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  • Category Archives Proselytization Response
  • On Prayer Working

    One can ask am I taking this bike ride to get me somewhere or am I taking it to get some exercise.  One is doing both simultaneously but is usually focused on one or the other.  In the same way it is helpful to tease out the components of prayer, the spiritual and the kinetic.  The prayer is a spiritual action but may be priming you to do some good that couldn’t come about by appeal to the divine (because God can’t counter free will).  For example prayer for a job.  When you pray for a job you are asking free will to be preempted.  The only way the prayer can be answered is the person being primed to help and work connections.

  • trust in a person vs trust in God

    One of the interesting things that comes out of marketing Christianity as a “personal relationship with God” is people take that paradigm to mean one can trust God the way one trusts a person.  When one trusts a person it is an implicit expectation that they’ll deliver on something.  For example if you trust a pizza delivery company, you expect the pizza there within a reasonable amount of time.  If the pizza doesn’t come you will get mad at the pizza company and maybe leave a bad Yelp review.  But this anger shows that you respect the company in a way.  If the roles were reversed and you didn’t deliver on something you’d respect and accept the resulting bad reviews and understand that was a necessary evil to keep society running smoothly.

    Trust in God is open ended (but people selling you religion fail to mention this).  God cares about you on his own terms.  His actions are not subject to evaluation by empirical evidence, only scripture and church teaching.  That means if God comes through that’s great, if he doesn’t there’s something wrong with the way you are seeing things.  This is almost the exact opposite of how trust between humans works.  You are expected to expect nothing.  Respect is shown by submission instead of empathy.

    Of course Christians try their best to market the faith as allowing one to trust God as one trusts a person.  Of course they don’t tell you that sometimes part of trusting a person involves them betraying your trust (for example when you tell someone you have planned and are about to commit suicide).

  • proselytization response: empirical claims

    When Christians make empirical claims about things they generally only need to back them up with scripture or church teaching.  The further the claim is from the actual evidence the more faith one needs to fill it in.  It’s not a level playing field.  An emotionally stunted person from a rough background who had zero experience of God is going to have a tremendous amount of faith to function in religion.  A person with a normal life with normal emotional function will need less faith.

    The thing about religious people is they so badly want to capture that token minority to further their aims.  They want a disabled person who will parrot the Christian talking points on suffering (romanticizing it) because it makes the view seem more authentic if it’s coming from an actual member of that minority.

  • How?

    When Christians ask me, “how do you do it without God?”, I respond with, “I ask myself that same question”.  This outs what they really mean, “how do you do it without religion?”.  It’s just assumed that religion will somehow put you in communication with God which is over assuming.  It never put me in communication with God, when I wasn’t psychotic.

  • Uncanny Valley of Prayer

    I think the people who pray a lot and the people who don’t pray at all often do the most good.   The people pray a lot prime themselves for action so even a materialist will see some effect of their prayer.  For example someone who prayed constantly for people affected by the Ebola epidemic probably would give money or service.  An atheist would put no stock in the efficacy of prayer and either take action or not.  It’s the lukewarm people in the middle that often do the worst, just praying a little and thinking that does a lot, an act of ease and convenience.  This group is what prayer shaming is aimed at.  If you really hate mass shootings you’ll do something about them besides praying.

  • Uncomfortable Questions Subreddit

    You can visit a sister site, uncomfortable questions (and comment on them if you have a Reddit account) for generally loaded questions like this:

    Why do people get so up in arms about people having imaginary friends while being indifferent of the fact that these people don’t have any real ones?

    Why do both God and the devil (and their kind) refuse to be measured? Wouldn’t one of them submit to measurement to get the upper hand in their battle for our souls?

    Why do people bend over backwards to support those with cancer but not do the same for chronic conditions like diabetes? Does it have something to do with the perceived threat of eminent death?

    How do you justify telling people to follow the voice of God, particularly in light of the fact that those with more fragile mental health may do so in weakened mental states with catastrophic results?

    Physical pain’s neurologically designed so that one cannot ignore it. Does modern anger/bitterness have this kind of property?

    How can you make empirical claims about what God will do in certain situations and then tell people not to “put God to the test” validating them?

    If we were forced to make the choice, would we treat our cats like we treat our pigs or our pigs like we treat our cats?

    People will experience the same things but for some it will turn them into more of an everyman and others it will turn them into less of one. How would one be more like the former?

    Why is suffering framed as a test of the individual’s character but not as a test of the character of those around her (ie. testing whether those people won’t drop out of her life like flies or turn against her)?


    Listening to: David Dondero, Live at the Hemlock

  • Prayer and Privileged Social Networks

    Another wrinkle in the problem of the efficacy of prayer is the fact that most of the good things in life (jobs, friends, etc..) come through being connected to privileged informal social networks (usually consisting of people of privilege).  When one does not have access to said networks one can pray but the prayer is to change someone in power’s heart, not a prayer that has an easy shot at being answered.

  • Countering Free Will and the Declining Efficacy of Prayer

    When one brings up the problem of evil (probably the worst problem there is, especially when it’s your problem) Christians trot out free will as why suffering is necessary.  However they are not hesitant to use prayer to try to counter people’s free will (to get people to act justly or in their favor).  From what I gather it’s harder for God to change people than non human actors and factors.  As humans have mastered more and more of the world, the problem of evil is more and more on us.  For example we weren’t culpable for stopping the 1349 black plague because we had no technology to do so but we are more so for the 2014 Ebola epidemic in west Africa (an Ebola vaccine research idled for ten years because a disease that only affected the most remote parts of Africa wasn’t a priority).  As the culpability for the problem of evil falls ever more on us we need to redirect more and more of our prayers towards changing people.  And these prayers are less likely to work hence the decline in the efficacy of prayer.

