The Power of Prayer Part 3: Surgery before bended knee

I heard about a woman this morning, who was given three days to live by the doctors. That was four days ago. Everyone she knows (who is religious that is) has apparently been praying feverishly for her to get better.

This morning those who know her are claiming a victory for prayer because she has survived one day more than the doctors gave her. I know that it must be a great relief for her family and friends, and as much as I hope that she will defy the prognosis and hang onto life for as long as possible, my rational self tells me that it is unlikely. The doctors are invariably correct in their prognosis when it comes to terminal illness, even if they are not accurate to within days of predicting life expectancy.

Unfortunately for all her family and friends whose anguish has been temporarily assuaged, their belief that prayer had anything to do with it, is hugely misplaced. I suppose one can’t really blame them for grasping onto any straw that presents itself, given their religious inclinations. I know that when the inevitable does eventually occur, they will forget about the prayer vigils and ascribe it to either god’s mercy in ending suffering, or conclude nonchalantly that “it was her time to go.” Such is the flexibility of religious piety.

I also read this afternoon that Ray McCauley, founder and chief pastor of the Rhema Church in South Africa, had heart surgery yesterday. Not surprisingly the church leadership “asks the Christian community and other faith communities to pray for his speedy recovery.” Luckily sanity prevailed when Ray chose surgery, rather than leave it to the faith community to pray him out of trouble. Off course, his recovery will be speedy, since science made it possible, but the faith community will claim a victory for prayer; such is the nature of religious opportunism.

I am sure that Ray will return to the pulpit after recovering, decrying the evils of science, while punting the power of prayer and faith. For him at least all will be well for some time to come; not so for the poor women who was given a few days to live…

The Power of Prayer

A friend of mine has been in hospital for about two weeks with a lung infection that had actually resulted in one lung failing completely. The doctors have placed him in an induced state of unconsciousness, under heavy sedation, while he is hooked up with an assortment of pipes to a bank of medical machinery.

Understandably, while he has been in this comatose state, his wife, children, close family and friends have fretted over his condition, not knowing if he would pull through or not. Being reluctant to visit him (for obvious reasons) for a whole week , I finally relented last Sunday, and popped into the ICU for a few minutes and came away satisfied that the doctors were doing everything possible to aid his recovery.  However, I refrained from telling his wife and family to not worry, as I realised that in their emotional state, they were not looking for rationality, but miracles.

This Friday, more than a week after my friend was admitted to hospital, his wife participated, together with most of his friends in a late-night prayer vigil which apparently lasted for a few hours. She is the same super-religious women I mentioned in a previous post. Remarkably (or not, if you’re rational about this sort of thing) my friend showed signs of movement, briefly opened his eyes and even wrote a small note to his wife and children on Saturday. To his wife, this was a sure sign that the prayer vigil had worked, and she off course went on endlessly telling everyone who would listen, as much. Off course, the others who also participated in the prayer session needed no convincing.

Now, I can be a real heartless bastard if I want to be, but I could not bring myself to tell her and the others, that it was utter nonsense to believe that prayer had anything to do with it. How could I convince this religious women that the medication and machines were quietly getting on with doing the job of repairing his body, for the last week or so, without giving any overt evidence of it? How could I convince her that it was just a coincidence that the doctors had decided to stop the heavy sedation at the time when she visited? How do you ease the mind of someone more comfortable with simple prayer rituals, to trust a bewildering array of complex medical machinery?

The simple truth is that prayer is powerful only in the insidious way it lulls the religious mind into a false sense of security. It is also powerful in the way it can unjustly claim victory for things it had no part in whatsoever. And tragically, it is powerful, because it still convinces people that it has relevance in spite of all the information and evidence available today, that points to its deceit. [I don’t want to bore you with evidence that prayer doesn’t work, but if you’re interested, please start with this link]

It so happens that I was pointed by a reader of my blog only last week, to a brilliant document written in 1877 by Robert Green Ingersoll, which is as valid today as it was more than a hundred years ago. Titled, The Ghosts, I found the following passage which not only had me laughing out loud, but is one of the most insightful things I have ever read:

The moment it began to be apparent that prayer could do nothing for the body, the priest shifted his ground and began praying for the soul.

I urge you to read the rest of this brilliant essay by Robert Ingersoll. It is very liberating.