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Deconverstion Part 2 - Prayer And The Silent God


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Hi everyone.  This is the next segment of Part 2 of my deconversion, regarding my objections to individual elements of Christianity.

 

This is still in draft, so I will be grateful for any feedback.

 

Prayer

 

A central tenet of the Christian faith is the power of prayer.  Prayer is presented to Christians as one of the means by which people may speak to God.  Within the church communities of which I was a member, we were encouraged to maintain a good ‘prayer life’.  This meant spending time alone speaking and listening to God, and spending time alongside fellow believers speaking and listening to God.

 

When I was younger, particularly before I became a practising born again Christian, prayer seemed to me to be a way of asking for things that I wanted; a cosmic letter to a divine Father Christmas.  The young mind petitions God for the things that matter: please let me get that toy for my birthday, please help me to make friends, and please let me pass my exams.  This simplistic form of prayer finds support in a narrow reading of the gospel.

 

‘Ask and it will be given to you’

Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 7:7.

 

As I became more mature in my faith, it seemed to me that prayer was not a way of simply getting that which I wanted.  I realised that Christians should seek that which God wants.  So I began to pray that God would use me for his purposes, in whatever way that may be.  I prayed that he would make me a more effective witness to my friends and acquaintances, and that he would present the opportunities for witnessing.  My prayers also became less self-centred in that I prayed more for God to intervene in a hurting and suffering world, of which I was becoming ever more aware.

 

As time went by, I began to wonder whether or not prayer was effective.  I speculated that events may have occurred the same way whether I prayed about them or not.  In other words, I considered whether prayer increased the chance of the desired outcome happening, or whether it had zero effect.

 

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

 

‘Post hoc ergo proper hoc’ is Latin for ‘after this therefore because of this’.  It is a term used to describe a logical fallacy in which a causal link is mistakenly made between two events.  It becomes assumed that because one event followed another, the first event caused the second event.  Sometimes this is true, but very often it is not.  Anyone who believes in the power of prayer must critically analyse whether they are unwittingly falling foul of this logical fallacy.

 

The problem caused by the fallacy is that Christians use these fallacious link between prayer and apparent ‘answered prayer’ to further bolster their belief in the power of prayer itself, and by extension the existence of their particular God.

 

A simple example:  Sarah prays for God to help her find her keys.  Then after some searching Sarah finds her keys.  Sarah concludes that God helped her to find her keys.  Sarah’s belief that God helped her to find her keys affirms her belief that God is real and looking after her.

 

Sarah has fallen foul of the ‘post hoc’ fallacy.  She has drawn a causal link between praying and finding her keys.  Perhaps Sarah’s causal link is accurate.  Perhaps God really did help her find her keys.  Unfortunately, she has no way of knowing for sure.  Yet she attributes the success to God anyway, because it falls in line with her general expectation that God will help her.

 

But perhaps Sarah’s causal link is not accurate.  Perhaps she has overlooked what seems to me to be a better explanation.  I would much sooner draw a causal link between the event of Sarah searching for her keys and then finding her keys.  There is no need to add a supernatural explanation.  Just because Sarah prayed does not mean that God supernaturally intervened to improve her search powers to find the keys.

 

Many Christians will strongly agree with me that Sarah was wrong to draw the connection between prayer and finding her keys.  They will agree with me that God has no time for such trivial matters.  Yet what if we apply the same principle to matters far more serious?

 

John is eighteen years old, and his father is very ill.  He is suffering from cancer.  There is a seventy five percent chance that he will die.  At his weekly prayer meeting, John and his fellow believers spend a long time in prayer for John’s father.  Then, some weeks later, the cancer goes into remission.  John thanks God for saving his father’s life, and re-devotes himself to serving God.

 

Can John demonstrate that his prayer caused God to act supernaturally and heal his father?  No, he cannot.  But he believes it anyway, because it confirms his expectations that God will help him if he prayers.

 

Critically, John has not had an eye to the broader picture.  John has failed to consider that his father was the lucky one of four patients, three of whom died, perhaps despite the fact that they had been prayed for.

 

Post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Prayer was followed by healing.  Therefore the prayer caused the healing.  There is no evidence for this other than personal feeling and conviction.

 

This type of thinking also requires a significant blind spot for unanswered prayer.  Christians are quick to attribute apparently positively answered prayer to God.  Yet, they seem to forget about the prayers that do not get answered positively.  Case in point, what about the three patients who died despite being prayed for?

 

Well, they have been called home of course, because it is their time.  The families know that their loved ones are now with Jesus in a better place.  They thank God for his goodness.

 

Either way, God wins.

