Today is the National Day of Prayer. How about a National Day of Actually Doing Something instead?
The president issued the obligatory proclamation today: “Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation” and blah, blah, blah.
We’ve had a National Day of Prayer since 1952. What good has it done? In 1952, the world had 50 million cases of smallpox each year. Today, zero. Guinea worm and polio should soon follow. Computers? Cell phones? The internet? Science delivers, not God.
I can appreciate that praying to Jesus can help someone feel better, but so can praying to Shiva or Quetzalcoatl or whatever god they’ve been raised with. In terms of actual results, praying to Jesus is as effective as praying to a jug of milk.
I understand how the National Day of Prayer helps politicians get right with Christians. But how it coexists with the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), I can’t imagine.
My own departure from Christianity was pretty gentle, and I learned a lot from the painful road taken by Julia Sweeney (creator of “Letting Go of God”). As she gradually fell away from first Catholicism, then Christianity, and finally religion, she realized with a shock how ineffective prayer had been. Prayer lets you imagine that you’re doing something when you’re actually doing absolutely nothing. All that prayer that had helped her feel like she was helping people—whether the person on hard times down the street or the city devastated by natural disaster around the world—had been worthless.
In fact, not only does prayer do nothing in cases like this, but it is actually harmful. The pain that people naturally feel when they hear of disaster—that emotion that could be the motivator for action—is drained away by prayer. Why bother doing something yourself when God is so much more capable?
Prayer becomes an abdication of responsibility, and atheism can open the doors to action.
Sweeney’s conclusion: if you want to help the victims of the tsunami in Haiti (or whatever the latest disaster is), you need to do something since God clearly isn’t doing anything. Contribute to a charity that will help, or demand that the federal government spend more to help and demand the tax increase to pay for it. If it’s a sick friend, Jesus isn’t going to take them soup and cheer them up … but you can.
Prayer doesn’t “work” like other things work. Electricity works. An antibiotic works. Prayer doesn’t. As the bumper sticker says, Nothing Fails Like Prayer.
Even televangelists make clear that prayer is useless. Their shows are just long infomercials that end with a direct appeal in two parts: please pray for us, and send lots and lots of cash. But what possible value could my $20 be compared to what the almighty Creator of the universe could do?
Televangelists’ appeals for money make clear that they know what I know: that praying is like waiting for the Great Pumpkin. People can reliably deliver money, but prayer doesn’t deliver anything.
Instead of a National Day of Prayer, how about a National Day of Actually Doing Something? Many local United Way offices organize a Day of Caring—what about something like that on a national level?
Doing something makes you feel good, just like prayer, but it actually delivers the results.
Prayer is like masturbation.
It makes you feel good but it doesn’t change the world.
— Don Baker
Photo credit: Wikimedia
- “National Day of Prayer,” Wikipedia.
- Elizabeth Tenety, “Do we need a National Day of Prayer?” Washington Post, 5/5/11.
But Bob (he says sarcastically), don’t you know that it’s actually God, and specifically the Christian version of God, who effected the cures you mentioned, and made all the technological advances – because he endowed the doctors and research scientists and electronics engineers and all the others with their innate curiosity, their egos, their penchant for exploration into the unknowns of the fields of endeavor of the people who just followed His lead in their discoveries. Why, you ask, didn’t He do this millennia ago? Why did He wait until the Industrial Revolution began and the “Church” began to take a back seat to secular investigation? Why has He allowed humanity to suffer for thousands of years (well, 6,015 years, 6 months and 10 days, since He created earth on October 23, 4004 BCE. At 9:00 in the morning, EST.) Since prior to the last ~300 years, religions flourished across the face of the earth and these progresses were not made then, we can only assume that He was testing humanity. Testing. And waiting. Waiting for His creatures to figure out that He, God, works miracles but THRU THE HANDS OF MANKIND!
Now we should give this Christian God all the praise and continue the prayers – so He continues to bless humanity with His super-secret power to continue the advances He began just a few centuries ago.
Doesn’t that make more sense to you now? Aren’t you glad I explained it to you?
This dude certainly is shy if he must patiently wait for humans to carry out his own good works.
I agree that there should be a national do something day, It should be on January 15, the day defore national do nothing day. That way people could do something, than the next day they can feel good about themselves as they do nothing. 🙂
Over at the comment section of CNN.com’s “Belief Blog”, there’s one idiot who posts the exact same 3 words about every 3-4 pages: “Prayer changes things.”. That’s it. No discussion. No explanation. No attempt to engage with the other commenters. No variety. Just the same 3 words, must have been hundreds of times by now. Well, prayer hasn’t changed his (her? its?) routine at all!
FWIW, the last time I responded, I eschewed my normal “Name ONE!” and went for “Yup, sure does. Pray for 60 minutes, and the hour hand is pointing to an entirely different number.”.
Nice! With someone like that, I guess you can either laugh or you can cry.
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