Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Don't Pray For Me

Living as I do in the heart of the Bible Belt, I am often told that people are praying for me. I used to find that comforting. Now I realize they are preying on me.

A new study published today in the American Heart Journal shows that prayer is not only ineffective as an agent of healing, it actually causes harm to patients if they know they are being prayed for: “Hi, Ken, how are you feeling? Not so good, huh. You know my church has been praying for you. Every day we pray… Ken? Hello? Ken? Oh my God, they killed Kenny!”

In trying to figure out why prayer doesn’t work, I came up with four possibilities:

1. God has nothing to do with healing.
2. Kenny lacked the faith to merit God’s healing.
3. God wants Kenny dead, which is why Kenny got ill in the first place.
4. There is no God.

There is no way to know which if any of these is true, so simply choose the one that makes you feel better.

Of course, ineffective prayer is one thing, but why, if prayer can’t heal, does it harm? I came up with three possible reasons for this.

1. Relying on prayer weakens your determination to fight for life.
2. God is annoyed by prayerful challenges to his will, and punishes the person prayed for.
3. The people praying really, although unconsciously, want the other person dead.

Here, too, there is no way to know which if any of these is true, so go with your gut.

Given this new study, should we stop praying? Probably, but I doubt we will. Prayer gives us the illusion of doing something helpful without obligating us to do anything substantive at all. But, now that we know prayer doesn’t work, we are robbed of the illusion and forced either to feel guilty or to do something else like visit the sick, or take care of their dog, or cook them a meal, etc.

So the next time you get the urge to pray for me, don't. Or, if you can't help yourself, just don't tell me about it. And if you plan to pray for someone else don’t tell them either. Better yet, pray for yourself, and ask God to give you the opportunity to be of real service to someone who is ill, and to free you from the notion that prayer is a substitute for action.


Judy Gordon said...

not in such a good mood today, huh? one of those - it's a blessing - days!

Zoe Rose said...

We have a student rabbi in our area, and she talked about this very topic - sort of. She talked about how when she was a chaplain in a hospital for awhile, she always felt very insulted when people told her they wished she were Christian, or that they'd pray for her soul, or any version of this nonsense. She became so incensed that she had to go to her mentor for advice on how to handle this appropriately, and he recommended she see it as the highest compliment a Christian is able to pay. I think this is decent advice, either because perhaps these Christians THINK it's a compliment, or perhaps because it's the best thing they can think of inside their little world. Sometimes it helps me to think of it that way, but other times I want to ask if that's the best they can come up with... I like this blog, Rami!

Peter Schogol said...

A former secretary, an Evangelical Episcopalian (who knew?), asked me to pray that God would find a buyer for her Cadillac. I apologized and told her that God, being an old Jew, drives a Buick, and wouldn't get her a very good deal.