By Vexen Crabtree 2005
“If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence.”
Daniel C. Dennett (2007)1
God knows everything - everything we say in prayer, God already knows. The point of praying is definitely not to reveal things to an all-knowing God. God acts only when God knows it is good to act, the wishes of prayer can only ever be against God's will, as I have elaborated on above. So, when prayer works, how does it work? If prayer works, then it is either coincidence (you've prayed for something that was going to happen anyway) or, you knew what was best better than God did, and God intervened! The latter is impossible. Magic, or prayers, when they are effective, must be against God's will. If you ask a Christian or a Muslim, what will they say is the magical force that acts against God's will? Satan's will. If a supernatural affect such as prayer goes against God's will, then it is Satanic. As such, prayer is either useless, or Satanic. What business, then, have theists got in praying? This is a warning to all god believers that they must be very careful of their own motives when they get together and pray for things!
The effectiveness and appeal of prayer is one of the reasons people give for being religious2. But studies have shown that prayer is ineffective in treating medical conditions, and, the fact that the Royal Family are not miraculously fit and healthy compared to other rich people indicate that prayer simply doesn't work. Some studies have shown that prayer actually makes things worse if you tell someone that a team is praying for them!
When we pray, we are conveying our thoughts to what we think of as God. But, if God is all-knowing then it already knows anything we would want to say. If we pray because we are feeling insecure or frightened... God already knows how we feel. If we pray because we want God to make a friend recover from illness... then God already knows that we want it to help our friend. So what is the point of praying to God for these things? It is certainly not because it needs us to, or because we want it to tell it something that it already knows! Clearly, prayer is not because God has needs!
Given that prayer is irrelevant to an all-knowing or perfectly good god, why do theists do it? The answer is that praying is for ourselves. The standard Christian response to the above arguments is just that... that it is us that psychologically need prayer. But, however, the Christian response is narrow. The function that prayer plays is as the facilitator of introspective reflection. Theist religions call it "prayer", Eastern ones call it "meditation". Psychologically it is introspection and reflection. In all cases it is connected to the internal states of the person involved - it seems dishonest to call it 'prayer' if you admit it is just introspection and psychology. Calling it by a more magical name merely confuses impressionable people. So, even promoting the idea of 'prayer' is functionally abusive.
Prayer or meditation, be it Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish, is all for the self, not for God, as God doesn't need it. But most Christians and others do not admit that it is an essentially selfish act.
In Satanism, my own religion, it is common knowledge that religious symbols are reflections of the self, nothing more. But those who meditate and those who pray delude themselves into thinking it is "God" that wants them to do it, rather than admitting they're doing it for themselves. Self-help works better when it is done honestly, "prayer" should be called "meditation" or "philosophical introspection".
“If God is all-knowing then it doesn't need anyone to pray because it already knows what we're going to say and what we're thinking. If God is perfectly good and just, then any praying we do for others is pointless as it will not change the facts of whether it is right for a particular person to be benefited or left. If it is right, God will do it with or without prayers: if it is not right, God won't do it. What use is there for prayer? It should be admitted that prayer is self-reflective meditation - self help - and we should probably even stop the pretence of calling it 'prayer' for god.”
It is widely assumed that when a theist prays for someone which whom they disagree on a point of belief or behaviour, the prayer is, secretly, a snide and obnoxious way of disparaging them. Theists know this and go to lengths to distance themselves from their feeling that their prayer is an exercise in passive aggression expression (emotionally aggressive behaviour disguised as something neutral). This is a sore-spot: theists must convince themselves that when telling someone that they are praying for them they are doing it from a pure motive - because, after all, God knows their inner motives. Sometimes it is more clear to others what the underlying psychology is, even if it isn't clear to the person making the prayerful declaration. There is no need for an exposé of passive-aggressive praying as few would doubt its true nature. An ultimate insult comes from the Church of Satan, when its founder spat out the following words:
“Even though the god in all of these religions is basically the same, each regards the way chosen by the others as reprehensible, and to top it all, religionists actually PRAY for one another! They have scorn for their brothers of the right-hand path because their religions carry different labels, and somehow this animosity must be released. What better way than through 'prayer'! What a simperingly polite way of saying: 'I hate your guts,' is the thinly disguised device known as praying for your enemy! Praying for one's own enemy is nothing more than bargain-basement anger, and of a decidedly shoddy and inferior quality!”
