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Hi guys.  This is the section from my deconversion testimony on prayer.  Hope it might stimulate some discussion.

 

 

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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On a lighter note, I remember a movie (but not its name) back in the 60's in which a girl and boy

were at a "drive-in" church listening to a sermon by a cool looking dude. The dude said: "People ask me

how they can know if a prayer has been answered. I tell them that if it happens the prayer has been

answered;if not,it has been denied." The dim-witted blonde watching said to her boyfriend: "It's amazing how simple he makes things." I'll bet you that that satire flew right passed 90% of the movie

audience. Not because they were stupid, but because people don't THINK about religious matters. bill

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Well that basically is the crux of prayers.

 

You couldn't make it up....  posted this same post on on CARM.  (Christian forums)

 

And a guy tells me that I am wrong, and about how he is sure of prayer because he prayed for God to help him find a tool in his garage, and then he found the tool.  Never mind that I addressed that exact point in the post itself in relation to keys.

 

Why do Christians think God is going to help them find their keys but not save an African child from dying from an AIDS related death.

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Well that basically is the crux of prayers.

 

You couldn't make it up....  posted this same post on on CARM.  (Christian forums)

 

And a guy tells me that I am wrong, and about how he is sure of prayer because he prayed for God to help him find a tool in his garage, and then he found the tool.  Never mind that I addressed that exact point in the post itself in relation to keys.

 

Why do Christians think God is going to help them find their keys but not save an African child from dying from an AIDS related death.

     I didn't read your OP (tl;dr).

 

     But the answer to this problem is the tool wants to be found whereas the child apparently does not want to live.  "God" can only do so much especially when free will is involved.  Tools want to be found.  Kids want to die.  What's a "god" to do?

 

          mwc

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     I didn't read your OP (tl;dr).

 

     But the answer to this problem is the tool wants to be found whereas the child apparently does not want to live.  "God" can only do so much especially when free will is involved.  Tools want to be found.  Kids want to die.  What's a "god" to do?

 

          mwc

 

 

Christianity is so grim.

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Pentacostal versions of Christianity have God speak through voices in your head. How are you supposed to know whether the voice is your thoughts or Gods?

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Pentacostal versions of Christianity have God speak through voices in your head. How are you supposed to know whether the voice is your thoughts or Gods?

 

You would just have to guess, I suppose, and hope that the voice you are hearing in your head is a god's voice.

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I wrote something very similar in my almost-finished testimony regarding my transition. (It's also lengthy, at over 23,000 words right now. I don't honestly expect anyone to ever read all of it but it's still worth writing.)

 

Since my section on Prayer alone was over 1500 words long, I'll just summarize it (which will still take awhile since I explored a lot of content.)

 

I basically piece the argument into 3 mini arguments.

 

 

In the first one, I basically translate this darkmatter video into text:

 

I explain that, in this scenario, no matter what happens, the Christian will believe God did it. I refer to this as The Impossible Test, since the believer puts god through a test that from their perspective seems failable, but in reality it is absolutely impossible for God to fail the test to any degree, and when God passes the test, their faith is reaffirmed. After I explain this concept thoroughly, I move on to part 2 of that argument.

 

 

In part 2, I take that same Impossible Test concept and put it next to prayer. I give almost the exact same "Yes", "No", "Maybe" argument that you gave, except I didn't bring up the jug of milk. I simply made the point that no matter what happens, they see it the same way as the shooting. I mainly emphasize the point that there were only a few possible outcomes to start with, none of which required God, but no matter what happens, they credit God for it. (I compare it to a die that has the same amount of sides as potential outcomes: when you toss the die, it HAS to land on one of the sides. God didn't necessarily influence it.)

 

 

In part 3, I take things a few steps farther by bringing up a true story that I experienced. There was a Spanish pastor at my church, and his wife had gotten cancer. I explain that instead of simply trusting and praying that God would heal her, the decision was to send her to one of the highest end cancer treatment facilities in the world (it was even at the other end of the country, so it was a big deal to transport her there) and have the very highly qualified doctors treat her with the best technology that exists in terms of fighting cancer. Through all of it, tragically, she did not survive. That means there was now a man and two kids left without a wife and mother.

 

I brought that up to make two main points.

