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Prayer: How to do nothing and still think you're helping.
—Common "de-motivator" poster

A prayer (from Latin precari "ask earnestly, beg") is a form of spell or incantation, usually cast or recited to a specific god or demon. Believers assert that their "god" hears their prayers and might even, in a good mood, grant the requests contained within prayers. On occasion prayers are made to some third party who is believed to have the power to intercede on behalf of the petitioner such as a saint or "the Lord's anointed" (royalty, religious leaders etc.).

Though many "studies"[1] have attempted to prove that prayer gets results, there is no evidence of divine intercession actually occurring, other than occasional applications of the Texas sharpshooter logical fallacy.

Generic "prayers" are often offered by public figures, or people who run websites, or people who wish they did, in order to suck up to the vaguely religious majority of the population, thinking that they're free, and, who knows, they might help, and lawyers attempting to gain favor from judges.


[edit] Quantity of prayer

Congregations are frequently exhorted to pray for something or someone. The idea apparently being that if entire groups of people pray for something, then the being being prayed to is more likely to perform miracles.

Exactly why they believe this is not clear. Possibilities include:

  • They believe their supreme being is a little deaf.
  • They believe that as the being has to listen to all the prayers it simply gets bored and performs a miracle to shut the believers up.
  • They believe that if more people demonstrate faith then their god will be more impressed than if only one person demonstrates it.
  • They believe that a certain number of "prayer hours" are necessary for each miracle and consequently collective action gets things done more quickly.
  • They believe that prayer is like a lottery, one gets picked out of the hat each day so the more entries you have the more likely thy will be done.
  • It is a classic example of magical thought, and they think the more people who perform the prayer, the more power it has. This implies that they don't really believe in an omniscient deity at all.

[edit] Efficacy

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
—:—Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian (1813-55)
Prayer logic

There have been attempts to carry out double-blind experiments to prove the value of prayer most notably by the Templeton Foundation.[2] Not surprisingly, these have shown that prayer has no noticeable effect.[3] Indeed, in the study quoted, prayer had a small negative effect on the health of the patients prayed for.[4]

However, medical studies have shown that for individuals, time spent in prayer can lower stress and therefore affect stress related illness. This is not due to god's interventions, however, but the secretion of particular hormones during moments of heightened focus such as meditation, solo prayer, and yoga. Prayer also has the illusory benefit of feeling as if you are doing something, when there is nothing else you can do for a situation.

Every time a pope falls ill and ends up on his deathbed, we may assume that a sizable fraction of the one billion Catholics in the world all pray for his recovery. Despite this enormous effort of prayer, 100% of popes eventually die.

[edit] Paradox of prayer

A strange aspect of prayer is that the deed being prayed for has often been rendered necessary by the actions of the deity prayed to. A natural disaster or "act of God" often leads to prayers to the same God to alleviate the consequent harm. It would seem to give more bangs for the prayer bucks to pray for there to be a reduction in such disasters.

[edit] Mechanized prayer

Prayer flags in La Bolsa

The Tibetans have actually brought prayer into the Industrial Age by mechanizing it in the form of prayer wheels that turn a scripture on a scroll inside a drum, acting as an automatic prayer. In Nepal, prayer flags are used to make the prayer physical in the world.

[edit] See also

[edit] Literature

  • Heiler, Friedrich: Prayer. A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion. (1997) ISBN 1851681434

[edit] Footnotes

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