Of all the many courses of action or inaction, God knows which is best. An all-knowing God knows everything. As God is a perfect being, it always does what is best. If you pray for a friend to miraculously recover from an inoperable brain disease, what will happen? If God wants to cure the person, it will. If it doesn't want to (because it is not the best course of action), it won't. Prayers cannot make a difference to what God will do, because prayers don't change what the best course of action for god is. The Bible isn't particularly coherent when it comes to deliberating on this topic but one of the most famous verses on Christian prayer is 1 John 5:14: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us". This agrees with our argument that God only listens to prayers if they happen to agree with what God was going to do anyway. It seems that to pray for God to act is to doubt that God already knows best5,6. Jesus said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" to an apostle who thought he knew better than God's plan (Matt. 16:23): Jesus knew that to think you knew better than God was sinful and Satanic, even if you had good motives.
When you pray, the words and thoughts are believed to achieve potential results. This is no different from a wizard or a pagan casting a spell. It is supernatural because the effect is not achieved through the physical laws of nature that can be investigated through science. Magic is simply a form of supernaturalism bought about via ritual or spoken words. Magic is not taken seriously by scientists, academics, skeptics nor the general populace. Despite amazing and great advances in physics, quantum physics, psychology and neurology, no possible basis for "magical" actions has been found by researchers. All sociological investigations have found no evidence of real magical power, and parapsychological and occult experimenters have never been able to formulate proof that satisfies basic scientific requirements such as independent verification and impartiality. So, in the modern world, all major religions disclaim themselves against magic and say that they don't practice it. Ask a Christian if praying to heal someone is magic, or a Muslim if the healing ruqyah is magic, and they'll vehemently deny it. 7
Many others would call it magic. The actual method by which a ritual works is unknown. It is the same with prayer: When people think that prayer has been successful, they ascribe the cause and effect of it to God. But this cause and effect could by any supernatural phenomenon, such as telekinesis or psi. It could be that the spirits of the dead carry out the wishes of a Christian who prays (therefore, folk religion is true, and Christianity is false). It could be that everyone, including Christians have spiritual animal guides, and that these oversee people's wishes and prayers, and go forth and make some such wishes actually happen. We don't know if spells, prayers, rituals, and wishes are made effective by quantum souls, gods, fairies, or demons. If they work via a God, then, we simply don't know which God is doing the granting. We simply do not know what happens; hence, prayer is not only supernatural but it is magic. When religious people hear how other people explain these effects, they turn into hardcore skeptics. It is magic, and, magic is daft. But when they are talking about their own magical pursuit, known as prayer? Well, in this case, they think, it is not magic, and it is not daft! But how does it work? They still don't know. There is no different between the magical words of prayer, and any other form of magical word. Prayer is magic.
For the full text on this topic, see: Prayer is Magic, and Prayers are Spells.
“In Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus says you should pray in private so that others cannot see, behind closed doors, in secret and not in public. All four gospels describe Jesus as practicing what he preached: always praying in private or sometimes just amongst the disciples. Matthew also says that Jesus instructed that prayer not be repetitious, with 'much speaking' 'as the heathens do'. The criticism is made many times of those who bring attention to their own prayers: Prayer should be private. These instructions occur in no less than 18 places in the New Testament. Christians who make vocal their prayers for others are rebelling against God's wishes, as are those who prayer in repetitive chants or routines, something which is fairly common in Christian liturgy in most of Christendom.
There are many more versus about praying in the Bible. The author of Timothy urges that Christian men "in every place" pray for other people (1 Timothy 2:1,8). According to Jesus if Christians have just a tiny bit of faith, their prayers will come true, including such miracles as moving mountains and trees. For an example from each gospel, see Matthew 17:20, Mark 11:24-25 , Luke 17:6 and John 14:14. Critics do not have to do much work to find that these verses seem to be untrue. They are contradicted by the infamous unforgivable sin of 1 John 5:16, wherein it says that there is no point praying for others to cease committing deadly sins. There are contradictions and absurdities in what the Bible says about prayer. Not only that, but as God acts perfectly, it seems that prayer cannot change anything in the world: God is already going to save the sick, remove a cancer and end poverty. This is why in 1 John 5:14 it says God only listens if we ask what is already in accordance with its will. To pray is to doubt god's perfect choice of action. Forgetting that God is all-knowing, Philippians 4:6 says you should let all wants be known to God, in prayer. The 100 verses that describe prayer are relatively incoherent, and most don't reflect Christian practices today.”
