The Mythical Power of Prayer

The Mythical Power of Prayer December 29, 2014

NBC “News” did a story about a Catholic priest who was injured in a terrible accident and faced a life of paralysis, but managed to recover. Predictably, he thinks the reason he wasn’t paralyzed forever was because he and others prayed. Because that’s not true of other people, amirite?

A Catholic priest who was paralyzed from the chest down in a fall four years ago says he has proof that prayer can heal.

Doctors had told Father John Murray of Brooklyn, New York that he would never walk again after bone chips from his neck sliced into his spinal cord.

“‘You should expect no voluntary movement,'” said Murray. “That’s a quote. ‘No voluntary movement for the rest of your life.'”

But within a year and a half after he tripped on a Jersey Shore boardwalk, the priest was able to rise from his wheelchair and walk.

“I think it’s a result of prayer,” said Murray. “Other people’s prayers and my prayers, without a doubt.”

Without a doubt? Really? My brother’s best friend, a guy I knew pretty well growing up, suffered a spine injury a year and a half ago. He and his wife are devout Christians and they and large numbers of others have been praying for a recovery day and night since then. He’s never left his hospital bed and almost certainly never will. What made you so special, Mr. Murray? Does God just like you better? Every single person facing any medical crisis in this country, even atheists, likely has lots of people praying for them. If you think prayer is “without a doubt” the reason you recovered, you are simply incapable of rational thought.

And then the article veers off into an entirely different subject but gives a highly inaccurate picture of it:

Father Murray has a lot of company. Half of all Americans believe that prayer can heal. But medical studies increasingly show the same thing, says the medical professor who runs Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health.

“People who are more religious just live longer; that’s kind of the bottom line,” said Dr. Harold Koenig.

Koenig said more than 4,000 studies have examined the connection between spirituality and health, with the number of studies tripling, by his estimate, in the past decade.

According to Koenig, most studies show religious people have better mental health, are less likely to experience depression, and cope better when they do. His own research shows that people who pray daily are 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure.

“They have greater well-being, in general,” he said. “Religious people who are part of a faith community and have a relationship with God, so to speak, just have higher levels of well-being. They’re happier. And that’s been shown — hundreds of studies have now shown that.”

No, they really haven’t. What they really show, as my friend Luke Galen’s research suggests, is that people who belong to supportive communities tend to be mentally and physically healthier. Whether those communities are religious or not is irrelevant. Those who are active members of secular communities show similar results.

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