Prayer: How To Do Nothing and Feel Like You Helped

(via god and son)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DG

    Yep.  Because despite the testimony of all those pesky stats, religious folks never, ever do anything to help people.  It’s not Neverland, it’s the world of modern atheism, where nothing is reality, and everything is built upon the foundation of square circles.  Geeesh.  FWIW, it was realizing the fallacy of this argument that was one of the very, very first steps that would lead me away from my own life as an agnostic.  I figured if so many atheists put so much weight on a narrative that was sooooooo demonstrably false, there must be something worth looking into.

    • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

      There’s no fallacy in pointing out the hypocrisy and utter uselessness of prayer. Of course lots of believers do charitable and kind things, and more power to ‘em. That doesn’t testify to the truth of their metaphysical claims, or change the inanity of praying for starving children.

      • DG

        It is when the criticism in question suggests that people of faith *only* pray, and do nothing else to help. 

        • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

          That’s true, but this cartoon doesn’t do that.

          • DG

            Read it again.  Yes it does.

            • Jim [the other Jim]

               YOU read it again! It most certainly does NOT imply that all people of faith only just pray.  It’s a direct shot at those who do nothing more than pray.  It’s a direct shot at the act of prayer itself and those that feel that prayer is all that they need to do.  

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          If I say, “those of you who do nothing but pray are doing it all wrong”, that does NOT imply, “ALL of you do nothing but pray”. I think THIS is why you turned from agnosticism to gnostic theism, DG. You gobbled up logical fallacies and allowed yourself to be absolutely credulous to the claims of others. Read for yourself. Think for yourself. Get a clue already.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000265741517 Adam Gill

      i agree with you DG.  they really don’t. 

    • newavocation

      It’s not a matter of helping each other, heck primates do that. I think Robert Ingersoll maybe understands prayer and faith a bit better in his following quote:
      “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. The hope of immortality is the great oak ’round which have climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart.” 

      • DG

        Primates or not, it’s obviously false to suggest people of faith only pray and do nothing else to help.  I know it’s popular in atheist circles to say that.  It was popular in my day.  It was also just as wrong.

        • Nel23

          Nobody thinks that you pompass ass. The cartoon talks only about PRAYER. Stop jumping to conclusions and creating generalizations of atheists.

          • Coyotenose

             Straw Man arguments are all he has, though, Nel23. You don’t want to take away his fallacies, do you? He might start making bizarrely poor analogies only supported by logical disconnects again!

          • DG

            Has nobody read the actual writing in the cartoon? 

            Prayer: Allowing people to do nothing for the needy the world over, and not fell guilty. 
            I’m sorry kind fellow, but it’s hard to see that meaning anything else.  Especially with the following diatribe.  Of course if all the atheists on this blog are ready to sell everything they have to help the poor of the world, then they might be on to something, and have some fingers to point.  But the idea that “Believers do nothing” (words of the cartoon, see above), is part of an old, tired narrative that any quick stat will dismiss.

            • treymorton

              Bread: Allowing people to eat peanut butter and jelly without getting their hands dirty.

              Clearly this indicates that no other kind of sandwich exists, correct?

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          Keep building those straw-men, DG. I’m sure someday one of these caricatures you argue against will spring to life and argue back.

    • Nel23

      Look at the first word: PRAYER. That’s what the topic of the cartoon was. I think you missed it. Big time.

      • DG

        No, I didn’t.  It clearly puts believers who pray against believers who should be doing something to help.  That is, assuming that believers can’t or don’t do both.  Which they do big time. 

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

           It clearly puts believers who pray against believers who should be doing something to help.

          No. It clearly puts believers who pray INSTEAD of acting, against believers who do both (or just act). Learn to read, DG.

    • Coyotenose

       I hear that getting offended over things you made up that aren’t actually indicated in the cartoon is the New Black.