 

1: At the end of the day, when things got truly serious, putting full trust in the all-powerful God of the universe that can do anything and make the cancer go away with the blink of an eye wasn't even a serious consideration. With how much my church professes what is essentially blind faith (I attend(ed) an Assemblies of God church), when things got down to life or death where death really was the most likely outcome by far, trusting God was not even a consideration.

 

2: However, even though nobody really trusted God, it was still that God chose to send her home. God was still responsible for her death and we just need to trust that he had his reasons. What I explain, though, is that if she were to survive, we would also credit that to God, and basically forget about the doctors and there brave and tireless work to try to heal her. Sure, they'd be a side thought, but it would have been God who healed her, not those amazing doctors. So even though nobody truly had true faith in God, they would pretend like they did to the bitter end.

 

I then end by asking the reader to research the horrors that faith healing has caused, and the amazing innovations that science and medicine have caused, and ask the reader to find out which one works better than the other. If the world worked like the Bible said, surely faith healing would work better, but that's just not how things work.

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Thanks for your post QC.  It sounds like you have embarked on a project similar to my own, considering the length of your testimony.  As I said, this is just a segment of my testimony.  I'm working hard to try and get it all on paper before I forget!  I'll be interest to read it all when it is finished.  Have you got any other bits posted up here already?

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Pentacostal versions of Christianity have God speak through voices in your head. How are you supposed to know whether the voice is your thoughts or Gods?

 

You would just have to guess, I suppose, and hope that the voice you are hearing in your head is a god's voice.

 

 

"My sheep know my voice." See, the bible says you'll be able to identify which voices in your head are god's and which aren't!

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Thanks for your post QC.  It sounds like you have embarked on a project similar to my own, considering the length of your testimony.  As I said, this is just a segment of my testimony.  I'm working hard to try and get it all on paper before I forget!  I'll be interest to read it all when it is finished.  Have you got any other bits posted up here already?

Not yet. Right now I'm mainly going through and editing it to make it read better, and adding new segments here and there. The primary purpose for writing it was to have something very definitive to defend myself when I 'come out to the world', since I'm not very good at verbal debates; where on paper I can list my arguments and why I think what I do very clearly, I cannot do that while actually talking to someone.

 

However, I do have a blogspot where I post stuff like that. I actually copy/pasted a few of my posts into my testimony for convenience sake. I have it listed as my website on my profile right now.

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Thanks for your post QC.  It sounds like you have embarked on a project similar to my own, considering the length of your testimony.  As I said, this is just a segment of my testimony.  I'm working hard to try and get it all on paper before I forget!  I'll be interest to read it all when it is finished.  Have you got any other bits posted up here already?

Not yet. Right now I'm mainly going through and editing it to make it read better, and adding new segments here and there. The primary purpose for writing it was to have something very definitive to defend myself when I 'come out to the world', since I'm not very good at verbal debates; where on paper I can list my arguments and why I think what I do very clearly, I cannot do that while actually talking to someone.

 

However, I do have a blogspot where I post stuff like that. I actually copy/pasted a few of my posts into my testimony for convenience sake. I have it listed as my website on my profile right now.

 

 

 

Just read your most recent post.  It's really good.  Totally on the money in my view, and persuasively written.  You have a good rhythm in your argumentation.

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Thanks for your post QC.  It sounds like you have embarked on a project similar to my own, considering the length of your testimony.  As I said, this is just a segment of my testimony.  I'm working hard to try and get it all on paper before I forget!  I'll be interest to read it all when it is finished.  Have you got any other bits posted up here already?

Not yet. Right now I'm mainly going through and editing it to make it read better, and adding new segments here and there. The primary purpose for writing it was to have something very definitive to defend myself when I 'come out to the world', since I'm not very good at verbal debates; where on paper I can list my arguments and why I think what I do very clearly, I cannot do that while actually talking to someone.

 

However, I do have a blogspot where I post stuff like that. I actually copy/pasted a few of my posts into my testimony for convenience sake. I have it listed as my website on my profile right now.

 

 

 

Just read your most recent post.  It's really good.  Totally on the money in my view, and persuasively written.  You have a good rhythm in your argumentation.

 

 

Thanks! I wrote that after listening to a The Thinking Atheist podcast awhile ago.

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