If there is anything the Big Three monotheistic religions agree on it's the power of positive prayer. What I pray for is an end to human stupidity; those who believe in the power of positive prayer in the first place. My prayer will of course go unanswered.
The Purpose of Prayer Before-the-Fact
What do I mean by prayer? Prayer is asking a before-the-fact favor from some sort of supernatural deity. That favor (not yet granted) may not of necessity be a selfish wish or even something for yourself, but perhaps praying for good things for someone else (like a miraculous recovery from their terminal cancer) or for humanity as a whole like a chicken in every pot. You pray for Him to change His mind for results which you want (and presumably you think He does too). Before-the-fact prayer shows up in the win or loss column, there is, or is not a miraculous recovery from someone's terminal cancer; there is or is not a chicken in every pot. But it is all an exercise in futility, IMHO. For example, I'm sure nearly all passengers and crew prayed for deliverance that night to remember, the night the RMS Titanic sank. Prayer didn't alter the score. Losers outnumbered winners, so did God play favorites? The all-powerful Almighty could have saved them all, so maybe God just didn't give a damn, full stop.
The Purpose of Prayer After-the-Fact
There's also that prayer of thanks or gratitude that's after-the-fact for a meal, services, good weather, a safe journey, finding your missing keys, surviving the Titanic disaster, etc. but these prayers don't show up in the win or loss column.
Prayer and Your Time, Effort & Energy
Quite apart from your own time, effort and energy spent in the act of praying, think of all those trillions of man-hours (sorry, person-hours) wasted over the millennia by those (the great washed and unwashed) in pursuit of an illusion - that praying brought results. Do you really think either your personal world, or collectively our world today is a better place for all that time, effort and energy? No? Then I say again - what a waste. Further, no scholarly studies ever done on the beneficial results of praying have ever shown that praying works. Any time-and-motion, cost-benefit analysis of prayer would have to give those who practice it, and any management (i.e. - religious institutions) who endorses it, the Big Thumbs Down.
Prayer and Your Dream time
If in your dreams, you pray, would that count towards extra brownie points with God, assuming of course that praying actually yields brownie points in the first place?
Prayer and Your Pain or Gain Personal Satisfaction
Prayer is an ultra cheap way of feeling all warm and fuzzy in that you've done your bit to make the world a better place. No blood, sweat and tears; no pain and all gain, no hard yards to tackle. On the other hand, you could get your praying palms dirty and do some real charity or other volunteer work if you really want that warm and fuzzy inner glow.
Prayer and Statistical Results Personal
Does prayer work? If you pray, do you get proof-positive results? I doubt it. In fact I'd go so far as to say there's not a snowball's chance in Hell - not that there really is a Hell of course. The proof of the pudding is of course, if prayer really worked, there would be miracles in that we'd all be lotto winners or at least pretty rich and famous! We'd be total successes in our employment, and in our relationships, we'd all have perfect partners and perfect children (that'll be the day). And our automobiles wouldn't break down! Further, the Sun would shine down on us every day of our lives; no clouds, no rain, no snow to shovel, not too hot, not too cold, just day after day in paradise. If prayer does seem to work at times on a personal level, it's probably more a case of mind-over-matter, the power of positive thinking, and akin to the placebo pill in medicine. Every now and again, the improbable happens. Just because you prayed for an improbable event doesn't mean the prayer worked, and therefore that there's a God who answered it. If you pray for X, and X happens, might not X have happened anyway? Damn straight!
Prayer and Statistical Results Generic
Even if we all just prayed for good things in general, not selfish or personal things in particular, and if our benevolent prayers really worked, then you would expect that there would be no disease or suffering or criminals or warfare, etc. We'd all live in a utopian Shangri-La. But we don't! I mean, come every Christmas and Easter, the religious elite, like the pope, publicly pray for peace on earth and goodwill towards men (and women too) among other good things. That's noble of them. But, come next Christmas and Easter, the religious bigwigs have to do it all over again! God ignores the pope and associated kissing cousins! Now if the pope, and kin, can't get positive results, what hope for the great unwashed? It all seems to be an exercise in total futility to me. Since a result such as universal peace in the world (as one of many possible examples), hasn't happened; that's obviously not the case - just read your daily newspaper headlines, then either God doesn't exist, or He doesn't answer prayers. If the latter, then God doesn't give a right royal stuff about us, so why should we give a tinker's damn about Him (being traditional and assuming the masculine)? If we don't give a damn in return, then the Almighty's existence, or lack of existence, is basically irrelevant.
Prayer and the Godly vs. the Ungodly
Extreme Right Wing Christian Fundamentalists are extremely fond to be in-your-face with an €I told you so' every time there is an Act of God (God's wrath) that impacts life, limb and property. From oil spills to tornadoes to earthquakes to hurricanes, the bigger and more destructive the better, because they are all signs that point to the €fact' that God's coming and boy is He pissed! Though giving no supporting evidence, such communities on the receiving end obviously (like Sodom and Gomorrah) are ultra decadent, irreligious, practice witchcraft and other pagan rituals, have a high proportion of sinners in their midst, a high rate of abortions, allow same sex marriages, and all the sorts of things to inspire God's wrath. Since such people are clearly lost causes, there's no point in praying for them, or for them praying for themselves.
Atheists especially are a lost cause - they'd never be caught out praying for themselves or anything else for fairly obvious reasons. Now the question is, are atheists, gays, those who have had abortions, devil worshipers, and sinners in general plus other irreligious basket cases more likely than Christian Fundamentalists to go bankrupt, suffer tooth decay, have a shorter lifespan, have more automobile breakdowns, be more prone to lose their house keys, have horrendous golf outings, be hit by lightning, or have bad things happen to them in general? I very much doubt it. There's not going to be much statistically different between the populations of the super ultra religious right and the super ultra irreligious left, excepting the former tend to have achieved on average significantly lower educational levels.
Prayer and Causality
In any event there is no cause and effect link between prayer and results. If I pray tonight that the Sun will rise in the morning and it does so, shall I therefore conclude my prayer was answered and therefore if I hadn't of prayed the Sun would not have risen? Well maybe someone else prayed for sunrise and God answered them instead. But if you pray to win lotto and you do so, can you therefore conclude that God wanted you to be rich and famous since it's unlikely that anyone else prayed for your good fortune? Any link between prayer and results can be summed up with the phrase €shit happens€, even good shit happens, but we're not talking about God's shit.
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