Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Power of Prayer (Chapter III) ; Paging Dr. Jesus and Dr. Vishnu.

Christians are atheists with the respect of beliefs of Hindus. Hindus are atheists concerning Jesus and the God of the Holy Bible. Both religions have a completely independent view of the functionality and reality of the world. It is therefore safe to assume that these two religions both make incompatible claims concerning the realism of the world. It is taboo to notice this. Christians scoff at the notion that Shiva and Vishnu are just as capable of answering prayers.Just as Hindus scoff at the unrealistic view that Jesus and God Almighty are answering prayers as well. This is an extremely inconvenient dilemma when trying to defend the power of prayer. Let's examine:
 Somewhere in the United States today a doctor is telling his patient some grim news. Cancer! The patient learns he has about a 40% chance of surviving this. With friends and family in total support it's time to get down to business to battling this cancer through state of the art technology and well educated professional doctors. As an added help to the fight the patient has recruited many  prayer warriors through his facebook world and his church friends. Many prayers will be said on his behalf to their Christian God.
  On the other side of the world in India another patient is being told the same thing. Cancer! And a 40% chance to beat it. Again, the patient will rely heavily on his doctor's expertise to give this guy the best possible chance for survival. As an added gesture,of course, the patient and his family and friends will pray to Vishnu and Shiva. Or perhaps Vishnu's avatars: Krishna and Rama.
It is the claim of religious believers that prayer works. Prayer heals. But the healing power of prayer is grossly exaggerated in our society. One should look no further than these two competing religions and their respective gods. Ever hear a Christian give praise and glory to Krishna for healing his/her cancer or brain tumor? Why not!? Krishna has been around a lot longer than Jesus. You have to assume Krishna and Vishnu have been responsible for healing the sick centuries before the great healer Jesus came into being. Hindu prayer warriors have the seniority here (For all my union buddies).
It seems to me that Christians have a lot more explaining to do concerning the incompatibilities of the worlds prayer logic and limbo. How can so many faiths in the world's religions get so many prayers answered without calling on the name of Jesus? Does God transfer prayer power to the Hindu gods? No. Of course not. The Christian is an atheist to the belief of Dr. Vishnu. Yet so many Hindu prayers are answered and unanswered in the same format as the Christian prayers. Isn't the moral of this story blindingly obvious? Prayer power is at a rate equal to chance regardless of the god you call upon in your hour of need.

The "Christian"cancer patient and the "Hindu" cancer patient have the same percentage of survival in our example. Their body will either be able to fight this cancer or it will not. No prayer is going to change that.( NOTE: One might claim that the patient in India might have an even higher chance than 40% if you consider that Indians,statistically speaking, make better doctors than Americans). Studies show ( google prayer studies) that prayer has no effect on recovering patients from surgeries. Studies also suggest,as mentioned above, that prayer is at a rate equal to chance.

Sam Harris,author of "Letter to a Christian Nation" offers a great insight from his book:
      "While many people of faith seem convinced that prayer can heal a wide variety of illnesses (despite what the best scientific research indicates), it is curious that prayer is only ever believed to work for illnesses and injuries that can be self-limiting. No one,for instance, ever seriously expects that prayer will cause an amputee to regrow a missing limb. Why not? Salamanders manage this routinely,presumably without prayer. If God answers prayers---ever---why wouldn't He occasionally heal a deserving amputee?"

Thousands of gods have come and gone. All of which were in the prayer answering business. No one calls upon Zeus to heal the sick. Those prayers were answered in ancient Greece. Thor is dead. So are all the prayer answering gods in ancient Egypt. What happen? Those gods became extinct....Why would those gods ever die? They answered prayer. Right?! The God of the Bible;The God of Abraham, is the latest to bestow the honor. Unless of course you are Hindu,Buddhist,Muslim,or some folk religion in Africa. Therefore, you the believer are hard pressed to come to terms with the fact that A) There are multiple prayer answering gods in this universe,or B) Your God is no more likely to exist than all the other "living" and dead gods that are "answering prayers".

Matt Dillahunty host of the "Atheist Experience" local cable show in Austin,TX issues a challenge:
  "I'm vaccinated against small pox. So all of you out there who'd like God to demonstrate his powers can simply pray for Him to hit me with small pox."

