How did Ted Cruz decide on Carly Fiorina for a running mate, in the unlikely event his campaign had a future which, fortunately, it did not? He said, I’ve prayed about this decision for a long time. Not long enough, it seems. Or, maybe there’s another explanation.
Perhaps there’s a god out there with a sense of humor – who knows? Or something beyond knowing – tooth fairies, vampires, devils, goblins – or even currently unknown gods, benevolent or malevolent apparitions of eternal, everlasting omniscience, power and wonderment, beings that become the focus of future adorations and prayers? Maybe such a god or gods simply haven’t yet revealed themselves, just yet. Moses, Joseph Smith, et. al. – where are you? Who knows?
All such wonderments are impossible to settle, to verify. Gods are not subjects for science, after all – they inhabit the realm of superstitions, at least until verifiable evidence for one or more of them turns up. Not likely, but then, who knows? That’s why religion is about faith – simply believing, hoping, wishing. Knowing humans cannot establish such things, I’m agnostic. But, convinced there’s no rational basis to believe there’s anything out there in the nebulous beyond, no anyone/anything to pay attention to Ted Cruz, or anyone else, now or ever, I’m an atheist, as well. Of course, there’s no actual difference in the two – if you don’t believe in the supernatural, what are you if not agnostic and atheist? Neither says there could not be a god, or a devil or a Flying Spaghetti Monster or anything else. Yet, the one who says I don’t know and the one who says I don’t believe have the same position – they cannot reconcile the existence of the unknowable.
Which gets us back to Ted Cruz’ prayer that led him to pick Carly. Wow.
How many bazillions of words, thoughts, animal and human sacrifices and other pleas to an imaginary friend have been sent into the ether, to no avail save, perhaps, in a calming, meditative sense (an effect available without belief in a skygod)? We’ll never know but, whatever the tonnage, heavy duty skepticism seems in order that any single prayer was ever heard, let alone answered, favorably or at all.
Why, then, do so many persist in doing so, despite the absence of results? Explanations by the faithful are varied and diverse; one of my favorites comes from an evangelist named Ken Collins: If He did, you’d stop praying! So He delays His answers to give you something better: fellowship with him through persistent prayer.
Another comes from Superintendent Chalmers, a character in The Simpsons: Prayer has no place in the public schools, just like facts have no place in organized religion.
Let me offer a rhetorical question: Has there ever been a greater time-waster than prayer in all of human history? In my view, nothing else comes close. Not spectator sports, not stamp collecting, not bingo and not even chasing after or primping to attract prospective mates. The latter, after all, contributed to the fact that we’re still here.
Reason and REAL Wellness
If you view reason as a key dimension of well being and thus place importance upon rational thinking, you too might have reservations about prayer. This is most likely to be the case if you are not disposed toward superstition and magical thinking. I don’t think doubt that you can be well if you don’t pray, but I’m not convinced you can be truly well mentally if you earnestly believe prayer would influence a god, IF there were one. It’s just so bizarre, when you think about it, unbounded by continuous conditioning from the norms and rituals of religious traditions.
Prayer, in my view, is more injurious to well being than chain smoking, alcohol abuse and binging on sugary soda – put together. A person has to suspend his/her sense of reality to think or even hope that prayer might affect a change beyond his/her own feeling state. (I am not questioning the possible value of prayer – or simply whispering, chanting or thinking of words in a mumbo-jumbo fashion as a meditative chant or form of relaxation – only as an attempt to change something in the world beyond the self.) I’m with Ethan Winer: If prayer actually worked, everyone would be a millionaire, nobody would ever get sick and die and both football teams would always win.
Christopher Hitchens pointed out the arrogance of praying when he wrote, A man who prays is one who thinks God has arranged matters all wrong but who also thinks he can instruct God on how to put them right. In Improved Man, Robert Green Ingersoll noted that the improved man will not endeavor, by prayers or supplication, by fastings or
genuflections, to change the mind of the Almighty, or to alter the course of nature; neither will he employ others to do such things in his place.
Many people believe, as several are credited with saying, that nothing fails like prayer. Dan Barker wrote a song with that title – and it’s delightful.
Any drug company that sold pills with less efficacy would be prosecuted; anyone who ingested them would be considered a fool. Yet a Pew survey a few years ago found that half the American population prays daily. Politicians have created a national prayer day; even lawsuits have not kept public officials from mixing city/county/state and other government business meetings with opening prayers. Our president can’t conclude a speech without intoning the ritual mantra, which sounds a lot like a prayer, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. After every hurricane, tornado, tsunami, mass killing and tragedy of every kind, people seem compelled to offer comfort or sympathy with these meaningless words: Our prayers go out to the victims and their families.
Well, it does no harm, I suppose, to let prayers go out, but it would be nice if something positive were to come back as a result. And that has never happened. Never. Not once.
Step back and imagine for a moment you’re a visitor from space. Knowing because of your vastly advanced large head containing multiple wondrous super computer-like brains that no prayer anywhere, anytime in any form has ever been answered by an deity or god-creature in the whole wide cosmos, what would you think of the inhabitants of this planet being attached to such a bizarre convention?
I don’t know for sure, but I doubt that spaceman/woman you would be favorably impressed.
Other than eating, sleeping and having sex, humans have done more praying than anything else since climbing out of trees to walk about and jog on terra firma. No verifiable results, ever, from a single prayer and yet, we keep at it. Not everyone, of course, but most people, to say the least. More likely nearly all people.
I do not have a closed mind about prayer. Here’s a simple way, suggested by Sam Harris, to make prayers of infidels like me:
You could prove to the satisfaction of every scientist that intercessory prayer works if you set up a simple experiment. Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God. I find it interesting that people of faith only tend to pray for conditions that are self-limiting.
As a small child under the spell of Roman Catholic brainwashing, I had to do a lot of praying. I stopped doing so when I was 12; I often wonder how many of my schoolmates from the graduating class at St. Barnabas in 1952 are still at it.
Be well while looking on the bright side of life and pray for me.