Posts tagged ‘prayer’
For several of the many possible reasons, I realized that I could no longer hold fast to the faith that I once built my life around. When this realization struck me, it was emotionally painful. Worse, most of the ways I had coped with pain and grief before were no longer open to me, as they were all forms of prayer- alone, in a group, or with a Bible. I could not really turn to my Christian friends or my Christian family for support, as they saw my doubts and concerns as an attack against them and all that they valued. I could not go to my pastor- I was the pastor!
Things I did that helped me get through this time of grief and pain:
- Go for a walk outside/get some healthy exercise.
– Fill a playlist with upbeat MP3s (Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, Tom Smith, ABBA, etc), and listen to them whenever possible.
– Pick up an old, creative hobby I hadn’t engaged in for a while (roleplaying, in my case. Yes, I am a geek.)
– Spend time in a social activity with friends (without discussing religion).
– Find ways to help people as I had when a Christian, without the Christian trappings (and realize that I am still the same person I always was).
– Find a support group of people who have gone through similar struggles (this site was a huge help for me!).
– Find people I could talk honestly to (see previous parenthetical).
– Journal (blog) the experience, and/or what led up to it.
– Remember to breathe!
– Explore different faiths, different fellowships, different philosophies, and find out what I wanted from them, what I could offer to them, and (most importantly to me) what I could put my faith in.
How about you? What helped you through your de-conversion, if it was painful, or helps you through other times of trial now that prayer is no longer an option?
Imagine a blind man called Henry who, during his appendectomy, has an electronic device secretly planted deep in his ear by an mischievous surgeon called Richard. This device has the capacity to transmit sound to Henry whenever Richard wishes from nearly any location.
A few days later, Richard, hiding behind a postbox, transmits a short message while Henry is slowly tapping his cane along the sidewalk.
This is the first time that Henry has heard a voice other than his own in his head. He knows that others who have heard voices have ended up institutionalized.
Nonetheless, he is curious, and reaches down to the sidewalk.
“Left.” comes the voice again.
Henry obeys and reaches left to discover a $100 bill that Richard has left there. Henry is quite stupefied by this new source of knowledge, and goes home to ponder the enigma. He wracks his brain for an explanation, but finally drifts off to sleep.
The next afternoon while walking to the barber, he hears the voice again.
Henry taps his cane to the right, and finds himself in an alley.
Henry reaches down to find another $100 bill.
This same event occurs week after week with Henry becoming richer, placing more confident in the voice, and eventually losing interest in discovering the mechanism behind this source of knowledge. He goes out every day expecting to find another $100 bill.
Does Henry understand the source? No.
Is Henry warranted in his confidence in this source of knowledge? Yes.
Why? Because it works. The voice has demonstrated predictive power. This predictive power has led to a precedent that warrants continued confidence. As successes mount, Henry’s confidence increases. In this, confidence is inextricably tied to successes. The goal is to limit confidence to exactly the level of the strength of the precedent of successes.
Henry would not have been justified in placing complete confidence in the voice at day 3. Nor would Henry be justified in doubting the voice on day 1000. Henry’s confidence is solely tied to the history of the voice’s successes and failures.
Now imagine that Richard had never left any money on the sidewalk. Imagine that every day Richard (or Henry’s own subconscious mind) spoke in Henry’s ear “I promise you’ll find money if only you’ll reach down”.
And imagine a gullible Henry who reaches down every day only to find nothing…until after 3 years, he feels the ridges of a 50-cent piece on his finger tips.
Now what is Henry warranted in believing? A person with an understanding of probabilities would not attribute finding the 50-cent piece after 3 years of failure as being causally related to the voice, but rather as a rare event that had fallen well within the range of probabilities. However, as Henry is a gullible soul and unschooled in probabilities, he might attribute the “success” to the voice, and continue to stoop in search for the promised money in vain…until probabilities again connected his fingertips to another coin.
What is the point of this mental exercise? It is to show that we are only warranted in placing confidence in sources of knowledge that have a proven track record of successes that reliably out-perform chance. Knowledge of the mechanism is unnecessary. This has given those who claim that there are inscrutable or intractable immaterial sources of knowledge the opportunity to test their claims without need of an explanation of the mechanism. Such claims are fine…if accompanied by successes. However, to protest when others demand to mathematically and scientifically examine the success rate of the claims is improper.
This is what is actually happening today. Theists claim that their god answers intercessory prayer for the infirmed. So scientists have set up experiments to test this claim. The theists generally quietly wait for the results without confidently predicting the success that, if biblical promises of answered intercessory prayer were true, would most certainly follow. If, by chance, the study were to show a significant positive effect, they would no doubt immediately proclaim victory. Then, from my experience with the reasoning of theists, they would ignore or denounce any replicated studies that show the inverse.
However, evidence of successful intercessory prayer is nowhere in sight.
The Harvard study
An excerpt from the conclusion
CONCLUSIONS: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.
So how are theists responding?
They are invoking the insular “god cannot be tested” clause. The god who makes claims of answered prayer, power over sin and wisdom somehow does not fall subject to the scrutiny of statistics. I’ll let readers assess the warrant in invoking this convenience.
