Monday, 16 July 2012

Lie: A Prayer

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Give a man religion and he will die of starvation praying for fish."

My abrupt return to unemployment has been, unsurprisingly, accompanied by an abrupt return to blogging. Today I bring you a video I found called "Why pray?". I know what you're thinking: prayer is so obviously useless that this will be an atheist video giving you all the reasons why prayer is stupid. Alas it isn't. Give it a close watch (it's only 2 minutes) as I'm going to be doing that thing where I talk through it and criticise every second in detail.

Have you ever wondered why so many people pray?

Albert Einstein said there are two ways to live. As if nothing's a miracle or as if everything's a miracle. Either life's a fluke and we're just a bunch of highly evolved animals (cartoon of smoking monkey on a rock) on a big rock lost in space, or there's a creator behind...creation. A god behind goodness.
Now, this is of course both a false dichotomy and a misuderstanding of Einstein. I also have a bit of a problem with saying that if science is true we're top hat wearing monkies on a rock with "satellites" (said sarcastically) that appear only in the video's "science" world view. Presumably the maker of this video has never used a piece of technology that uses satellites. This is contrasted with "animals" in the "god" world view (this is me being sarcastic now. If "god" created "animals" why can't I see any "animals" right now??). They also include polar bears and penguins at this point, two animals whose creation is never referenced in the Bible. Because it was written by humans in a part of the world where humans couldn't have known about animals from cold climates.

And if so then connecting with him in prayer is pretty much the most mind numbing thing you can do.
Ok, so I'm not a smoking monkey on a rock. I like animals. So there must be a god. With you so far. And connecting with him in prayer is awesome. True. Except the first premise, that there is a god, is still pretty shaky, and even if we accept that there must be one because I'm not a smoking monkey and satellites don't really exist, it's still a bit of a leap to believe we can connect with it. Although props to the makers for their honesty in showing God touching what appears to be a naked child at 0.27.

Archaeologists keep digging stuff up that shows we've always prayed.
Hmm. Thin on the detail here. Archaeologists also dig quite a lot of stuff up that shows we evolved from lower life forms. This section is helpfully accompanied by a cave painting, because if anyone's theological beliefs should be listened to it's people who had yet to discover fire. We're then treated to images of a variety of religious buildings. The polytheistic religions kind of damage your "creator", "one true god" claims, though, don't they? A better conclusion I would draw from this is that people have always made up religion.

Even atheists admit to praying sometimes.
Hmm. Accompanied by an image of a plane crashing. A religious organisation promoting the image of a crashing place? Awkward. Also, the fact that people pray when they're at their least rational, i.e. about to die, doesn't really help the argument. "Even pacifists might kill you in self defence" the mocking voice chimes "so why not just kill someone right now?"

Real prayer is a two way conversation... it? Really? Reallllllly? (Plus, another picture of God touching a child. I'm just sayin'...)

Jesus said "Ask anything in my name and it will be done".
So no-ones been praying for an end to famine, cures for diseases and all that stuff? I must say I'm judging Christians a little now. Oh, you do pray for those things? So Jesus was lying? NEXT!

We have a chance to ask for peace, healing, help or whatever we need.
Why don't you do it then?? People are dying!

Life matters, you matter, your choices, thoughts, prayers and actions echo in eternity.
Stoned much?

But in case you hadn't noticed, God is pretty much invisible and not always easy to hear.
Almost like he doesn't exist..

24/7 prayer does stuff to help thousands of people in hundreds of places...
Actually, that sounds really good. I guess if they do charity work and stuff we can excuse all the lovely, fluffly lies.

...connect with God in new ways.

People are learning to pray by just praying. Why don't you take on the challenge...of a 24/7 prayer room. Just gather your friends, find a place, pick a week, get creative in the space, and fill every hour of the week with a chain of prayer.
You're literally suggesting that people lock themselves in a room for a week and pray. Do you have any idea how crazy that is? millions are discovering God's real. Life's a miracle.
At this point we see someone literally being cured of illness. A bold claim.

And the most powerful thing you can ever do is to pray.
Short of actually doing something. Are you honestly suggesting that all those scientists looking for cures to diseases would have been better off praying? I'm fairly sure mortality rates were a lot higher a few hundred years ago when almost everyone was religious, and, I assume, prayed rather a lot. 

This video isn't saying "prayer can be nice and comforting" or "prayer can help you come to terms with your problems" it's literally saying "prayer is a two way conversation with god", "prayer can cure disease" and "prayer is the most effective way of tackling any problem". The organisation behind the video, 24/7 prayer, believes this so strongly that they're devoting time and resources to encourage people to lock themselves in a room and pray non stop for a week.

There are quite a few problems with the notion of prayer. An omniscient god knows what you want and how much you want it, rendering the act of asking him pointless. The idea that praying for a week somehow increases the likelihood of the god responding is strange at best. There's an episode of South Park, "Do the handicapped go to Hell?" where the children are worried about their friend Timmy, who is unable to go to confession (or, to transplant the example, pray) due to a disability, is going to hell according to what they have been taught at Sunday School. Does God prefer those more able to pray? 

If prayer had any effect whatsoever, on the scale it takes place its effects would clearly be visible. We would know what the true religion was, for one, as its followers were delivered from evil, were cured from disease, and were better off in every way. Religious people would presumably have longer life expectancies than atheists, and be more prosperous. In actual fact religion is often more common amongst poorer people.

Even if it had just some mild psychological consequences as a result of communication with God but general inaction on his part there would be some measurable differences between the religious and non-religious in, say, rates of depression, mental illness or suicide.

If prayer worked in any way that is implied by this video we would know about it.

It's a remarkable convenience that every test we can apply to religion, religious belief and practice always receives an answer that it can't be tested in that way, the effects of prayer aren't literal solving of problems, we need to have faith, don't tempt God and so on. Always the answers we would expect if, shock horror, there was no god and religion was made up by people looking for answers, or people looking for power.

Prayer is the most testable example of this. If it worked in any way we would know about it. It doesn't. Grow up. That's it.

As for 24/7 prayer, to dishonestly promote something demonstrably useless is one thing, but to actively encourage inaction for a week or more, with the promise of divine intervention, seems to be morally questionable at best. Of course, this will only work on people lacking certain key critical faculties or who have been severely brainwashed, but the same could be said of scams like payday loans or late night phone-in quiz shows which are routinely attacked for defrauding people. Prayer isn't a solution to your problems. It might feel better to share, but until you realise that action is the only way to affect the real world, nothing's going to change. Organisations like 24/7 prayer pretend to being doing something proactive to make themselves feel better while actually doing nothing at all. If they devoted their time and resources to something, anything, that actually helps people they might be able to justify some of their nauseating smugness.

"Two hands working are more useful than a million clasped in prayer."

No comments:

Post a Comment