“I’m praying for the end of the fires. Prayer matters. Prayer works.”
So says the blonde siting next to me at the bar. I’m so focused on her pale blue eyes and the cute freckle on her upper lip, I can only respond with a “Huh?”
“Those poor people in Colorado. Those fires are just… unfathomable. So I’m praying for God to stop the fires. Prayer works, you know.”
Jesus. Here’s the second sign this woman is a loon. (The first was that she sat at the bar stool next to mine, surprisingly avoiding the pectorally-plentified jock — I bet his name is Bart — just a few seats down.)
Pray to God? Why do people insist on going there? I understand there is scientific work demonstrating the placebo effect. And if a soldier believes that a little salt water is morphine and will therefore kill pain, it’s more than plausible to assume that if you make a magic wish and believe in it strong enough, you might actually improve your own physical condition. After all, your brain connects to all the relevant portions of your body.
But to imagine that prayer can influence the physical, inanimate world outside your body? That’s literally mind-over-matter (or ESP, or paranormal psychology, or any of a bunch of other names) and has yet to be demonstrated scientifically. But it hasn’t prevented people from trying.
I mean, for God’s sake, haven’t we seen enough of this nonsense about praying for fixing nature? For example:
- In November 2007, the Governor of Georgia had the state pray for rain. Didn’t work and 2008 was one of the driest on record.
- In March 2011, the Governor of Texas had the state pray for rain. Didn’t work and 2011 was one of the driest on record.
See a pattern here?
If I’m praying to a deity for some external condition and nothing happens, there are only 3 “logical” (i.e. internally consistent) possibilities:
- God likes things the way they are.
- God is ignoring me.
- I’m praying to the wrong deity.
However, a true believer will invariably reach for a 4th option:
- We will ignore this data point.
All of which points to the fact that praying to change the external world doesn’t work.
Oh, sure, from time to time we humans panic and regress into a more primal, irrational state. I once had a rather lengthy conversation with God (an internal monologue actually) when, at 17, I took out my father’s car unbeknownst to him and proceeded to get hit at an intersection when someone ran a stoplight: “Please, God, please, God, please, God! This didn’t just happen! Roll back time a little and I’ll make another decision and I won’t take out Dad’s car and I won’t have been hit and I won’t be grounded for the next 500 years.” Even though I knew “God” wouldn’t (couldn’t?) roll back time, I was able to burn off a tiny bit of anxiety with the request. Which was just enough to prevent me from throwing up all over the officer who was issuing an accident report citing me for forgetting to turn on my headlights after dark.
My incantation was a less elegant form of “Shepard’s Prayer.” In 1961, while sitting atop a missile, ready to become America’s first space traveler, the whole world watching on live television, Astronaut Alan Shepard’s secret heart’s desire was simple:
Please, dear Lord, don’t let me fuck up.
(Actually, Tom Wolfe came up with this line — Shepard really said “Don’t fuck up, Shepard…” — but given the size of
pilot aviator egos, confusing Shepard with the Lord is certainly understandable.)
There’s a certain helplessness in all of this. A desire to have a deity reboot a reality that we don’t want to deal with. Some external deus ex machina that will save the day by violating whatever law of physics needs to be violated.
And that’s the danger of this type of prayer. Not only does it not work, it also allows us to feel no responsibility for the mess we are praying about. So: We pray that God will take care of the droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, and fires — allowing us to ignore that these phenomena are consistent with the predicted wildly fluctuating weather patterns of global warming, caused by our burning of fossil fuels. Or: We pray that scientists will develop a “technology” to keep the massive cheap energy needs of our civilization flowing — allowing us to ignore the alarming rate at which we are permanently using up fossil fuels to sustain our current way of life.
Prayer is just an ancient form of slacktivism. It allows us to think that the best course of action moments before a car accident is to take our hands off the steering wheel and yell “God will prevent this!”
Prayer gives us the illusion of participation without the bother of effort.
I really wanted to say all of this to the blonde sitting next to me. As God is my witness, I really did. But in that instant, I again caught sight of her pale blue eyes… the freckle on her lip… and now the stray strands of long golden hair that gently fell across the turquoise straps of her tank top and continued down into the seemingly bottomless swell of her bronzed cleavage. There, too, was a silver cross — dangling from a long chain around her neck — that presumably guarded her crevice of carnal scent and feminine softness.
I was overwhelmed.
So, to the blonde, the loony blonde, who seriously believed that neurological firings inside the brain would create outward telekinetic effects; the blonde with the blue eyes, the freckle on her lip, and the turquoise tank top; the blonde with the impossibly firm and gently tanned breasts; the blonde who was sipping a syrupy mixture of fruit juice and alcohol; the blonde who purposely decided to imbibe this intoxicant while sitting next to me; to this blonde, I smiled deeply and broadly and (ignoring all manner of scientific theory and thought and logic) simply said, “I agree. Prayer works.”
And mentally I intoned: “Please, dear Lord, don’t let me fuck up.”
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