 

The Three Answers, and the Milk Jug

 

Prayer can be answered in three ways:

 

1. Yes – You will get what you ask for, because it pleases God.

2. No – You will not get what you ask for, because it does not please God.

3. Wait – You will get what you ask for – eventually – in God’s time.

 

Whenever a prayer is made, these are the only three answers that any God has ever been able to give.  If Sarah gets what she prays for, she is happy and declares that it is an answer to prayer, and takes it as affirmation that God is real and cares for her.  If Sarah does not get what she prays for, she reflects inwards and realises that what she was praying for is not what God wants, and she repents of selfishness.  Or perhaps she persists, until the ‘no’ is finally answered ‘yes’. It is concluded that God did to give what she asked for, but in his own time, so Sarah just had to wait.

 

It is observable, that these are the three possible answers no matter who or what is prayed to.  For example.  John prays to the jug of milk.  The jug of milk can answer – yes, no, or wait.  As long as John gets a good handful of yes answers and wait answers he will keep believing that his prayers are being answered by the divine jug.  He will get some ‘no’ answers too.  But he knows that this is the milk guiding and teaching him, allowing him to see that he must abandon selfish desires and only seek what the milk wants.

 

Provided that Sarah and John they keep getting a decent handful of yes and wait answers, they take this as affirmation that God is answering their prayers.  The no answers are either overlooked and forgotten about; or else used to support their conviction that they must seek what God wants, not what they want.  Either way, God wins.

 

No, No, No

 

What if you keep getting ‘no’ answers?  What if you pray and pray, and keep getting negative responses from God, or the milk jug?  How long can you go on praying, being ignored, and still believing that God gives good gifts to his children?  Particularly when Sarah and John are sure that they are asking for things that are in line with what God, or the jug of milk, wants; such as helping them to evangelize to friends, but without result.

 

Eventually, perhaps Sarah might have to be honest with herself.  The odds of something happening because she prayed for it to happen are the same as the odds of something happening if she had not prayed.  So too, John needs to recognise that praying to the jug of milk seems to have no particular benefit to his life.  If they stop praying, they still get things that they want and things that they do not want.

 

The Silent God

 

‘Fools, said I, you do know know,

Silence like a cancer grows.’

Paul Simon, the Sound of Silence (1964)

 

A Christian is taught that prayer is not simply the means by which we speak to Yahweh, but also the means by which he speaks to us.  However, it is an uncomfortable truth for Christians that their god does not speak audibly to them.

 

The Bible records that Yahweh is capable of speaking audibly to human beings.  He chooses to do so on many occasions, including some of the famous instances: speaking to Moses from the burning bush, speaking from Heaven when Jesus was baptised, appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus.  Yet it would seem that God has fallen quiet in the last two millennia.

 

I found this to be rather frustrating.  As a human being, I am used to communicating through talking and listening to a direct reply.  However, with Yahweh one is required to depart from the usual way of doing things.  Yahweh has decided that the most effective way to maintain a relationship with us is to remain absolutely silent.

 

It is then left for Christians to rely upon other means of ‘hearing’ Yahweh.  Most commonly, this is either through reading the Bible, or trying to discern the will of Yahweh through our day-to-day lives: including what other people say, and what other events occur.  This latter method of ‘listening’ to God leads inevitably to a system of superstition based on ‘feelings’ and patterns of events.  This leads on neatly to the next topic: superstition.

 

The audible silence of God became a greater wedge between he and myself through my years as a Christian.  I would say that this is understandable.  If a parent or a friend or a partner refused to talk to us for twenty three years, most of us would begin to question whether that person was actually interested in us.  If they did not appear to us visually either, or send any letters, we would be suspicious of their love.  It they set up a two way radio for us, and we spoke into it every day, pouring out our hopes and fears, and they never replied, perhaps we would grow irksome.  We might ponder whether we were just imagining things, and were just talking to ourselves.

 

This is how I began to feel about Yahweh’s silence.

 

Prayer is futile.

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Love the milk jug! (And I am a Sarah who regularly loses keys. ..)

 

It's good, keep it coming :D

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I don't take credit for the milk jug!  It's a classic argument about prayer, but I found it very useful to include. Thank you for your supportive comments.  :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

The most sinister reason I have heard for prayers not being answered is that I have some hidden sin that I either don't know about, or that I have confessed but keep repeating, or that I am outright unwilling to confess. So basically it's all my own damn fault, the poor miserable sinner that I am, that God does not respond. No amount of prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, serving my church, or driving myself into the grave trying to do everything I can is going to make a difference, since I am such a wretched sinful being. Talk about messing with your mind and your self-esteem. Evil.

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These three, along with many others, were big reasons for my deconversion. If you choose to view life in this way, god always wins. He gets credited with every good thing and gets away with every bad thing. I realized that maybe god doesn't even exist and has nothing to do with external circumstances.

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When I realized that my answered prayers didn't seem distinguishable from random chance, I started doubting god's effectiveness and existence. It was a big factor in my deconversion too.

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