What is your measure of success? No one or no thing is 100 percent reliable. The best we can hope for is something asymptotically close to that vaunted level of perfection.
Commercial air travel is one of those things. I think it is the closest thing to perfect ever devised by humanity. Virtually every plane that takes off lands successfully. Travel fatalities are calculated by number of vehicle miles traveled and, to get to the first commercial aviation fatality, over a billion aggregate vehicle miles must be completed.
That’s pretty consistent. And pretty safe. But, guess what? Traveling by car is pretty safe, too, with one fatality occurring every 100 million vehicle miles.
I was in Nigeria about 12 years ago, during an election cycle. The governor of one of the states I visited (Anambra) was running for re-election, citing that he was responsible for 85 percent consistent electrical power. To put that in perspective, the US power grid is 99.95 percent reliable.
Let me put it another way, if the US was relegated to a mere 85 percent reliability, there’d be armed revolt here. Like what almost happened on January 6 of last year.
But I digress.
There are so many things we take for granted. Thanks to superior engineering and manufacturing, the average new car is close to 100 percent reliable. You go to your car, put your key in the ignition switch (or push the start button, if you’re fancy) and go. You don’t even think about it. The least reliable car today is more reliable than the most reliable car 25 years ago.
The long and short of it is we demand reliability. Except when it comes to god and prayer. I would wager that the number of answered prayers, expressed in percentages, is probably somewhere close to zero. Moreover, the average christian will strain at a gnat to defend the abject failure of prayer.
I can already hear the groaning. “Well, god isn’t some blessing genie…” and “god answers every prayer and sometimes the answer is ‘no’”… and the famous, “Sometimes god doesn’t give you something for your own good.”
Now that we’ve eliminated the bullshit, let’s go deeper.
More progressive christians will tell you that prayer isn’t about asking for anything, at all; that it is largely communication with your “heavenly parent” (or “sky daddy”). But that isn’t what the bible (buybull) teaches, at all. Prayer is largely about petitioning.
In case you’re wondering, that’s asking.
Jesus said something to the effect that if you ask anything in his name, that he will do so that the father is glorified in the son. Last time I checked, anything means “ANYthing.”
Modern christians attempt to tap-dance around this to justify why prayers largely go unanswered. If Jesus said that answered prayer glorifies god — and god really loves to get his glory, according to the book — that means leaving prayers unfulfilled besmirches the reputations of both god and Jesus.
Back to the subject…
Both Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus were raised from the dead because someone petitioned Jesus. In the bible, people prayed and got results.
This begs the question, why don’t we see the same results from prayer, today? You would think that, in the Information Age, christians have better, more complete information on how to pray effectively. Christianity is the world’s largest religion, which means there are many folks available to “touch and agree.” Instead, we see less meaningful, tangible result of prayer. I know people who have held vigils over their dead, praying for a resurrection that never happened. I know people who have fasted and prayed for healing of themselves or a loved one that resulted in death.
Let me stop and segue here — I really get pissed when, in the wake of someone dying, people say the deceased “got their ultimate healing” or “god needed another flower in his garden.” Neither of these statements are biblical and offer zero comfort to the bereaved. Death is death and, if god needs people to adorn his garden, he both sucks at horticulture and is horribly egotistical.
But, back to your regularly scheduled blog post…
I took stock of my 30-plus years in ministry and all the prayers I “lifted.” Know what I found, I was about 10 percent effective — and most of that can be attributed to just coincidence or, perhaps, manifestation from confidence. To put this in perspective, Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball had a .344 lifetime batting average — which means he whiffed more than 6 of every 10 at bats. Michael Jordan, considered to be the greatest shooter in basketball only made 57 percent of his shots. The thing that ties these two together is a single word.
You could expect a great performance from either of these guys every time they suited up for play. With this in mind, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that god could be at least as consistent. I mean, I look at my 10 percent effective prayer life and the one thing I can draw from that is my hopeless inconsistency. But among my contemporaries I was seen as someone who prayed and got results.
Let me go back to commercial air travel — I’m a million mile traveler and get on airplanes on a regular basis without so much as a second thought. My christian friends will say that’s faith. I contend, not really — I’m an engineer by profession and I understand how airplanes work. I know many people in the aviation industry and know the training that pilots, flight attendants, maintenance workers, dispatchers, and air-traffic controllers undergo. I am also acutely aware of the rigid standards erected around air travel. I have confidence in these things; no faith required.
Now, stop for a minute, here, and consider your own prayer life. Look at the ratio of petition to result.
And, please, be honest. Would you get on an airplane if the chances of it landing safely mirrored the effectiveness of your prayers? What if your car was as reliable as your prayers? What if medicine were only as effective as your prayers? What if your spouse or significant other was only as faithful as your prayers? You wouldn’t get on that airplane, you’d trade in that car, you’d stop taking that medicine, and you’d get out of that relationship.
Here’s where I’ll tell you what I think: prayer made sense when you didn’t know if the food you ate would kill you, if you lacked confidence in your Bronze Age supply-chain, or if offspring didn’t live until adulthood. Prayer makes sense in the absence of knowledge. We have the ability to know and understand things in a way we never could, before.
In anticipation of the criticism — and because nature abhors a vacuum — I’d like to proffer a solution.
If you feel like being contemplative and introspective, meditation is a wonderful replacement for prayer. In meditation, you’ll turn your focus inward and seek answers from within. The wisdom of the universe is part of our factory equipment but we need to learn how to draw it out. Meditation will teach you to have a right relationship with the only god who matters — yourself. Meditation will teach you to tune your spirit to understand and properly manifest. More on that in a later installment.
Faith and prayer are fine when you don’t know any better. Like when we were children, we thought like children and acted like children. Ask yourself if prayer — that is, petitioning “sky daddy” for a thing, a change in circumstances, or even a change in you — actually works.
Some people say “prayer changes things;” others say “prayer changes you.” The reality is, prayer changes nothing. Prayer solves nothing. Prayer is an exercise in futility. Prayer is the zero-percent solution. It’s about as effective as childhood fairy tales. Time to grow up in logic and reason.
That’s the view from my cockpit. Your mileage may vary.
Derrick Day is the author of Deconstructing Religion. He is also one of the co-hosts of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast and the host of The Forward Podcast on the One Institution Media Network. More recently, Derrick is a contributor to the new book, Before You Lose Your Mind, published by Quoir.