Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

July 26, 2006

If you are a normal, intelligent person, why debunk prayer?

Filed under: religion — secretmojo @ 11:20 am

My friend Jack, who is an atheist, pointed me to this site that debunks prayer, amongst other things. What I want to dispute here is this video. I think anybody should watch at least 3/4 of the way through to become familiar with this kind of argument. The point gets beleaguered after a while, but please, deal with it if you can.

If you don’t watch it, let me summarize: the hypothesis, which is proven, is that prayer has the same effect as a lucky horseshoe. A lucky horseshoe has the same effect as pure chance. Therefore, prayer is a superstition, and we must “accept reality” as rational people, and realize its uselessness.

However, a conclusion that the video fails to come to, which can also be deduced from the exact same evidence, is that the horseshoe, pure chance, and prayer harm the target in precisely the same amount: not at all.

In other words, it is just as safe to pray for someone as it is to touch them with a horseshoe as it is to do nothing at all.

So why, exactly, should I not pray for someone? Because of some weeny who doesn’t like me doing it?

Leaving the supercilious tone of the whole video aside (“idiot!” he explained), it’s clear that the assumption is that holding superstitious beliefs is silly and fraudulent, because they have no external effects.

But what’s conveniently eliminated from the discussion is my own internal experience, and what I do in society because of this internal experience. Surely it’s safe to say that pure chance is pure apathy, requiring nobody to give a flying crap about anybody in the first place to achieve the same result.

However, prayer is an act of compassion. It is compassion in practice, intimately, seriously, and honestly. It gives a person the opportunity, in the sanctuary of his own mind, to care about other people, on a level greater than he is capable of. It is a rehearsal for the real world, so when someone is in need, or in dire straits, he has privately strengthened his kindness, and can act like a bigger man than he thought was possible.

It can be argued that a person can do this without prayer, but what difference does method make, when prayer is such a non-threat, as concluded so “brilliantly” in this video?

Instead of addressing hatred, indifference, manipulation, and hands-off hope, which are real issues of religion and prayer (and other things), these authors instead attack prayer itself, which, by their own proof, is less dangerous than a cup of coffee. Why attack it so, when it is so weak?

In addition, one aggravating nitpick I must make is about the comparison of soldiers praying to God to invoking the horseshoe. This is a fraud, not on the imaginary soldiers’ part, but on the contention of the video maker. Morale has a significant effect on the success in battle (as it does in disease recovery), and while a horseshoe may not do the trick, prayer certainly can. So they can bite me with their arrogant “logic” on this point, which depends entirely on dismissing the soldiers’ own convictions, and replacing them with their own.

Too many times “reality” is meant, as it is here, not as a definition of the world and what’s in it, but as a world-view conclusion you must adopt, because, well, “we say so.” If you are a “rational” person—“normal, intelligent” indignantly repeats the video—you should give prayer the same irreverence as pure chance, and feel idiotic doing it.

This is not my conclusion at all. My conclusion is: if pure chance and prayer have no differences, then unless you think pure chance is dangerous, you must admit that prayer is risk-free, and stop giving it so much of your arrogant concern.

Somehow, I don’t think that was their point, but they’ve proved it quite well anyway.



  1. Okay, the point is that prayer is an active practice of theistic religion, which, on a large scale, has caused as much trauma as anything else ever has in the entire history of humanity in the form of wars and cults. That’s what atheists are opposed to – the dangerous brainwashing effects of theism. I see prayer as a manifestation of those effects. Also, I would say that prayer is comparable to a lucky horseshoe because if the horseshoe carrier believes in the power of the horseshoe as strongly as the theist believes in the power of prayer, then the two have an equal effect on morale. If you’re just carrying a horseshoe but don’t believe in luck, it’s as useless as praying to a God you don’t believe in. As for the compassion issue in the case of a sick relative, then fine, show your compassion if you want to, but personally I’d rather have a nice get-well card.

