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Thread: The problems of prayer

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    The problems of prayer

    Recently I posted this on my Facebook page:



    There are a few elements of the idea of prayer that have long befuddled me.

    1. Why would someone make very selective prayers for certain creatures at certain times for certain circumstances, instead of all creatures at all times for all circumstances? People will commonly say “I will pray for you” as a response if you describe your health or financial or social troubles. Those gestures are made in goodwill and mean well, but just thinking of the logistics of it---If you have the incredible ability to influence what the almighty overseeing entity of the entire multiverse does, why would you limit prayers to such extraordinarily tiny favors instead of going all-out with them? Instead, pray for God to maximize the welfare of all entities throughout the entire realm of existence for all time. Not just here and there, pick and choose. Do it for everything, everywhere, all the time.

    2. It amounts to requesting God change His mind, or do something different from what he would have done prior to you making that prayer. Does God look at John Smith in Phoenix, Arizona and say “Oh hey, now that he has made this prayer for me to do [X] then I will do it. Prior to John’s prayer, I was going to do [Y] instead.” Or is there some threshold that must be met, so that if a certain minimum number of prayers are made, like 30,000, then God will do whatever those prayers are for, otherwise---oh well.

    3. Prayers and relationships with God are formatted so that God will always come out favorably, no matter what God does. If God inflicts a person with sarcoidosis, people will say that God has some other grander purpose in mind and that we should just believe that giving us sarcoidosis was (somehow) necessary for this omnipotent being to obtain a grander goal. Giving us sarcoidosis is then actually proof that God is good. On the other hand, if a person becomes cured of their sarcoidosis, that also gets pointed to as proof of how good God is. It is a win-win scenario for God. Regardless of how horrific a deed God commits, his followers will say it is proof of how good he is.

    When you consider all these elements and many more, it does not seem at all out of bounds to think that this Christian religion may not be real after all. So much of it does not make sense, so little of it does make sense. As a kid trying to figure out whether or not it was true, and heavily leaning towards that it was not, I was still open to the possibility of being wrong. Still, even if I was wrong, at least I was “reasonably wrong.” That was a phrase I remember repeating to myself often. It is not outrageous for a person to think that the Christian religion does not add up, when you start examining it more closely. What is the harm of being “reasonably wrong” on this issue, and why should someone be eternally punished for being so?

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    Yes, it's completely muddled, but religion is so elastic (and imaginary) that believers can manipulate their explanations of the whys & wherefores and God's ways (which they all claim to understand until they claim that man can't understand God's ways) indefinitely. Here are a few more incongruous ingredients in this lumpy stew:
    Why should you pray to find your car keys or for financial well-being or for your kids to stop vaping, when all the prayers of the Auschwitz inmates meant nothing until the Red Army swept through (by which time 99% of the victims were ashes?)
    Why should two opposing teams at a high school football team pray to be able to pull off a victory? Shouldn't they at least be offering sacrifices to God so that he handicaps the other team?
    Or read Rabbi Kushner's influential book (pitched to the layman) that many Christians have embraced, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, in which his theme is that one should pray, but not for physical results -- that in fact God cannot and will not follow our bidding, that it is not in his nature. Then follow that up with the sweeping endorsement of intercessory prayer in the supposed words of Jesus: "If two of you agree on earth about any request it will be granted by your heavenly Father" (MT 18:19); "You need only say to a mountain, Be lifted up and cast into the sea, and it will be done" (MT 21:22); "Whatsoever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it shall be yours" (MK11:24); "Anything you ask in my name I shall do" (JN 14:13, and again, tell that to the coaches of those two teams I described); "If you dwell in me, and my words dwell in you, ask whatever you want, and it shall be given to you" (JN 15:7)....that's pretty crazy, and most Christian commentators insist that those sweeping promises weren't made as stated. (Although the John 15:7 includes the qualifiers they need.)
    None of this, of course, daunts the Christians -- they're practiced at the explanations that make the difficulties go away. The most common explanations: what you ask must be in the will of God (so why ask?); God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is No, or sometimes you just don't like the answer (which is the Christian equivalent of Shit Happens); or the tropes used, for example, at an infant's funeral: we mortals cannot understand the mind of God (yet the preacher seems to understand the mind of God every Sunday morning) or God called little Brittany to be an angel (and thereby caused unspeakable anguish to her family.)
    Muddled fallback positions to erase the observation that the universe carries on as if there were no loving creator in control.

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    Super Moderator Atheos's Avatar
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    At the risk of sounding insensitive I believe monotheistic religion is a mental disorder that compromises one's perception of reality. Like alcoholism the first step is admitting you've got a problem. The fact that the majority of fellow human beings share the disorder doesn't negate whether or not it's a disorder.

