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20 October 2006 @ 10:04 am
The Impotence of Prayer  
Inspired by faith-based Mets fans...

Okay. Does anyone else think that praying for a sports team to win is retarded?

Granted, I don't have a high opinion of prayer in general. In life, it's natural to feel afraid or uncertain about the world around you, or to want to do something to bring fortune to you and yours or avert a disaster (say, an incurable disease) that you otherwise have zero control over. The solution to this is to build a strong support network of friends and family who stand with you in thick or thin, and to do all you humanly can to prevent the curveballs life throws us from hurting you too badly (put away some money for a rainy day, take good care of yourself, etc.). The solution is not to sit on your ass and ask a nonexistent magical sky person to do all the work for you. You might as well ask your security blanket or childhood teddy bear to get rid of your problems- because, as James Randi once wrote, that's all a deity is: "a security blanket that children carry into adulthood."

You may say, "Well, I do all that I can, but I supplement that with prayer. God's not just going to give you a million dollars, but he might if you work hard enough." Well then, how do you know the prayer is doing anything? If you're taking care of things on your own, do you really need prayer? Do you think maybe it's just a superstition that you're afraid to shed? Are you really afraid to think that, just maybe, you're capable of tackling the world all by yourself? ;)

Okay, back to sports. Where your favorite sports team is concerned, there's not a lot you can personally do to help them, aside from financially. You can buy tickets and merchandise. At game time, there's even less you can do, unless you count rooting for them. You, personally, can't make someone a better catcher or runner or whatever. But that's okay! For those who can't accept that gracefully, there's always prayer!

Now, even when I was a little Christian in grade school, I never understood how asking God for your team to win worked. I knew that, as a fan of Team X, I and many other fans of Team X might be asking God for Team X to win. But, there were bound to be people asking God for opposing Team Y to win, too. So, supposing God exists and wants to bring happiness to all his followers, what is he supposed to do at that point? Count up votes? What sort of majority is needed, a simple one or two-thirds? If there's a tie, does he make the game end in a draw? What if it's a playoff game, where the game can't end in a draw?

If you pray to God for your team to win, you must believe that God exists, listens to prayers, acts based on those prayers, and has the ability to affect the outcome of the game. But lots of people are praying for Team X and Team Y. Only one team can win- let's say it's Team Y. The praying Team Y fans seem to have been vindicated, but what about the fans who prayed for Team X? What are they to conclude? That God doesn't love them as much as the Team Y fans? WTF?

It's not just sports. There are lots of situations where conflicting prayers are going out to the Almighty. I need go no further than Israel to prove that. That's probably the most fucked-up example of it, too. The Israelis and Palestinians pray to the same god, and you know not all of those prayers are pure. If I were God, I'd be banging my head against a wall by now, realizing that this prayer system just plain sucks. If he goes by majority prayer, it's unfair to the minority prayers. If he says "Fuck it!" and just makes his own decision about how things come out, then praying is completely irrelevant, isn't it?

Back to my initial assertion: prayer for sports, or for anything really, is retarded. Want to give thanks? Thank all the people who've made a difference in your life. Want to get through a tough time? Draw those people around you, stand strong, and do whatever is in your power to combat whatever hardship you're facing. Don't ask God to be there for a loved one in a hard time, be there for them yourself. I mean, what story warms your heart more- that fifty people prayed for an ailing cancer patient, or that fifty people raised money, made cards and gifts, and visited with an ailing cancer patient? People caring about people- that's a beautiful thing. God caring about someone- how can you ever prove it?

Above all, accept that random good and random bad happen in this world, and that you won't always be able to control or do anything about it. That's just how it is. There's no higher power or "plan" that all this falls into. It's just. How. Life. Is.
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policyt3knomanser on October 20th, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC)
I don't have any beliefs. I have facts, and from those facts, I develop inductive and deductive conclusions. If I "believe" something, that means it might not be true- in which case, I wouldn't at all be offended if someone picked it apart, because it would allow me to draw better conclusions from my given facts.
Ellieellie on October 20th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)
Some of those inductive conclusions are full of crap. But when presented with a compelling arguements based from fact, you shrugged it off and did not develop a better conclusion.

Again, thank you for being an understanding friend. In the future I will behave in the same way.
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policyt3knomanser on October 20th, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC)
In the future I will behave in the same way.

I can only hope so!
Ellieellie on October 20th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
I was being sarcastic. I think how you treated me was pretty rude and arrogant and if I didn't know you better, I would think you a poor friend.

I'm hurt and upset. And I really have no illusion of you apologizing because in your mind all you've done is try to englighten the stupid christian.

BTW - Bird flu, not fear-mongering. Not a ploy to get us to not pay attention to other things going on. You were wrong.

You're my friend and the husband of someone I consider my best friend, but I think there's a level of douchebaggery in saying that one shouldn't select a religion that can be knocked down easily when you know without a doubt the person that you're talking to, who is your friend, is a devout Catholic. Just me.
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy: Damn Not Givent3knomanser on October 20th, 2006 09:54 pm (UTC)
On bird flu: Yeah, and? It is fear-mongering because there's not a damn thing I can do to affect whether or not it transfers to humans. Let the medical folks do their bit, if we can get the politicians to leave them the hell alone, and let people who are actually qualified handle it. To say that I need to give a damn about bird flu is fear-mongering.

