National Day of Prayer Wasting Time

National Day of Prayer Wasting Time April 22, 2016

national day of prayerBrethren, I will speak today on the gospel of John, the sixteenth chapter, verse 24. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” As the National Day of Prayer approaches (May 5, 2016), this verse is both relevant and unambiguous.

But perhaps it’s too unambiguous. Apologists like to water down this verse (and others that declare prayer’s effectiveness) to say that they don’t mean what they obviously mean, so let’s be sure we have this right. Here is this verse in context. Jesus said,

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:23–4).

A few verses later, we read,

Then Jesus’s disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech” (16:29).

Clearly, we are given no choice but to consider it at face value. “Ask and you will receive” means just what you’d think it means.

National Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer task force (“Transforming our Nation Through Prayer!”) is eager to harness this power. It says

[The 2016 National Day of Prayer] is an unprecedented opportunity to see the Lord’s healing and renewing power made manifest as we call on citizens to humbly come before His throne.

Is this just feel-good handwaving, or are you making specific, testable predictions?

This recitation will create a huge wave of prayer, flowing from one coast to the other, illustrating the unity of God’s people and acknowledging His dominion over the circumstances facing us. Source

I’ve always wondered why many prayers are more powerful than one or why we even need to pray at all. Doesn’t God understand the problems and the best solutions already? Or is he not paying attention? Is he deaf?

What specifically does the task force imagine will happen with the Day of Prayer (besides strengthening the Christian brand, I mean)? I understand that there may be a benefit to the person praying. Prayer can be beneficial in the same way that meditation can. But when you’re praying for someone else, that’s not the point. The idea behind person A praying for person B isn’t for person A to feel better, it’s for something specific to happen to person B! Give me evidence that this happens.

At this crucial time for our nation, we can do nothing more important than pray.

Did prayer gives us cell phones, GPS, or the internet? Antibiotics, anesthesia, or vaccines? Modern farming techniques? Did it eliminate smallpox or predict hurricanes? Maybe they’re thinking of science and technology. Prayer is easy, quick, free, and lets you pretend that you did something useful. But if you actually want to improve society, you need to stand on your own two feet and do something about it. God obviously won’t.

Last year’s message had an obligatory but meaningless applause line:

[We emphasize] the need for individuals, corporately and individually, to place their faith in the unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men.

Not in the U.S., pal. Religion operates as it does because, and only because, it is permitted to by the Constitution. You can pretend to elevate your deity above government, but let’s be clear that it’s the Constitution, not the Bible, that actually governs this country.

This year’s national prayer also makes some factual blunders.

The very ideals upon which this country was founded were based on biblical truths, no matter how some try to rewrite history to deny that very fact today.

Wrong again. Read the U.S. Constitution—it’s one hundred percent secular. And that’s a good thing, since fallible Man has created far more moral institutions than the barbaric attempts by the god of the Old Testament.

In America, the buck stops with the Constitution, not the Bible. Why is this hard to understand? It’s simply unpatriotic to push society in a way prohibited by the Constitution (more here and here).

The prayer also gives a nice hug to God, who’s apparently going through a rough time:

Our hearts are … broken over how You continue to be marginalized and dismissed by both our people and our institutions.

Poor baby! Yahweh is able to create all matter and space, but he just can’t seem to make friends. I picture him standing alone in the playground while the other kids call him names like “Yah-wimp.” Maybe it would help if he actually existed and didn’t need apologists like this group standing up for him.

[Help us] publicly declare and live out Your truth in a spirit of love so that You feel welcome in our country once again.

Who knew humans could be so powerful? We couldn’t hurt Superman, but we can shut out the omnipotent creator of the universe.

I can’t leave this topic without pointing out one conspicuous contradiction. At the National Day of Prayer’s web site, they give its history:

The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May [since 1952], inviting people of all faiths to pray for our nation.

People of all faiths? That sounds pretty inclusive. But poke around a bit, and it’s clear that this is an exclusively Christian event, from Bible verses to voter registration appeals aimed exclusively at Christians.

Does prayer work?

In Matthew, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” In Mark, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” In John, Jesus says, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.”

The New Testament unambiguously claims that prayer works, but we all know that that’s wrong, or, said charitably, prayer doesn’t work that way. Apologists handwave that prayer works … for the person doing the praying. Or we’re told that prayers are always answered, but “not yet” or “maybe” are valid answers. This reinterpretation of reality is worthy of North Korea or Animal Farm.

It’s like Harriett Hall’s Blue Dot cure, where the doctor paints a blue dot on the patient’s nose. Suppose the patient gets better. Great—the blue dot worked! Or suppose the patient gets worse. Ah, the doctor says, you should’ve come to me sooner. Or suppose the condition is unchanged. The doctor recommends continued treatment (and it’s lucky we caught it when we did)!

No outcome will make this imaginary doctor reconsider the treatment. Reality is redefined so that the doctor is immune to evidence that shakes his preconception that the cure works.

If the roles were reversed and it was Christians critiquing the supernatural claim of someone else’s religion, I imagine they’d be as skeptical as me. The simple explanation is that there is no God to answer (or not) your prayers. Prayer is simply talking to yourself. There’s no one on the other end of the phone. (More on prayer here and here.)

I’ll close with the wisdom of Mr. Deity:

Mr. Deity: Prayer is not for me, okay? I mean, I like it and everything, I think it’s sweet that people think of me, but I’ve got a plan, and I’m staying the course. But it’s great for them, it gets them focused on what’s important, it’s meditative, I hear it does wonders for the blood pressure. Plus it’s a chance to connect to me. How’s that not going to be good? You should know.

Jesus: Oh yeah, yeah. So what you’re saying here, sir, is that you never answer any prayers?

