The Power of Prayer?

January 17, 2009 at 8:35 pm 43 comments

James 5:16b: The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Matthew 17:20: And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

One place where Christians engage in doublethink is through a love/hate relationship with the concept of believing that God will actually do something when they pray. On the one hand, believers are supposed to believe God does things. But on the other hand, it’s nice to be able to write off God’s no-shows as the product of kooky beliefs in a “vending machine” God. (This is often a euphemism for a God that is distinguishable from no God at all.)

Some Christians actually believe that if they pray for healing, God will answer with healing. A fairly extreme group supporting such faith in action is Unleavened Bread Ministries. They have a page full of cool stories of how God healed people.

The interesting thing about one of the families involved in this ministry, the Neumanns, is that the results of their faith are a matter of public record. Last spring, their 11-year-old daughter became extremely sick. Her parents prayed for her instead of taking her to see a doctor. What follows might have been the work of Satan. It might be a continuing test of their faith. What I do know is that Madeline Neumann died from a treatable form of diabetes while her parents petitioned an all-powerful, all-loving God for her healing. Her parents think she died because they didn’t have enough faith. I think she died because her parents had too much faith. Faith like this is a form of criminal negligence, or at least it should be.

A lawsuit is currently brewing to see if the parents are guilty of second-degree murder. The Neumanns’ defense is quite interesting. Their friends’ website states, “Before I give my case and point, let me say this: If we are going to judge this family — which we really have no right to do — we need to understand completely what the Bible states about healing and prayer. In short, the Bible states that we should trust God for healing and use prayer to achieve that goal.”

Don’t ask God why this happened. We know why. The Neumanns let their child die from a treatable condition because they completely, sincerely, and absolutely had faith in the love and power of their God. If God wanted her to live she would have lived, and if God didn’t why should they seek to oppose God’s will through medicine? We must understand how much sense this makes viewed through the lens of their religion. The problem was not that her parents didn’t care. The problem was not that they acted irrationally, given their worldview. Madeline Neumann died because her parents are people of childlike faith and consequently acted like children. Any religion that sees childlike faith as a good thing or believes that God will reward childlike faith should not be surprised by outcomes like this. Moderate religion lacks the language to properly express what went wrong – a culture with a healthy disrespect for faith is needed to combat tragedies like this.

There are two key places where the Neumann differ radically from mainstream evangelicals. Most obviously, they blamed the result on a lack of faith – this mistake has nothing to due with the Bible. Most of the book of Job is about refuting the idea that tragedies should automatically be blamed on sin. Plenty of differing evangelical beliefs come from differing picking-and-choosing, but the Neumanns are wrong here even if the Bible is true.

But while as a matter of fact, the Neumanns differ wildly from mainstream evangelicals by forgoing medical treatment, biblically speaking, it is not obvious why they are wrong. A case can be made for an alternative view, but it is hard to argue biblically that the Neumanns are necessarily wrong. What was wrong with trusting God with their actions rather than trusting the effectiveness of modern medicine? The Bible tells Christians to put their faith in God with much greater clarity than it tells Christians not to trust him for other things. While “do not test the Lord” is an explicit command, it was not the Neumanns’ goal to test God but only to trust that he would take care of them and to live in a way that is consistent with this belief. The fact that Madeline’s death did not cause them to call God a failure should be proof enough that they were not testing God and were not presuming to know the will of God but only living by faith in the way that they thought they should.

Among evangelicals, some form of the following catch-phrase is quite popular: “Prayer should be our first resource, not our last resort.” This is a convicting line for people whose first reaction to an accident is to call 911 first, and pray second. This is wrong! This is a sign of our weak faith! Forgive us Lord! But does prayer work? Adult Christians have such a hard time having childlike faith because they aren’t children, and that’s a good thing. They’ve seen too many prayers unanswered and too many colds successfully soothed with NyQuil to not use medicine as a first resource.