We live our lives at a rate equal to chance. Sheer luck and natural selection is the driving force behind the circumstances in which the way our lives play out. And no amount of prayer will ever change that. How can I be so sure? Consider the first 21 years of my life as a believer in prayer. I prayed in church...I prayed in home...I prayed when I thought I needed positive life results. For the last 15 years I have not uttered a single prayer. And the results of the circumstances in which my life has played out in this prayer to non-prayer ratio....They are exactly the same.
Try it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Power of Prayer (Chapter II) ::The Great Call Center in the Sky

Sunday worship services in my little hometown church always concluded with an alter call. As a restless youngster trying to survive a 2 hour long Sunday service this was an exciting time. At the very least I knew it was almost time to leave. Alter calls are open invitations to anyone to come forth and pray. Although everyone in church was standing with all heads bowed and eyes closed;Some prayed while standing from their pew,others went forth to pray as well. From time to time my curiosity in my youth would take over and I would sneak a peek to who went forth to pray. On any given Sunday in a small town church such as ours there would be at least a dozen or so saying prayers. As a youngster,around 7 or 8 years old, I thought: How could God hear everyone praying to him at the same time. It seemed like that would be confusing. Now,It never dawned on me that in this moment,a few miles up the road,there was another church conducting the same ritual. Well, come to think of it there were a few hundred churches in our county alone. I have to assume thousands of churches in our state. How many churches are in this country? You mean to tell me that God hears every single one of these prayers individually? And how many countless prayers does He hear simultaneously? Millions of Prayers! Perhaps billions around the world. All the while, we are calling on God at this very hour and I'm sure he is thinking..."Geeez! Don't these petty humans know it's my day of rest!" (That joke sponsored in part by George Carlin).
  Ladies and gentlemen, I have to make a mental cartoon out of this bizarre belief. That is one big call center in the sky! Think about that. How many legions of angels are pulling prayer call duty in heaven right now? What kind of crummy job is that working the prayer phones all day. Surely angels never get a day off on Sunday. They perhaps pull overtime and double shifts to answer the needs of us humans.
  "God, you have an emergency call on line 153,346,772! Lisa is trying to sell her house on line 13,295, and Jesus is on line 2!"

 Last week I wrote about the idea of there being power IN prayer (which I believe exists).However I can't get on board this notion that there is power OF prayer. This power that gets results. This power that gets things done. Ask and ye shall receive. Prayer is being falsely represented in our society. The believer's claim that once I ask for something (healing,weather patterns,a raise)in the form of prayer then I can expect to see desired results. Well, not exactly.
 Prayers go unanswered. Billions of them. And prayers "get answered"...billions more. It really is a 50/50 proposition. You either going to receive that raise you ask the Almighty for or you're not. The rain you pray for is going to happen or it's not. You praying over your child's illness doesn't help either. Your child will either recover (through natural selection) or he/she will not. Not one ounce of prayer will change the 50/50 ratio. Assuming your odds are 50/50. Praying for a stage 4 cancer patient will most likely give you a 1/xxxxx chance of getting that prayer answered.

Now if the believer has gotten this far in the reading there are normally two points they like to make. First, God's ways and understanding is much higher than ours. He is beyond our human comprehension regarding prayer and all other orders of business he conducts.Well...again...You can't have your cake and eat it to. You can't claim a personal relationship with a deity if IT is beyond all human understanding. You are assigning petty human emotions in God all the while saying its beyond us how He works his mysterious ways. Those claims are incompatible.
 Secondly,regarding unanswered prayers,the believer uses the apologetic: "Well,It just wasn't God's will" "It's not part of God's plan"
Well if you pray and don't get results. Afterward, you claim it's not God's will,and God's going to do what he wants regardless your request. Why bother pray at all!?!? (Again,Thanks George Carlin)

Next week I will take the time to write about more on the specifics of some of the requests people pray for and try to create mental visuals to why their belief in the power of prayer is bizarre,irrational,and simply lacks reason and common sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Power of Prayer (Part I)

 From the earliest moments of my youth I was trained,taught,and encouraged to recite prayers.Even though it's been 25 years, I can still to this day recite a prayer from my elementary school days in which each classroom said just before they walked to the cafeteria for lunch:

  "God is great,God is good.Let us thank him for our food. Bow our heads,we all are fed.Give us Lord our daily bread.Amen."

Another prayer recital taught by parents and churches teaches children at the earliest possible age that the prayer business is for real. It's a typical bedtime ritual.