Mr. Deity: Not really, no. There’s just no incentive. I mean, look—if somebody prays to me and things go well, who gets the credit? Me, right? But if they pray to me and things don’t go well, who gets the blame? Not me! So it’s all good. I’m going to mess with that by stepping in? Putting my nose where it doesn’t belong?

Thus endeth the lesson for today.

See also: National Day of Actually DOING Something 

Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; 
give him a religion, and he’ll starve to death while praying for a fish. 
— Anonymous

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/1/13.)

Image credit: Wikimedia

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  • Michael Neville

    Whatever happened to Matthew 6:5-6?

    And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)

    • I suppose the Bible is important and inviolate … unless it gets in the way, and then it’s just ignored.

    • busterggi

      That was a metaphor that means “Go out and loudly proclaim your one true version of Christianity.” Its obvious really.

  • igotbanned999

    Who knew humans could be so powerful? We couldn’t hurt Superman, but we can shut out the omnipotent creator of the universe.

    Secularism is apparently God’s Kryptonite.

  • Parse

    Ah yes, the National Day of (Being Seen in) Prayer. Where Real True Christians make a big public spectacle of prayer, and know in their heart of hearts that the sighs and eyerolls from all those heathens (ie, anybody less Christian than them) is the worst possible persecution anybody has ever faced anywhere.

    Those poor, poor, persecuted Christians. If only they had some degree of political representation! Then maybe they could truly be open about their beliefs!

    • “Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe—dare I dream it?—maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.” – Jon Stewart

  • RichardSRussell

    Your epigram reminds me of this gem from Terry Pratchett in Jingo: “Give a man a fire and you keep him warm for a day. Set him on fire and you keep him warm for the rest of his life.”

    • Those are truly wise words, my brother.

    • Greg G.

      I have always lived by the Pratchett axiom “Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness.”

  • busterggi

    At least the world is a little less noisy if they pray silently.

    Not asking for much.

  • epicurus

    I think people who say the U.S. was founded on biblical truths are confusing a country founded on secular humanist enlightenment principles, with the original British colonies founded by puritans and based on a mix of cherry picked biblical teachings combined with a particular strain of protestant reformation thought.

    If they really want the U.S. to follow biblical teachings, they should follow Romans 13:1-7, and declare that the American Revolution should never have happened. They should demand the U.S. govt dissolve itself, humbly ask for the forgiveness of the British Crown, repay all the taxes they would have owed since the war (Romans 13:6-7), and request that Britain take them back, either as a colony, or grant them their independence peacefully, upon which the U.S, will become a member of the British Commonwealth. They should show humility to other commonwealth countries such as Canada, who had the sense to follow the biblical teachings and not to rebel against rulers, who are appointed by God. According to the Bible.

    • Max Doubt

      “I think people who say the U.S. was founded on biblical truths are confusing a country founded on secular humanist enlightenment principles, with the original British colonies founded by puritans and based on a mix of cherry picked biblical teachings combined with a particular strain of protestant reformation thought.”

      I’m not so sure most people who say the US was founded on biblical principals have given the matter a moment’s thought. I think most of them are just regurgitating something their friends or parents or pastors have said, or maybe just as likely it’s something they read on Facebook.

      • epicurus

        Probably true. That makes it even more ridiculous when then want to get political power to promote their views.

    • Pay your taxes?! Damn, Paul was a communist! The Christian rightists may have a heart attack after reading that.

    • ningen

      Some of the Framers were Christians. Therefore, theocracy. Checkmate.

  • Myna A.

    I had placed the following link up earlier in another discussion, but had taken it down as possibly being irrelevant. It turned out to be fortunate, as the link is more appropriate for this one.

    On the Progressive Secular Humanist here on Patheos, there was a recent blog on this very topic of prayer and the Dalai Lama’s position regarding it.

    This is an excerpt of what the Dalai Lama has to say on the issue of prayer from that article:

    “The time has come for us to consider seriously how to change our way of life not through prayer or religious teaching, but through education. We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”

    I think it is important for leaders of any stripe to begin speaking rationally now that we have arrived at the 21st century. If people do not begin to start critically thinking for themselves, they will be ripe for any foolishness contained in any foolish story.

  • ningen

    The National Day of Prayer is just the political equivalent of a Facebook post that says, “Repost this if you love Jesus.”

    • Said another way, “If you don’t repost this, Jesus will know that you don’t love him!”

  • wtfwjtd

    If prayer is so effective, wouldn’t one day of prayer have gotten the job done? The fact that it’s an on-going, yearly thing, might lead one to the conclusion that–dare I say it– God isn’t listening. Nah, it can’t be that.

  • Cygnus

    Practically, in “my name” means in the name of the new religion, Christianity and its saviour fabricated puppet Jesus. It’s very clear “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.”

    So, it’s not about that something changed about religions as if, finally, they are working to better humanity, it’s just about fabricating a “new” and “improved” religion creating another illusion that some creator daddy in the sky ,Jewish version, will send a son, Christian version and everything will be better. Don’t hold your breath, so try burping some prayers for a full “national day”, so the religious to enjoy the aroma of digested Jesus blood and corpse eaten at the mass. Yea, beautiful parade of pious people, driven costumed religious leaders, waiving crosses, and incenses over the Christian art (pictures, sculptures, musical moaning, etc) that need to be kept to show a past stage of European Western and Eastern civilization.

    Prayer is a symptom of religion. It is one of the most accurate, non-medical means of determining whether or not a suspected person has been infected with religion. Please admire what religions brought to primitive cultures: temples, churches, mosques, mega-churches, etc. but get rid of religious infection, its gangrene still wants to grow back on political power. At least political power still manifest actively, not talking at a phone on which the other end is in some church basement where the skeletons of religious victims try to sleep.