Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Life by Proxy

May 4, 2008

A couple nights ago, there was a story on the news about the little McCann girl who went missing in Portugal.  This one took a different angle.  It looked at it from the point of view of a Canadian clergyman who was assigned to the Anglican church in the Portugese town where it happened, a few days after the tragic event.

In the course of the story, the minister’s wife spoke of how she and the entire congregation prayed constantly for the little girl’s safe return.  They’re still waiting and praying.  She then asked, “How can so many people pray for the same thing and it not happen?”  If ever a question answered itself…  It was screaming out.  I wanted to scream it out.  “Because there’s no one on the receiving end of the prayers, of course!”

How she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see it is beyond me.  Why millions of others can’t see that prayers aren’t answered is beyond me.  Everyone in a competition can pray for victory, but only one will win.  Millions have prayed for loved ones to come home from wars who didn’t.  Other people will survive complicated surgeries or be found by the police, but these are the results of human actions, not  prayers.  I guess people really are that desperate.

At best, praying for someone is extending good wishes and hopes by proxy, albeit an imaginary one.  But, why channel good wishes through a third party?  Why not give them directly?  It expresses the sentiment you feel and, ultimately, is more sincere.

Prayer could actually be seen as a selfish act.  It makes the person praying feel better.  It does nothing for the target of the prayers.  There was even a study done in Europe recently that monitored results for people who prayed and those who didn’t.  It made no difference.

I was going to say, “At worst, prayer is a selfish act”.  Then I remembered another news story that demonstrates it can be worse.  If any of you are thinking praying can’t do any harm, think again.  Remember the story of the girl who died because her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor?

If you want to help someone or extend your good wishes, do it in the real world.  Send them a card or letter.  Phone them.  Tell them face to face.  Take them to the hospital or feed them.  Contribute to a fund or charity (one that does practical things rather than convert people and pray for them).  You might just give them a little comfort, rather than yourself.  You might even save their life.  Praying won’t.

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Self-Serving Faith

January 26, 2008

I was having a coffee at a sidewalk cafe on Granville Street one day, when I noticed a couple of girls a couple of tables over.  I noticed one in particular, actually.  A pretty, dark haired girl in one of those knitted jacket things.  The attraction didn’t last long, though.

She may have noticed me noticing her.  Maybe not.  Anyway, she then said to her friend, loud enough for me to hear, “You know what I pray for?  I pray that the creator gets my dad to buy me a condo.”  Sigh…  Suddenly, I didn’t feel like giving her a demonstration of just how charming I can be.

Disappointment aside, this merely demonstrated – again – that faith is often accompanied by ulterior motives.  Praying for material gain and comfort.  Nothing new there.  Mundane.  Common.

Her lack of sincerity also made me think that many of the people who had suddenly declared themselves believers after George Bush was elected weren’t genuine.  They were just going with the flow.  Taking the path of least resistance.  Following the crowd, like sheep.  You can see how they could blend in with the full-time believers so easily.  Come join our flock…

Some people are followers and others identify with and emulate authority figures.  They crave power and authority so they take on its look and stance.  When Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., my father wore cardigans.  During Lee Iaccoca’s high profile reign at Chrysler, he wore similar glasses.  If the current emperor talks of faith and god, many people will agree, to be like him.

I question the numbers of the truly faithful.  I think a lot of people hold onto half-hearted belief because thinking for themselves and taking personal responsibility is too much effort.  Either they already have enough on their plates with work and survival or they’re just too lazy.  They’ll make do with a boxed solution, even if it’s imperfect.  It’s convenience over quality.  A replacement system will probably have to be neatly packaged and easily consumable for them to go along with it.

Then there is another kind of person who holds onto what they don’t truly believe – the bet hedger.  I used to see a long-legged girl who confessed, “It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but I believe just in case I’m wrong.”  I guess the fires of hell are a powerful enough image to intimidate even sound logic and common sense.  Faith, it seems, is an investment.

Then again, maybe I’m just being stupid.  Maybe I should have shown the pretty girl at the cafe just how charming I can be, and let her father buy us a condo.  Sigh…  I’m too good for my own good.

Charity With Strings Attached

January 17, 2008

After expressing my concerns yesterday about charities with religious affiliations, I followed a trail in the blogosphere to some other sources, where I found I was neither alone nor unjustified.

Religious charities often invite aid recipients to partake in religious rituals or services.  It may be optional but those on the receiving end may feel obliged, even if they don’t want to accept.  Sometimes, the supposed do-gooders are even more crass and insidious.  In those cases, charity is conditional.  This doesn’t surprise me.  It only confirms what I already know, based on personal experience.

About ten or fifteen years ago, when I was living in London, I’d just picked up some Fair Trade coffee near Waterloo Station, wanting to help the peasants who actually worked the land in Latin America.  The staff had reassured me they had no religious agenda.  Then, down the street, I encountered a charity worker associated with the Anglican Church, I believe.   He said they feed hungry people overseas.  I asked if the hungry people had to pray to get the food.  Initially evasive,  he then said, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they pray, if we’re going to feed them.”  The words were etched in my mind.

It’s comforting to know the good people of the church are on the same ethical level as Robert Mugabe.  You’re starving and need food?  I’ve got food.  But, you have to support my cause…

If charity isn’t truly selfless, it isn’t charity.  It’s marketing.  A free gift for signing up.  A loss leader to get you in the store.  It isn’t charity if there is an expectation, or even a hope, of something in return.

Religious charity is an elaborate recruitment campaign.  They don’t pray for so much as prey on.  This isn’t just overseas.  The twelve step program of AA and other addiction groups requires acceptance of god as one of the steps.  They effectively replace substance addiction with addiction to god, creating an army of the desperate who cling to god and lies because they think they have to.  Afraid of their own demons, this army of ‘lost souls’ is prone to political manipulation.  Now I know where zombie movies come from.

If you want to help people without strings attached, try UNICEF, CARE, the United Way, Fair Trade, or nationally recognized medical research organizations in your country.