Prayer: Cure or Placebo?

The headline screamed:
Britons still believe in prayer – and young lead the way, poll suggests

Apparently six out of seven people in Briton still believe that prayers can be answered despite a dramatic drop in formal religious observance, a study has found. So the Church of England is all agog about this because it kinda contradicts the latest census which showed Britons drifting away fast from religion. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith said: “Prayer is one of the most natural and instinctive of human responses, so I am not surprised to see these findings.”

Well I am very surprised at these findings. Shocked too and disheartened. I mean this is not Catholic Italy or Ireland or the fundamentalist American South. I simply cannot fathom how six out of seven of my fellow Britons believe there is a Being out there listening in to their mutterings and working to make their wishes come true. I can see that people pray when in distress; that’s human nature, to look for hope and help from any quarter. But do they really believe prayers are answered? If it was that simple living on earth would be paradise for everyone but we know that’s not the case despite zillions of prayers by the most devoted spiritual devotees.

Anyhow, I did a little digging around and I found this. Turns out that the actual survey question was: “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?”

How did that get turned into a “Britons still believe in prayer” headline. A little sleight of hand, don’t you think? Sprinkle in faith and hope and then mix in carefully a dollop of deception and there you have it: the modus operandi of religion, hocus pocus magicians and sharp salesmen. The Church has been perfecting this technique for the last two thousand years.

Now if I were to pray, yes there are many many things I would pray for. Not the same thing as I believe there is any worth to prayer. I might even see it as harmless – after all it’s no skin off my nose to pray. But I refuse to pray anyway because there is no evidence that a God exists to listen. I admit that there are a lot of people who believe otherwise but humans are, as a general rule and a weakness of our species, quite quick at believing false things and worse, sticking to such false beliefs in the face of all contradictory evidence. If I had a hammer I would like to hammer into people’s brains that believing something is not the same as it being true; do not confuse the two.

As for the fact that God is spoken for by prophets and in holy books – let’s just say charlatans are also spoken for in oral and written sales pitches. If it’s written and spoken by a human being – it behooves every intelligent person to ask for validation. Unverified faith simply should not do.



“The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell
I have just finished watching my first Michael Haneke film, “The Seventh Continent”. Take an average family, any one will do, and la-di-da life for them is working out fine (at least it looks so from the outside) and then one day they snap. A (bizarre?) fascination of mine is to wonder how far one can drive the brain before it finally does something really radical and gruesome for no matter how sweet the morning there’s always an evil wind blowing sawdust. Maybe it’s the boss/colleague who’s a jerk or maybe it’s the wife/husband/.. or it’s something as innocuous as losing at love. Then one day one begins to detest the pantomime called “Life” and to rage at the farce: the endless kissing of butts, bows to Popes and to black stones in the East, the politics of sex and making friends and all the games that people like to play. You can have values and integrity and never be counted for anything but make a billion whichever way and you’re a friend of the good, great and criminally good-looking.  My fascination is this: when the brain begins to go off the rails is such a one a fool for being so certain of the banality of living or is one wise for doubting life’s purpose?