Does prayer work? What, if anything, can it do? Why should an omnipotent God with divine plans beyond our comprehension* do anything we ask of him at all? If he's planned it, it will happen; if not, your prayer will go unanswered, wouldn't it? From what I've gathered from my readings, a typical Christian will either a) use selective bias to claim that God answers prayers, or b) pray for such mundane things that a little bit of elbow grease will provide without difficulty. Also from what I've read, a lapsed Christian will notice that the proportion of prayers answered positively follows what one would expect from chance, with the more unlikely requests usually failing.
I've got a case in point for Christian prayer type b). Recently, my wife was telling me about a friend of one of the women in her Alpha class. The man, who we'll call Bio Bob, owns a Christian-based biomechanics company in Ottawa that he started up four or five years ago (don't worry too much - the biomechanics part is secular, but it's a Christian company with prayer time and crosses on the walls, etc). After posting an $800000 loss in his first year, Bio Bob decided to ask desperately for prayer support, enlisting the help of friends, family, and even obtaining the prayers of a group of people in Africa. This continued as Bio Bob posted smaller losses in the second and third years of about $50000 each, until he eventually saw some profits in the fourth year - not enough to get out of debt, but enough to be healthy.
As my wife explains it, evangelicals hold that everybody has some spiritual gift
that enables them to do God's work. These include miracles, speaking in tongues, faith healing, teaching, among other. Some even include being a "prayer warrior" - one who excels in praying for others. And that is what Bio Bob tried to tap into when his business was struggling.
Now the obvious problem with their claim is that Bio Bob's finances followed a pretty typical loss-profit pattern, at least according to the various business classes that I've taken. So in that case, he's attributing mundane business performance to the power of prayer and the will of God.
The second problem is this "prayer warrior" crap. Man, is that a scam - those people in Africa get to be lazy (it's not very hard to add "we pray for the success of Bio Bob's business in Canada" to your daily prayers) and still get the credit for Bio Bob's turn around.
In that case, I'm going to pray for my brother to get over the stomach flu he has. Even though he always gets over his illnesses without any help, this time, it'll be all because of me, and I can lord it over him for the rest of his life.
*if those who claim "God works in mysterious ways" are correct
Labels: Alpha Course, cynical, religion