Prayer: Fact or Folly? Joe’s Perspective

Prayer: Fact or Folly?

There is an almost infinite number of writings, texts (in the old-school sense), books, and essays related to the power of prayer. Some of the world’s most learned theologians have written brilliant pieces on the subject.

11150923_10204938827090486_7286120596361932652_nWhich is meaningless since none offer any real proof.

Now my friend and fellow blogger, Kent Harrop, always accuses me of being enamored of science. He would say I see science as the only path to truth. In some ways, he is correct. But I would modify that position with a caveat.

I adhere to the philosophy we may not be able to explain everything. But accepting things without challenge is dangerous. To believe prayer works in the complete absence of any evidence is fraught with danger. We would not tolerate praying over a broken arm as an acceptable form of treating an injured child. Why should we accept praying for something to change as opposed to seeking to make changes happen?

As one of my favorite teacher’s often reminds me when I write these pieces,

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

But our point here is the efficacy, or in my perspective the lack thereof, of prayer. I also fear the populist trend in America toward returning to a “better time” which is a smokescreen for Christian domination and lip service to tolerance. That should frighten every thinking American. Thus, my point that if you see a value for prayer in school, or in government proceedings, show me how it makes things better, or offers any beneficial effect.

Given this position, let me say this. A prayer is a powerful tool for the individual.  It can bring focus. It can bring revelation. It can bring realization.

What it cannot do is influence the physical world, never has and never will. Only human actions have ever done that, for good or bad.

Now I could spend time recounting the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Bertrand Russell, Rene Descartes, Plato, or even Paul Simon about prayer and how none ever demonstrated any measurable effect in the world.

Instead, I will offer two examples as evidence of my position. One of historical significance and one personal.

Between the years 1933 and 1945 two out of every three European Jews were killed during the Holocaust. I stood in the barracks at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I passed mere feet from the ovens used to burn millions of men, women, and children.

Acts of horror committed by people from a predominantly Christian country, people who prayed to god as well. Did their prayers for success in their actions bear fruit with God?

In the silence of the camps, next to the piles of shoes, bundles of human hair, and images of those turned to ashes by the Nazis, I heard the echoes of the Rabbi’s prayers. The pleadings of mothers. The crying of the children. The helplessness of men praying to God for help.

Obliterated by death and flames.

Unanswered prayers while 6 million Jews were murdered. Unanswered prayers while 50 to 60 million died in the war. Unanswered prayer to end the war. A war that ended with the development of the weapons of our own destruction.

Our prayers didn’t end the war. Our prayers went unanswered unless you see the answer in our discovering the power of the Gods in the form of Atomic weapons.

The Nazi’s burned the Jew in the ovens while people prayed.

The war killed millions while people prayed.

There were billions of unanswered prayers. If it took all that time for God to answer prayers, what’s the point?

Prayers rose, intermingled with the ashes of human beings murdered because of hatred, and God did nothing.

Why? For mankind to find a way to kill not just his fellow man, but to vaporize entire cities and perhaps the planet?

Where was the power of prayer then?

Now, the more personal example. Some would argue such an argument is disingenuous since I believe prayer does not work. This example is not about me, but my mother.

No one embraced her faith with more certainty than my mom. She held onto her belief despite life’s many challenges.

She faced life-threatening health issues. She was a victim of infidelity and the breakup of her marriage. She suffered the loss of a child.

Despite it all, she held onto her religion. To the point many would find troubling. Despite my father’s infidelity, despite his taking her back to court to reduce alimony, she still kept her wedding picture on the wall. Because in her faith, marriage was forever.

My mother believed and never wavered.

Even when my father’s other wife, the woman who was the second part of the infidelity, would call and ask for help in dealing with my father’s demons, my mother never hesitated to offer her assistance.

Because her faith compelled her to.

What has this to do with prayer? Everything.

When my sister Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer, no one prayed harder or in a more sincere way than my mother. No one lived the life expected of her based on the tenets of her Roman Catholic faith more purposefully than my mother. No one held more hope in the power of prayer than my mother.

She would say God’s failure to allow my sister to live, to let her die from cancer, was a mystery of life. A mystery of faith. She would say the prayers worked because God took Mary home.

I would say God broke my mother’s heart if I thought such a thing possible. It is not, because God, in the anthropomorphic interfering in this world sense, isn’t listening.

Would I say my mother’s prayers were wasted? No, because they gave her hope in her helplessness to save her child.