  • Prayer

    Praying in Faith
    Long ago, I lost the luxury of being able to pray without faith.  While you may think praying in faith is a sign of spiritual maturity, for me it was just a sign of desperation.  I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere in this ableism-soaked world without Red-Sea-parting divine intervention.  I don’t think praying in faith is expecting what you get, I think it is more akin to the analogy below:

    Imagine feeling quite ill with some kind of a disease; you have no idea what it is.  Fortunately that day you are visiting a friend who is a doctor.  During the visit you never successfully steer the conversation towards your illness.  After the visit you’d most likely experience emotional pain and this would show that you had faith in your friend’s ability as a doctor.

    And therein lies the gotcha–it HURTS to pray in faith.  It is a lot less hurtful to pray without faith and if I had that ability I think it might have saved me from leaving Christianity.

    Public Prayer
    Imagine a basketball team with players so insecure that they never attempted a shot unless it was at such an easy vantage point that they were sure it would go in, or so far from the basket that it wouldn’t hurt their self-esteem if they missed because there was no chance of the ball going in anyway.  I feel the church is like this with prayer.  They tend to reserve prayer for crises that are likely to be resolved and situations so desperate, no one will be offended if the prayer goes unanswered.  The chronic conditions (which generally don’t respond kindly to prayer) get overlooked.  When was the last time you heard your pastor pray for someone with chronic unemployment, chronic pain, or a disability that continually destroyed their livelihood.  Chances are, you haven’t, and for a good reason.  If we prayed for things like this, it would give us a more realistic picture of prayer’s effectiveness.  A picture none of us would like to see.


    Why Prayer is Counterproductive

    Prayer makes you think you did something when you didn’t do anything.  Doing something that does nothing is not harmful in and of itself.  What is harmful is when you think the thing you did (that didn’t do anything) did something.  You do this thing at the expense of things that could have done something.  For example, you think, because you signed an online petition to recall a Republican governor (which does nothing) you don’t have to sign an actual paper petition (that does something).

    Prayer engenders a frame of mind not conducive to solving problems.  Rationality and goal-orientation are generally agreed upon ways of tackling tasks.  Prayer teaches us to “have faith”.  Specifying a timeframe for a prayer’s answer or progress targets is considered a lack of faith (and can nullify the prayer).  However, these things are just what are needed when one goes about approaching a problem logically.  Worse, the frame of mind prayer produces can often cause us to gloss over others’ problems–”God” must be taking care of it–as opposed to the skeptic who might ask for an updated, rationality-generated progress report.

    Prayer engenders this pernicious idea that life is not a zero-sum game.  A zero-sum game is this idea that there are limited resources–that we all can’t have everything because the cosmos would have no way of sustaining it–and that me having something often necessitates you lacking it.  For example, you and a spouse are sleeping together on a cold night and there is one blanket on the bed which is only big enough to keep one of you fully warm.  The idea of prayer is that God is some celestial chef ready to cook you up anything out of nothing.  But in most cases when your prayer is answered it is at the expense of someone else.  For example, when you get that good job, someone else stays unemployed.  When you get that nice house, you outbid someone else who has to rent, when you get that beautiful wife, someone else ends up single for longer if not indefinitely.  On a more global level Christians have been taught to subdue the earth and that God creates good things out of nothing.  This idea has permeated American culture to the detriment of the environment.

    Prayer adds to the weight of ableism.  Individuals with disabilities in Christian circles are often looked down upon because they somehow couldn’t get their disability prayed away.

    More on prayer.

  • Prayer

    As many of you know, I am an agnostic. My approach to the faith has been opposite of most atheists. I just assume God exists and is who he said he was and then look at how that reality should play out in practical situations.

    First and foremost if prayer actually worked the way it is purported to, those in power would be doing everything they could to keep the powerless from doing it. Look at the last presidential election, through long lines at polling stations and other methods the poor were systematically discouraged from voting in their best interests. Why do you think the poor are encouraged to pray for things in their best interests but not vote for candidates who promise the same? Now some would argue that prayer really isn’t about engaging a divine Santa Claus and I’d agree with you there. However anything, anything good (even if it’s just sustenance to make it through a day) empowers.

    If there was actually a god behind prayer many people would be doing less of it. This is because God would convict these people to do something sacrificial for that person besides merely praying.

    Mating strategies for women would change if prayer worked. Since things that make a man worth dating (money, health) could be modified, a woman’s optimal strategy would be to find a man who didn’t have much to offer (who would be an easy catch) and pray the good things into him. As it stands now your prayers have to have already worked to get any consideration from women.

    Also, there is a double standard when it comes to praying for individuals with disabilities/chronic conditions verses individuals who are facing some kind of crises. The latter is intensely prayed for while the former is generally ignored. Crisis situations usually resolve or end badly. You praise God if they end well and you forget about them if they end badly. However disabilities and chronic conditions last forever and generally worsen. I think these things don’t get prayed for because people know it would make prayer look bad. I think if prayer actually worked there would be no double standard.

    Perhaps the worst thing about prayer is it is uninsurable. This because the act of prayer is tantamount to accepting God’s charity. This means it works when it works and doesn’t when it doesn’t. In the real world things don’t work on the charity metric. If I miss my therapy session I am billed thirty dollars. If I don’t do something in time I get yelled at. The fact that one is expected to have faith in God’s charity is difficult, particularly for people who like stability and assurance.