Prayer as Magic

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 said…no…you must
go ahead and get chewed up by a shark or barracuda…it 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.