Skip to main content

Prayer and Insanity

By WizenedSage --

I have a question. Is prayer a sign of insanity?

How much more evidence should anyone need that prayer doesn’t work? Nothing could be more obvious. The world is simply overflowing with evidence.

Praying HandsImage by mulmatsherm via Flickr

If prayer worked the way Jesus claimed, the entire health care industry would be redundant, unnecessary. We would need no doctors, hospitals, inoculations, ambulances, medicines, surgical tools, diagnostic imaging machines, etc. And the insurance industry would never have gotten off the ground.

If prayer worked, Christians would be richer, healthier, more powerful than the rest of us, and have all of the most attractive mates. Yet, two of the richest, most powerful men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are atheists - and philanthropists who give away billions. If prayer worked, there would be no crutches, wheelchairs, hairpieces, dentures, hearing aids, eyeglasses, seat belts, airbags, etc. etc. We are absolutely surrounded by the evidence. We see it everyday.

Now Jesus said, point blank, that a true-believer could command a mountain to move and it would move (Matthew 17:20). Jesus also claimed that whatever one asks of him in his name, he will do it (John 14:13). Jesus didn’t add any ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’ He didn’t say your prayers will come true… if it’s within god’s plan for you, and if your prayer isn’t selfish, but only if you pray with the proper respect. The apologists add these conditions on their own “authority,” justified by the simple “fact” that if Jesus said something, then it must somehow be true. These simple, direct, and unambiguous statements concerning the power of prayer have been tested millions of times by millions of people and been found wanting over and over. Nobody has ever moved a mountain by prayer and prayers go unanswered all the time. Yet people continue to pray… and pray, and pray.

Interestingly, perhaps tellingly, even believers wouldn’t pray for the regeneration of a human limb, or for the pregnancy of a woman who’s had a hysterectomy. They know nature doesn’t work this way, regardless of their religious beliefs. Thus, they would never pray for something that nature or chance could not accomplish on its own. Yet, they fail to see any evidence of anything troubling in this. For the intelligent, the cognitive dissonance must be agonizing.

Whenever prayer has been scientifically tested with carefully constructed, double-blind research methods it has always failed. The best known of these is The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), conducted under the auspices of Harvard Medical School (2006). It showed, you guessed it, no positive benefit from prayer. But are the believers buying this? Not on your life! Why not? Well, as one high-profile hospital chaplain said, "God is not subject to scientific research." How does he know this? Well because the research failed to provide a positive outcome, of course. You had to ask?

One especially creative response to this study can be found at the Christianity Today web site Get this:

“Our prayers are nothing at all like magical incantations. Our God bears no resemblance to a vending machine. The real scandal of the study is not that the prayed-for group did worse, but that the not-prayed-for group received just as much, if not more, of God's blessings. In other words, God seems to have granted favor without regard to either the quantity or even the quality of the prayers. By instinct, we might selfishly prefer that God give preferential treatment to those who are especially, deliberately, and correctly prayed for, but he seems to act otherwise [yet the writer stubbornly fails to draw the simplest, most obvious conclusion from this – that prayer makes no difference!].

“True to his character, God appears inclined to heal and bless as many as possible. It is as if he can barely restrain himself [!] - though he often does - from supernaturally intervening and disrupting the nature of the universe to care for those he loves, whether they acknowledge it or not.”

As an old friend used to say, “You can rationalize anything - ANYTHING - if you try hard enough.”

It has been said that a pretty good definition of insanity is when someone takes the same action over and over while continuing to expect a different result. Prayer certainly appears to fit this description. People continue to pray, over and over, while getting the same level of positive results one would get from blind chance. Should we conclude that the prayerful are insane? Personally, I think that would be a bit too harsh, but I’m not at all opposed to calling them gullible beyond all rational comprehension.