More “mature” approaches to prayer are to pray primarily in ways where if it did nothing at all, one would never know the difference. “God, be with person X during event Y,” “God help event X happen, if that’s your will,” or prayers whose explicit goal is to change the attitudes of the one who is praying. When faced with a “no” answer that is indistinguishable from no answer, one is to react as if that’s how it’s supposed to be. “Yes” is to be paraded about in glory of God. Are there more “yes” answers than would be expected at random? These questions are not supposed to be asked, because this would be testing God. This needs to be called what it is: fear of the possibility that prayer doesn’t really do anything. If it is biblical, it merely means that this fear of the truth is present in the Bible and not just in Christians. Consider this: if instead of telling us not to test God, the Bible just came out and said “Thou shalt not apply valid reasoning to the question of prayers’ effectiveness” how would Christians think differently about prayer?

Doctrines of prayer seem designed so that if prayer did nothing at all, people would never know the difference. And so prayer continues to do nothing at all, while people continue to be convinced that it is changing the world. I first heard about this story maybe two weeks before losing my faith. If people who think God works miracles all the time still don’t see that nothing is happening, how much more should I doubt the reality of God’s answers to “be with me when…” prayers?

Prayer’s true power should not be underestimated. The true power of prayer is its ability to blind people to its impotency as they believe all the way to second-degree murder. This power needs to be opposed.

(After writing this, I noticed a distinct but unintentional Sam Harris influence. I would like to thank him for The End of Faith.)

- Jeffrey

Entry filed under: Jeffrey. Tags: , , , .

How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists the god of small miracles

43 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the chaplain  |  January 17, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Madeline Neumann died because her parents are people of childlike faith and consequently acted like children. Any religion that sees childlike faith as a good thing or believes that God will reward childlike faith should not be surprised by outcomes like this….. Adult Christians have such a hard time having childlike faith because they aren’t children, and that’s a good thing.

    Great distinction. It’s amazing how long it can take to face the reality that prayer doesn’t work (of course it doesn’t and can’t – I know that now). I wonder how many Christians spend years wrestling with the dilemma of prayer before facing their doubts and realizing that the doubts are well founded?

  • 2. orDover  |  January 17, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    It’s amazing how long it can take to face the reality that prayer doesn’t work (of course it doesn’t and can’t – I know that now). I wonder how many Christians spend years wrestling with the dilemma of prayer before facing their doubts and realizing that the doubts are well founded?

    It seems to me, going off of my experience, that Christians don’t really take prayer all that seriously to begin with. Or at least the intercessory sort of prayer. It seems to be regarded more like a form of meditation, a way to “grow closer in your walk with the Lord,” rather than something with actual physical results, like healing. And of course, the problem with that sort of prayer is that its efficacy cannot be disproved, since it’s all completely subjective.

    I recently attended a healing prayer session for my grandfather, who has Parkinson’s. All of the prayers were along the line of, “Dear Lord, let your will be done in grandpa’s life, and if you see fit, let him not suffer or be in pain, and may he learn to rely on you further during this difficult time.” Only one person had the balls to come out and ask for him to be healed completely, and even then they were apologetic and added a little “if it is your will” at the end. But in the end the entire thing was done as an exercise of the faith of my family, showing that they trust in God during this situation, no matter what happens. (Grandpa is doing pretty good, by the way, though far from healed).

  • 3. karen  |  January 17, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Great post, thanks. There was a line in today’s coverage of the US Air plane crash in NYC that really caught my eye.

    The NY Times interviewed several of the passengers. One commented that while the plane was going down, people all around him were crying, screaming, saying the Our Father and even praying, “Lord, forgive me of my sins,” over and over.

    He, on the other hand, did something that actually made a big difference. He had the presence of mind to pull out the safety card and read the instructions about water landings. When the plane started filling with water, the guy in front of him was struggling with the safety hatch and trying to pull it inward. The guy being interviewed jumped forward, twisted the handle and pushed the door out, opening it and allowing passengers to get out on to the wing.

    Reason and logic, along with good preparation and training, trumps worthless prayer every time.

  • 4. the chaplain  |  January 17, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    orDover said, “It seems to me, going off of my experience, that Christians don’t really take prayer all that seriously to begin with.”

