The other day one of my atheist friend called me. The conversation went on like this.
Friend: “Doctor, I want you to take care of my son. I am bringing him to your hospital.”
Me: “Hey wait, that may not be a good move. Your city has much better facilities than mine. What happened ?”
Friend: “My son is admitted here for last 3 days with Dengue fever. He is not getting better. I feel the doctors here do not know their job. They are asking me to pray for his recovery. Any one who has studied science should know prayers are useless.”
I could not help laughing. I have heard this from some of my other atheist friends too. They lose confidence in a doctor the moment they are asked to pray.
I somehow reassured my friend by saying I will get in touch with the treating physician and see what is happening.
The doctor I spoke to made it clear that they are doing everything possible for the child and they felt he is on the verge of recovery. I could make out that the child was getting good care.
“So why did you ask his dad to pray ? ” I questioned.
“Oh that! I usually say that to near ones of all my sick patients. It’s just to make them understand that the situation is critical and we are doing everything possible…but everything is not in our hands…creator should also intervene on his behalf. Also if anything untoward happened they should be ready to face it. ”
I suppressed my desire to ask him in which evidence based guideline that prayer is included as part of intensive care. Instead I asked a different question.
“Didn’t you realise that saying that to an atheist will make you sound foolish
and ignorant ?”
“Oh , I did not knew he was an atheist. There are so few around, he said sheepishly.”
I called my friend back and said his son is in safe hands except for doctor’s theism and his kid will do well. After few more days of intensive care the kid went home healthy without any prayer from his father.
When you ask a person to pray to get some reward or try to comfort some one by saying I will pray for you, first see whether you are dealing with an atheist. Don’t make a fool of yourself !
N.B. This is a slightly modified account of what that really happened.
I’m glad you were able to keep your friend from yanking their son out of treatment and shifting him to a different city. Continuity of care matters!
Marcus Ranum says
When someone says they’ll pray for someone, I reply, “congratulations you’ve found a way that you can do literally nothing to help me, but still feel smug about it.”
One night some colleagues and I contemplated the following scenario: a little old lady whom you dearly love is lying on her deathbed. She asks you to pray for her. Would you do it? In the ensuing debate (a very loose term, given how much alcohol we’d had), I declared that I would do it unreservedly. My religious colleagues took deep offence at this, insisting that I couldn’t possibly be sincere. I maintained that it had nothing to do with whether I believed in God or not. It had to do with comforting another human being when that was the comfort they needed. I was harming neither her, me or anyone else by doing so. “Going through the motions of praying to something you don’t believe in makes you a fraud,” she said. I wouldn’t be going through any motions at all, I said. I’d be genuinely comforting my friend. If she should want me to tell her a fairy story, I’d be able to do that just as sincerely with having to believe the fairy story. She wouldn’t see it. It was good wine.
without having to believe the fairy story.