• The power of prayer…

    I received this email today from an old friend:

    Hi mate,
    Hope you’re well.
    I’m reading your little book of unholy questions at the moment and thought I’d share a prayer story with you. When XXXX was pregnant with YYYY and we had the 12 week scan, the physical measurements and blood factors indicated that YYYY had a strong likelihood (60%+) of having a chromosomal disorder (Down’s syndrome or worse). This was all very upsetting at the time, and though atheistic, we were happy for people to say they’d pray for us.
    Anyway, XXXX had a procedure similar to amniocentesis to check the foetus’s chromosomes, and everything turned out to be fine. We shared the news and of course all our friends and family who we had spoke to earlier were delighted. Then one of my colleagues, a very intelligent lady with a science degree who works in a scientific role, and a practicing Catholic, declared it a miracle. I think “praise Jesus” was even said. I was a little surprised at this of course but let it slide as I didn’t want to cause offence, particularly as it was on the back of such good news.
    This, I think, is a fantastic example of where religious folks leap on simple chance and declare it the power or prayer. YYYY never had a chromosomal disorder, and was never miraculously cured. Furthermore, the genetic material sampled was harvested before any prayers were even offered; therefore the record of her chromosomes could not have been affected by prayer.
    The whole scenario arose only because of a statistical indication of a problem, not an actual diagnosis. Yes, statistically, and based on good science and a large dataset, over 60% of foetuses with the same indicators as YYYY will have a chromosomal problem. But equally, nearly 40% must be fine, and YYYY  is and always was in this camp. Prayer did not change anything and there was no miracle.
    Happy for you to use this story in your writing subject to anonymisation.

    Please submit any other such stories!

    Category: FeaturedPrayerSkepticism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Geoff Benson

      I’m sure we can all identify with this anecdote. My own take on the prayer issue is that it almost always seems to involve god making a choice. Even in the story you relate, survival of the baby in question isn’t entirely one sided. A new baby in the world is another mouth to feed, another person to educate, another draw on resources, perhaps even another mass murderer. Of course, I share the happiness that results because a baby is born that is healthy, I simply point out that it is not a one way street.

      The son of a friend of mine was looking to marry the woman of his dreams, a lovely girl with the unfortunate problem that she, and her family, are staunch catholics. So smitten was he that, despite being a pretty devout atheist, he opted to go through all the silly nonsense of being baptised a catholic, going to endless classes, and even now has to waste his Sunday mornings with church. He reported a prayer to me that was uttered by the priest, prior to a church group visit to somewhere in Europe, and it amounted to praying for a favourable exchange rate. All went along with it, overlooking the obvious conflict being presented to god, that their good exchange rate meant that their European counterparts suffered a lesser exchange rate in visiting the UK.

      My last point on the subject is that praying seems to be seen more as a matter of wish fulfilment than genuine meditative reflection. If people don’t get their wish granted then they say god hasn’t listened, or hasn’t answered their prayer. They never, ever, consider that maybe god was giving them an answer they didn’t want to hear. Consider all the fury among US christians over gay marriage. They’ve prayed like mad for god to guide the Supreme Court in making their decision yet it looks likely that they will vote in favour. Well perhaps god is saying he approves of gay marriage! Perhaps the bible verses the fundamentalists thought condemned gay behaviour weren’t interpreted properly. But oh no, the fatheists know the will of god, and will continue to pray until god acts in the way they want.

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