    I suspect you’re right. I know I tried to do so, off and on, if I’m honest about it, but it was hard to keep at it when one had to pray, “if it be your will” all the time. Prayers are always rather wishy-washy then, aren’t they?

  • 5. Digital Dame  |  January 17, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    That whole “if it be God’s will” is an easy out when God is a no-show. Of course this child’s parents can’t back down from that stance now. Who could? Would you be able to maintain your sanity and not put a bullet through your brain if you admitted you killed your own child through stupidity?

    As for the plane that landed in the Hudson, news reports quoted passengers as saying God was looking out for them. Then why put them in such a situation to begin with?

  • 6. Curt  |  January 17, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Madeline’s story reminds me of a friend in high school who died because he stopped taking his insulin after going to a charismatic prayer service with his new girl friend. I remember my confusion at wondering if this was stupidity or strong faith. Now I realize it was both.

    Why are God’s responses to prayer always indistinguishable from random circumstance?

  • 7. Stephen P  |  January 18, 2009 at 5:37 am

    With this sort of desperately distressing case, one has to wonder whether the events are best interpreted as a form of mental illness. The linked story does give some support for that. Family and friends tried to get the parents to seek medical help, so it doesn’t appear that they were in a cocooned religious community, all pushing them in a particular direction. And then they expected their daughter to be resurrected!

    But then this of course opens the whole can of worms about the extent to which religious belief in general should be viewed as mental illness.

    Perhaps the most important part of the story is the following quote:

    Wisconsin law, like that of as many as 40 other states, carries an explicit exemption from prosecution for child abuse or neglect for parents who forgo medical treatment for their children on religious grounds and instead seek “treatment…through prayer.”

    So you allow someone to die in excruciating pain; but all you have to do is chant the magic incantation “it’s my religion” and it’s suddenly allowed.

    ‘Leaving things in the hands of God’ as part of a legal system was recognised as primitive and unacceptable by enlightened people (such as King Henry II of England) as early as the twelfth century.

    Should we really be permitting such barbaric Dark Age relics to persist in our legal systems?

  • 8. OneSmallStep  |  January 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

    The whole praying for something, and then adding “if it’s your will” has always interested me. If someone is praying for God to do something helpful, and then making sure that it aligns with God’s will, why bother praying in the first place? If it’s God’s will that one be healed, doesn’t that happen with or without the prayer?

  • 9. Rover  |  January 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    It is strange. We Christians say that we believe in God and the power of prayer, yet we spend so little time praying. Our prayer meeting are sparsely attended and the same prayers are lifted up week after week. When something even close to a fulfilled prayer occurs we rejoice greatly and make a big deal of it. Probably because it gives us a little hope that we are not fooling ourselves. We need these litte supposed successes to keep the whole thing going.

  • 10. Slapdash  |  January 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    The schizophrenia of prayer theology is what ultimately unraveled my faith. There was no way to win: on the one hand, scripture encouraged us to be “bold” and to ask the Lord for specific things. On the other hand, we were NOT to treat God as a candy store and were instructed instead to align OUR hearts and minds with whatever God’s will was. Ummm, so the point of prayer is…what? Like One Small Step noted, if God’s going to do his will regardless of human wants or activities, and we thus can’t ‘influence’ God with our prayers, what’s the point of praying in the first place? It almost boils down to a quiet meditative activity in which we learn to “un-want” the things we want. Which seems all well and good, though kind of eastern, and if that’s the point or goal of prayer, why go through the motions of teaching that God’s mind can actually be changed through prayer?

  • 11. LeoPardus  |  January 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    How about a new definition for prayer?

    Prayer: a conjunction of two english terms; prattling + air. Pra(ttling) to the air = prayer.
    Example of usage: He’s praying. (i.e. He’s prattling to the air.)

    Comes out to the same thing.

