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.
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.