    Prayer is a key component in fostering the disorder. The language of christian scripture regarding prayer makes it a very powerful catalyst for keeping the delusion strong. Not only must one pretend one is talking telepathically to this non-existent being, a key component is that it must be a "prayer of faith" or it won't be heard. You have to convince yourself that you're really talking to this imaginary friend or you won't get the goods.

    Christianity also fosters the delusion through other means. One must praise god when favorable outcomes transpire but rationalize when bad things happen. Think of High School football games (or other sporting events) where an opening prayer is often said. Almost invariably god is asked to keep the players/participants safe. When this doesn't happen and a player is badly injured nobody gives god a big ol' FU for not holding up his end of the bargain. But then if the EMT's and medical staff at the hospital are able to save the player from dying or being paralyzed god gets all the glory. If the player dies god gets the credit for holding him in the palm of his hand and comforting the family. For those of us on the outside observing this habitual "count the hits and ignore/rationalize the misses" dance it's truly bizarre. God always gets all the credit and never gets any of the blame.

    Others have said it many times but it bears repeating. Praying to god always yields exactly the same results as not praying to god. People routinely recover from bad chest colds whether or not someone prays for them. People sometimes beat cancer whether or not someone prays for them. People never regrow amputated legs no matter how many prayers are said in their behalf. God always behaves exactly like god would behave if god didn't exist.

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    Veteran Member James Brown's Avatar
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    I'm imagining RA - Religious Anonymous. ("Hi, I'm James, and I'm Religious." "Hi, James!")

    Don't ex-believers complain that they lose their social networks when they leave their faith?

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    Not to mention their binkies.

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    Super Moderator Atheos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Brown View Post
    I'm imagining RA - Religious Anonymous. ("Hi, I'm James, and I'm Religious." "Hi, James!")

    Don't ex-believers complain that they lose their social networks when they leave their faith?
    That's a vacuum the UU church is working to fill. I have no desire for it but I'm a bit of an introvert. As a member of the Clergy Project I know several preachers and ex-preachers who (like me) no longer believe in any god. Several of them have found gainful employment with the UUC. One of the more uncommon cases is an openly atheist female preacher who still works as the pulpit minister of a Methodist church (can't remember where off the top of my head). The majority of members of the Clergy Project are still active and not openly atheist. Most of them are trying to transition into something else they can do with a clear conscience, but like anyone else who hates their job but has a family to feed they're sucking it up and continuing to hold the job down.

    Membership at the Clergy Project is very carefully vetted to protect those who cannot afford for their atheism to be made public. The primary purpose of the Clergy Project is to provide support, counselling and resources for those faced with the daunting task of attempting to transition out of the pulpit into the secular workplace.

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    I've always thought that there was a significant percentage of closeted atheists in the clergy -- there has to be, because the more intelligent among them are literate, presumably have a talent for reading literature, and must have read every last verse of the Big Damn Holy Bible. Time and reflection would do the rest.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    What is the harm of being “reasonably wrong” on this issue, and why should someone be eternally punished for being so?
    I'm gonna focus on just this question you ended with. The harm to religion is that reason is the anti-thesis of faith, and religions promote faith as a virtue (and therefore reason as dangerous) precisely b/c none of the core ideas of religion can be defended in the face of reason. As the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, said "Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God." You're correct that prayer makes no sense in light of the assumption of an omniscient God who would have known when he created the Universe how everything would turn out and what every person praying was going to pray for.

    But the very concept of God itself is absurd and unreasonable, especially a God that is omnipotent and supposedly "loving". Such a God would mean that nothing cruel or unloving ever happened to people. Plus, the evidence is overwhelming that evidence that mental qualities like love, anger, or a "will" or byproducts of material brains, thus an immaterial God with these mental qualities is highly unreasonable, as is the notion of an afterlife where any aspect of the mind or person beyond decomposed atoms still exists.

    Religion is always promoted and spread via emotional bias (fear and ego-centric self-promotion) and coercive authoritarianism. Reason is and enemy of both of these b/c it gives sole weight to evidence and logic without regard to what feels good or what authorities declare. This is why reason is not only the enemy of faith and religion, but of authoritarian rule, which is why religion and anti-libery, anti-democratic authoritarianism are inherent allies that enable and promote one another.

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Right. To be clear, I was aiming that question towards any Christians (reading my Facebook post) for them to consider. From a nonbeliever's point of view, it makes no sense at all. I wanted to see if any Christians would attempt to write out any justification for God eternally torturing someone for being "reasonably wrong." That point was not addressed in any response though on my FB page. No attempts at justification were made, which was expected.

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