      Ah, the conspiracy theorist’s creed: Straw Man something, then use it as an excuse to justify irrationality. “I figured if so many people put so much weight on the official version of 9/11 when it is soooooo demonstrably false, there must be something worth looking into.”

      This word, “stats”… I do not think it means what you think it means.

      • DG

        What an incoherent rambling mess of a response.  If that’s the best you can do, you have my pity.

        • Ken

          I’m insulted that you can’t understand this cartoon.  You have my pity that you can’t take a joke.

          • DG

            What joke? That’s always a lame dodge when a point begins to collapse under the weight of reality.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      Let’s break down the text of this cartoon, DG.

      The first bubble says “Prayer… allowing people to do nothing for the needy the world over, and not feel guilty.” Please, demonstrate how this statement implies that ALL believers only pray and do NOTHING else. What it is saying is that prayer is something that allows certain people a guilt-free illusion of having done something useful.

      It is true that SOME believers pray while doing nothing else. I have personally known dozens of well-meaning Christians who live a comfortable life, and pray for the hungry, the poor, the destitute, and do nothing else for them, thinking that their prayers alone will help solve the world’s problems. They actually think this way.

      Now you may think that this way of thinking is silly, DG, but that is a cognitive dissonance that you need to deal with, not us. Some believers in many different faiths (of which prayer is a part) actually do this.

      The second bubble says sarcastically that prayers will give a starving African more hope than real action could. This cartoon addresses the PORTION of the population of believers who pray in lieu of any real action, DG. Nowhere does it state that ALL believers do this. And until you can demonstrate otherwise, all you are doing is setting up straw-man arguments that you then cry about.

    • Viscant

      I agree with you DG. The second bubble definitely suggests that Christians who pray do nothing else to help people in need. What nonsense.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

         It suggests that some do, not all. It even says “some”.

        This would seem to be a classic case of “If the cap fits, wear it”, with replies that methinks protest too much…

        • Viscant

          The use of the word “some” seems to me to indicate that it could be any Christian doing this. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

             any ≠ all

    • Onamission5

      Pull your panties out of your ass. The cartoon isn’t saying that religious people never do anything that it actually helpful, it’s just saying that praying isn’t it.

  • Godandson

    Don’t mistake prayer for physical help….

    Some religious groups do go out and do practical things other than just talking to sky pixies.

    There’s even been multi-million dollar research into the power of prayer, with control groups and the like. The result was : Prayer did nothing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/C-Alan-Nault/1361479088 C Alan Nault

      If you are talking about the prayer study with the 3 control groups you’re mistaken, prayer did make a difference.

      It made things worse.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www

      There were 3 groups.  One group was being prayed for but didn’t know it, one group wasn’t being paryed for, and the third group was being prayed for & knew they were being prayed for.

      The prayer made no difference in the first 2 groups, the third group ( that knew it was being prayed for) had “a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.”.

  • Nel23

    The first word of the cartoon was PRAYER. That was the topic. I think you missed it. BIG time.

  • Setracse

    Prayer is not a vending machine, it’s a communication with the deity.
    Sadly, based on ignorance, we get fallacious jokes such as this.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Communicating with the deity? I hope you don’t mean you hold conversations, as in you talk, he listens and then you hear an actual voice responding to you. That would be crazy.

      Anyone can call to monsters from the vasty deep. I just don’t believe you when you claim to get results from your prayers.

      Why on earth would an omniscient god change its plan for the universe because its favourite (?) dirt golem petitioned it for a better outcome?

      • Kevin S.

        Further, intercessory prayer destroys whatever claims of benevolence theists have about their supposedly omniscient, omnipotent deity. Free will doesn’t hold up anyway, but if you twist youself into saying your god lets us fuck ourselves up because of it, you can’t also give him credit for good things happening. A deity capable of intervening for good but refusing to prevent bad is evil, not benevolent.

    • Piet Puk

       I shall correct your comment:

      Prayer is not a vending machine, it’s a one-way communication with a fantasy, sadly, based on ignorance.

      You’re welcome.

