Friday, March 31, 2006

Some People Just Like to Hear the Sound of their Own Prayers

I was watching the “church news channel” this morning. ABC. They ran two “faith-related” stories today. One of them was about that new study that was done about the power of “intercessory” prayer. Intercessory prayer is prayer that is done by a group of people aimed at benefiting another individual. It’s sort of like transcendental meditation, but with a lot more kowtowing to the Supreme Being (Note: Microsoft Word just made me capitalize “supreme being.” Don’t shackle me with your oppressive ideas about the cosmos, Microsoft!).

The study, it turns out, showed that intercessory prayer had absolutely no physical effect on those recovering from heart surgery. The subjects in the study were broken up into three groups. In one group, patients were told that they would be prayed for (and they were). In another group, patients were told that someone might pray for them (and they were prayed for). And the third group consisted of the poor saps that were told that someone might pray for them, but no one did (the “secretly unloved” group).

59% of the patients that were being prayed for developed complications. 51% developed complications in the group of patients who received no prayers.

This was a thorough study. As thorough as science can get when trying to prove or disprove a religious theory. But there’s an inherent problem when trying to test a religious theory – religion.

Religion is purposefully vague about many things. No, there are laws about having sex with goats and eating pork and crap, but the ways of the universe are specifically left a mystery that will only be solved after we die and are too…dead…to come back and tell people about it.

So why do a study on the effects of prayer in the first place? You got a better way to spend 2.5 million dollars, smartie?!

The Christians would be the first people on the planet to hail the findings of this study if it worked in their favor. It would be all over everything. Pat Robertson would be running a story on the 700 club called “We Told You So, Non-Believing Heathens” (which incidentally, runs on the ABC Family channel). Ministers and Republicans everywhere would make for the TV stations to tell us that they knew it all along. Faith is great, but they would have science on their side (sometimes you have to fight the devil and his evil plans with his own devices after all).

But the study did not work in favor of Christianity. So now Christian commentators everywhere are looking into their “faith” to find the answer. And their faith says that prayer is “boffo-keen.” Even GMA anchors Robin Roberts and Dianne Sawyer seemed to be bummed about the study. But not as much as Dr. Tim.

Dr. Tim is Good Morning America’s resident doctor-like health guy. He has a PhD. But he was very wary of this study. He felt that there are just too many variables to consider it accurate. Oh, if it was a test of a new drug and the results came out the same, he would have no problem letting the world know that the drug was useless, but since it’s prayer…

He also let us all know that he’s never really believed in intercessory prayer. He feels that it’s a bit “gimmicky.” And since this study was essentially flawed, let’s just forget the whole thing ever happened, huh?

But he also told us that he believes that “individual” prayer – meaning someone praying for themselves – can be very beneficial to a person’s health. He’s willing to throw over a scientific study for his gut feelings. And evidently he feels that God truly does help those who help themselves…and only themselves.

But what did I expect? That Christians everywhere would look at this study and say to themselves, “My God, I’ve been wasting my life thinking of others?!” No. What the hell do I care people want to pray for someone? Why should this study stop them? What’s the purpose of the study in the first place?

I’ll tell you.

It was done to prove that praying actually does help. That’s why they did it. There’s no other reason.

Since it didn’t work out the way everyone hoped, it was just a waste of two and a half million bucks. And now I have to sit and listen to annoying Christians talk about faith and how “science just can’t measure the glory of God” and crap like that. Christians will just redouble their efforts to appear superior in their knowing something that they think they know but they don’t know what that something is. Confusing? Yup.

Thanks for nothing, science.

Fun Fact: The other story on GMA this morning was about the Dutch man who built a 300 foot replica of Noah’s Ark. He’s going to turn it into a petting zoo and floating missionary. A reminder of Noah’s struggle and his triumph. Looking at this big-ass hunk of floating wood, something occurred to me. As an atheist, I often forget that some people actually believe that God flooded the world and that a man (who took 100 years to build a boat), his wife, his three sons and their wives gathered two of every animal (except the evil ones), herded them onto a big boat and repopulated the world.

To people like the Dutch man this isn’t just a fable, it’s history. I usually think that it would take some serious inbred moron to believe something like that, then I realize that, to devout believers, humanity was started by two people (Adam and Eve), wiped out and then re-started by 8 others, 4 of which were blood relatives. It doesn’t take many math skills to discover the logistical problems inherent in this theory as it pertains to inbreeding. Now, personally, I don’t believe this for a second. But the Dutch ark-building dude does.

At the very least, he’s spiritually inbred.

What do you think? Noah’s Ark, fact or fiction? I’m not talking about a great flood here. Great floods were a dime a dozen in geological history. I’m talking the honest to God Noah story. I want to know if you have to reconcile your faith with common sense. Really.

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