  • 12. CheezChoc  |  January 18, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I think prayer is comforting to the one doing the praying, but I can’t see any evidence for prayers of intercession actually working.
    Imagine there is a wildfire or hurricane about to hit Small Town USA. Half of the residents pray for their homes to be spared. The other half does not pray.
    There are four possible outcomes:
    1. Those who prayed will see their homes spared.
    2. Those who prayed will see their homes destroyed.
    3. Those who did not pray see their homes spared.
    4. Those who did not pray see their homes destroyed.
    In other words, there are random natural forces at work, and you can’t make them steer clear of your house with a prayer or the Power of Positive Thinking. They will either hit your house or they won’t.

  • 13. BigHouse  |  January 18, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I agree with your conclusion, Cheez, but you didn’t set up your argument completely. The probabilities attached to your four outcomes are what would provide you the conclusion you are reaching.

  • 14. Errancy  |  January 19, 2009 at 9:53 am

    God heals through medicine. To reject medicine is to reject divine providence.

  • 15. BigHouse  |  January 19, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Interesting thesis, care to elaborate and support it? Or does bald assertion usually convince those you write for?

  • 16. Paige  |  January 19, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Errancy,

    Does God also kill through medicine?

  • 17. Jeffrey  |  January 19, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    As the name “errancy” suggests, I think he/she was being sarcastic…

  • 18. orDover  |  January 20, 2009 at 12:05 am

    But maybe not. Check out their website.

  • 19. Jeffrey  |  January 20, 2009 at 12:25 am

    I wasn’t sure at first either. But the website provides numerous links to six “errentist” sites, five of which are non-Christian and only one is a site explaining how inerrancy is non-essential. Together with a name that emphasizes the negative aspects of the Bible, I made what I think is a reasonable inference.

    I take the site to be a sincere attempt to sort out good arguments from bad arguments, despite their final conclusion that the Bible isn’t true.

  • 20. Errancy  |  January 20, 2009 at 7:12 am

    To clarify, the comment was a little tongue-in-cheek, but was meant to raise the question why a Christian would accept something like a sunny day (which comes about through natural means) as a blessing from God (i.e. as divine providence), but not a paracetemol tablet. I appreciate that the thought needed more unpacking.

    I do think that the idea that God heals through medicine is a coherent Christian position, and one with some biblical basis: God frequently uses means to achieve ends, e.g. messengers, plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna, the Flood, foreign armies, etc., so God using medicine to heal someone rather than healing them directly wouldn’t be without precedent. Yet the Neumanns seemed to think that they had to reject anything but a direct healing, so refused a means to that end.

    > I take the site to be a sincere attempt to sort out good arguments from bad arguments…

    That’s exactly what it is; I’m glad that that comes across.

  • 21. BigHouse  |  January 20, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for the clarity, errancy and my apologies for the snark.

    This story reminds me of the fable of the guy who died in the flood who refused the radio warning, rowboat, and helicopter attempts at being saved.

  • 22. Errancy  |  January 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

    > This story reminds me of the fable…

    That had crossed my mind too.

  • 23. TitforTat  |  January 20, 2009 at 10:09 am

    In regards to prayer, do you think that, in its application it could have benefits that are similar to that of meditation? Not that an all powerful god answers, but more along the lines of calming affect and centering tool for your nervous system? Plus dont many prayers actually focus on being grateful, and isnt that in itself a benefit for all of us? Does it have to be an all or nothing mind frame.

  • 24. Jason  |  January 20, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Ah, as a believing Christian, albeit with every doubt expressed here that pushed you all over the edge, my trouble with prayer is legion. When I pray out loud I am usually a bit more bold then others for asking for specific things, but when I pray in my heart I am dead specific and serious. Don’t get very many results though. I have been praying for Richard Dawkins to come to faith now for several years.

    My pastor, while encouraging us in a plan to evangelize the whole city, mentioned that if we don’t pray we will fail. This made no sense to me. God wants to save these people right? He wants to bring them into an eternal relationship with them. But He isn’t going to do anything. Not unless we all get together and really really ask Him for it. But anyway, the pastor then said we just don’t ask for big enough things with God. Say what? I ask for much bigger things then my church’s prayer. My church’s prayer is always subjective and never gives any meaningful figures or timelines. I ask for Richard Dawkins and by Thursday. I pray for entire countries to stop killing each other and entire diseases to disapear and for amputee arms to grow back to demeonstrate to an unbeliving world that it was the result of supernatural action. I ask for Jesus, or at least an angel, to appear during apologetic conversations. That would I have have some real supernatural action as I assert a supernatural world, and not just blah blah blah as quoted from a different thread.