I know you were being sarcastic, but I was making a very distinct point- I have treated you exactly as I would want to be treated. I think that this is an extent of rudeness that is required for civil society to flourish.

Being religious has nothing to do with being stupid- and to claim that from my point of view I was trying to enlighten the "stupid Christian" is misleading and in many ways a straw man- an attempt to turn my comments into some sort of ad hominem assault. To claim that "religion is stupid" is an oversimplification of the matter that was perhaps misleading, so let me restate.

Religion is a non-rational institution. To claim that something is "non-rational" is not meant as a value judgement. Urination, for example, is non-rational and very important to life. Heartbeat and other such autonomic functions, or the way one can drive to work without ever once making a conscious decision- these are all non-rational activities.

Humans, by and large, participate in very few rational activities. Most of our lives are directed by habit and custom, not careful internal consideration and that is how it should be- we are still very frail organisms with limited life-spans that need to devote fairly significant amounts of time to our continued survival.

During periods of human history where survival was far more questionable, religion was a non-rational institution that was a highly adaptive trait, knitting together people based on common lineage and history. The beliefs of religion, at that point, were unimportant- it provided a basis for understanding the world, for regulating social control, and creating an environment that could foster social growth.

Religion can continue to fill those roles- and often does, with one exception: under rational consideration religion is incapable of providing a basis for understanding the world. As more and more of our non-rational survival related tasks are able to be handled by the products of our intellect, more and more mental power can be devoted to rational thought.

I do not want to imply that rational thought is automatically better than non-rational- as I pointed out, we do not need nor want conscious awareness of every aspect of our lives. However- when it comes to addressing the philosophical problems of existence, teleology, ethics (the rational cousin of "morals")- one could certainly argue that in these realms rational thought is superior. It is impossible to demonstrate that a deity is a sufficient condition for our existence, let alone a necessary one.
Ellieellie on October 20th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
I think you're missing the point. I don't really give a flying damn what you think of religion. You honestly don't care about my opinions. I was giving you the opening for an apology, which you decided not to offer.

Having read many a Christian, Muslim, and Jewish philosophy, I can say that it is rational thought.

Look, I think we ought to end this. We believe completely differently, and neither of us are going to change the other's opinion.

I am disappointed however that someone I honestly thought was a friend would be so callous with my thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I'm hurt and very angry with you. Rudeness is not essential in friendships. To my memory, I have not been rude to you and if I have, I have apologized.

So I suppose I now know the type of friend you are.
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy: Rippy the Razor Animatedt3knomanser on October 20th, 2006 10:17 pm (UTC)
I don't care about opinions. The very fact that "everyone is entitled to their opinion" tells you what opinions are worth- absolutely nothing.

Argument, and reasoned debate- now that's different.

At any rate, much of the philosophy contains rational thought, and much rational thought has happened under the umbrella of religion- however, the very core premise of theology is an undeniably non-rational state.

So I suppose I now know the type of friend you are.

Yes- one who will always be honest with their thoughts. I know you feel "attacked", but there's nothing personal in this. Unlike our normal conversations on the topic of religion, where we deal in abstracts and never make claims or pose arguments, you replied to a post with very specific claims- and it was those claims that I attacked, not you. Not to sound insulting, but I think to take this personally is incredibly immature- the entire point of Minna's original post was that of the irrationality of certain religious behavior, and you extended the debate into much broader areas.

At some point, I would love to have an honest discussion on the subject. It seems that this is not that point.

Let me be clear, while I used the term "rudeness", I do not actually agree with that assessment- blunt, brusque, brutally honest, perhaps.
Ellieellie on October 20th, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
Still no apology. No admission that perhaps you hurt my feelings and that you feel badly about that. Gee, that sure is friendly.

Look, I understand that I made specific arguements. And they don't hold well up under science. And for a Christian, Muslim or Jew, they have no problem with the duality of that. I think looking at the world there a solely materialistic point of view is limiting.

If you don't agree that you were rude, you never should have admitted it. But to me, you were rude, and as a friend, if I were rude perceived or otherwise, I would apologize. You don't.

Can't you just accept that you hurt my feelings? Not by your arguements, but by some of your glib comments. There's a difference between being honest and being rude, and you fell into the rude bucket.

Look, my intention isn't to upset Minna but I have some very real problems with not caring that you hurt a friend's feelings.

And to insinuate immaturity is ludicrous. It would be like the pot calling the kettle black.
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy: Rippy the Razor Animatedt3knomanser on October 20th, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC)
I haven't hurt your feelings. I've stated, openly and honestly, my opinions, my reasoned position that supports those opinions, with my trademark glib style. This is my standard mode of behavior. I'm surprised that this surprised you- but I don't apologize for offending people unless it was due to poorly considered statements and carelessness. Which is not the case here.

Any apology I could make would be far more rude than anything I've said thus far, because it would be insincere and condescending.