    Comment by kippinator — July 26, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  2. Kippinator, I would agree that theism has great risk of “dangerous brainwashing effects.” This has indeed been displayed time and time again throughout history. The problem I see with your point is that atheism does not seem to have a much better history.

    Now, atheism has a relatively short history; probably only a viable popular force since around the time of Darwin. Yet, the one social system produced on atheistic principles (communism) has brought about two of the greatest examples of religious persecution in history: Soviet Russia and Red China have each killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of theists, simply because of their beliefs (and/or ethnicity). Perhaps one might blame this on the theists, saying that they should have given up their beliefs when the government told them to. Unless someone actually espouses that idea here, though; I’m gonna stipulate that such a suggestion is crap. So, I’m going to challenge Ms. Kip’s statement that “theistic religion…has caused as much trauma as anything else ever has in the entire history of humanity.” All told, perhaps, but considering that there have been (relatively) very few atheists in history, that’s a pretty sketchy argument.

    Comment by Aurenande — July 26, 2006 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

  3. Theism has a longer track record. I don’t pretend that all atheists are perfect, or that the philosophy itself is perfect. But as you pointed out, Aurenande, atheism hasn’t had the time or the resources to create a comprehensive reputation of its governing abilities. Communism may have been the only primarily atheist form of government to date, but it certainly wasn’t designed with atheism in mind. It was designed with laborer liberation in mind. It hardly represents the ideals of most atheists.

    Theism, on the other hand, has a long, bloody history of wars and hardships. I’m thinking of Queen Mary’s slaughter of Protestants, the Crusades, the religious human sacrifices of Mesoamericans, the Hindu exploitation of Dalits, the Ku Klux Klan, not to mention the bombings going on right now between Israel and Lebanon. Just off the top of my head.

    Sorry about the late response. I’ve been on vacation.

    Comment by kippinator — August 1, 2006 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  4. I have great difficulty with the finger pointing that goes on whenever the ‘attrocities of theistic religion’ arguments are brought to bear in this kind of discussion. If it is true that most atheists are of that persuaion simply because of the actions of governing bodies in the past (or even present) and their choices to act in certain immoral and inhumane ways all the while labeling their actions as expresstions of their piety, then the majority of the world’s atheists need to get ready for a massive conversion.

    The fact of the matter is that majority of these actions were not the result of any governing body or individual following the true tennants of their faith but, as with the schism between modern liberal muslims and their more radically right-winged counterparts, these actions have been taken by persons who have either misinterpreted the true heart of their faith or who have not actually be persons of faith at all but meerly used the facade of religion as a platform from which to launch their own personal socio-political agendas. Neither of which is the fault of the religion at all, but the fault of very human and fallible persons.

    That being the case then, the majority of the world’s atheists are atheists for entire the wrong reasons. The only logical and rational step to take then would be to openly and honestly investigate the adoption of a life of faith. Learn about the reality of entering into a personal relationship with the God who loves you from actual persons who live authentically moral religious lives rather than from books and see the difference it all makes.

    I too was an atheist once so there’s hope for you all. LOL!

    Comment by Cura Animarum — August 28, 2006 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  5. Cura, well put. I see both sides of the argument, which probably makes me annoying to everyone. On the one hand, religion tries both to be absolute and unquestionable. This makes it a very dangerous temptation for anyone who wants to gather power over others. I’m reminded of the Inquisition, the Crusades, and what’s going on in the Middle East. They are pockmarks upon us all, but could not be possible without a government commandeering religion for political power.

    On the other hand, I cannot reject any thing that has no proof. I think imagining and codifying morality has so far been best done by organized religion. I do not think that everything’s relative, or that all things are open to debate. What troubles me from some athiests is the same kind of derogatory language I detest from the fervently religious. I can pray even if it does nothing. There is no shame in making a feature film; there is no shame in poetry. I think it’s juvenile to fling insults at someone who chooses to believe in something that harms no one.

    But when it does harm someone, then I have to step in and complain about religion’s dangers.

    Like I said, I’m annoying to both sides. 😉

    Comment by secretmojo — August 29, 2006 @ 6:59 am | Reply

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