It’s not technically a dialogue, of course, as I’m writing my response here and the original article is published already via the Vancouver Sun by Frank G Sterle Jr. I guess I could comment on their site directly, but I like writing my stuff over here instead, especially when it’s going to be long.
To make my position on the matter clear, I believe in God (though not in a Biblical sense) and that prayer can, and sometimes does, work; indeed, prayer can be not for naught. It certainly cannot hurt, as long as one still lives carefully, reasonably and responsibly as ‘believers.’
That last sentence is kind of intriguing. I’m not really sure what he’s getting at there. Is prayer dangerous in the hands of reckless, irresponsible people? Maybe he’s thinking about the content or purpose of the prayer here. “Please help my mother get better” vs “Please let something horrible happen to the person who ran over her.”
Although scientific study has actually proven that prayer can heal, I believe that when prayer does work, it’s on a metaphysical level rather than one of divine intervention.
In one scientific experiment, according to a secular newspaper article I read, an ill (though recuperating) hospital patient received prayer, at a distance, from a dozen or so people (i.e., test sample), while another such patient did not. Guess who won?
I found a reference to a study on prayer in Mozambique and what it supposedly did for people with sight and hearing problems). Most of that was hands-on work, though, and it could have been the result of a placebo effort, or even something as simple as the people involved lying about how bad their eyes and ears were so they could later call the prayer treatments miraculous.
I also found a report about a “miracle” study into prayer and pregnancy that turned out to be incredibly flawed yet was touted as proof that prayer worked.
Having said that, however, what bewilders me is the notion that God would allow one praying couple’s child to survive an illness while allowing another praying couple’s child to perish, and even with great suffering. Furthermore, I cannot but reluctantly find that, for example, by saying grace before a meal—because of the bitter reality of large-scale Earthly starvation—we, the well-fed, are in effect assuming/concluding that our Creator has found one portion of this planet’s populace worthy of nourishment while allowing another to go hungry.
The easiest way to get past the bewilderment is by accepting the very real likelihood that there is probably no god around that would do anything about illness or hunger anyway. It’s not that he can’t or won’t. It’s that there is no god of any kind looking out for people and giving a damn. That is the easiest way to deal with the fact that there is so much injustice and inequality.
I sometimes find myself recalling the days, long ago, during which my Christian beliefs were very strong: God did indeed ‘answer’ prayers, and He ‘blessed’ any believer who’d adequately request His assistance.
Convinced by belief that this was actually happening, not because there was actual proof of it beyond anecdotal, I’m assuming.
After I was first diagnosed with clinical depression … I’d spent most of the previous three to four months shut inside my room, listening to the all-Christian radio station (550 AM, KARI), while praying to my Maker for this or that reason or cause. Nowadays, however, I feel that if I accomplished anything—and I believe that I, as one praying person, did not—from all of that prayer, it was almost entirely self-centred and self-beneficial.
Isn’t that mostly what it’s for anyway?
But I did pray a considerable amount for my hospitalized mother (a physical ailment), yet she (I, being housebound, later learned) suffered greatly and consistently, nonetheless. Perhaps not enough prayer from enough sources? Or maybe insufficient quality of prayer?
Or just the simple fact that prayer doesn’t fix things and never will, no matter how much people want to believe the opposite when a coincidence happens, or someone’s health turns around for what seems to be no apparent medical reason. As much as we know about health and medicine, there are still surprises to be had, I’m sure. Maybe the mind really does have some power to boost a person’s chances. Positive thinking might be more than a mood booster. Research has shown that placebos work as well or better than some drugs, too, which is both cool and alarming given how many people are taking pills these days.
“God answers all prayers, but sometimes His answer is ‘no’,” one can often hear from many well-meaning members of religious communities. This, to me, however, is too convenient of an explanation as to why, as is often rhetorically asked by skeptics, God allows bad things to happen to good people.
It’s pretty pat, all right. It’s likening God’s behaviour to that of a parent actually capable of putting his foot down when it comes to childish demands – or the churlish, stubborn parent who won’t let up even when the request is a reasonable one, as something like saving a life ought to be.
With all due respect to believers, the answer ‘no’ (i.e., no action on the part of the Creator to, say, spare a dying child) simply doesn’t cut it for me and for many others; people who do not hold faith in the belief that God may bless some folk, all the while, for no apparent reason, not blessing other equally-deserving folk—all of whom very likely pray, with great urgency, to their Maker.
“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways,” however, is one explanation that does make me think for a proverbial minute: Perhaps God wants the family member(s) of, for example, a murdered child to become loss-motivated advocates for child victims, or His ‘messengers,’ and thus He allows the tragic death.
You’d think a god could find a way to get his message across without killing people, though, even if it’s indirectly. This makes him sound like a mobster. People shouldn’t need to go through a life tragedy before they discover empathy. If a god really designed us, it was a bad way to set things up. Empathy and that level of compassion should be automatic, not an epiphany only a few (statistically speaking) will achieve.
There’s more to his article, and I’ll post the second half of my response later today.