important to the point of that argument, but I can’t afford right now to sidetrack onto yet another argument that is subject to the “but it’s a matter of faith” counter.

    How about misuse of the death penalty?

    Whole different argument, but yeah, I’m very against the death penalty where us humans can be so very wrong about convicting other humans. Comparitively though — letting serial molesters get away with it and providing cover for them, ruins many more lives and for a much longer period of time than the falsely executed and his/her family. That’s not to say they compare… They’re really apples and oranges.

  8. 8
    George W.

    A makes some good points, the most important of which is that you should watch HIMYM.
    Best.
    Show.
    Ever.
    For a “nerd” you sure lack some pop-culture “nerd-cred”.

    “It’s more that coupling prayer with medicine encourages people already steeped in belief to employ selection bias and assume that the important part isn’t the medicine — it’s the prayer. A good analog is when cancer victims pursue a homeopathic or naturopathic medicine regimen that doesn’t work and leads to their death, eschewing the chemotherapy altogether, as a direct result of seeing other people taking the non-useful naturopathic route in tandem with the chemotherapy.”
    I would like to just add that the media never seems to report things like “Man Cured By Mainstream Medicine” and that is most of the problem. The media seize upon the most interesting story, and that is invariably going to involve some woo angle. It might even be helpful if the media reported “Man Prayed For, Dies” but again that lacks an interesting angle.
    It is a shame for the medical researchers and doctors who perform these feats of wonder that they have all their thunder stolen from them by “God”, or “magic crystals” or “detoxifying body flushes”. Maybe science would get a little more respect if we did more to glorify those accomplishments?

  9. 9
    A

    I can’t remember which was my best version! I was planning to edit again today to take out my weaker points, but alas!

    I’ll have to think about your responses later. I should say that limiting anonymous posters to two links discourages them from giving evidence to support their arguments. Isn’t that the opposite of what you want to do? :p

  10. 10
    Jason Thibeault

    Oh, I suppose it is counterintuitive, yes. You wouldn’t believe the amount of spam I get that’s just a list of links though. I could put a warning suggesting that people sign up for an account if they want to post a lot of links, I guess.

    Just tried to fish the other comments back out of spam… sorry. They’re already gone. They only stick around for a very limited time before they get deleted automatically.

  11. 11
    A

    No worries, J! I actually saved the first and last versions anyway.

  12. 12
    A

    Sorry — I got distracted by a political issue that has significant repercussions to my (and overall our) community. Yet again, a number of Greenwich farmers are trying to have their farmland re-zoned so they can use it for non farming purposes. They have some of the best farmland in Canada and it was given to them by the government after the govt kicked the Acadians out of NS. (Er, possibly your ancestors?)

    1. Please tell me you’re at least watching “The Big Bang Theory”! You must have SOME contemporary nerd cred, right?

    2. Thanks for giving the link to the cached site. I was worried it was a government leader prayer thing, but it just looks like some generic leadership event.

    3. “So, why pray at all in this case?” — My point is that there’s no harm in praying to a god who won’t change anything. Pointless, perhaps, but not inherently harmful.

    I may not believe in prayer, but the benefits prayer can give people psychologically and possibly physiologically seems to outweight the possible harm prayer can cause.

    4. “I actually conceded this in part 1. It works with or without a deity, but not outside your person. So I needed to clarify right off the bat that while logically dissecting the various types of prayer, meditative prayer was a special case that I wouldn’t tackle because it does have an effect.”

    Er, yeah, I absolutely should probably have read your previous parts before jumping into the discussion. Oops. I didn’t realize you’d eliminated a significant type of prayer from your discussion. On the other hand, that decision does confuse me somewhat. Are you arguing that prayer is ineffective/harmful except for the type of prayer you’ve excluded because it does have an effect? It feels like there’s a logic problem there.

    5. I’d be curious to see your more nuanced argument with the medical care scenario. I still don’t buy that the prayer itself causes the harm — it’s the people who choose to use prayer instead of medicine who do the harm. I think that may have been a point I made in a draft that ended up not posted. Likewise, the child molesters and those who cover up the molestation for religious reasons are the ones doing harm, not the prayer itself. (Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.)

    6. “Good point. I’m taking that as granted because it’s outside the scope of the prayer series. Do you think I could get away with just asking the reader to make that assumption? It IS important to the point of that argument, but I can’t afford right now to sidetrack onto yet another argument that is subject to the “but it’s a matter of faith” counter.”

