As an atheist, it’s always awkward for me when I come across a prayer posted online or am at a function where a group prayer takes place. When I was younger it always felt funny forcing myself to participate in a prayer when I didn’t believe in it. As I got older and more comfortable with being an out atheist, I got more comfortable with not closing my eyes or not putting my head down during prayer. The reason coming across prayers on the internet makes me feel awkward is because I have the gut reaction that I want to explain to them that prayer doesn’t work. I know, however, that it would be perceived as mean to say that and crush their hope. That’s why prayer often is a touchy subject, it gives people hope which makes them feel good. Why take that away from them? Also, for many religions prayer is a very integral part of their doctrines. For many Christians, prayer is how they communicate with god. For some of them, that “communication” is proof of god. There are so many issues I have with those basic notions of prayer. If they think they’re communicating with god, does god speak back to them? What prayers did he answer?
Most of the time I think people pray for generic things that they can accomplish on their own. For instance, if someone is on their way to a family member’s wedding they might pray to god to give them the strength to get along with certain people at the wedding and to enjoy themselves. I’m pretty sure someone does not need to have help from an outside source to do that sort of thing and are entirely capable of having the self control to do so. If the event they prayed about went well, it was most likely because the person who made that prayer really wanted what they prayed for to come true and they made unconscious decisions to make it happen. Many believers make even more generic prayers, like asking god to give them the strength to be a good person. With a request as generic as that, they could easily be “good” and say that god answered their prayer. But I’m sorry, god did not answer that prayer. The person who is concerned enough to want to be a good person will most likely be a good person.
People also have very specific prayers that range from mundane things like doing well on a test to bigger things like a family member being cured of cancer. Christians love to point out the times that a specific prayer was answered but they usually neglect to address the great number of times when their prayers went unanswered. There are many times when people claim a prayer has been answered, but things are sort of twisted around to make it seem as if it has been fulfilled. Or when the prayer flat out isn’t answered, excuses are usually given like, it was all part of god’s plan or god has other plans for me. If you think god has a plan in the first place, why are you even praying to him?
It’s the idea that people need to rely on this outside force for help that really bothers me. It’s like the football player or actor that thanks god for their great achievements. Why don’t they just give themselves credit for honing the skills that lead them to being successful? Or give credit to the people around them that aided them in their journey to success? I find it really sad to not give yourself and the people who support you credit and to give the credit to a supreme being there is no evidence of. This notion also reminds me of how when a doctor performs a very difficult surgery or heals someone of a terrible disease, and a Christian patient and their family will thank god for giving that doctor the skills to save the patient or for god bringing the doctor into their lives. God shouldn’t get credit for the doctor, the doctor worked hard to become a doctor and he was able to do what he did with modern medicine.
At least there are those middle ground Christians that are a part of the religious world but are a bit more rational and use the benefits of modern technology and science. They may think prayer works, but they don’t entirely rely on it. When they get sick they do not only pray to get better, but they see a doctor as well. What scares me are the fundamentalists that do think prayer works and do not need to do anything else. There are cases all over the US of parents refusing to take their children to doctors, and instead taking them to churches. Many times these cases end badly and children end up dying of easily curable things (here’s an example: http://time.com/8750/faith-healing-parents-jailed-after-second-childs-death/ ). This way of thinking also can lead to parents thinking that their child’s bad behavior is demonic possession and not a treatable behavioral problem. Instead of doing something that would actually help the child, they are just prayed for or in some cases even taken to an exorcism. Many of those cases of parents praying the demons out of their children don’t lead to greatly terrible things, there might be some psychological scaring from being told they have demons in them but don’t usually have physical harm done to them. Although there are very terrifying times when a notion like that goes greatly out of hand when in the hands of a mentally unstable person ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/mom-charged-with-killing-2-kids-during-exorcism-1.2503113 )
So, I don’t care that prayer gives people hope. I think there are a lot more negative effects of prayer than there are positive effects. It encourages delusion. God hasn’t answered people’s prayers, people have just convinced themselves that god was listening.
I have one last point to make. What made these people who have claimed their prayers have worked worthy of being noticed and helped by god? He’ll help football players win games or help people to behave a certain way but won’t help AIDS babies? Do these people really think they’re more special then millions of people suffering throughout the world? In my opinion, it’s a very selfish and close minded way of thinking.