Herein lies the absurdity and danger of “faith”. Once an individual has placed undeserved confidence in a source of knowledge, his reasoning faculties are no longer available to assess evidence; they are monopolized by the convoluted defense of an undeserving failed source of knowledge.
“Faith” requires no training. It comes easy. It is the default mode for those who can not or will not school themselves in critical thinking.
Critical thinking, in contrast, allows us to test sources of knowledge for successes, and only when a precedent of successes has been properly established for a given source are we warranted in our confidence in that source.
“Faith” fails. Claims of immaterial causation have failed, and to a degree and consistency that warrants their removal from any serious consideration. The amazing successes of scientific methodology that we currently enjoy are what have led to our confidence in its continued successes. The predictive power of scientific methodology has been rightfully earned, while spotty “successes” of intercessory prayer fall neatly within the range of probabilities. The “hits” of intercessory prayer are remembered and are presented as testament to the power of a god. The “misses” are simply ignored, forgotten and excluded from any honest analysis since the notion that there is no deity who can intervene in our lives is emotionally untenable.
Is our objective to approach truth? Then let’s place our confidence in what works rather than falling as credulous prey to the specious claims of faith-mongers who have not a single credible success to their name.
The last article I wrote was about the biggest benefit religion possesses: its strong sense of community. That feeling of unity and belonging that the Christian community provided is maybe the thing I miss most about being a religious person. But coming in at a close second are prayer requests.
For the ten years I went to Christian school, every day started with the opportunity to share prayer requests followed by a prayer that dutifully addresses all concerns. Prayer request time was supposed to be time set aside for spiritual introspection and communion with fellow believers, but it always devolved into nothing more than story-telling time. And I loved it. We had a way of taking a story that we wanted to tell and twisting it to make it either a prayer request or an object of praise:
“Last night, when we were coming home from soccer practice, it was really dark outside. A dog ran right in front of our car and my dad had to slaaaam on the breaks! We all started screaming because we thought he had hit the dog. My sister even started to cry. My dad got out to make sure the dog was okay and saw him walking along the sidewalk across the street. He got back in the car and told us the dog was alright. My mom said that maybe we should go pick it up so that it wouldn’t get hurt or cause an accident. So we took the dog home and called the number on its tags and its owner came and picked it up. I’m thankful to God that my family and the dog were not hurt and that it got to go home to its family.”
Human beings love to tell stories. It’s the primary way that we learn and relate to each other. I can still remember the feeling of excitement as I sat at my desk with my hand raised, waiting for the teacher to call on me so that I could tell the entire class my new and exciting story–err–I mean, prayer request…
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…
The entire problem with answered or unanswered prayers is the vagueness. You can be the sort of person who asserts that every good thing in your life, including your daily meals, is an answered prayer. However, at that point you move into a hazy area where anything, from your father’s work ethic to the happenings of the universe, could be attributed to prayer.
In the world of scientific studies, for finding to have significance, they must rise above the statistical noise. This means that these findings must have a positive percentage above what you would expect from random variation. Unless you go the above mentioned route where ever little thing is a round-about answered prayer, then god never rises above the statistical noise. In other words, 500 people have stage III cancer. The average survival rate is 30%, which means in order for answered prayers of the 500 cancer patients to rise above the statistical noise, god would have to save around 40-50% of them…
As an atheist, it always surprises me that people seriously believe that god really will answer their prayers. Perhaps it’s something you have to be religious in order to comprehend. But some people pray, and pray, and pray, until as one individual put it:
The following examples are from the 8.51% of the de-conversion stories, amongst the sample I read, in which people tried to speak to god, and they now credit god’s lack of an answer for their de-conversion.
“Being very eager to please, I would often beg Jesus to save me. Expecting trumpets and angels, or at the very least a pat on the head, and getting nothing, I think I just eventually realised god wasn’t going to answer.”
For some the experience of god failing to answer their prayers as promised was a highly distressing experience:
In high school, I gradually started to question more, but did not get satisfactory answers. My prayers for clarity and a stronger faith went unanswered. Why would God let my faith slip? That was the question that haunted me for years…
On Good Friday, 1973, my parents caught me smoking. It wasn’t the first time I’d been caught, but it was the last. This wasn’t because I quit immediately, per their demands. It was, rather, because I quickly grew fairly skilled at hiding my vice from them. Oh, they continued to harbor suspicions, but they never again caught me in the act. Anyway, it so happened that, like most good evangelical Christians, our family was scheduled to attend the annual Good Friday service that very evening. So, off to church we went.
I sat through the service and dreaded the coming altar call because I knew exactly what was going to happen. Sure enough, the pianist had barely begun playing the prayer chorus when my mother ambled over to where I was sitting with some friends and insisted that I accompany her to the altar. There, of course, I was compelled to repent of my sin, renounce my filthy habit and ask Jesus to forgive me. I mouthed the requisite syllables as tears of rage flowed down my cheeks.
I was enraged at being compelled to say a prayer that I did not mean and thereby label myself as a hypocrite. You see, when I was fourteen I was in what I now regard as a state of rebellious disobedience of God. I believed in God but had absolutely no desire to follow, obey, love or worship him. Therefore, my prayer was utterly insincere and, as I understood the matter then, both he and I knew I hadn’t meant a word of it. I believed that uttering an insincere prayer while in a state of believer’s rebellion was the height of hypocrisy…