    I am a gym rat, both on weights and cardio machines. Late last year I spranged my wrist and it sidelined me from weights for six or sevens weeks (couldn’t really pick anything up around the house either, and it hurt to type). During that time I did a lot of cardio. Then in late December I pulled a muscle in my leg (or at least that it what I think it is), which refuses to heal, going on the 4th or 5th week now. So for the last two or three I have only been on upper body weights. Then this last Friday I rehurt my wrist. I’m not sure if it is sprained or how bad it is, but if I did resprang it I will scream. If this is the case, I will not be able to do anything in the gym and I will go crazy.

    I went in on Saturday and did some eleptical at about 2/3 speeds, this was at least progress. On Sunday my leg was in a lot of pain, and I was still not sure about my wrist. Perfect time for prayer. It was shortly after Church, so I was motivated to put my faith into action. My pastor emphasizes that we need to write down our prayers (I think he means I successful prayers:) so as not to forget them. So I got a piece of paper out and wrote out my prayer. The first one was maybe a bit subjective, but I was so terrified for my wrist that I dared not ask to much, so I simply asked that I didn’t sprang it. As for my leg, I wanted to be specific. I know it is healing itself as we speak, so I saw no use it asking for it to be healed as I wouldn’t know when to say it was answered, and would probably get the same result anyway. So I asked, that by Monday (the next day) I would be going full blast on the cardio machine. I wrote these two down and put them in my back pocket (I’m sitting on it right now). Monday rolls around, and you guys wouldn’t believe me but my leg that was so sore the day before was feeling fine. I went to the gym, and though I started gingerly I got going at a pretty good pace. Pretty good…but not full blast, and occasionally I would step wrong and feel the pain of the leg. Stepping on and off the machine hurt as well. About half way through I started wondering to myself whether I should call this answered prayer, but by the end I knew the pace I was going was not full speed and I missed my calorie mark by about 10%. The leg is now sore again today, though not as bad as Sunday. I didn’t sprang my wrist, at least not nearly as bad, but I’m not sure of it yet and will be taking a few days off the weights. Answered prayer? I’m putting this one as inconclusive and am going to do this again.

  • 25. LeoPardus  |  January 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Jason:

    At least you’re trying to be honest with yourself. I know you want it all to be true, hence you’re really looking for unequivocal answers to prayer. Take your time and do the “experiment”. I already know what the result will be, but I realize that most of us have to try it for ourselves.

    Keep being honest man. IMO, and that of many other folks, it’s worth it.

  • 26. Kat  |  January 21, 2009 at 5:25 am

    The “no” answer vs. no answer thing can also be a problem for those who use prayer as a form of meditation – it was and still is a problem for me. How can I commune with someone if I don’t know he’s around? How can I know his will if I don’t actually hear a voice? How do I know I’m not just getting a really good hunch that I would have gotten anyway?

    I continue to hope that there is someone out there who minds the universe, but I’m going to go on doing what good I can, especially if there isn’t.

  • 27. The Apologist  |  January 22, 2009 at 3:18 am

    More “mature” approaches to prayer are to pray primarily in ways where if it did nothing at all, one would never know the difference.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing to think about in respect to prayer is that when the followers of Jesus asked “how should we then pray,” the teacher’s response did not include a prayer in which we request for life’s luxuries or avoid its pains.
    In regards to the introductory Matthew passage, it is quite clear that moving mountains is a symbolic hyperbole. The effectiveness of prayer is to center around the tenets of universal love for God (first commandment) and others (second commandment). What I find in this post and in other critiques of prayer is a devastatingly anthropocentric view of the power of prayer – but I suppose most Christians have hand delivered that straw man to nonbelievers on a silver platter.

