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Prayer as Magic

William Edelen

In the study of religion among primal peoples you find that many believed in "magic". Magic is defined as the belief that supernatural forces can be controlled, influenced and manipulated by executing a ritualistic formula, either physical or verbal. We still, today, in a more fashionable way, utilize superstition, prayer wheels, magic, sacrifices and elaborate doxologies to induce God to favor our requests, grant our wishes and perform miracles upon demand.

Minister, Rabbi and priest are expected to offer prayers on behalf of the desires of their congregation. Does this not make God a divine magician? And does this not make the minister or priest a magician's apprentice?

I am asking, "Can something called "God's Will" really be changed by requests from the earth?" And if so, "what kind of a capricious, chaotic universe would this be?"  What kind of chaos would it be if the eternal will of an eternal God with an eternal design could be changed from time to time as this design was subjected to millions and millions of people in a barrage of requests to make things different?

One of my sources of amusement and disbelief is to read the headlines of the tabloid's as I am going through the grocery store check out line. Such as PRAYER AND GOD CURED MY CANCER ON MY DEATHBED...or...PRAYER SAVED ME WHEN THE AIRLINER CRASHED...and on and on with similar daily headlines of superstition. Or an even greater amusement is to turn on the television channels from time to time and watch the ultimate con men...the ultimate hucksters and shysters at work with their "healing" stage shows.

Our heart goes out to the believing victims of these stories. The believing of the naive ... the gullible ... the desperate ... the hopeless ... the ignorant who are such easy prey for religious parasites.

Finally, to their everlasting credit, the prestigious Mayo Clinic has thrown the weight of their name and reputation behind the task of educating the public and exposing the phony claims as to the relationship between religion and health. Phony claims that are not just in tabloid journalism but well read national magazines as well.

The study at the Mayo Clinic was conducted between July 1997 and October 1999. Results were published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The statement said that...quote: "researches found that intercessory prayer had no significant effect on a patients's medical outcome after hospitalization. We found that prayer had no effect on rates of death, heart attacks, strokes and hospitalizations."

The research was described as a "single-center, double-blind, controlled trial. Researchers could find no scientifically significant differences between those who prayed and received prayer and those who did not."

My mind goes back in a slow rewind to the point in my life when I started questioning all of the ministerial cliches about prayer. Those of you in my age group will remember the name of Eddie Rickenbacker who was a big name in military aviation. He and his crew crashed in the South Pacific and were staying afloat on an ocean raft. After finally being rescued, he said that day after day they all uttered desperate prayers for rescue...A ship finally did appear and rescued them. They gave all the credit to prayers and to God who heard their prayers, they said.

Do you know what bothered me terribly when I read their statements. I thought, with aching heart, of all of the thousands of good and fine men who desperately croaked out words of urgent appeal to God through parched and anguished throats and whose answer was to be devoured by shark and barracuda, or to die from starvation or drowning.

Were they less good; less virtuous, less sincere than Rickenbacker? There is always, and I repeat always, a massive clergy cop-out filled with pious cliches and utter nonsense when asked these questions. The usual pathetic answer is this...(I hope you are sitting down)..."well...God heard their prayers and his answer was no...God just must go ahead and get chewed up by a shark or will be a learning lesson for someone..."

Or, if you really believe that God heals those at so called "sacred shrines" such as the waters of Lourdes, then what about those who do not have the money to make such an expensive trip? Are we to assume that a God of love and mercy will allow a child to come down with leukemia simply because the parents of the child did not have the money or the correct religious belief that would attract Gods intervention?

Who could believe in such nonsense? A God so capricious as to heal some and permit others to suffer the most horrible pains due to a lack of money for medicine or travel. Or a lack of a proper theology?

  • If God is God...he is not good...
  • If God is good...he is not God...
  • Take the Even...take the Odd...
From the Pulitzer Prize play "J.B." by Archibald MacLeish.



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