Superstitions are what we turn to as a means to gain control over an uncontrollable world. Prayer is the most prominent modern-day version of that. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are who knows how many people who believe that God will help them if they ask for help. When I was a young Christian, I found myself praying less and less. When I did pray, it would be to ask God to help me work through a problem. But it wasn’t God helping me, it was my analytical mind.
Near my house is a church run by Christian Scientists. A lot of people think that this is a Scientology church, but they are unique entities. Christian Science comes from germ theory denialism and the belief that the only way to heal is through the power of prayer. In Oregan, the Followers of Christ church has prayed while so many children died that the state has passed a law that makes parents responsible for the deaths of their children if they do not seek legitimate medical intervention.
People claim that prayer heals and say that they’ve read studies that back that up. Generally, they are reading the same study, which was found to be fallacious. The actual studies on the effectiveness of prayer resoundingly show that there is no impact.
The media loves stories that affirm faith. When a woman prays to Saint whomever and goes into spontaneous remission, when a boy knows that God will help him and recovers from H1N1, and when a camper in the wilderness prays for salvation and is found by a search party, it is the power of prayer that stepped in. But what about all those similarly afflicted women who pray to the same saint and die? the boys who know in their heart God will save them who don’t make it? the campers who die begging God to find them? Was their faith not strong enough?
As a kid, I was told that God would never put more on our plate than we can handle, but that when things were hard, he would help us with them if we asked. If that were true, then people who were irreligious would be crushed under the nearly impossible plate-load without help from God.
A positive mental attitude can make all the difference for sure. We know that there is a benefit to positive thinking, although it isn’t a guaranteed cure for any condition. And prayer for some may be the thing they require in order to make that positive thinking happen. I’m not saying that isn’t a good thing, but I’m saying that relying on that is folly.