As a former believer my reasons for praying were simple. I actually thought that a god would intervene positively in my life and in the life of others if i simply asked. (See Matthew 7:7, 21:22, etc..) Even on things I could do on my own. I mean, if I study for a test I will do good but if god is on my side I will do even better. Right? Or at least that is the logic…
That being said the mind of a believer is one of contradiction, actually one of ignoring contradiction. My church would pray for healing of a sick individual, for example. If the person got healed it was divine intervention, if the person died no one blamed god or complained that he was sleeping or ignoring our prayers. (1 Kings 18:27) Convenient, right?
I used to be, at 18 years old, the director for evangelical outreach at my church (yes, i was that committed to the gospel back then.) I remember how once I was asked to lead a group to the house of an older sick man for prayer. Specifically to pray for a speedy recovery/healing (he had the flu or a cold). When I got there I realized the man had no legs as he was sitting in a wheelchair. Then it really hit me that I was there to pray for a cold… The fact of the matter is that I could not do anything for that man, and neither could god. NO matter how much we prayed. How could I in good conscience pray for the healing of a cold if I did not have the “cojones” to pray for the regeneration of the man’s legs? The inconsistency hit me square in the face. I knew at that second that prayer would not make that man whole (James 5:13-15) ever. That was the beginning of doubt for me…
As I think back on those days the words of Marian Noel Sherman ring true:
“”Religious people often accuse atheists of being arrogant and of placing ourselves in the position of God, but really it is the theist who has all the vanity. He can’t stand to think that he will ever cease to exist. As Freud said, Christianity is the most egotistical of the religions. It is based on the premise ‘Jesus saves me.’”
Some may say that the reasons for prayer are not external (healing, miracles, rain, finding car keys) but internal (peace, humility, empathy). But such an argument misses the point (as it ignores hundreds of bible verses on the topic). If such argument is true then, what makes such a “prayer” different from meditation of positive self-talk? Why assume divinity where humanity is the one at action here?
People will pray because they have been taught to believe as much since children, because it makes them feel good to leave the future in the hands of an invisible “other”, because it is easier to see life as part of a grand plan that someone set up for them before they were born. It is easier to assume so than to actually realize that we are alone in this universe and that all that happens, or does not happen, is up to us and no one else. To me the latter is better than the former. To create my own purpose is to live. To recognize the frailty and shortness of existence is to value it even more. To know that relationships will end means that they have to be enjoyed completely because the here and the now is all we have.
Truly, hands that work do infinitely more than hands that pray…