  "Now I lay me down to sleep.I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.If I die before I wake. I pray thee Lord my soul to take. Amen"

 If you were raised in any typical religious household regardless of faith or denomination you were,from the time you were born, taught to believe in the power of prayer. Prayer works.God answers prayers.How many verses in the bible are dedicated to this very subject? How many hymnals do we sing in churches to help drive this mantra home? The prayer business drives our hopes,dreams,desires,wishes and wants. You need not be religious to even get results or participate. Just murmur a few words to yourself and off you go. Keep ya fingers crossed. Prayer isn't a guarantee to get results.

 I do not believe in the following aspects regarding the power of prayer:
-Healing the sick
-Dictating weather patterns globally
-Dictating the health of unborn babies
-Travel safety
-Job offers
-Real estate transactions
-Money matters
-Turning red lights green because you're running late
-Winning Grammy's,Emmy's or Tony Awards
-Any and all things asked for not mentioned above...

The next couple of blog entries(maybe more) will serve as arguments for my case against prayer and the lack of evidence to support it's cause and validity.Even though I don't personally believe in the power of prayer, I do however acknowledge there is power IN prayer. Let me explain.

First the good news::

To the believer,there is no doubt that prayer has the power to comfort,console,and ease the weary mind. This power is perfectly demonstrated in hospitals and funeral homes around the world. Everyone experiences sickness and death in their families and its not uncommon to offer up prayers as a consoling effort to ease the troubled, grieving mind. Even the non-religious will play this ace in the hole from time to time. I think its due to the fact that sometimes we just don't know what to say when someone is experiencing this ultimate trial in life. To grieve is the ultimate lowest point in our human emotions. Everyone will grieve multiple times in their life as long as they live long enough to experience it. If you never grieve in life,then chances are you have been grieved over. 
 I have signed many sympathy cards for my coworkers that experience death in the family over the years. I've always been amazed how many times the word prayer is written in them by mass signings of coworkers. This, in my mind, is nothing more than empty gestures. To start issuing prayers to those in need or grief says " I don't know what to say...." But no doubt it brings great comfort to those that read it. I have stopped saying things like "May God bless you in your hour of need." or "Praying for your family." etcs. Instead I approach death sympathies in a more secular fashion.

 "In death we have nothing to fear. Thinking of you"

If the reader or receiver of this message interprets this religiously,then so be it.
 Prayer in my opinion is a placebo. Its an offering of condolences that has no literal substance value. Consider the child that is awakened in the middle of the night from a horrible nightmare. The child will no doubt wake to his/her screaming until a comforting parent shows up in the bedroom. Now the parents job is to ease the child's mind. Perhaps the child is convinced that there are monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet. As a parent you know there is no legitimate threat to your child,but this doesn't matter to you because you know your child needs a consoling power to take over. And that is what prayer is. Its a mental state to ease the mind. To comfort the heart and well being of our lives. Even though there is no proof of actual tangible solid results.  Prayer holds a mental power.....I just think it lacks a physical power. Which brings on the bad news::

.....To be continued

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Our Need for Hell

New York's Daily News frontpage headline for May 2, 2011:: ROT IN HELL! Obama:U.S. Team Kills Bin Laden in firefight.

TIME magazine cover story for April 25,2011::WHAT IF THERE'S NO HELL? A popular pastor's best selling book has stirred fierce debate about sin,salvation and judgement.

Sunday,May 1,2011 was a great day in our world's history. The mastermind behind September 11th,2001 had been shot and killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Osama bin Laden had been the leader for al-Qaida since its beginning and is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent lives around the world.
I treated the news of OBL's death a little more differently than most people it seemed.
First, I could have cared less that the bullet that ripped open his skull was fired from a gun carried by a U.S. soldier. It could have just as well been fired from a Pakistani police officer and the news would have been just as exciting. In fact, I wish it could have been a British soldier who fired that fateful shot. At the very least I wouldn't have had to read over my news feed about the feuding among friends that were giving credit to our current President Obama versus the Thank God for Cowboy Bush crowd.
Secondly, I didn't celebrate the death either. That's right! I didn't commence to cartwheel down the street,set off fireworks,or start singing Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA. I was a bit disturbed by the ever present ticker tapering around the White House. I,instead took a more conservative approach(imagine that). I elected to keep a somber mood and reflect on all the families that had lost loved ones over the years due to this monster. And by all the families...I'm referring to a global family.

