Power of Prayer… Or not…

So you’re scheduled for heart surgery, and someone approaches you asking if you’d like to be part of a study. You ask what the study is about, and the researcher tells you that a cardiologist from the Mind/Body institute near Boston is conducting a study on whether or not prayer actually has the power to heal. They’re going to take a group of approximately 1800 patients and over the next ten years study whether or not prayer had any impact on their recovery. If you enroll in the study, you will be in the group that will have no prayers said for them. Hmmmm… Heart surgery, no prayers.

By all accounts, I’d consider myself an agnostic, and possibly atheist. I believe in a universal presence, but I’m not ready to believe that there is this one being somewhere out there that is responsible for causing so many people to do so many horrible things to each other throughout the centuries because of differences of religious opinion. I know most religions speak of “free will,” and that people are free to do whatever they want. I honestly would’ve hoped though that if there was one true god, he would’ve come down at the very least in the past twenty years or so, have gone on television, performed some gigantic, undisputable miracle, and said something like the following:

Look folks, here’s the deal. Yes, there is an afterlife. It’s wonderful. If you’re good to one another, you can go there all you want when you leave this life. But you seriously need to stop killing one another. All the killing has to stop. You want to join me up there? There are only a few things you need to do. The Ten Commandments is a good starting point, but there are a few more things I’d like to spell out just in case there’s any confusion. First of all, if you have ever owned a Hummer, there is really no further hope for you. You might as well stop even looking up there, because it’s just not going to happen. Listen to me. I’m a miracle worker, and even I know you’re a lost cause. If you’ve gone out and through whatever reasoning you went through to get there, bought a Hummer, there really is no turning back for you. It’s that whole “camel through the eye of a needle” thing, you know? But besides that…”

And then he or she would go on about the Halliburtons, governmental policies that condone torture, killing of innocents, etc. And then he’d talk about honoring the “spirit” of these words — that you can think of all the sneaky ways to get around these guidelines, but it’s not fooling anyone. You can go on television and say you’re a Christian all you want, but from now on we’re going to put some sign on your face that will expose you for a fraud from the moment you get up there.

I think it would all be spelled out quite clearly. I mean, does god WANT people to go to hell? I don’t think so. No loving god would.

We have a few house rules with my stepson. Things revolving around videogames, homework, bedtimes, chores, etc. Sometimes he slips and the rules start to gradually go out the window, and my wife and I have to ask him, “is there something that’s keeping you from doing these things? Are you having trouble scheduling your time? Can we help? What’s going on?” We check in. We want him to succeed… At everything.

Would a god not do the same? Would a god not want us to succeed? Isn’t it odd that he’d just publish a list of rules some centuries ago, then only remind us ONCE in the next few centuries that we need to get back on track? And if you really think about it, it wasn’t like Jesus was even reminding us of the rules. He CHANGED the rules! How confusing is that? “OK, here are ten rules to follow… OK folks, I know you’ve been trying to follow these rules for the past few centuries, but I have some revisions I’d like to make. So write this down, and this, and this… Put it in a book, and then you folks can figure out what it all means. I know it’s a little confusing, and I know I told you one thing and your friend over there something slightly different, but if you just write it all down and put it on paper, you can just compare your notes and figure out what to do… I gotta go…”

What kind of crap is that?

So anyway, back to this study. You’re going to be in the group that doesn’t get prayed for. Keep in mind you’re going in for heart surgery. No prayers. Now just on the off chance that there is a god up there, wouldn’t you NOT want to be in the group that’s NOT prayed for? I mean, this is your life here. I have always admired guys like David Corn (of the Nation magazine), who is courageous enough to stand up straight and say, “nope. No god. Sorry… Just doesn’t exist,” and who makes no apologies about his beliefs. I suspect I fall into the more popular camp of atheists who, when the tractor trailer almost pushes them off the highway, says a little “thank you” under his breath just in case someone was looking out for him. At the very least, it’s nice to acknowledge when something that could’ve just gone terribly wrong, didn’t.

But yet again, I digress… The NY Times is reporting the results of the study, and oddly enough, it seems that you WANT to be in the group who had no one praying for them, because they had less overall post-surgical complications. This study was meant to eliminate flaws in previous studies on the matter, but it does acknowledge that awareness plays a role in peoples’ recovery — people were told whether or not they were being prayed for, a fact which some people (myself included) believe severely compromises the study’s results. I think a far better measure of whether or not the power of prayer really exists, would be to select people at random and without their knowledge, tell their friends and family to NOT pray for them. They’d then also select a group that WOULD pray for their particular patient.

Of course, this opens up a whole other problem, doesn’t it?

In any case, it’s an interesting study. It’s too bad it will probably prompt more questions than it answers, but I guess that’s the problem with religion, huh?

Peak Oil is Coming…

I’ve talked a bit about Peak Oil in the past on this site — that’s the scientific fact that very soon (if it hasn’t happened already), oil demand will outstrip supply on a global level. Salon.com has probably the scariest article you’re likely to read on the subject. The Oil is Going, The Oil is Going is a long read, but definitely worth it. One word of warning though — if you’re already not feeling well today, emotional or otherwise, it may be a bit more than you can deal with. Just steel yourself before you read it. It’s some pretty scary stuff.

