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…
Hello Friendly Atheist!
I am a big fan of yours and was wondering if you might tackle a question I myself haven’t been able to answer. I don’t have a tumblr so I’m emailing it — feel free to post the question and answer on your blog if you have a good response (or don’t, whatever :) )
Anyway. I’ve often heard a quote that goes something like “without religion, good people would do good things and bad people would do bad things. However, only religion makes good people do bad things.”
Can’t say I disagree that religion makes otherwise good people do bad things; my strained relationship with my Christian parents after I came out as gay is certainly testament to this.
However, a religious friend presented me with two criticisms of this saying.
The first is this: that religion can also pressure people into doing good things, such as mission trips, donating to homeless shelters, what have you. Can we overlook the possibility that religion could be responsible for otherwise BAD people doing GOOD things? In other words, might religiously inspired morals act as a check on society’s psychopaths? Is there any way to weigh the good things religion causes against the bad things? My friend suggests that at best, it is a draw, and the number of good people and bad people freed to follow their impulses would even out if religion were to disappear.
The second criticism is that various political and cultural beliefs can also persuade good people to do bad things, and so the attention to religion specifically is undue. An example might be an average WWIII era German citizen who is brainwashed into hating Jews because of the ubiquitous propaganda.
My impulse is to argue that there’s a strong rational basis for many morals, and so provided that religion is replaced with reason, moral behaviour would thrive if religion was eradicated. But I find this difficult to explain and so am wondering if you have any insight on this issue (I didn’t see anything on your FAQ that quite answered the question).
I don’t credit religion for “forcing people” to do good things. The fact that prisons are filled with the religious tells me that is not the case. Where is this “forcing” he speaks off? I don’t see it. Do you? Actually if you look at the history of religion what you will find is the total contrary. From the crusades to Islamic sectarian violence, for any good deed religion claims credit for, there are 20,000 evil deeds whose only and direct source it religious beliefs and dogma. To claim it is a “draw” is truly inane.
There is no way that your friend can prove religion prevents evil people for doing otherwise. How would you know someone is evil if they never do evil things? He just assumes that the good he sees in the religious has to come from religion. That is not true. The fact that atheists also do good shows that is not the case. He assumes people are evil by default (typical christian dogmatic assumption) and that religion is a tamer of such natural “sin”. Actually, since we are a social species that is not the case. The fact that we can live next to each other by the millions is a testament to that biological, not religious, fact. But that is another topic for another question.
Ask your friend, would he go murder someone tomorrow if he lost his faith. Would he? Of course not. Religion does not force anyone to do good. Religion just claims credit for something it had nothing to do with in the first place. Remember, religion is just hereditary myth and superstition (hence why religious beliefs are geographically dependent).
On the other hand I have seen what religious dogma does to people who are nice and caring otherwise. Historically religion has taken evil and redefined it as good (misogyny, slavery, killing of witches, genocide, suicide bombs, gay hate, hate of science, etc..etc…) . It takes secular societal progress and advancements in science and moral theory to drag religion towards modernity and equality. And still it is a fight religion resists.
In regards to WW2 Germans, history shows that Martin Luther was one of the biggest antisemites in history. Why? BECAUSE THE JEWS KILLED CHRIST per religious non-sensical dogma. The catholic church fueled antisemitism in Europe for a thousand years. The fact of the matter is that if Christianity had not developed and promoted Jew hate, the Holocaust would have never happened. If there was any brainwashing, it had religious origin paired with a nationalistic catalyst.
Sam Harris said the following:
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
Reason, empathy and a sense of our shared humanity are the only way forward. Religious myth and superstition are not. History has shown as much, sadly, for too long.
While about 300 Muslims prayed in Marshall Park in downtown Charlotte, the Christian group Operation Save America showed up to protest. Islam is one of the three main targets of its protests, along with abortion clinics and gay rights events. A news release from the organization on Thursday explained its reasoning. “Hatred toward the God of the Bible (Jesus) is the great unifier of abortion, homosexuality, and Islam,” said the release. “Hatred toward God and the nation He made great – America, is the platform of the DNC.”