I have a family member who is currently in the hospital and has been for the past 3 weeks or so. His niece, who visits him everyday, keeps the rest of the family informed with a daily email. Now let me say, she is wonderful and is doing a great job. I and the rest of the family are lucky to have her, and all of this has been a great weight for her to bare. But there’s something about those emails that is making me a little bit insane.
When he first went into the hospital, the niece included a standard “pray for him” request. Okay no problem. Then everything went smashingly well, he came through surgery great and the prognosis was good. Her email included a quip, “I guess the prayers worked!” Again, okay, but I was thinking, shouldn’t we give a little credit to the doctors too?
Then her uncle got an infection and went down hill rapidly. With each day the emails included lines like, “keep praying,” and “we really need your prayers now.” Then he started to get better: “Our prayers worked!” trumpeted the following email… and this addition, “Pray harder so he keeps getting better!” Which he did, briefly. But then his condition slipped, the niece’s advice, “Pray harder!” Finally, he is now making progress again — you can probably guess what the last email said, “Our prayers are working, keep praying!”
Oh sweet baby jesus, the prayers are not working, girl! Prayers don’t work. They just don’t. Haven’t you read The God Delusion? Don’t you know that repeated and well-funded studies into the efficacy of prayer have shown there is no efficacy whatsoever!? If prayers worked, then more “devout” nations would have longer life expectancies, fewer illnesses, and quicker recovery times (since health and healing are what people pray for most) — but godless Japan and Sweden are near the top of the life-expectancy list, and where is prayer-heavy America? It’s forty-fifth! And where is life expectancy longest in the US? Well, it ain’t in the thick of the Bible Belt, I can tell you that!
Oh wait, maybe we are praying to the wrong god? How do Muslims fair? Well (and I’m sure this will please religious Americans), the first predominately Muslim country on the list is little, progressive Kuwait… and it’s 53rd! — take that Allah!
I mean, prayer doesn’t even work for Popes! They’re not any healthier or live any longer than the general public, and yet they receive gazillions of prayers each day! Christ, if praying didn’t help John Paul II, it’s not going to help your uncle!
Of course she doesn’t know all that, nor does she care. And even if I told her, she wouldn’t believe me. I also know this whole prayer business is an expression of her desperate need to affect a situation in which she has no control. And I know that praying likely gives her a sense of purpose and makes her feel more involved in the healing process. So I shouldn’t care what she writes in her emails, and I certainly shouldn’t take the time to blog about it, right? So why am I?
For two reasons — first, I can see she’s got her head so full of this prayer stuff that when he get’s better it will only reinforce her view that her god did it, that her god is the true god, and that people that don’t pray or believe in her god are “missing the big picture.” She will feel a little pity for those without faith, and she will “just know” that her prayers helped to save her uncle’s life.
Second, if “god-forbid” he doesn’t get better, I wonder if she will feel somehow responsible? Will a certain sadness creep into her consciousness when she thinks of him, and will she shoulder blame for her inabilty to appease her god through prayer? Well, probably not… but maybe she will… and I would hate for that to happen.