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?

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