Monday, September 28, 2009

Idea for Prayer Test

We all know the study results on intercessory prayer (epic FAIL), but what about other prayers? Since theists are likely to count the hits and ignore the misses, and to interpret all kinds of normal incidents or events as divine intervention, their reported experiences aren't a terribly reliable measure.

But has anyone studied prayer cards? I went to several different denominations and non-denominations over my two decades of Christianity. A lot of these churches collected prayer cards or prayer requests, often picked up in the offering plate, or else submitted into a prayer request box near the sanctuary door. At several of these churches, the preacher or another parishioner would read these entreaties aloud, or else read the names of the individuals asking for prayer. Then the congregation as a whole would pray that these requests be answered (sometimes with and sometimes without the "thy will be done" stipulation).

Do churches save prayer cards? Would it possible to, say, gather up the prayer cards from one particular congregation for the past few calendar years, and to investigate how many of these requests were answered or fulfilled? Even these would not account for the total number of prayers that congregation may have offered individually, at home or in traffic or at grace over dinner at Olive Garden. But it would be the most important prayers. I know that when I dialed the prayer line or filled out a prayer request card at a church, it was for those things I felt the most anguish over or that I was most concerned with. (And everyone of them was selfish. I'm ashamed to admit I never submitted a prayer request for starving children or rape victims or amputees - when I believed I actually had an inside line to the man who could solve those problems, I instead asked him to help me pay my rent or to get my husband into Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. That first prayer was "answered" in the form of my priest cutting me a check, and the second one went unanswered - hence my singleness.)

So, preacher's kids out there reading this, or former clergy (I love you guys! Atheists priests are the best), please let me know. What happens to prayer cards, and could they be produced for the kind of survey I'm describing. I think even if they credited every "hit" to their god, the sheer number of misses might have a doubting effect. When I look back and realize how many prayers I answered myself, and how the rest largely went unanswered, it makes me realize how biased towards confirmation my thinking really was.

Ha! I just found an online Prayer Request Book, which is sad and pathetic and so anti-humanist. Religion makes people useless. The prayers are obviously uploaded with editing or spell-check, and some include names. One woman made a "name it and claim it" prayer, telling God and the world that "Gary Collier" is going to be her husband. I can't help but wonder how Gary feels about that! There's also a mother praying that her daughter would be freed of witchcraft and demon possession, which terrifies me. There's another mom praying for her atheist son to become a Christian again (lol). There are horribly misspelled entreaties for jobs or money for bills, and the whole book speaks to the unanswered problems in our society: You can't live on minimum wage; being a single mom is really tough; it can be hard to find the right partner or mate. Everyone of us wants to have enough money to pay our bills (at least), have loving family relationships, and have romance and companionship. Because the church promises "God can do it!" people fall into learned helplessness or trained dependency. (More on that in another post later today.)

Now if someone could figure out a way to verify which of these have been "answered" and which haven't, we could have a really cool study on our hands.

Today's image was found on It recommends having personal petitions as the smallest aspect of a prayer life, with listening as the largest. I suppose, since no one divine is hearing these prayers, it doesn't matter how a Christian allots his prayer time. Yet, I worry about the concentrated focus on listening, since that's only a half-step away from receiving "Rhema" or personal revelation from God (which leads to the infallible pope and Jonestown.)