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National Day of Actually DOING Something

People working together, like this barn raising, is more effective than praying about itToday is the National Day of Prayer. How about a National Day of Actually Doing Something instead?

The president issued the obligatory proclamation today: “Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation” and blah, blah, blah.

We’ve had a National Day of Prayer since 1952. What good has it done? In 1952, the world had 50 million cases of smallpox each year. Today, zero. Guinea worm and polio should soon follow. Computers? Cell phones? The internet? Science delivers, not God.

I can appreciate that praying to Jesus can help someone feel better, but so can praying to Shiva or Quetzalcoatl or whatever god they’ve been raised with. In terms of actual results, praying to Jesus is as effective as praying to a jug of milk.

I understand how the National Day of Prayer helps politicians get right with Christians. But how it coexists with the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), I can’t imagine.

My own departure from Christianity was pretty gentle, and I learned a lot from the painful road taken by Julia Sweeney (creator of “Letting Go of God”). As she gradually fell away from first Catholicism, then Christianity, and finally religion, she realized with a shock how ineffective prayer had been. Prayer lets you imagine that you’re doing something when you’re actually doing absolutely nothing. All that prayer that had helped her feel like she was helping people—whether the person on hard times down the street or the city devastated by natural disaster around the world—had been worthless.

In fact, not only does prayer do nothing in cases like this, but it is actually harmful. The pain that people naturally feel when they hear of disaster—that emotion that could be the motivator for action—is drained away by prayer. Why bother doing something yourself when God is so much more capable?

Prayer becomes an abdication of responsibility, and atheism can open the doors to action.

Sweeney’s conclusion: if you want to help the victims of the tsunami in Haiti (or whatever the latest disaster is), you need to do something since God clearly isn’t doing anything. Contribute to a charity that will help, or demand that the federal government spend more to help and demand the tax increase to pay for it. If it’s a sick friend, Jesus isn’t going to take them soup and cheer them up … but you can.

Prayer doesn’t “work” like other things work.  Electricity works.  An antibiotic works.  Prayer doesn’t.  As the bumper sticker says, Nothing Fails Like Prayer.

Even televangelists make clear that prayer is useless. Their shows are just long infomercials that end with a direct appeal in two parts: please pray for us, and send lots and lots of cash. But what possible value could my $20 be compared to what the almighty Creator of the universe could do?

Televangelists’ appeals for money make clear that they know what I know: that praying is like waiting for the Great Pumpkin. People can reliably deliver money, but prayer doesn’t deliver anything.

Instead of a National Day of Prayer, how about a National Day of Actually Doing Something? Many local United Way offices organize a Day of Caring—what about something like that on a national level?

Doing something makes you feel good, just like prayer, but it actually delivers the results.

Prayer is like masturbation.
It makes you feel good but it doesn’t change the world.
Don Baker

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

Related links:

  • “National Day of Prayer,” Wikipedia.
  • Elizabeth Tenety, “Do we need a National Day of Prayer?” Washington Post, 5/5/11.
About Bob Seidensticker
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  • Disciple of Christ

    Ere’ you left your room this morning,
    Did you think to pray?
    In the name of Christ our Savior,
    Did you sooth for loving favour,
    As a shield today.

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    When sore trials came upon you,
    Did you think to pray?
    When your soul was full of sorrow,
    Balm of Gilead did you borrow
    At the gates of day?

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    Finally, you are heavily mistaken in assuming that we do not do something other than pray during the National Day of Prayer.

    When you’ve met with great temptation,
    Did you think to pray?
    By his dying love and merit,
    Did you claim the Holy Spirit,
    As your guide today?

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    When your heart was filled with anger,
    Did you think to pray?
    Did you plead for grace my brother,
    That you might forgive another,
    Who had crossed your way.

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    Don’t forget to pray….

  • Disciple of Christ

    Ere’ you left your room this morning,
    Did you think to pray?
    In the name of Christ our Savior,
    Did you sooth for loving favour,
    As a shield today.

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    When you’ve met with great temptation,
    Did you think to pray?
    By his dying love and merit,
    Did you claim the Holy Spirit,
    As your guide today?

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    When your heart was filled with anger,
    Did you think to pray?
    Did you plead for grace my brother,
    That you might forgive another,
    Who had crossed your way.

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    When sore trials came upon you,
    Did you think to pray?
    When your soul was full of sorrow,
    Balm of Gilead did you borrow
    At the gates of day?

    Oh how praying rests the weary!
    Prayer will change the night to day.
    So when life seems dark and dreary,
    Don’t forget to pray.

    Don’t forget to pray….

    Finally, you are heavily mistaken in assuming that we do not do something other than pray during the National Day of Prayer.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Like a placebo, prayer may make you feel better. My question: is there someone one the other end of the line who actually changes things in response to your prayer? I’ve seen no evidence of this.

  • Chuck S

    I agree completely.
    As a “Christian” who used to pray on a regular basis I came to the same conclusion long ago. I was and still am active with various charities and volunteer activities which actually get something done and for years it would drive me nuts to go to a church and see people pass the buck to God and do absolutely NOTHING when someone was in a crisis situation and all they would do is pray which is just talk and accomplishes nothing. I have seen people including myself devastated by accidents, financial ruin, and horrible health problems and all their fellow loving Christians can do is pray; they will not lift a finger to help even one of their own members but they sure can talk up a storm with God and let him take care of it which he doesn’t. Show me a person who gets off of their rear end and actually does something and I will have lots of respect and gratitude, but the person who claps you on the shoulder, smiles, and then says “I will pray for you friend” is a worthless, lazy, apathetic slob and makes me throw up. Thank you SO much for putting this up !!!!!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Chuck: Thanks for the kind words!

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