And the page menu:
“The Qur'an is explicit when it comes to prayer in ways that the Christian Bible is not. There are definite reasons to pray: Qur'an 17:79 offers a bribe: pray often, more than is required of you, and Allah might "raise you to a position of great glory". Aside from that, the vast majority of the verses in the Qur'an about prayer are about technicalities - frequency, timings and posture. For example Qur'an 2:238-239 says that the "middle prayer" (presumably, of the 5 daily prayers) is the most important. Qur'an 5:6 reiterates typical superstitions about cleanliness and washing before prayer (more so if you've touched women recently). Despite the attempts to be clear, there are many uncertainties as to how Muslims should pray and there are many different customs. Some complications arise from basic geography: the Qur'an was written by folk who thought the world was flat, so instructions like "face Mecca when you pray" seemed simple enough. But what about Muslims in Argentina, Alaska or Australia? To pray facing Mecca means angling yourself against the floor in a very strange way. Some Alaskan Muslims pray facing north, the shortest curved line to Mecca. Others pray facing South-East, the simplistic way you'd face if you use the Mercator map projection whilst forgetting that the world is more or less spherical. The entire spectacle of reading lengthy Muslim scholarly debate on how and when to pray is a worryingly pointless use of Human time in a literalist endeavour that is largely avoided if you admit that the authors of the Qur'an didn't quite manage to be clear, and the minor details aren't really the kind of the thing the ruler of the Universe should really be caring about, given the violent and immoral state of the world at large!”
And the page menu:
“The Satanist shuns terms such as "hope" and "prayer" as they are indicative of apprehension. If we hope and pray for something to come about, we will not act in a positive way which will make it happen. The Satanist, realizing that anything he gets is of his own doing, takes command of the situation instead of praying [...]. Positive thinking and positive action add up to results.”
My comprehensive website on Satanism notes that 'prayer' is one of those words that Satanists have a particular dislike of:
“There have been many small-scale investigations into whether or not prayer works - most of them by believers, and most of them using poor research methods or poor statistical techniques. Christian publishers and evangelical journals produce volumes of stories of prayers that have been answered10 - always in the affirmative - by God. The most basic next step would be to compare these to how many have not been answered, in order to see if it is mere luck that some events go favourably. Don't forget that "people speak confidently about the power of prayer, but in war both sides pray for victory"11. All the larger studies, and the well-controlled ones, show that prayer has no effect on the world. The largest study, ran mostly sensibly by a Christian think tank, found to their own embarrassment that not only did prayer have no effect on cardiac patients but that by telling one of the groups that they were being prayed for, they made their recovery worse by making them worry more.12,13,14,15,16,17,18. Aside from individual effects, because of the large volume of prayers that occur in the world, their cumulative effects should be statistically observable. But no such evidence can be found. Prayer doesn't help individual patients, and, it has no effect on overall national welfare rates19.”
Of course, it makes no sense that prayers would help. If God wanted people to get better, God is all-powerful and will make it so if it is for the greater good. If God doesn't want to, it won't. This is related to the argument above that praying is against God's will. Also, if there was a good god, it would automatically pray, itself, for the full recovery of all victims, and as God's prayers are not only to itself, but they are also the result of an all-powerful being, it holds that if God wants people to recover, then all people will recover. It can be no other way, unless god is not all-powerful.20
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.
James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. A paperback book. Book Review.
Krause, Kenneth W.. Krause is science columnist for The Humanist.
(2008 Jul/Aug) When Faith Kills: Christian Healing at the Expense of Rational Medicine. An Article in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.
(1807) The Age of Reason. Published by Musiaicum Books. Part 1 published 1794, part 2 in 1795 and part 3 in 1807. An e-book.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.
(1764) Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Juliet Sutherland, Lisa Riegel and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. An e-book.