Bush’s Show

George W. Bush held a rare press conference today to talk about what’s going on in Iraq. The press corps were finally asking some tough questions. As always, Helen Thomas was there to ask the most pointed ones, including a question about why Bush really wanted to go to war, now that we have heard several different reasons from this administration about why they went there. Here is Bush’s response, and note that he again claims that Iraq was hiding members of Al Qaeda:

No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true.

My attitude about the defense of this country changed in September the 11th. When we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people.

Our foreign policy changed on that day. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.

And I’m never going to forget it. And I’m never going to forget the vow I made to the American people, that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn’t allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy, and that’s why I went into Iraq.

At that moment, there was muffled conversation in the room, apparently revolving around the truth or untruth of that statement, and Bush responded, “Hold on for a second. Excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for Al Qaida. That’s where Al Qaida trained and that’s where…” Then Ms. Thomas asked something not registered on the transcript, and Bush kept going: “Helen, excuse me…. That’s where — Afghanistan provided safe haven for Al Qaida. That’s where they trained, that’s where they plotted, that’s where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.”

So which is it, Mr. Bush? Can you please get your story straight?

Talking about getting the story straight, yesterday’s guest on the Sean Hannity Show was General Tommy Franks. Just after the two of them kept congratulating each other on what great patriots they were, General Franks started talking about a woman who came up to him and asked why he thought people are complaining about how many soldiers are being killed when we had 3000 killed right here on American soil? He responded by saying that with all due respect, it was a valid question. Then he said something that stunned me. He mentioned that out of the “approximately 2300” soldiers that have been killed over there, only 1800 have died in “combat-related activities, and the rest died of accidents or otherwise.” For the rest of the interview, whenever mentioning the number of soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, he mentioned the number 1800. It’s as if the remaining FIVE HUNDRED DEAD BOYS AND GIRLS do not count as brave soldiers who died for their country because they were killed by accidents. I was astonished that a United States General could be so intellecutally dishonest and at the same time be so inconsiderate for the famlies of those who had lost children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers,… Just because they died as the result of an accident over in Iraq rather than from an IED over in Iraq. The point is, but for the wishes and desires of this administration, those US soldiers would not have been over there, and they would be at home. Does it matter how they died? They died in a war zone.

If being “in a firefight” is enough to allow Bill O’Reilly to claim he has “seen combat,” shouldn’t we respect our soldiers enough to honor them when they’ve given their lives in service to their country — no matter how they died?

Spin For Sale

A friend just sent over this link to an article on MSNBC which talks about Bush’s latest “public relations drive” that is intended to sell the idea that he finally has a strategy on winning the war in Iraq. Wait a minute… Winning the war in Iraq? I thought “major combat operations have ended?” Forgive us, oh mighty one, if us Americans are less likely to believe you than we were the first time around.

If Bush has a strategy, it doesn’t seem to revolve around settling the situation in Iraq, or improving our standing in the world. It seems more like his strategy is to continue to spin the issue. Problem is, he’s selling a failed policy and no amount of spin in the world is going to change that at this point. Civil war in Iraq seems unavoidable, and the only use our continued presence would serve would be to fan the flames.

Bush also used the bully pulpit to continue to lob stones at Iran, saying that components from IEDs in Iraq were clearly from that country. I just don’t understand where Bush and Cheney think this whole war-of-words against Iran could possibly end up anywhere other than someplace we wouldn’t want to be? Do they think we have the military capability to launch yet another offensive in the Middle East?

I hope if they believe this, they read this article in Newsday that states a large percentage of potential recruits are “unfit” and not capable of being trained in today’s military. Part of the problem is the gradually aging average population of the United States, and apparently the other is the presence of tattoos.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Why is it that the United States’ response to any threat is to escalate it to a level from which it becomes extremely difficult to back down? Is it really wise for Dick Cheney to threaten Iran over its nuclear program? Why do these things have to be played out in the press instead of behind closed doors? This is the same tactic used against North Korea, and in the end, the deal reached between the United States and North Korea was remarkably similar to the agreement reached with North Korea and the Clinton Administration. This, despite all the hemming and hawing from Republicans at the time that Clinton and Albright had essentially been blackmailed by Kim Jong Il.

So now we’re in a war of words with Iran, and both Russia and China are expected to block any sanctions the world community would seek to impose on the country in the wake of its decision to continue its nuclear program. Iran today even went so far as to threaten pain and harm on the United States. I’m not saying that Iran should have nuclear weapons of course, but aren’t there better ways of deal with the situation than to throw rocks at each other?

Overturning Roe v. Wade

You just knew it would come to this. All it would take to overturn Roe v. Wade — now that the Supreme Court is comprised of right-wing activist judges — was a case brought by a state that had outlawed abortion. Now that South Dakota has outlawed most abortions (the only exception being if the mother’s life is in jeopardy), the constitutionality of this new law will surely be challenged all the way up the ladder to the Supreme Court.

What ever happened to “get the government off my back?” For a so-called conservative government, this administration sure seems interested in getting involved in each person’s life — from what they can and cannot say in a public forum, to what they can and can’t do in their own private bedrooms, to what decisions they choose to make about situations that affect their lives.

I don’t believe anyone is “pro-abortion.” I think most of us realize that people can find themselves in situations where they need to make tough decisions that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

If this administration really wanted to end abortion, it would stop robbing the middle and lower classes in this country to further enrich the wealthy, and it would support sex education in our classes instead of “abstinence only” programs, which have proven to be completely ineffective.