Praying for miracles is just downright foolish!

I just came across this article I wrote four years ago, having commented on a Facebook post which, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your position, is no longer available but was originally at – https://www.facebook.com/juanObey1234/posts/1857663211221504

The post (somewhat eerily) suggested readers ‘like’ a photograph of a weeping ‘Virgin Mary’ and type ‘Amen’ in the comments section below – to receive a miracle within the hour! I have redacted any identifying information to save the blushes of the muppets!

Instead of ‘Amen’, I typed:

You will receive a kick up the hole if you keep sharing this shite!

I received the following reply in a private message:

How dare you challenge the power of God!

To which, at some length, I replied:

If we take the reactions of people on Facebook to this post as a population sample of humanity, a number of questions occur.

At the time of writing there were 21,000 emoticons. There are 6 emoticon options (i.e. Like, Love, Wow, Haha, Sad & Angry) but only 3 are used — Like, Love and Sad.

Likes number approximately 20,000 with ‘Love’ & ‘Sad’ making up the (residual) balance. Liking and loving a post are the most popular options used by all Facebook users. It can be assumed (with a reasonable amount of confidence) that the ‘Sad’ reaction is due to the fact that the image depicts a woman crying (let us also assume the image is a replica of the Virgin Mary — from Christian teaching).

Despite the poster requesting that viewers both ‘Like’ and type ‘Amen’ to recieve [sic] a miracle, there are only 15,300 comments — which means (on the presumption that most of the comments are actually ‘Amen’ — I have not taken the time to scroll through them all) approximately 5,500 people fulfilled only half of the poster’s request — despite fulfilment of the request only requiring a couple of seconds to complete.

The principle questions uppermost in my mind are

1. If receipt of a miracle is considered to be as significant a life event as it should be among those that believe miracles are, in fact, possible, why have only (approximately) 75% of viewers completed both requirements i.e. like and type ‘Amen’?

2. Why have so many people responded at all?

It is to the second question I would like to turn my attention — the first appears to require more time than I have — given all the potential variables. I garner from the viral nature of the post that there is a deep-seated need in humanity. Remember, I started with the assumption that the responders to the post represent a sample population — and although the nature of the population raises more questions (e.g. what age range, beliefs are represented) — we must at least start somewhere in the absence of extensive data analysis!

The deep-seated need I refer to is the occurrence of a miracle — that miracle to be delivered by some higher power within the next hour. Let’s turn to the belief that there actually is a higher power that can deliver the promise — albeit a promise made by a member of Facebook. I think I am fairly safe making the assumption here that the poster is human — unless of course God himself is (at least) 13 years of age, has an email address, signed up to Facebook and created an account under the name of the poster — which would be deceptive of one not known for acts of deception — clearly, I am of the opinion that God fulfils none of these Facebook requirements — apart from maybe being old enough to have a Facebook account!

21,000 people (at the time of writing) have completed (or partially completed) the poster’s request to ‘Like’ and type ‘Amen’. Do they truly believe that this promised miracle will become a reality? Well — some probably do. Are they complying in the hope that the miracle will come true? Some probably are. Have some ‘liked’ on the off-chance a miracle is heading their way? Yes! Have a certain proportion responded because they simply like the concept of miracles. That could also be a valid explanation.

Ultimately though, 21,000 viewers have (for one reason or another) taken a few seconds to respond. I contend that a significant majority of the responders actually do believe (to some degree or another) that a miracle can occur and, further, believe in the higher power (i.e. God) who will deliver the promised miracle.

I am going to ignore the fact that they appear to believe in God and focus more on the fact that they have taken a few seconds to respond — for whatever reason.

When responding, were the viewers thinking of a miracle which would benefit themselves or were they thinking of a miracle which could be applied to someone they know in need of such an event? Let’s ignore those that were responding on behalf of someone else (in some perceived need of a miracle) and now focus on those that responded in the hope of receiving the miracle for themselves alone. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to everyone who responded except one. So, to continue, I am going to assume that only 1 out of 21,000 people who responded was hoping to receive a miracle which would benefit him (or her) alone. Although I suspect my generosity is far over-reaching with respect to reality, I am minimising my presumptions of the 21,000 to bring you to the next paragraph — which states the case for my reasoning in no uncertain terms.

To hope (and or pray) for a miracle for oneself is the most selfish act of belief in God possible! Belief in God presupposes an all-knowing and all-loving (omnipotent) entity. Surely then, knowing absolutely everything about you, God is sufficiently wise (and loving) without needing your prayers or aspirations to guide or implement the divine design for your life he has already created? I feel sure I should be capitalising the ‘H’ in ‘he’ but I’ll carry on — regardless.

Deferring to some external (unseen) entity in the hope or belief that

a. the entity exists

b. the entity can hear and listens and

c. the entity has the ‘power’ to implement

is part and parcel of all belief systems. Making a request for a miracle to benefit oneself, however, is nothing more than self-serving.

Additionally, to believe on the one hand God has a divine plan for each and every man, woman and child and, to then, with the other hand, pray for a miracle — contradicts (in an instant) the very nature of belief (and understanding) of God’s omnipotence — to the point of self-deception!

