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Why prayer is nonsense – part 5

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

This is the final part in a five-part series. Please see the Master Post if you haven’t already read the previous parts, because this part relies heavily on definitions and arguments that have been set down in those previous sections.

so why pray?

The conclusion to this series is, admittedly, the most difficult to write, as it entails tying together the disparate threads I’ve left in the previous posts in such a way that the tapestry can be viewed from high altitude to get a sense for how well thought-out each argument is, and how the overarching thesis is correct. This is, arguably, the goal of all persuasive writing on abstract concepts, however I feel that simply reiterating or retreading the ground we’ve already covered is insufficient for these purposes.

Therefore, I will employ a visual instead. Below is a matrix of all the types of deity-properties, and the complications presented for each type of prayer. I have touched on many of these contradictions and issues already in the previous parts, so it is important that you are at least passingly familiar with the specific terms and definitions I’ve used.

I will be including a very important property at the very bottom of this list that I have not discussed as of yet, and it will be hidden below the fold so as to avoid spoiling the surprise. To read this graph in reference to a particular deity, select all the properties that you ascribe to that deity and look at the type of prayer you want to examine, then look to see if any property of your deity happens to directly conflict or present significant obstacles for that type of prayer.

As I’ve stated in part 2, many of these properties conflict with one another for some pretty overwhelming reasons. However, even assuming that you can reconcile certain properties with one another, you should assume that a “no” in any category is a dealbreaker for that type of prayer for the reasons previously discussed.

Legend:

  • checkmark – This type of prayer will almost certainly have an effect (whether good, or neutral, to the person that prays) in the presence of a deity with this particular property
  • questionmark – It’s possible that this prayer may be answered, but may also be ignored. Will depend mostly on other properties of this deity. If no other properties contradict, there’s insufficient information as to whether a prayer would be worthwhile — it could depend on this deity’s mood.
  • red-x – This type of prayer either directly conflicts with, or significant obstacles are posed by, this deity’s property. A prayer of this sort is either worthless and will be ignored, or could get you smote (an obviously detrimental effect).
Interventionary Imprecatory Guidance Sycophantic Redemptive
Omniscience questionmark questionmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnipotence checkmark checkmark checkmark questionmark checkmark
Omnibenevolence checkmark red-x checkmark questionmark red-x
Omnipresence questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x questionmark
Larger than the universe red-x questionmark red-x questionmark questionmark
Being pure good questionmark questionmark checkmark red-x red-x
Has a plan red-x red-x red-x questionmark red-x
Requires active praise red-x questionmark questionmark checkmark checkmark
Alpha and omega questionmark questionmark questionmark red-x checkmark
Reveals self unequivocally checkmark questionmark checkmark questionmark questionmark

NON-EXISTENT checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark

You will hopefully notice that the Meditative and Ouroboros prayers do not appear on this list, despite appearing on the list of types of prayer. As discussed previously, Meditative prayers do have an effect because they are just meditation. They may not have a POSITIVE effect, but they do have a verifiable effect, insofar as meditation is the act of trying to think yourself into a different mental state. Also, every prayer has a component to it that functions as the Ouroboros prayer — merely by praying, you are reinforcing your conception of a deity, recording a “hit” in your set of evidence for its existence. Needless to say, any prayer made with the sole intent of reinforcing your belief, will always have that effect. It is, again, an instance of your mind altering itself through directed thought. We know that the human mind has the ability to affect itself through directed thought, so they are both ignored for the purpose of this chart. The purpose of this series was not to disprove that praying could have an effect on your own mind, but rather to disprove that petitioning a deity in any number of ways is a useless and self-contradictory act in the presence of ANY type of deity.

You will also notice that the final property, which I’d hid below the fold, entails your chosen deity not existing. If your chosen deity exhibits this property, you’d think that none of the types of prayer would have any effect, right? So why would I have put checkmarks in all the types of prayer?

I was careful to choose what the checkmark meant — not that it had a positive or beneficial effect, but that it had a non-detrimental effect for the person praying (either neutral or positive), in opposition to the X mark, which was specifically detrimental to the person praying, or no effect whatsoever. We know that each of these types of prayer can have some form of effect — either beneficial or neutral to your standpoint — if you are a believer. These effects are not limited to the person, and can have net detrimental effects for society, as shown at great length in part four, but they are otherwise benign for the person doing the praying.

There are three salient facts in this argument: that praying under various circumstances may have explicitly detrimental effects depending on the properties you assign to your deity; that praying can have detrimental effects to society as a whole; and, most importantly, that the most common arguments for prayer absolutely do not require a deity of any sort to exist. When these facts are synthesized, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that the entire concept of prayer is utterly useless, regardless of to whom you are petitioning in your prayers, or to what end. The only ways one can reconcile all these facts with their belief in prayer with their belief in the specific aspects of their deity is through gross cognitive dissonance or compartmentalization, or through reducing their deity or the “power of prayer” to utter meaninglessness.

The mere amount of mental exercise that one has to do to justify praying, proves to me (and hopefully to you as well) that prayer as a concept is utter nonsense. It is a security blanket at best, and causes objective harm to society as a whole at worst, it isn’t likely to produce the results you want in the presence of a deity, and in the absence of a deity it is merely dogmatically derived superstition bereft of any utility whatsoever.

Meditate if you must. Sympathize and empathize with your co-inhabitants of this lonely planet, and help them when you can. But praying for them, for yourself, or for pretty much any reason, is worse than a waste of time. So, why pray?

I will be adding mouseover justifications for each property/prayer status as required by the comments, though I feel the arguments are relatively thoroughly covered in previous parts. As a word of warning, the other posts in this series may also be edited for clarity depending on the discussions that ensue. I really want this series to stand the test of time. I sincerely appreciate those of you that have taken the time to comment thus far; it has helped determine the vector the series has taken, and has forced me to improve my arguments significantly.

Comments

  1. says

    From part 2: “It is also unlikely to require active praise or it would never end the universe, unless it could somehow store up that praise long enough to destroy and recreate it.” X doesn’t mean you’re going to get smote, but it does show uselessness. This argument shows how “alpha/omega” and “requires praise” are mutually incompatible properties.

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