Thursday, July 28, 2011

Prayer, and why even an atheist believes it can work (in certain circumstances)

Do healthy, well-to-do people actually think that they have a special conduit to the divine, while others, writhing through the immeasurably painful vicissitudes of life, have access to the same divine source? Why the disparity in circumstances if so many are praying to the same divine being? The answer is simple, there is no divine being, and the quality of a person’s life is primarily tied to the circumstances of the family they were born into—this includes location of birth, socioeconomic status and genetics.

When you think about it, prayer is a very irrational tool often wielded by theists. It is a theist’s secret weapon. When circumstances are out of their control, they have an almost desperate tendency to use it. Using it in the solace of one’s room isn’t always enough though, for most theists they need to announce to their unbelieving friend, “I’ll be praying for you”. It provides them with an important illusion, that at least they have a mite of control—at least they are doing something.

Ever noticed how anything that could end up working out on its own—without the use of prayer—is often used to validate prayer when it is applied and appears to work? However, there are almost never any examples of prayers that have been answered for cases that could never work out on their own. When someone looses a limb, for example, you never hear any cases where prayer effectively grew back the person’s amputated limb. You rarely, if ever hear about prayer healing specific types of known, killer cancers such as pancreatic cancer—when its’ in its’ latter stages.
How often do paraplegics who have been in such state for several years, finally get their prayers to walk again answered? The simple answer is, never. This is because most of these are situations that even nature cannot reverse. Some cancers are known to have an extremely finite level of reversibility—a statistically small percentage of being overtaken by healthy tissue, which suffocates and reduces the size of the cancerous tissue. Science has already determined the prospects of the statistical reversibility for various types of cancer.

With all cancers, there are various degrees of reversibility depending on the cancer and its impact on specific body organs and its progression to other body tissues. Certain cancers will have a greater probability of diminishing on their own. If prayer actually worked, we would be able to see its alterations on things that nature, alone, cannot reverse.

A true miracle or answer to prayer would be an event that science has shown could never be reversed—like the growing back of an amputated limb. If prayers offer nothing more than what science already tells us via the possibilities of statistical probability and analysis, then what “real” benefit does prayer confer to humanity?

A couple areas where prayers do appear to work more than say—growing back amputated limbs or reversing a chronic state of paraplegia—are in interpersonal relationships, personal life experience including, goals, dreams, career and/or in character growth. Prayer, like meditation, in these cases, acts as a boon to humanity and its’ survival. It is not because the prayers worked like a magical incantation influencing the physics of the world, or, as a means to summon the intervention of a deity, but, because in these cases, prayer(s) functioned like a meditation.

Meditation has been shown to help individuals on a deeply personal level. After all, what is prayer anyway? Is it not the adoption of a quiet, contemplative state, allowing for a greater capacity to ponder one’s life, circumstances, needs, and perhaps open the mind to new methods of interacting with others? Prayer appears to help us because it helps reveal road-blocks and specific issues in our relationships and character. In interpersonal relationships, prayer seems to unveil our own problems that can be changed to increase the communication and trust levels within our relationships.

So, opening ourselves up to “god”, so to speak, is really a way of opening up our selves to our selves—to our subconscious mind; not to some personal, yet invisible entity. Prayer forces us to think about and focus on our life circumstances and our needs. It creates an invitation for the mind to respond with possible fixes that we may have over looked in our other stressful brain states…in the worry and flurry of everyday life. Thus, “prayer” is really no different than a form of intense focus, visualization or meditation. It provides an opportunity to see things in a different light. It purveys us to develop new, improved attitudes to these situations so that we can discover our hidden ability to cope and function in a more positive, beneficial manner.

Whenever you hear that prayer works, you will almost always notice its influence in the areas mentioned above: interpersonal relationships, personal life experiences and in character growth. These are three areas that can improve whether one is a believer or an atheist. Thus, it does not require “prayer” or a particular devotion to a certain religion to produce these kinds of beneficial changes in one’s life. These are generic life changes and can be produced by various means whether it be through religion (via prayer), meditation, being more open to others about your needs, increasing one’s self esteem, medication, counseling, a personal decision to improve one’s conduct (then circumstances will change) changing friends or exploring a new hobby etc.

There are many mediums that can be employed to experience real, beneficial changes in one’s life or a new direction. Thus, any “answered prayer” that can be fit into the generic categories above, does not prove the validity of a particular religion or deity. While prayer may personally help believers, it is not for the reasons they think.

---By Renee Nafziger