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Prayers

In some ways religious people have it easy. A person they know gets really sick, or has an operation, or is in dire straights; and they can always say “I’ll pray for you,” and that means that they are doing something. I’m not trying to get into a whole thing about how it is just masking laziness or whatever…I’ll do that later, but the religious person the true believer, honestly has an understanding that if they concentrate on a thing that they have done something–even if the answer is counter to their intent they can still, at the very least, say that they tried.

I was raised Catholic and we had this whole intercession thing that was very convoluted but it was a system that required you to do a bit more work than the direct line the Protestants have. So if you had a desire that you needed supernatural help with, you had to find the saint that was the patron of it, figure out what kind of prayer they liked, and then they would talk to god on your behalf. Someone with cancer, Peregrine; risky air travel, Joseph of Cupertino (died in 1663–before air travel, but he’s the patron saint of flight); or video on the internet loading choppy, toss a prayer to Saint Isidore (died 636–before even the printing press). It’s a bit of work, and as a kid I had to learn the various saints and what they were the patron for, or else I could skip the middlemen and just appeal directly to the big guy. It was a confusing system but I believe that I was told we weren’t supposed to bother god with the little things and just go through these other people. Which is weird when I think about it: were they telling me that god’s inbox got too full?

I wasn’t Catholic anymore by the time I got married, but we still did the Catholic wedding. That meant that we had to go to their day long wedding class. A concept which still makes me chuckle as the person in charge of it was never going to have first hand experience getting married. The day was broken up into various sub-classes and one of them was about conflict resolution. It was being run by a married couple who were putting on their best portrayal of a marriage and explaining that if you have a fight you should each take a second and say a prayer, then come back to the topic (probably praying to either Saints Priscilla, Monica, Joseph, and my favorite of the bunch Thomas More). This way you get the help to resolve the topic. Lo and behold, you will have a clearer head and be able to, hopefully, solve the problem. I got the trick almost immediately, it wasn’t a prayer it was the time it took to say/think it that was the real causal factor here. It wouldn’t matter if we each took a few minutes to say a prayer, get something to eat, or play a video game. Taking a few minutes and letting the emotions calm down allows cooler heads to prevail.

Then there were the things I wasn’t supposed to pray for. Couldn’t pray for money, to get free stuff, or for my enemies to suffer. The last one makes sense, I get that. The first two though don’t. They’re selfish was the reason that I was taught, and god doesn’t grant those kinds of prayers anyway. So if there is no hope in getting them then why say I can’t do it? All I’m doing is wasting time, but I wonder what the difference really is perceived as. If I’m sick and I pray to get better, it’s a selfish prayer: I just want to get better. Whereas if god granted my prayer for more money I could have used that money to help other people. What if that was truly my motive? The world would be better served if I could help the poor, and I would have to give the credit to god. I was told that’s not how things work, just as someone who lost an arm can’t pray for the arm to grow back. God isn’t going to grant that prayer, but no one has ever explained why. I have my own theory and it’s the same reason that Wiccans aren’t supposed to use their spells to harm people.

Not because it will work, but because it won’t.

See, the guy’s arm is never growing back. God isn’t doing it. It requires too much of a subversion of the natural order and biology for this to ever be the case. It’s why that as soon as we started keeping good medical records, miracles became internal. It’s no longer a blind person being able to see or a paralyzed person walking again. Now the miracles which give saints their titles are all about a strange form of cancer that disappeared for a bit. Or the disappearance of a cyst, in the case of Monica Besra (the miracle that precluded the beatification of Mother Teresa), despite the fact that Besra had been treated with conventional medicine for a year that had the specific intention of curing the tumor. It’s just a case of confirmation bias, and in this case not even the patient believed that it was anything other than a result of the treatment. Miracles as the result of saintly intercession have an exceedingly low bar to clear.

This is because prayer is not about the intent, it’s about the subject getting hope. Which is why you aren’t supposed to pray for things that give a tangible, extra-ordinary result. In those cases, like that of the Wiccan trying to smite their enemies, the result will be nothing greater than a coincidence. Convicted fraudster Jim Bakker claims that it was his prayers that allowed the miracle of Trump’s election. Never mind that the pollsters gave Trump the same odds as winning as the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (according to 538), god subverted the true results, causing Trump to win, and now we don’t have to buy Bakker’s slop buckets. Ok, that last part is definitely a good thing.

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