By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Pope Benedict XVI. He said on May 18 2007: “He who prays does not waste his time, even if the situation has all the markings of being an emergency and seems to push in towards action alone.”
Every time an incumbent Pope gets ill, the Catholic people worldwide (app. 2 billion) pray that he recovers quickly. The Pope is 85 in April 2012. Perhaps, the prayers are helping him.
I wish him well.
According to Caroline Piigozzi and Marco Polity – the authors of two books, the Pope is believed to have had a heart operation and two minor strokes while still a cardinal (Joseph Ratzinger). He suffers from Atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beats). He has a painful right leg and is now using a stick.
My paper however, is to clarify with the Pope that that prayer is useless because prayer is a reverent petition to God – the God in all caps, whose existence has never been proved, while life is a part, an infinitely small part of nature’s plan. Death, disease, decay and accidents are parts of her inscrutable design. The concept of life is related to consciousness and existence.
Prayer cannot prevent death. Death is not God-ordained. Nor is there a scientific death gene in our chromosomes. Diseases are incidental depending on hygiene, standard of living and diet. Decay is part of the wear and tear of old age. Accidents happen from a variety of factors such as lack of concentration, unsafe conditions, carelessness, faulty equipment and so on.
As I am talking of science I need data. There is the latest Cochrane review (November 9 2011). This 69 page manuscript is a meta-analysis of 10 prospective randomised studies on intercessory prayers to help the efforts of modern medicine over 7,000 patients. Some studies showed benefit, while others did not. So the authors concluded that there is no indisputable proof that intercessory prayers improve mortality rates.
Personally, I found praying to God was a complete waste of time. It was a bit of let down for me in my childhood when I prayed to him every night for a two-wheel boy’s bicycle for me as a graduation from my three-wheeled infant bike. The cycle never arrived. Still, I continued to pray occasionally, even well into my young adult years, whenever I was worried about something, just in case.
Prayer mania spiralled into surreal fantasy until late in the 20th century. The ancient belief in the romantic idea of prayer phenomenon refused to accept the futility of chasing an illusion – a prayer phenomenon.
God is addressed in a liturgy of prayers of various world religions. Prayers involving the name of a God have become established as a common spiritual practice in both the West and the East.
Many people are still unable to open up and analyse that prayer is not an email to God, asking him to deliver something a person has requested.
Up to this autumn of my life, I have seen no evidence of any divine presence throughout my entire life. I am totally convinced that prayer is a waste of time either because there is no God or he is not listening.
For a vivid display of the uselessness of prayers without intellectual justification I will cite
one recent example, and another in our living memory.
On October 8 2005 an earthquake wiped off three generations of people in the Pakistan- administered Kashmir, killing 75,000 people. The irony is that the earthquake followed the reversion to orthodox Islamic practices by fellow Kashmiri Mirpuri men, of keeping long beards, changing into Muslim dress code and serious five prayers a day, in Bradford. The women likewise, began to dress in black Burqa, Hijab and Niqab, and everyone prayed five times a day wherever they were.
Another show of lack of benefit in prayers was sixty-odd years ago in 1947 during the Partition of India. After the Muslim violence against the Hindus in Noakhali (now in Bangladesh), hundreds of thousands of Hindus fled to Calcutta. They milled around the Sealdah Station in east Calcutta. Thousands died from starvation and disease as their prayers to their Hindu gods were not answered. Mother Teresa’s Christian God was equally unavailable except that she gave them Christian rites while dying in destitute.
It is a ridiculously useless prayer phenomenon when loud speakers are used for Hindu bhajans, Muslim aazan and Sikh Akhanda path, disturbing everybody in the locality populated by many religious groups. It is unprofitable to the person and others.
For the Meitei of Manipur (India) of which I am one, when misfortune befell a person, perhaps with a stroke or cancer, a family member would consult an astrologer who would then work out on his horoscope with a small fee, that certain planet especially the Saturn was influencing the person.
A remedy would be a prayer with a bizarre array of offerings to the planet, such as a few grains of rice, milk from a black cow, a tuft of certain grass (Tingthou), a few grams of gold etcetera. Or, he might suggest a dish of rice pudding and a bunch of bananas.
All these beliefs are beyond educated intelligence and bereft of any scientific merit. But people do believe them as they believe in a God and superstition. There are transient psychological benefits, no doubt.
The prayer phenomenon was traditionally believed to be fruitful in the 20th century, but the growing impact of scientific advances and interpretations of the non-existence of God though not agreed my many, have led many people to abandon it in favour of a more metaphysical understanding of the hopelessness of prayers.
Religions began before science when the earth was regarded as the centre of the universe, not a planet that orbits round the sun. For our ancestors God was a simple answer to a complex of their problems.
For a prayer one needs a God. Without God prayer is invalid. But the delightful praise for the wonders and the infinity of God does not stand up to the New Age model of God. All these flamboyant words in praise of God merely rent crass absurdities and serve only as a gigantic collective imagery of a living God.
The religious leaders objectify and universalise the reality of the existence of God by citing
spiritual promises which can not be proven to fulfil.
Prayers are not electromagnetic waves (like radio and TV waves and cell phones) with which you can communicate with God. They were invented to glorify so many gods, such as fertility
god, harvest god, sun, rain, wind etc. Monotheism was a brilliant invention to bring all these gods into one powerful single God who will provide everything if you pray according to rules of a brand of religions.
Most of us have the religion of our parents, which makes our religion a matter of chance. There is no way of being sure which religion and God are the “real” ones, and which one of them is going to answer our prayers.
The raison d’être of prayer is faith in God with the hope that what one is asking for has a fair chance of deliverance. For some unfortunates it is the cutting age of hopelessness, like a drowning man trying to clutch at a floating straw, hoping that it might save his life.
Hope is not self-filling spa water, which God keeps topping up. We have to have a cut-off point when we see that prayer does not work.
The importance of prayers is simply the delight in the brief but elegant uplift of human heart to God, who people imagine, is listening to them. The motto of my St Joseph’s College/school in Darjeeling, was “Sursum Chorda – lift up your heart (to God).
Daily prayers were introduced as they plucked at the heartstrings of the believers, recognising the interrelationship between musical harmony and vocal human hearts with a reawakening of the mind and the senses.
The lissom harmonised music elevates human thoughts to some sort of inner spiritualism from the fevered part of consciousness. It gives people an extra piquancy to their hype, a farrago in their obsession with God in quite an adolescent way.
In reality, a prayer leaves nothing of substance when faced with the challenging world of modern living. The chance of a camel going through the eye of a needle is more likely than a salient woman’s prayer answered when asking God to save her husband dying of lung cancer (that invariably kills the patient within one year of diagnosis, prayer or no prayer).
A study in ’American Psychologists’ (January 2003, Religion and Spirituality to physical health) failed to find evidence to support a link between depth of religiousness and physical health. There were consistent failures to support the hypothesis that religion or spirituality slows the progression of cancer or improves recovery from acute illness but some evidence that religion and spirituality impedes recovery from an acute illness.
And for me, prayer is a waste of time.
The writer is based in the UK