  • CatholismRocks

    Well, you certainly have described one type of prayer here: petitions. There are of course other forms of prayer. Praying for yourself, for discernment, to give glory to God, and give thanks to God. None of these prayers can ever be ‘measured.’ I admit, if I pray for sick children in Africa, I have no idea how those prayers will come to fruition. Part of why we pray for others is not only because through Christ we have a love for others, but because we want to increase our relationship with God. By praying for others, we learn to love others, and to learn more about love is to know more about God, who is love.

    For instance, this may sound incredibly selfish, but when we praise God, we do so for ourselves. Aha! Christians are only out for themselves you may say! But the simple truth is that no matter how much we praise God, he will neither increase or decrease. He is. And always will be. We praise him because it orientates ourselves to the Truth.

    Through my own personal prayer, I have greatly increased my relationship with God (along with of course, the wonderful Sacraments found within His Church). Prayer has had a powerful impact in my life. It is very easy to say that there is no evidence prayers does anything. God does not leave fingerprints (at least not for those who are not looking.) But, I would counter with the argument that you cannot prove that prayer does NOT work. And therefore our argument will go round and round in circles.

    • Onamission5

      A) You might need an invisible friend in order to love others, but I for one do not, and neither do a lot of other people.

      B) Truth is not a proper noun. Capitalizing it doesnt give it more power, either. 

      C) One could actually fairly easily prove that prayer does not work, and studies have.  Nil results of double blind study equals prayer not working.

      D) Talking to your particular deity may make you feel better, but it’s still not having any effects outside of your own mind.

      E) Confirmation bias does not equal valid evidence. Next I suppose you’ll tell us we just haven’t “read the bible right” and that’s why we aren’t (specifically) christians.

    • Patterrssonn

      “For instance, this may sound incredibly selfish, but when we praise God, we do so for ourselves.”

      Not selfish, just stupid.

  • Loretta12

    I have issues with all you points, however the last one is the one I’m going to chose.
    To argue that no one can prove prayer doesn’t work, is not a legitimate argument to say it does.
    I could tell you that there is no way to disprove fairies and unicorns, but I’m fairly certain your not going to argue that they, therefore exist? Also it doesn’t work.
    As an atheist I feel more inclined to donate to the red cross for example, than I would if I thought thinking a few magic words in my head was going to change anything.
    I seriously cannot believe that in this modern time people believe in a supernatural father figure/dictator.
    It’s absurd, dangerous and deluded.

  • Ndonnan

    Ha this cartoon is the only strawman here,in fact its a whole hay shed.Truth is so few christians i know arnt active in some way in their community,doing things totally for others with no recompence other than the satisfaction of helping others.Then theres the amazing inderviduals who do go to countries like Africa/asia to build houses,feed and educate the less fortunate.This cartoon would much more accuratlly describe the average non church goer in western culture

    • Patterrssonn

      “Then theres the amazing inderviduals who do go to countries like
      Africa/asia to build houses,feed and educate the less fortunate.”

      And get the opportunity to spread their sick as fuck morality and belief systems

      • Ndonnan

        Oh yeh,like man on man and killing babies,and do what ever makes me happy and stuff everyone else,did i miss anything ssstutters

        • Patterrssonn

          Yes, you missed making any kind of sense. Were you attempting to make some kind of point? It’s hard to tell but it might be worth trying again.

  • DG

    From the top folks, since there seems to be a misunderstanding.  The cartoon is bogus.  It’s false.  It has no basis in reality.  It might as well say the problem with football is all the time spent trying to hit home runs.  Prayer and doing good works are not mutually exclusive.  The stats (that’s internet jargon for demonstrably verifiable evidence) overwhelmingly show  people of faith to be giving in both money and time.  Anyone who has worked in any type of charity work knows the presence of people of faith cannot be ignored.  They’re everywhere.  I realized in my own younger days, despite the presence of the tired old ‘all they do is pray so they don’t half to help’ crap.

