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Featured "Three Simple Problems With Prayer"

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by Skwim, Oct 21, 2019.

  1. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    "By Phil Zuckerman: professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College.

    Last week, I got a call from one of my cousins. A well-respected rheumatologist with a jocular edge, she is a devout Catholic who finds enormous comfort and inspiration in her faith. She called to see if I would be willing to let four nuns pray on my behalf for thirty days if it just might change my life for the better? It was, she explained, all for love.

    Sure, I said. Why not? If four nuns want to pray for my well-being, that’s fine with me.

    My cousin’s belief in the positive power of prayer is common. Millions of Americans — and hundreds of millions of other people around the world — pray all the time. Indeed, prayer is one thing that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Rajneeshees, Hindus, Mormons, Sikhs, and worshippers of Viracocha, Perkūnas, and Tāne all have in common.

    What is prayer, exactly? Simple: It is mentally asking a magical, invisible, powerful deity to do something. It is sending heartfelt, mind-powered texts to a God. Sometimes it requires a certain ritual, sometimes it involves specific hand motions, often it comes with closed eyes or furrowed brows, occasionally it is aided by deep concentration or the sacrifice of an animal, but in the end, it all boils down to the same thing: earnestly petitioning a God to grant a wish, respond to a need, fulfill a request, or offer help.


    1. Do you really have to ask?

    Imagine you have taken your daughter to a skateboarding park. While there, she falls and hits her head. There’s blood. She’s crying. But you just sit there, doing nothing. You don’t go to her, you don’t put ice on her injury, you don’t call 9-1-1. Some other adult rushes to help your daughter, and when she finds out you are her parent, asks you, “Why didn’t you help your daughter?”

    And you reply, “Well, she didn’t ask.”

    Pretty awful response, right? I mean, you were there, you saw what happened, and you had the power to come to your daughter’s aid — but you didn’t simply because she didn’t outright ask you for help? Such inaction isn’t just immoral; we’d call it irresponsible parenting. If your child is suffering and you know it and you have the power to do something about it, you do what you can. Such loving help should never be contingent upon an explicit or even implicit request.

    Or consider this scenario: There’s an old lady who lives next door to you, alone. She’s very frail. One day, during winter, the power in your neighborhood goes out. There’s no electricity for heat. You go out to chop some wood to build a fire in your fireplace. Now, you could also build a fire in your old neighbor’s fireplace. But you don’t provide her with any wood and you don’t make sure she is warm because, well, she hasn’t asked. So you’ll just let her freeze.

    Again, awful, right? Maybe she didn’t ask you to build a fire because she’s too embarrassed to ask for help. Maybe she doesn’t want to be burden. Maybe she’s too weak. But it doesn’t really matter. Your assistance shouldn’t require or depend on her asking. Knowing she is in need, you should make sure she is warm, whether she asks or not.

    And, thus, we come to the first problem of prayer: Why do you even have to ask God for help? Doesn’t God already know you have cancer, or that you are unhappy at your job, or that your spouse has a drinking problem, or that you can’t pay the rent, or that there is a drought, or that a war is causing all kinds of suffering? The idea that God would only take action when and if asked is deeply problematic. It suggests that God is either not all-knowing (since He doesn’t know things unless you tell Him via prayer) or He is immoral (since He only helps those in need if asked).

    If there is a God who loves you and cares for you, surely this God wouldn’t require a mental email request before helping you out.


    2. Doesn’t God Already Have Plan?

    Once I was teaching a class at night in a neighboring town. The only route home was a road with traffic lights at every intersection, set to a timer. If you got the green light at just the right time, then you got a green light at every intersection, all the way, and the drive home was quick and smooth. But if you got at a red light early on, then you would get stuck with red lights at every intersection, making the ride home much longer.

    So, this one night, I decided to pray for green lights all the way home. I picked Pan, the goat-god, as my deity of choice. I prayed soulfully and hard. And then, at the very first intersection, I got a red light. Damn! Pan didn’t answer my prayer! But before I gave up on Pan’s beneficent might, I quickly reckoned: “Hey, maybe I didn’t get the green light because Pan knows that two miles ahead there is a drunk driver, and if I had gotten the green lights, I would’ve been hit by him. Pan put a red light up to save me from that accident. He knew best!”

    In other words: My prayer for green lights wasn’t answered the way I wanted, but that’s because Pan had a plan. Being all-wise and all-loving, Pan knew what was in my best interests at that moment.

    This little experiment taught me so much about the very nature of prayer: It’s a self-contradicting heads-I-win-tails-you-lose phenomenon. It works like this: People ask God for things. If they get them, it is proof that prayer works! If they don’t get them… it is still proof that prayer works! It just means that God has answered their prayer in a different way. And that’s because God knows better. He has a plan. When He closes a door, He always opens a window. Or a drainage pipe. But if that is truly the case — that God has a plan — then why bother praying in the first place? Why not just “let go and let God”?

    If God is in control of everything, and God knows what is best for you, then praying is pointless.


    3. Where’s the Evidence?

    All stories of prayer working are purely anecdotal. Sometimes inexplicable things happen. Usually they don’t. Sometimes people miraculously recover. Usually they don’t. Sometimes people survive dangerous, horrific ordeals by the slimmest of chances. But most don’t. For every sole survivor of a plane crash, there were hundreds who died. The universe is permeated by things like probability, odds, chance, luck, misfortune, and a whole heap of uncontrollability. Some people experience good things for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons, while others experience bad things for bad reasons, good reasons, or no reasons. Accept reality. Separate fact from fantasy. See life with clear eyes.

