Funny yet depressing.
We want it NAAAAOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!
Funny yet depressing.
We want it NAAAAOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!
…. Monkey Dust style!
For anybody who’s never seen Monkey Dust, it was an animated sketch show on BBC4 that was…. Well, it was edgy. I always used to prefer to watch it on my own because I felt like people were judging me for laughing at some of it.
Needless to say, this is NOT SAFE FOR WORK (despite being quite mild by Monkey Dust standards).
During my “dues paying” years, I worked a job as a security guard stuck in a little guard shack. In order to avoid the feeling like I was in a sensory deprivation tank, I always kept the radio on to whatever station wasn’t playing country music. That meant that I occasionally listened to the local Christian station.
Pullquote: Does an omniscient God need to be told that there’s a problem?
One thing I noticed was the constant call to prayer: pray for God to support the President, pray for God to oppose Congress, pray to protect the kids in public school who can’t pray for themselves, pray for the continued prosperity of Wal-Mart (seriously). Growing up Episcopalian, prayer was either a group ritual or a private meditation. This was something different: prayer as spellcasting.
I can’t think of another way to describe it. It doesn’t seem to make sense, even from within the conservative Evangelical theology. Does an omniscient God need to be told that there’s a problem? If God has a will of His own, do you really think you can brow-beat Him into action? If God has a plan for us all, do you really think you can get Him to change his mind?
Didn’t Matthew have Jesus say: “… in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:7-8)
Pullquote: Bad things happen to good people, and also to careful people.
Last week, Daniel posted an example of victim blaming. It’s the classic “she’s asking for it” response to someone who dresses differently than you. I think victim blaming is a pretty good example of a certain kind of psychological trick that’s oddly related to this type of prayer.
As a number of people have pointed out over the years, “she was asking for it” is often an unconscious way of saying, “that can’t happen to me.” I wouldn’t go walking in that neighborhood, I wouldn’t wear that outfit, I’d never go out at night alone. Blaming the victim is a way of placing the cause of the harm on the victim shoulders, which implies that the victim could have avoided their fate. By extension, the speaker can avoid suffering that same fate with just a little common sense.
So the victim blaming is actually a psychological trick unconsciously used be the speaker to avoid facing one of the central facts of human existence: shit happens. Yes, you can take certain precautions that lower the probability that you might suffer calamity. But sometimes those precautions are not possible, and sometimes the dice are against you no matter how much you’ve done to improve your odds. Bad things happen to good people, and also to careful people.
Pullquote: Medieval Catholics prayed in order to feel that they had some control over death. Modern Christians pray in order to feel that they have some control over life.
I think its the randomness that really bothers us. The thought that all that separates us from a long stay in the hospital are the random firings of neurons in a drunk driver’s brain can be horrifying. Accompanying that is the horror of powerlessness: if that drunk swerves into us, there’s nothing we can do. Psychologists have shown that we always feel better we believe we have some control.
The above sort of prayer is another way to deal with that feeling of horror. It’s a trick that helps us feel like we’re doing something and that somehow we’re in control. Whenever we’re in a situation where we are powerless – when a friend is in the hospital, when bad things are happenings in far-off Washington, when the huge national economy is out of control, or just when we’re facing all the randomness that’s part of human life – at least we can pray and feel like we’re taking some control over the situation.
This kind of prayer still seems silly to me. Since I grew up in a liturgical church, it probably always will. But at least I think I can understand it now. Prayer of this type lets you do something, when there’s nothing really that you can do.
One thing puzzles me though. This isn’t a million miles away from the medieval Christian habit of praying for the dead to reduce the time spent in purgatory. Medieval Catholics prayed in order to feel that they had some control over death. Modern Christians pray in order to feel that they have some control over life. Do we now find life more horrifying than death?
The LA Times recently had an article about a small provision in the Senate version of the Heath Care bill:
Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.
The provision, which was added by Sen. Orrin Hatch and backed by John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy, prevents discrimination against “religious and spiritual health care” by health insurers providing care through the proposed Gateway system. There was a similar provision in the House version of the bill, but that has since been removed in the newest version, HR3962. This Senate version still remains.
Pullquote: This would be an absolute invitation to organize
Annie Laurie Gaylor
The bill in question is S.1679, the “Affordable Health Choices Act.” The provision in question reads as follows:
‘‘The essential benefits provided for in subparagraph (A) shall include a requirement that there be non-discrimination in health care in a manner that, with respect to an individual who is eligible for medical or surgical care under a qualified health plan offered through a Gateway, prohibits the Administrator of the Gateway, or a qualified health plan offered through the Gateway, from denying such individual benefits for religious or spiritual health care, except that such religious or spiritual health care shall be an expense eligible for deduction as a medical care expense as determined by Internal Revenue Service Rulings interpreting section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as of January 1, 2009.” (Sec 3103(d))
If I’m reading this right (and there’s no guarantee that I am), this would affect all insurers who take part in the Affordable Health Benefit Gateway programs that the bill seeks to create in the individual states. These programs would be administered by the states and paid for by federal grants, and would assist those people without health care, either by steering them to programs they can afford or by providing subsidized health insurance. This particular provision would prevent any of those insurers from discriminating against “spiritual health care” provided that it fit the definition of deductible medical care.
As the bill says, the IRS tax code provides a definition of medical care in Title 26, Section 213(d). The tax code itself doesn’t specifically mention anything about prayer cures, but according to IRS Publication 502 (PDF), “You can include in medical expenses fees you pay to Christian Science practitioners for medical care.” (p. 7) Also chiropractors, but that’s another argument.
So that explains the emphasis in the LA Times article about Christian Science. The IRS already considered their services as medical expense for the purposes of tax deduction, so this provision would require certain health insurers to pay for it.
Pullquote: I offered this amendment because I believe that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, should have access to healthcare.
Sen. Orrin Hatch
Naturally, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is all over this. Again from the LA Times article:
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that promotes separation of church and state, said the opportunity to receive payment for spiritual care could encourage other groups to seek similar status.
Gaylor’s point there is questionable. Certainly, many religious groups might try to get themselves injected into the tax code as providers of spiritual medical care, but there’s no reason to think that any will succeed. Further, as a spokeswoman for John Kerry pointed out, companies are prevented from discriminating, but that just means they are required to apply the same standards across the board. The insurers may declare that they will only provide reimbursement for procedures that meet their standards for efficacy. And that would leave the Christian Scientists out in the cold.
Still, it seems obvious that this provision will lead to many lawsuits and heated arguments, and add to the risk that the Government will be entangled with religion. So what’s the point? According to Orrin Hatch, “I offered this amendment because I believe that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, should have access to health care.” But I don’t see how the provision as currently worded does that. One could easily add a provision that wouldn’t fund an insurer that discriminated on the basis of religion, so why the language of “religious and spiritual health care”?
Right now there are still more questions than answers, and more heat than light. While I think that the FFRF is banging the drum a bit too hard, I basically agree that the bill would be better off without the complications that this provision brings.
I suggest calling or e-mailing your Senators and requesting that this provision be struck from the bill. Tell them that if the provision remains, then during the next election you and all your friends will pray for their reelection — rather than donating, assisting their campaign or, you know, voting.