    The second part, the ‘rich people in an age of hunger’ jab, doesn’t really apply to the first – it’s actually a separate point.  It would apply to anyone: religious or not – how do we validate our wealth in a starving world (assuming we are the small wealthy segment with SUVs).  Fair point, but it has nothing to do with prayer being used to ignore this or that.  It’s a lame cartoon based on wrong premises, one that encourages stereotypes built on willful ignorance.  It’s the type of thing that is more useful in flushing out those who are willing to engage with facts and reality, from those who simply want to hoot and holler at the latest evidence that they are oh, so hip, cool, and brilliant, and those other dolts without stars on their bellies are so, so inferior.

    • Piet Puk

       As many have pointed out to you before: The cartoon is about prayer, and prayer only.

      • DG

        But it puts it in connection with the idea that prayer ‘makes you feel like you’ve done something’ because obviously you’ve done nothing.  Read the cartoon. Again.  People could point out that squares are round, but that wouldn’t make it so.  It’s almost as if, instead of folks saying, “Yeah, that is a lame point”, they’re trying to say that the cartoon doesn’t really say ‘Prayer: Allowing *people to do nothing for the needy the world over* and not feel guilty.”  With a following tirade on how these people who pray are doing nothing else to help.  Wouldn’t it be more credible to just admit it’s a bogus cartoon?  Rather than say “I don’t see it saying prayer allows people to do nothing to help the needy the world over and not feel guilty, do you?” 

        • http://twitter.com/BoredInfidel MikeTheInfidel

          If I tell you that a bus route allows people to get to work faster, am I saying that all people who go to work take the bus?

          Clearly not.

          In exactly the same way, if I tell you that prayer allows people to do nothing for the needy while not feeling guilty, I am not saying that all people do this.

          Reading comprehension must not be your strong suit.

  • Thackerie

    I don’t think DG is really as ignorant as he puts on. Like many christians we encounter, he invents strawmen and goes out of his way to pretend to be offended. Just building up their martyr creds, I guess. Good for them; they’ll get more (Burger King) crowns in Heaven.

  • hoverFrog

    “Two hands working can do more than a million clasped in prayer.” 

  • David Hull

    As a Christian, I actually kind of like this cartoon. It is funny in a satirical kind of way. I absolutely agree that some people use “prayer” as an excuse to not engage the overwhelming needs of the world. However, that is not the point of prayer. Prayer keeps people and the world on your heart as you seek God’s assistance for those outside of your reach. However, the place of prayer is often a catalyst sending Christians into the world, precisely to meet the needs that the cartoon mentions.

    Also, America is not the global center of Christianity any longer. It is burgeoning in Africa, Latin America, and Asia… you know, all of those places where those “starving” people are. Why might that be? Oh yeah, because a bunch of Christians were praying and became convicted of the need to pour out their lives for the sake of others. If you look at the predominant force behind most of the humanitarian aid in the world, do you know who you will find? Yep, lazy Christians.

    Again, I appreciate the cartoon, I think I am going to repost it, because the American church does need to be galvanized into action. Thank you for being willing to help the church to awaken to the true call of Jesus Christ. You sir are a true apologist for biblical faith :)

    • Ndonnan

      Good point David,its usually the ones who sit back and mock others who do the least

  • RupertPupkin

    Yeah, this cartoon is so right, because clearly churches and religious groups  and people across the country that make prayer an integral part of their lives obviously never do anything to help the poor or “less fortunate”.   I am an atheist, and even I find it impossible not to defend the Church against such a stupid “cartoon”. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

    With all these religious commenters protesting that “actually most of us do give to charity” etc, I realised something…
    If intercessory prayer was real and actually worked, why would we even need charity and aid organisations?
    I think that’s the real point trying to be made here: Charity without prayer does real good; Prayer without charity doesn’t.
    If you do both, fine. But the prayer itself doesn’t actually affect the people being prayed for. If it did, there’d be no need to do anything else.


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