    Naturally, when people find themselves in hopeless situations, or when they feel powerless, or when they are trapped in circumstances beyond their control, or when they just need a sense of connection to something bigger, more powerful, and more loving than what they can find elsewhere, prayer is an understandable option. It can be calming, it can be comforting, it can make someone feel like maybe — just maybe — they can magically alter the course of events affecting them or their loved ones.

    But that doesn’t erase the logical contradictions and immoral implications of petitionary prayer."
    source


    Thoughts?


    .
     
    #1 Skwim, Oct 21, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
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  2. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    My questions with prayer (and some specific associated practices) kind of overlap with the above and are....

    1) Does prayer ever change God's mind? If so, does that mean the person praying has effectively altered "God's will"? If not and God is going to do what God's going to do regardless, what was the point of praying for a different outcome?

    2) Does the number of people praying for the same thing affect the likelihood of the request being granted? If so, why?

    3) Is a prayer request more or less likely to be granted based on who's praying? If not, what's the point of sending in prayer requests to pastors and televangelists?

    4) Does the specific wording of the prayer affect the likelihood of the request being granted? If so, why?
     
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  3. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    BTW, some of the memes in the comments at that site are both funny and thought-provoking.
     
  4. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    If one assumes -- as does Zuckerman -- that the purpose of prayer is to beseech the gods for divine intervention, then Zuckerman's three criticisms are a good start.

    However, I find it curious that Zuckerman is both a professor and -- seemingly -- knows so little about prayer that he assumes the sole and only reason anyone ever prays is to beseech the gods for divine intervention. In other words, he would have us believe he is a professor who knows no more about prayer than an Evangelical preacher!

    Come on, is Zuckerman a real person? Or is he just some sort of internet fiction? I studied Comparative Religion at the university level. There were no professors so poorly informed that they knew no more about prayer than your typical Evangelical preacher. None.
     
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  5. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    Having grown up in an evangelical Christian environment, I recall that the vast, vast majority of prayers were for some sort of divine intervention.....everything from "give me strength" to "heal this dying person".

    In fact, I can't think of any prayers that weren't effectively asking God to do something.

    EDIT: As I think about it more, I guess one could say the "thank you God" and "you're so awesome" prayers weren't requests for God to do something. But I never really thought of those as "prayers" as much as "praise" and/or "worship". Probably a semantics thing....;)
     
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  6. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    It's good to "think about it more" -- Zuckerman should try it.
     
  7. robocop (actually)

    robocop (actually) Well-Known Member
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    I'd say you are part of God's plan... this might include that you will pray.

    As per 3, God has a way of working behind the scenes to test us.
     
  8. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    Or it might not.

    Why? As an omniscient god surely he already knows the test results, and what, if anything, he'll do about them.

    .
     
    #8 Skwim, Oct 21, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  9. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    So those sorts of "thank you/you're so awesome" prayers aside, I think when it comes to praying for God to do things, the issues Zuckerman touched on are valid.
     
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  10. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    But that renders engaging "the issues" no less petty.
     
  11. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    Well, to be honest with you, it's this sort of "answer" that can lead to doubt about the whole belief system. Let's say a young person comes to a leader with similar questions. What sort of reaction do you think the young person will have when the leader dismisses his questions as "petty"?
     
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  12. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Yes, I agree with you that Zuckerman's three issues are valid. They are also remedial. Zuckerman pretends to be a college professor, but he is teaching at the middle school level. High school at most, and he's doing an at best mediocre job of it.
     
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  13. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Did you just hear what you said? In effect, Jose, you are admitting Zuckerman is baby food. He's "for young people", as you put it. And I would agree with you except that he is a bit too incompetent even for that. After all, he seems actually unaware that prayers serve more functions than just the one he attacks. Is an ignoramus someone you want teaching young people?
     
  14. Jose Fly

    Jose Fly Fisker of men

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    So what are the answers to the questions he asked?
     
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  15. Thief

    Thief Rogue Theologian

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    maybe it's a matter of technique

    recently ...coincidentally
    I have been posting an instruction dealt centuries ago

    Go to your closet and close the door
    and the Spirit that knows you will hear your prayer

    under this instruction I see the actual problems

    one......you can't see who you are speaking to
    that could be the devil in the closet with you....for all you know

    two....if you hear a Voice respond to you
    are you going to stay in that closet?

    three...do you really understand the consequence for whatever you are requesting?
     
  16. robocop (actually)

    robocop (actually) Well-Known Member
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    Have you ever asked yourself, if God were apparent to you, would I, Skwim, do what was right or rebel?
    God does no miracles unto the unbelieving, IMO.
     
  17. JJ50

    JJ50 Well-Known Member

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    People who rely on prayer rather than seeking medical help if they are ill, are crazy. It is abuse if they rely on it for their children.
     
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  18. Phaedrus

    Phaedrus Active Member

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    No qualms here. Brilliant article.

    If agreeing with Zuckerman means I have the mentality of a high schooler, I suggest some people step up their strawmen.
     
    #18 Phaedrus, Oct 22, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  19. LightofTruth

    LightofTruth Active Member

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    The God of the Bible doesn't recognize any other God's but Himself. He says, "I alone am God, there are none else beside Me". So, according to the Bible, any God that is not the God of the Bible is merely an idol and can do nothing.
    it is therefore essential first of all to recognize the one true God. No one can expect anything by praying to God's that don't exist.
     
  20. JJ50

    JJ50 Well-Known Member

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    I think prayer can sometimes have a placebo effect, apart from that it falls on deaf ears as it is highly unlikely any god exists.
     
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