My mother is a prayer warrior. Every morning she wakes up and spends a good hour reading her Bible and praying. She prays for everyone and despite most of her prayers never being fulfilled, is convinced that they are very very important to daily life. If someone's marriage is failing, well it must be because they didn't pray enough. Adoption falling through? Not enough prayer. Feeling anxious over your new cancer diagnosis? Well, you wouldn't be so anxious if you prayed.
Today, while talking about me and my husband's adoption plans, my mother went on a ten minute lecture about prayer. She told me that it was the only reason she didn't go nuts while raising us kids. Prayer (and my extension God) were the reasons why she was able to be such a good parent. (I have a sibling who would argue that it didn't work.) She believes so firmly in the power of prayer and words that she thinks that one cannot get through life and particularly difficult situations without it.
My view: At best it is a form of meditation, a way to refocus on your life and the people in it. At worst it is a delusional placebo effect. The first makes sense since numerous studies have shown that spending even ten minutes in some kind of meditation is good for the body and the mind. My husband has been doing a daily meditation for several weeks now and has had a lot of wonderful thoughtful moments. But one doesn't need a god for these times to be effective. In this way, if prayer is just another form of meditation then I have no problem with it.
What I do have a problem with is this notion that a prayer is like a heavenly slot machine. Keep dropping in quarters and eventually one of those pulls will pay off. Sure, the hundreds of quarters that you put in before didn't work, but since a prayer seems to be answered every now and then, it was all worth it. The problem is that I see the prayers that were answered as inevitable, never miraculous. Oh, you went through chemo treatment and now the cancer has shrunk to almost nothing? God answered prayer. It has absolutely nothing to do with the doctors, the chemo, or your own body and mind. A homeless man gets off the streets and moves into an apartment? That must be God because only God can help someone out of such a tough situation. It wasn't the volunteers who formed a relationship with you and helped you every step of the way.
The placebo is that by praying, by releasing that thing and saying "I'm not in control, God is" you are making yourself feel better by thinking that there is some cosmic puppet master who is out there controlling this thing we call life. And sure, it probably does make you feel better to think such things. It is a nice idea to believe that there is some divine plan for each person, but the evidence I see before me states otherwise.
Growing up I was taught that people who didn't pray or claimed to do everything on their own were the delusional ones. That they didn't realize that everything they had and everything they had been blessed with was really from God. It wasn't their hard work, experience, education, or ingenuity that earned them a paycheck each week. It was God. And God would take it away if you tried to take credit for it. The reason you were so good at violin was because God gave you that talent. The reason you are so smart is because God made you that way. With this mindset there is no room for personal achievements because the achievement doesn't even belong to you. Although there are many people all over this world who give no credit to a God and suffer no adverse consequences. Let's be honest here too, I always found the people who did give all the credit to God to be pious self-righteous windbags. And the real kicker? God giveth and God taketh away, which was a phrase used to scare the masses into believing that if you don't recognize God's part in your life, he will take it away. Of course, the evidence would say that if this is something God does, he does it rather arbitrarily. Thus far, Bill Gates still makes a lot of money and he is definitely not giving God any credit.
I quit praying a long time ago, long before I was willing to admit I wasn't a Christian anymore. People speak of the "power of prayer", but I saw no power, only the illusion of power. When I read the Bible, I see a God who is rarely swayed by prayer, one who allows people to suffer, and is sometimes responsible for that suffering. And here's the real kicker, since I stopped praying my life has gotten better, not worse. I no longer live in poverty, I am happily married, I have everything I need, good friends, a great job. Even when I didn't have those things, I knew it had nothing to do with the amount of time I spent in prayer or how much I loved God.
It is these moments on the phone with my mother that I have the hardest time with keeping my mouth shut. I want to shout, "Prayer doesn't work. The reason you were able to raise us without killing us was because you had just enough self-control to not go there. The reason why an adoption works if because of hard work, reading, understanding child psychology, and patience. Prayer would do you no good if you didn't do those other things." Yet, I keep my mouth closed because she wouldn't understand. She will never understand. She will be on her death bed talking about prayer and as much as I don't agree, the only reason to challenge this belief would be to pick a fight.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.