  • 28. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 22, 2009 at 3:41 am

    Right, because when Jesus included the part about “give us this day our daily bread” he totally didn’t mean that we should ask God to satisfy even our most basic needs.

    Not to mention clear examples of prayer being effective in the Bible, while it is completely impotent today.

    Whether you maintain an anthropocentric view of prayer or not, the fact remains that it is utterly ineffective at achieving anything beyond the effects on the mind of the one saying the prayer. Effects that can be achieved through alternative means.

  • 29. The Apologist  |  January 22, 2009 at 4:02 am

    Snuggly,

    Right, because when Jesus included the part about “give us this day our daily bread” he totally didn’t mean that we should ask God to satisfy even our most basic needs.

    Living in a time with much less than what we have now, and within a paradigm that obviously suggested that living without worry for the material things, don’t you think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus was speaking about spiritual bread?

    Not to mention clear examples of prayer being effective in the Bible, while it is completely impotent today.

    Based on a primitive understanding of God, of course the various writers of the Bible thought answers to prayer were everywhere and worked on a serve-me type system. Whether it is impotent today goes back to whether you believe in the natural/supernatural dualism of primitively-based religious systems or not.

    Whether you maintain an anthropocentric view of prayer or not, the fact remains that it is utterly ineffective at achieving anything beyond the effects on the mind of the one saying the prayer.

    Prayer may only act in the mind of that person, or it could have already been implemented since the beginning of time. Who knows? I’m willing to submit my lack of knowledge in these regards. “Effective prayer” sounds little more than occultic selfishness than anything else – Biblical or not.

  • 30. BigHouse  |  January 22, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Right, because when Jesus included the part about “give us this day our daily bread” he totally didn’t mean that we should ask God to satisfy even our most basic needs.

    Living in a time with much less than what we have now, and within a paradigm that obviously suggested that living without worry for the material things, don’t you think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus was speaking about spiritual bread?

    What about “lead us not into tempttaion but deliver us from evil” part?

  • 31. The Apologist  |  January 22, 2009 at 11:33 am

    What about it?

  • 32. LeoPardus  |  January 22, 2009 at 11:57 am

    the various writers of the Bible thought

    So just what are you an apologist for? Your own personal view of a deity is all. Why bother? Make your imaginary deity in your own image (with no external source of revelation or authority) and leave other folks’ to do likewise.

  • 33. BigHouse  |  January 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    What about it?

    Is that also hyperbole or metaphor? Or are we supposed to pray for and expect God to steer us clear of tempation and evil?

    I’d love to get my hands on the secret decoder ring you have that has the definitive guide to what’s literal, metaphor, allegory, and other categories of the Biblical texts.

  • 34. Jeffrey  |  January 22, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Here’s a great video on the age old literal v. metaphorical question.

  • 35. Ubi Dubium  |  January 22, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Jeffrey –
    Sunday Heroes, one of my favorites! Should be required viewing for any apologist before they post here. “Aaaaahhhh…”

  • 36. Jeffrey  |  January 22, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Apologist,

    Jesus gave us another example of prayer in John 17:21:

    “that they [who believe in me] may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

    First off, note that Jesus is praying for something that acts outside his mind.

    God said “no.” In fact, not only has God failed to make Christian unity a good argument to believe like Jesus asked for it be, Christian disunity is an excellent reason to disbelieve. I don’t just mean due to fighting, but due to the specific content of the significant theological differences among Christians who are attempting to be biblical. Whether or not they are killing each other over it, the problem of theological diversity shows very clearly that the Bible communicates very poorly and the Holy Spirit doesn’t step in and pick up the slack.

  • 37. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 22, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Living in a time with much less than what we have now, and within a paradigm that obviously suggested that living without worry for the material things, don’t you think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus was speaking about spiritual bread?

    No, I don’t. They would have been living in a time where having basic needs was much less certain than it is today. Praying for God to provide seems a pretty natural assumption there.

    Based on a primitive understanding of God, of course the various writers of the Bible thought answers to prayer were everywhere and worked on a serve-me type system. Whether it is impotent today goes back to whether you believe in the natural/supernatural dualism of primitively-based religious systems or not.