    Yeah, that’s part of the difficulty with these types of discussions. That’s in part why I keep asking about audience and it gets back to tone and diction somewhat (the stuff James was talking about a few weeks ago). If you’re preaching to the converted (har har groan), then yeah, this argument about the lack of consequences is persuasive. If you want to persuade those who disagree with you, then it’s a much trickier proposition. You seem to want to engage those who disagree with you in a meaningful way, which is why I get back to this once in a while. I’m still pondering these issues and may go back and respond later to that post.

    Since I tend to play devil’s advocate (see how many religious cliches are entrenched in my language!), I’ve been trying to think of examples to support some of your examples.

    The waste of time: When Church and State are not adequately separated, there can be time wasted in fighting issues like whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed in schools or whatnot. That time could better be spent on educating children or — even better — discussing issues of tolerence. Also, it was a waste of time, not to mention exclusionary, that my grade four teacher made us say the Lord’s Prayer every morning.

    Factoring prayer into the decision-making process can be harmful if, say, you’re George W. Bush and you’re praying for advice on 9/11 and God ultimately tells you to invade Iraq. That’s harmful. But again, like with the child molesters and those covering up for those heinous acts, the person is the problem in a scenario like that.

    Anyway, I’ve been up for 24 hours-ish, so I probably shouldn’t be discussing serious matters like this.

    If you can spare a moment to think about the loss of farmland, let me know. There’s a public meeting about the plans on Monday night.

  13. 13
    Jason Thibeault

    Didn’t know about the farmland thing, but it doesn’t surprise me… they’ve tried this in the past. I took part in a survey for the county, and I made sure that appropriate use of farmland was the top take-away from my answers. I also make a point of buying local wherever possible to support those farms that haven’t sold out to rezone to stripmalls or whatever the hell. I do feel the drive to visit the meeting, but I don’t honestly feel versed enough to make a decent case for my knee-jerk reactions.

    Have completely caught up on Big Bang Theory — we’ve watched all but the season three finale. Is that nerd cred enough? Could I throw on Doctor Who, every Star Trek but Enterprise, and the fact that I pretty much hit the theatres on opening night for any comic book superhero movie?

    I think I’m going to integrate some of my previous answers into the post itself. I have to chew on the “praying gives cover for people to rely on prayer for healing” angle though. It’s a tough postulate, will be hard to defend, but I don’t know that I really NEED to defend that particular argument to show that, if all my other arguments about prayer are conceded but one, that it’s damaging enough as it stands. That notwithstanding, I still feel it’s right. Just because I’m not necessarily married to the idea, doesn’t mean I don’t feel it’s right nonetheless. I hate the crimes in question (e.g. molestation, child abuse/neglect), and I truly feel that people relying on the crutch of prayer give cover to (and credence to) the ideas that prayer is the important part, superceding both real justice and real medicine. In fact, that “ouroboros effect” that I’ve talked about, is probably the crux of my issues with people praying.

    Likewise with the meditative prayer being conceded early on. I separated it out not because it was “prayer that works”, but that it was NOT prayer. You can think yourself into a different mental state, without any sort of deity intervening. It’s not prayer — it’s meditation being dressed up as prayer, and I refuse to accept the co-opting of meditation into the concept of prayer. I was quick to eliminate it because it’s the one people trot out all the time — and as soon as you say “okay, you can pray for the ‘strength to accept what you can’t change’, but you’re getting that strength from within”, then the argument for rationality is lost because the people that want prayer to “do something” feel that they have won.

    All I’m doing is defining my parameters favorably to my argument ahead of time. Tilting the playing field to your benefit is a fundamental part of debating, though I don’t honestly feel like I’m putting too heavy a thumb on the scales. If anything, I’m just tilting the playing field back to relatively even, given the vast amounts of credence people grant the supernatural, when the natural is every bit as fantastic and wonderful and awe-inspiring.

  14. 14
    Frans

    “must de facto assume their deity is not omniscient and is willing to change his plans.”

    St. Augustine wrote that God rules the world through our prayers.

    God is outside of time; we, who are in time, see things sequentially. God is an eternal Now. Therefore a prayer and its possible granted effect are instantly for God. For us it has the appearance of duration or time. This argument, of course, only addresses the difficulty for those people not being able to grasp the apparent contradiction between omniscience and change.

  15. 15
    A

    Sorry — Just found this response. I want to think before responding.

    FYI, there’s more info on the farmland issue at this link if you want to learn more and/or find out what people can do other than speak up at meetings: http://www.nofarmsnofood.ca/

    Hope all’s well!

  1. 16
    Why prayer is nonsense – part 5 | Lousy Canuck

    [...] 4 – Even if it IS useless, what’s the harm? [...]

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