Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Power of Prayer?

People are praying for Representative Giffords, which is very nice of them. Meaningless but nice. She's in a medically-induced coma so she doesn't know they're praying. If she knew they were praying for her she might have a somewhat better outcome, but she doesn't so they're wasting their time.

Or are they?

They are the ones reaping any benefit. We all want to be able to help people in need, and that's a good thing. It's frustrating when there's nothing we can do, so prayer offers us that salve to our conscience.

By "us" I mean "they" of course.

Christians have claimed that any neuroscience that explains prayer or belief shows that God intended humans to be believers and made the brain that way. A better explanation is that evolution resulted in a species that survived by cooperation and community. The instinct to intervene when disaster happens, to care for the injured and sick, and to pull together in a crisis is an evolutionary advantage for us humans. We don't all have to be that way for the species to have arrived at our current state, but enough of us are for us to have survived well enough to populate the planet.

So it's only natural that when we can't help in a tangible way, our frustration is difficult to tolerate. Turning to a supernatural entity seems like the only resort. Then when the outcome is positive we credit the supernatural entity, which makes us even more likely to pray in the future.

A reporter asked one of the doctors who worked on Rep. Giffords about what he thought was the reason for her relatively good outcome so far. He ran down a list of all the people who helped her starting from the first moment after her injury, to the surgical staff. Then he added "And luck" for having a survivable wound.

He didn't credit any sky-daddy at all! I bet the reporters in the room heaved a disappointed sigh. TV news loves to report and repeat instances where God gets the credit for good news.

But then there's Judge Roll, who was killed ... right after praying at Mass... because he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time." He had been threatened in the past, and he wasn't the target when he was killed. His demise was an unfortunate instance of bad luck. Likewise, the other victims.

Any time there is a disaster in which there are both fatalities and survivors, the fallacy of counting only the "hits," or confirming instances, rears its head. This time the news that I've seen seems to be holding back on that, though survivors haven't been interviewed yet. I'm encouraged to hear "luck" mentioned. The people who died and the people who lived were both the target of random chance, dependent on the shooter's will and skill, not any sky-daddy's intervention.

We don't like luck. It evens the playing field, and we all want an advantage. But acknowledging the role of luck or chance and learning to cope with the frustration of not being able to influence it is part of growing up.

Deconversion is more than just deciding that certain beliefs are bogus. It's also a gradual process of learning to deal with frustrations such as this. Prayer won't help Rep. Giffords. She doesn't need our blood donation. Her doctors and family are caring for her. We're just bystanders watching the TV news. We can't do anything for her, though we would if we could.

Despite all Christian hoopla to the contrary, most people are nice to other people. Most people would help a person in need if possible. Most of us want to see the rest of us survive and prosper. And that includes atheists.


ex-minister1 said...

I agree. Most of us would be helpful if we could. Christianity teaches were are totally evil on the inside and without God in heaven we all would be out having sex with our own gender.
Once I chucked that religion years ago I starting realizing there are a lot of just plain nice people around me. I am not looking for them to save my frickin' soul or fret over forgiving and being forgiven but just accept people for what they are, plain humans. They don't have to be any better or any worse than me. Christianity is binary. There are only the righteous and the wicked. How distorted !

LadyAtheist said...

I agree. It's a false dichotomy, or in psychology, "splitting." Most people are neither all good nor all evil, and most can be swayed one way or another by circumstances and culture.

I always snicker at the "look how wonderfully Americans respond to a tragedy" talk. Do people really think that people in other countries are without compassion? I would have liked to see just one TV pundit say "Wow, those Chilean miners certainly have a whole country pulling together for them -- their own, not ours! And looky here, rescuers with special equipment aren't from the U.S. They're from other countries!"

No, only Christians, and Christian Americans specifically, can show compassion and community according to them.

1prophetspeaks said...

you're speaking in total ignorance, asserting prayer doesn't work.GIffords doesn't need to KNOW about their prayers for it to work. Those of us who have had God anwer our prayers know better. I have been healed several times of disease, and it did not return. I rebuked it in Jesus name. Diseases are caused by spirits; Jesus did this and told his followers to do likewise. IT works. Read my article "letter to a scientist/atheist" on my website ALso my book Manual for Transformational Healing-God's Answer to pschiatry which is free on my website, will help you understand that Both GOd and demons talk to people, everyone actually, in our thoughts. Read the book blurb on my website.

LadyAtheist said...

Some links for you:

G Wiz said...

It was the power & the skills of the medical staff at the University Medical Center. Prayer had nothing to do with it - no matter what book you're pedaling.