    So, when Jesus fed the 5000 from a handful of food, or the woman and child whose flour and oil continually re-filled in whatever old testament story that was from, etc. were just writers seeing miracles where there were none? When Elija prayed and God sent a pilar of fire to burn his offering to show up the Baal prophets, that wasn’t God directly answering prayer?

    Would you care to actually set out what you think prayer achieves? So far, all I’ve heard from you is how we and most Christians have our concept of prayer wrong. The best we’ve gotten from you so far is “The effectiveness of prayer is to center around the tenets of universal love for God. . . and others . . .” which doesn’t really tell us what you think the effect actually is.

  • 38. The Apologist  |  January 23, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Bighouse,

    Is that also hyperbole or metaphor? Or are we supposed to pray for and expect God to steer us clear of tempation and evil?

    Do you always speak literally? Do you always speak figuratively? Why would either be a general rule of them when interpreting any book? Is this how you would treat Shakespeare or Whitman?

    I’d love to get my hands on the secret decoder ring you have that has the definitive guide to what’s literal, metaphor, allegory, and other categories of the Biblical texts.

    So would I, but even if it existed it probably wouldn’t do much good. The Bible was still written by a bunch of classical Middle eastern religious fanatics between 1900 and 2800 years ago.
    Leopardus,

    So just what are you an apologist for? Your own personal view of a deity is all. Why bother? Make your imaginary deity in your own image (with no external source of revelation or authority) and leave other folks’ to do likewise.

    As I recently answered Yurka – I am a nontheist. It is my own personal view of a deity, but it is shared by many other neo-deists and liberal Christians based on the philosophical and natural evidences around us. Why bother? Why bother to believe in anything? Why bother to be a Democrat or a Republican? Why bother to be a backwater creationist or a cutting-edge geneticist? Because it is human nature.

    Jeffrey,
    The gospel of John offers a blatantly proto-gnostic theology, of which does not coincide with the more historical teachings of the synoptic gospels.

    Christian disunity is an excellent reason to disbelieve.

    Sure, if you want it to. There are much better reasons that that to disbelieve without touching something that can be readily explained away by most conservative Christians.

    SnugglyBuffalo,

    No, I don’t. They would have been living in a time where having basic needs was much less certain than it is today. Praying for God to provide seems a pretty natural assumption there.

    That is to bad, as it is the consensus of most religious scholars (not theologians, but secular academics). The majority of Jesus’ sayings, as well as the rest of the New Testament, offer nothing positive about money and/or the need for it. The people of the day, in Palestine and the rest of the empire, prayed to all sorts of gods on a regular basis for everything and never thought twice about it. It was simply assumed that everything came from the gods – even if it was through natural means (yes, that is reaching). However, when it comes to Jesus’ teachings it is recorded in every gospel (even Thomas) that he taught through the symbolism of bread and water. It was not Jesus’ purpose to put food on everyone’s table, but rather give spiritual fulfillment.

    So, when Jesus fed the 5000 from a handful of food, or the woman and child whose flour and oil continually re-filled in whatever old testament story that was from, etc. were just writers seeing miracles where there were none?

    And these miracles actually happened and the writers of the text actually believed them to happen? Probably not. While primitive in our eyes, the writers of these texts were not delusional or crazy. Many scholars have shown that at least two, if not all four, of the gospels are written in a Midrashic fashion as an attempt to give the new Christian religion a supplement to the older Jewish testament. In their early liturgy, the early Christians would have likely read the story of the feedings along with the scriptural reading of manna from heaven, etc.

    When Elija prayed and God sent a pilar of fire to burn his offering to show up the Baal prophets, that wasn’t God directly answering prayer?

    Are the stories of the OT not simply Jewish myths analogous to that of the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks?

    Would you care to actually set out what you think prayer achieves? So far, all I’ve heard from you is how we and most Christians have our concept of prayer wrong.

