Shall We Pray?


On any given day, my Facebook feed usually includes one or two prayer requests for sick or injured people. Or for a ridiculously premature infant. Or for someone on his death bed.

I can mostly ignore these random posts. But big events like the tornadoes and flooding of the past weekend bring on an avalanche of prayer requests. These in turn provoke me to rant. Hence, the following.

“Pray for Garland/Rowlett, Texas,” one post says. Pray for what? For God to wave a magic wand and restore everything to its condition before that big funnel cloud did its work? For all those newly homeless people to feel better about being homeless?

Everyone wants prayer, but exactly what the prayer is supposed to accomplish remains obscure.

Survivors of disasters often say God is good. It’s a blessing, they say. It could have been worse. Invariably there’s a wild-haired lady on the TV news saying “Praise God” even though her house is now a mile-long debris pile. None of this makes sense.

One must question the logic of thinking that the same God who invented cancer would somehow change His Mind and heal someone’s cancer because of prayer. If God has any power to answer prayers, God also has power to keep bad stuff from happening in the first place. What kind of ‘merciful’ God sits back, watches a tornado do its damage, then ‘hears’ prayers and decides what He’ll do to make it all better?

The common belief among the prayerful is that God watches over everything and when bad shit starts to happen, He picks and chooses who will die, who will be maimed for life, and whose house will be destroyed. One wonders about God’s criteria—are the ones who die bad people who need to be punished? If you’re not quite so bad, you only lose your house and, in a true miracle of God’s kindness, find that family photo in the mud?

If you’re so good that God spares you from harm, do you pray to thank Him for sparing you while smugly noting (privately) that you were spared when those folks next door got what they had coming?

Of course Satan comes into the picture. Satan makes all the bad stuff happen. God chases around after Satan trying to fix the damage. People who believe stuff like this actually operate vehicles on our highways. Many of them, against all odds, use computers.

You would think that with the advancement of science, we would no longer cling to such prehistoric beliefs. After all, we know that the mixing of cold and warm air, not Satan, causes tornadoes. We know our bodies are the result of genetics. We carry around devices that allow us to speak with anyone in the world and which convey visual and auditory media of any and all kind. We travel in jets, automobiles, and rocket ships. We explore the sea floor, transplant hearts, livers, and corneas, and watch brain parts light up on MRI screens.

We not only expect to use the latest gadget and demand ever higher Internet speed but require access to the latest in medical technology in order to enhance our erections and save our lives. We want what science (that godless extension of Satan himself ) can give us as long as it makes our work easier and our life expectancy longer. Advanced technology suffers no dependence on God, thank God, yet at the same time John Doe is about to undergo open heart surgery, Nancy Doe is asking all her friends for prayers.

Hedge the bet, then.

At least most of us no longer find it useful to cut the throat of a white goat before the races begin in order to ensure our horse wins. Or gut pigs to examine their entrails before we decide whether to take a vacation. And presumably no one is tossing virgins into bottomless pits so that the world will continue turning. Prayer and the occasional genuflect evidently now suffice in place of all those older more difficult methods of getting God to do what we want.

Prayer is the answer to everything. Football games. Our meals. The start of Congress or the school day. We’re infected with an irrational idea that prayer matters.

How long this nonsensical prehistoric behavior might continue, no one can say. After all, we have no method of disproving the possible intervention of a supernatural being. Whatever It is, It might actually be present on the fifty-yard line. That Mighty Hand might guide a hail-Mary pass, which is, not so coincidentally, a reference to prayer.

Unfortunately, historical evidence suggests otherwise.

This is the same God who, according to His own literature, killed off every single living soul on the planet except Noah’s family. The same God who sat back as blood-soaked centuries scrolled by while the Crusades, Inquisition, and the decimation of millions of indigenous people were carried out in His holy name.

But set all that aside because, well, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Why is it so incomprehensible to so many people that God does not and cannot possibly monitor the thoughts, acts, and prayers of all seven billion of us? Oh, sure, it was fine when there were thirty five of us in our tribal encampment. God could hear us then. But now? This is why we must align ourselves with a particular group who finds particular favor in God’s eyes.

Religion, for example. If we belong to the right religion instead of all those other ‘wrong’ religions, God will reward us with hearing our prayers and bestowing a glorious afterlife. Nanner-nanner to all those other infidels.

If this life sucks, well, we’ve been warned about the vale of tears as per Job’s experience in the Old Testament. All that suffering is our punishment for what happened thousands of years ago when Eve learned things God didn’t want her to learn. Why God put the apple there in front of her is just another one of His little tricksy secrets.

To get in good with God, a person must also choose the correct political party. If we’re Republican, we’re much closer to having God grant our prayerful wishes because God knows that Democrats are all lewd, blasphemous commies. And so forth.

Even within the religious Republican ranks, however, one must choose the right candidates and belong to the right branch of the Christian faith. Which one is right depends on who you ask. For those in the Church of Christ, for example, no one but their fellow adherents will see Heaven. Ask any Protestant and you’ll likely find out that all Catholics are going straight to hell. Likewise, ask any Catholic and you’ll find out that anyone not a Catholic is going to hell.

Not to mention what Christians think of Muslims. Or what Muslims think of everyone who doesn’t follow Islam. I admit I’m not clear on the Jewish belief about other faiths, but I suspect it tends toward the same narrow beliefs. Which explains why Israel continues to grab ever more Palestinian lands—“God gave that land to me.”

All of which ignores Buddhists, Confucionists, and Zoroastrianists, to name just three of the multitudinous non-Abrahamist religions.

So what does God think of all this? God only knows. But one thing I’m fairly sure of is that God doesn’t look down from Mount Olympus and tweak the weather to suit His agenda. He doesn’t decide that because gays marry, Texas should be plagued with floods. He doesn’t send his Almighty Wrath to incinerate the American West because Miley Cyrus twerks.

He doesn’t have millions of angels listening to all those prayers wafting up from this planet and prioritizing which ones to ignore. He, if He exists, can’t be a He. He can’t even be a physical entity that might have gender. He would be Unimaginable.

I think the power of prayer, if any, lies solely in its ability to focus the prayerful person’s attention on one thought and within that moment, assure the praying person that he/she has done all he/she could toward a problem over which he/she has no control. Group prayer, like meditation, perhaps has the potential to direct psychic energy toward a particular thought or idea. Which is yet another reason why sending prayers to Unimaginable simply detours any possible useful result of the effort.

Now, on the other hand, if the person is standing there praying for God to solve a problem over which he/she does have control, then God should smite him/her on the spot. Or at least send a tornado their way.