 What amazed me about the death announcement of OBL was this constant theme of condemning this guy straight to Hell. From the average Joe all the way to the highest of people in power. It was a "burn in Hell" going away party. 
 Now,If you are an OBL sympathizer and fellow Muslim extremist you should have a completely different point of view of where your fearless leader is. Paradise with 72 virgins right? It would be nice to watch and listen to a debate between the new top leader of al-Qaida and say....someone like Jack Van Imp. Two complete delirious and delusional ends of the religious spectrum. What entertainment that would be to listen to each of them try to convince the other the where OBL's final eternal hangout place is located. 
 Anyone with a rational voice and reasonable mind should be able to deduct that the evidence for either final eternal vacation home is zero.
  However,come to think of it, It becomes clear that despite there being zero evidence for Hell;There is a huge remarkable need for Hell. We need a place for Osama to be tortured forever. Hitler....Stalin...the neighborhood child rapist and murderer! Try to envision the lives of these men ending at just the grave! <crickets chirping> Thank goodness gentle Jesus,meek and mild, came on to the scene. He has assured us that the evil doers of the world will have a place to go and be punished forever. But even Jesus acknowledged that there will be collateral damage in this process. Apparently anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is eligible to go there...this includes children. It's a small price to pay to ensure our mental health that OBL is burning in a lake of fire right now. I'm not sure how Christians can come to terms with this nasty little dilemma of Innocent people burning forever. You have to assume that some Hell believers also acknowledge that some of the people that died on 9/11 (died in sin) are burning in that same lake of fire right along with Osama. Really?! 
What the Hell? Enough of this Hell business already!     

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Almighty's Sense of Humor

I was scrolling through my news feed on facebook this week when I happen onto a friend's prayer request. This is not uncommon for my news feed because I happen to have a lot of friends that are devout in their Christian beliefs. In fact I commonly refer to my news feed on a Sunday as my weekly "Prayer Request List". From illness to death or from feast to famine and everything in between my friends need prayer. Fine. It's your wall....spill it.
 This particular request was for a good offer on a house her family was trying to sell. Now,keep in mind I have a very comical mind. I try to make little mental cartoons out of everything that arises in life. It's how I deal with the pressures and stress I face daily. There were a flood of thoughts running through my mind once I read this. My first thought was....Well In this economy,I can see where we would rely on a higher power to intervene in the selling of a house. It's just not a good time to sell right now. But after a little more thought I wrote in the comments section of this post: "God uses his power as an omniscient real estate broker."

Well what followed was a complete firestorm. This comment was not intended to offend but,oh my! The words that I typed were received with complete ridicule,and I received two sermons as a result of this blasphemy. My friend assured me in her belief in God and that He is in complete control of everything in life and that she loves Him and He loves her and of course He loves me too. Fair enough. But her husband,a guy whom I have never met, is extremely quick to judge. He was not very sympathetic to the sin that I had just committed. He responds:
 "Furthermore, Mike, God won't be mocked. [My wife] speaks of His love, but we must also remember that God is just and will not tolerate sin. Belittling His power is a sin that I wouldn't suggest you repeat. What you say in jest on a FB wall is easy enough to delete or unfriend. However, mocking the Lord in your heart is handled by God in an entirely different manner that has eternal consequences that I do not wish you, or anyone else on this world, to experience."

Wow! Double Wow! I just sat there wondering..Does the Almighty have a sense of humor? It seems to me... that if you have the power and authority to start assigning God all kinds of human emotions such as love,compassion,understanding,wrath,jealousy, intolerance or justice.....One would also be able to assign him a sense of humor. Since devout believers have a certainty about their personal relationship with this deity and they know that they know that they know everything about him and He everything about us; One can't help but wonder why the Almighty would be willing to damn me for a gentle light humor. It's as if the good Lord has a greyhound bus with my name on the license plate and its just waiting for me not to look both ways before i cross the street so He can mow me down. That'll show me for mocking Him.
In times like these I have to make another mental cartoon: Consider all that's wrong in the world today: Right now,somewhere in the world,a child is being raped and murdered. Wars are tearing families apart.Warlords and drug cartels  and terrorists are killing thousands of innocent people in this world. Corruption everywhere. Scandal and strife. It's hard for me to imagine the Almighty standing at his throne....hands on hips...a mean nasty look on his face...steam coming out of his ears and nose because of what he sees going on in this lowly world. And with all that's wrong with this planet, he looking down here and thinking:
"Look at that! Just look at that...Michael called me an omniscient real estate broker!!!"

 I believe,if God does exist, that he sees the humor in my life and in yours.So allow me to assign the Almighty a sense of humor. I just wish his followers had one as well.