Prayer can work–but not because prayers are answered

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Former Christian evangelist turned-atheist Dan Barker has composed over 200 songs, and one of my favorites is “Nothing fails like prayer.” Even so, I take some issue with the title because I can think of worse failures than prayer.


For instance, I’m pleased Exodus International has acknowledged that its “pray the gay away” campaign was an abysmal failure and that their “reparative therapy” patients have suffered psychological damage. However, looking at the bright side, praying was preferable to criminalizing homosexuality, which all 50 states did until 1962. And praying for homosexuals is certainly preferable to killing them, as prescribed in Leviticus 20:13.

George Washington likely would have lived longer had he requested prayer for his throat inflammation instead of bloodletting, a standard medical practice of his era. Usually performed by barbers, bloodletting was the most common medical practice until the late 19th century. The traditional red and white striped poles outside barbershops represented red for the blood drawn and white for the bandages used to soak up the blood.

Perhaps Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science religion in 1879, initially attracted some reasonable followers because prayer usually worked better than bloodletting. She taught that the sick should be treated by a special form of prayer rather than by medicine. Eddy may have inadvertently adhered to the advice Hippocrates gave 2,400 years ago. He coined the phrase now repeated in the Hippocratic oath: “First do no harm.” Doing nothing instead of doing harm is as valid today as it was then.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. A prayer could also focus on a task at hand. “Jesus, give me the strength to lift the car off this child.” It is basically saying “Ok, self, this is the #1 priority. Focus!”

    Mostly it is counter productive. It is done instead of taking action. It is infinite procrastination.

    Prayer does nothing. If it did work, Allstate would offer a discount for being Christian.

    How on earth did prayer get a reputation as a virtuous activity? It is sloth personified.

    Offering a prayer is a polite way to refuse to help.

    Football players routinely pray before each game that God fix the outcome. This works on average only 50% of the time. This suggests the prayers are directed to the wrong deity.

    Praying is like a rocking chair — it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.
    ~ Gypsy Rose Lee 1911-01-08 1970-04-26

  2. It says this was written by Herb Silverman but I thought he wasn’t crazy and the article was clearly written by someone who thinks prayer is better than blood letting? There seems no reason or evidence to back up this antiquated and pointless claim.

    Why is this a question when blood letting is no longer practiced and we have actual medicine? It is also a stretch to compare the Hippocratic “do no harm” to the CS “watch them die” they’re just not even the same thing. Maybe not beating your sick child is comparable to not blood letting but certainly not deliberately neglecting.

    Having read the rest of the light-weight few paragraphs I seemed to have missed the point entirely other than prayer is more fun than blood letting. No reason to consider it then – so what was the point?

    Makes me think my writing may be good enough for the Washington Post, very worrying.

    • In reply to #3 by fishhead:

      If you’re a brainwashed christian, then I can see prayer helping. It’s all a mind game anyway.

      Prayer absolutely can work via the placebo effect. The placebo effect is very real, and its not really just “a mind game” if by that you mean people are just conning themselves that they get better. There is a significant amount of data that shows your state of mind and believing you are getting therapy are extremely important and have a measurable effect on all kinds of physical issues.

      Its why researchers need to test for the placebo effect, not to test if people think they are getting better but to test if the measured effect of a treatment was only due to the placebo effect or to the actual properties of the treatment.

  3. Blood letting is more popular now than ever in history.

    This could be a good campaign theme for the Red Cross: Blood letting is more effective than praying. So don’t just sit around muttering to yourself, do something worthwhile to help your fellow man and donate blood now. (Unless you’re some kind of weirdo who thinks blood transfusions are the work of satan.)

    • In reply to #4 by Pete H:

      Blood letting is more popular now than ever in history.

      I was wondering where you were going with that… ho ho ho.

      This could be a good campaign theme for the Red Cross: Blood letting is more effective than praying. So don’t just sit around muttering to yourself, do something worthwhile to help your fellow man and donate blood now. (Unless you’re some kind…

    • In reply to #4 by Pete H:

      Blood letting is more popular now than ever in history.

      This could be a good campaign theme for the Red Cross: Blood letting is more effective than praying. So don’t just sit around muttering to yourself, do something worthwhile to help your fellow man and donate blood now. (Unless you’re some kind…

      Totally off subject here, but when I learned that The American Red Cross President and CEO Marsha J. Evans’ salary for the year was $651,957 plus expenses, I was like “I’ll be damned if I ever donate blood to that bunch again.” I would be glad to sell them a gallon or two, but donate, never ever again.

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