What I would say is blind faith absent proof is a pox on mankind. It tricks us into wasting our time and effort.

Many would argue God answers all prayers, it is our inability to understand the answer that is the problem.

I find that sad. If ever there was a prayer that deserved God’s attention, it was one from my mother. Or, if volume matters, the mothers of six million Jews.

One of my mom’s favorite expressions was life is not fair. We shouldn’t compound that with false hopes.

“We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.” William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice




8 Responses to Prayer: Fact or Folly? Joe’s Perspective

  1. Peggy says:

    After Margaret Mary’s funeral I came home and was sitting on my porch thinking about Margaret Mary and I wanted to knw that she was ok and had made it home. I asked for a sign. Maybe a dove flying by and I thought the most I would get would be a white pigeon that I see all the time, but that didn’t happen. I forgot about those thoughts until 2 days later I woke up and walked into my kitchen and sitting on my table was a small plastic white dove. I live alone and I never said anything to anyone about my request. Was it an Angel who delivered the sign to me, I don’t know but it made me feel better knowing that she had made it home. If you have an explanation for how the Dove was on my table I would welcome it. The sign gave me comfort

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are always things the seem to defy explanation. As I said in my piece, when people are in the midst of a suffered loss small things can take on enormous meaning. My issue with people “believing” in Angels is more of a practical nature. Much time, effort, and resources are expended “worshiping” a specific god (dependent on one’s geography or upbringing) and defending that choice from all the others. In some cases, actively seeking to destroy differing beliefs. That is my point.
      I am certain that Angels of the type described in texts like the Bible or Quoran do not exist. However, what happens to the fundamental element of life when the body dies is still unknown. No one has ever offered a believable or remotely verifiable explanation.
      The fact that you sought out a sign then found what you were looking for does not mean an Angel appeared, it means as I said in the piece, the human mind will go to extraordinary lengths to protect itself and relieve pain. It is just as likely the dove was always there, just not as noticeable or put there by someone who knew it would bring comfort. Always look for the simplest explanation (Occam’s Razor) rather than an explanation you might find more comforting. Do Angels exist? I don’t think anyone can be 100% certain, but one can be certain enough that the evidence would tend to show they do not. Most actions attributed to Angels eventually are explained.
      Here’s my best argument. Of all the people I have met in my life, Margaret Mary would be the top of the list for those qualified for the status of Angel.
      And, assuming for arguments sake she is one, I would have received an equally meaningful sign in the form of a slap in the back of the head or kick in the ass. Angels as an element of faith (hope) for evidence of an afterlife are harmless enough, when kept personal. But I don’t see too many believers hurling themselves off bridges in the hope that an angel will catch them.
      As to what really happens at the point of death….remains (no pun intended) to be seen.


  2. Peggy says:

    And some day when you least expect it you will receive that slap in the back of the head.


  3. bruce says:

    your explanation of the Anthropic Principle is a self-defeating concept.
    to say the universe exists because we perceive means we must first exist to perceive but we are part of it so if we don’t first exist to perceive it we can’t exist to perceive it. Now this paradox could digress infinitely if actual infinities could possibly exist but according to big bang cosmology actual infinities can not exist.


  4. Kent Harrop says:

    Hi Joe, a few comments on Religion and Politics? piece. Good writing. Well reasoned. A few comments. You suggest that most religious folk would outlaw abortion. I’d counter that many may have moral issues with abortion but also are pro-choice and believe strongly in the woman’s right to control her body (I’d put myself in this category). Regarding ‘many would want to dilute’ the separation of church and state, I’d counter that a significant % are supportive. I’d have to research the numbers but many if not most see the need for the First Amendment, it’s only the vocal Religious Right (who are an overall minority of religious voters) who take issue with the First Amendment. They have the loudest microphone but don’t represent the views of the majority in the various faith traditions.


    • I agree that there is a variety of opinion regarding the pro-choice argument. My concern is with the vocal, if minority, religious who clamor to impose their religious based morality on secular matters.
      Some would equate secular with amorality. I would argue that secular morality is equal to, if not superior, to any faith based morality. Perhaps it’s time for the “silent majority” of religious to support a discussion of the proper place for religion is in the privacy of ones thoughts and places of worship


      • Kent Harrop says:

        There are several groups that lobby for protection of the First Amendment for all religions and from religion. A source I like is the Baptist Joint Committee which advocates effectively for separation of church and state and the rights of the religious and non religious. Their site:

        Liked by 1 person

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