    Well you don’t have to hear it from me. It simply doesn’t work. And yes, there are conflicting ideas about prayer in the scripture (just like everything else). I happen to believe that Jesus was a historical figure who was a little bit wiser than the majority of population of humankind and that how he treated his deity should be listened to a little bit more than some others.
    So what does prayer do? Who knows. I think we might have to define prayer more. Personally, I think prayer is likely more placbo than anything else, akin to eastern meditation… but if God is Being itself and we are aspects of that Being, perhaps there might be something more to the whole prayer thing.

  • 39. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 23, 2009 at 4:03 am

    Ah, you’re making a lot more sense now. I think I misunderstood what you’d been trying to get at.

    I definitely agree with you that the myths of the Bible are just that. I’m far too used to arguing with theists who take the Bible literally.

    And yes, there are conflicting ideas about prayer in the scripture (just like everything else).

    That’s what I’ve been trying to get at. I will concede that I could be wrong regarding the Lord’s Prayer. But you can’t deny that the Bible has examples of prayer having real, physical effects on the world. I would hardly call criticism of prayer’s efficacy the knocking down of a straw man, then. Especially when so many believers hold to such a view (as an aside, one cannot knock down a straw man provided by one’s opponent, as the definition of a straw man means you supply a modified version of your opponent’s view). Even ignoring this view of prayer, I have yet to see any form of it that I find compelling.

  • 40. BigHouse  |  January 23, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Bighouse,

    Is that also hyperbole or metaphor? Or are we supposed to pray for and expect God to steer us clear of tempation and evil?

    Do you always speak literally? Do you always speak figuratively? Why would either be a general rule of them when interpreting any book? Is this how you would treat Shakespeare or Whitman?

    I don’t always speak from the standpoint of giving instructions for future generations on how to avoid eternal damanation. It’d be nice if those who were would not muck up their instructions with poetry.

    I’d love to get my hands on the secret decoder ring you have that has the definitive guide to what’s literal, metaphor, allegory, and other categories of the Biblical texts.

    So would I, but even if it existed it probably wouldn’t do much good. The Bible was still written by a bunch of classical Middle eastern religious fanatics between 1900 and 2800 years ago.

    Now you’ve shot your argument in the foot. If you don’t have the decoder, how can you say my interpreation is wrong and yours is right?

  • 41. jakeonfire  |  January 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I’ve always thought that prayer as a means of healing only worked because the sick person would see, feel, or hear about the prayer activity and feel loved, thus encouraging them to keep on living/healing of their own internal strength (or maybe even receive some sort of metaphysical transfer of positive energy?). if the sick person is also a believer, it may give them hope that the prayers will work, thus making it self-fulfilling in a way.

  • 42. orderlychaos  |  February 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Apologist,

    I have skimmed several of your posts in the last couple of days and I’m curious as to whether or not you have a link to a website that might explain your general set of beliefs. I have gleaned a few things but to be honest most of your posts are fairly socratic, as in asking a lot of questions but not giving a lot of answers. I’m not necessarily saying this is a mistake or a flaw, I’d just like to see something a bit more cut and dry. I’m talking proofs, just a set of beliefs or ideas.

  • 43. Rebecca  |  February 5, 2009 at 6:50 am

    We had to do a class debate on an article about this family in a tutorial on the ethics and morals of religion and belief in medicine. It just so happened that ten of the twelve students were Catholic, one was hindu and I was the only atheist.

    The leader of the catholic showed himself early and him and I had a heated debate about the actions which should be taken. He was of the opinion that punishing them wouldn’t cause them to change their behaviours and could possibly make them martyrs of sorts and also that they had suffered enough because their daughter died.

    Whilst I didn’t disagree that punishing them wouldn’t change their future actions, nor absolve them of their past ones, I still thought that some kind of legal action should be taken against them. If only from the point of view that just because you’re religious it doesn’t mean you can neglect your children under the guise of faith. Of course such a court case would come under attack by religious people everywhere, Damned atheists.

    No religious belief should make you immune to the law.

    People of faith may believe they’re the only ones with morals, but you don’t need a degree to see that they killed their own child with their stupidity and ignorance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

Twitter

Archives

Blog Stats

  • 2,032,384 hits since March 2007

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 203 other followers