In closing, it must be said that if the act of praying (e.g. giving thanks, praising) satiates the mind or heart of a ‘troubled’ person, then I have no argument with that person’s need to pray. In fact, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. However, giving thanks or praising God are NOT the same as praying for a miracle. Even the simple act of praying for something ‘realistic’ (i.e. not some pie-in-the-sky miracle) for oneself is foolhardy! If you believe that God has already designed your life from start to finish — remember he’s busy enough implementing that — without having to make significant changes to the design because you prayed for a miracle. If you must pray for miracles — pray for them to benefit someone else. Your altruism might just convince God to put in ‘a little overtime’ — altering the design for your chosen recipient’s life!

Lord, I could do with a couple of thousand extra euro this month to pay off my credit card debts after the Christmas craziness!

Remember the plan for your life you believe God has designed? How could you possibly know if the miracle you are praying for is part of it? In all likelihood, it isn’t — so are you just chancing your arm that it might be? That’s not prayer! That’s just downright, plain ignorance — and folly!

Invariably, miracles DO NOT happen. Apparently, anecdotal evidence over an extended period of time (how long has the human race existed on earth?) would suggest, for the vast majority of believers, that’s NOT the way God works!

But maybe, just maybe, if you like the post and type ‘Amen’ (go on — sure it’ll only take a few seconds) this Facebook member can make it happen for you — within the next hour. You are far more likely to receive a kick up the hole from me (regardless of your geographic location on the planet or ability to run away) than a miracle from God. Do you play the lottery? Best of luck!

REPLY ENDS

I share here four years later by way of reiterating my position at the time, that position not having changed and being nicely summed up by the title of this post. Praying for miracles is just downright foolish!

Eyes on the prize!

So, in my last article I postulated that we could make progress if we left religion to one side – for a while.

When we do, we are left with two principle notions in our deliberations. Knowledge and faith. Whether they are mutually exclusive remains to be seen but let’s take faith in isolation for the purpose of today’s apprentice ramblings. More specifically, let’s take a look at one of the core practices of the faithful – prayer.

A couple of years ago I installed a dart board on one of the walls in my house and, with the help of YouTube, started watching a variety of techniques that might help me throw the darts with reasonable accuracy.

For the first few weeks, the accuracy wasn’t even close to anything that could be described as ‘reasonable’. Although I was (more often than not) actually hitting the board, the particular numbers I was aiming for were typically proving frustratingly elusive. I took to thinking about how I could improve my aim.

Eventually, I remembered a visualisation technique from kayaking which improved my scoring almost immediately.

I would only look at an imaginary ‘pizza slice’ of the board. Take a look at a dartboard and you’ll see what I mean. The rest of the board became non-existent to my eyesight, to the point that there was actually only that pizza slice of dart board attached to the wall. The darts started landing in the pizza and as I improved, the pizza slice started getting smaller, depending on whether I was aiming for a single, double or treble.

Some will say that it was purely the practice that improved my game but the instantaneous improvement can be primarily accredited to the visualisation technique. Sports psychologists are intimately familiar with ‘visualisation’ techniques as are many other ‘success’ consultants. Tomes have been written extolling the virtues of visualising the outcome. ‘Eyes on the prize,’ my kayaking instructor used to shout as I edged over the eddy into the current. I would turn my head downstream, maintaining my focus on where I was going instead of where I was.

‘Eyes on the prize!’

Focus on the goal first and then take the steps you need to achieve it but always keep your focus on the goal and don’t let distractions deter you from your final objective i.e. reaching the goal.

So, the question I have been asking myself of late is why this visualisation technique proved so successful for me (both on the water and at the dartboard) and, in the midst of my ruminations, something occurred to me.

If you imagine for a moment that the whole dartboard is the entirety of the activity in your conscious mind on a daily basis and that the pizza slice is at the forefront of your consciousness – containing the thoughts and aspirations that are uppermost in your mind today. By focusing on just that small pizza slice in your mind you are effectively concentrating on (and consolidating) the thoughts that are uppermost in your mind, whether they be worries, fears or positive aspirations for your life. Just like focusing on the pizza slice on the dart board, these thoughts are receiving more attention than any others that may be ‘lying around’ in other parts of your mind. I see nothing (or very little) of the other parts of the board when aiming for the triple twenty – just as I neglect (temporarily at least) other thoughts in my mind when thinking about what is most important to me today.

When we say a prayer we are (often silently) vocalising a goal and bringing it to the forefront of our mind. We are becoming more acutely conscious of the goal by ‘voicing’ it in prayer – focusing our efforts on hitting the pizza slice with the dart.

It is said that God helps those who help themselves but, what if there is no God listening to our prayers? Rather, the act of asking (in the form of a prayer) for something starts a process whereby our conscious mind is now focused on attainment of the goal. Not only that but also, repeatedly praying for that same goal maintains the progress towards it by the very nature of keeping it uppermost in our conscious mind.

Consider a successful atheist businessman writing down the short, medium and long term goals of his company and then planning how to get there. If the plan is comprehensive and realistic it is more likely to succeed because the steps towards success have been mapped out. The steps can be reviewed and changed. Even the goal can change as time passes but at no point does our atheist businessman call upon God to help him with his plans. Yet invariably, the goals are met. He is a successful businessman after all.

What if an unanswered prayer is simply a prayer where we didn’t maintain our focus on the goal and conversely, the prayer that is answered is the request we made on which we continuously maintained our focus until it was achieved. The final outcome was achieved because we helped ourselves – full stop.

It has been said that the act of believing God answers our prayers and helps us achieve our goals inspires additional confidence which we would otherwise not have when facing a challenge. But confidence naturally increases as a goal is drawn closer anyway. We perceive the interim successes and are inspired to ‘drive’ on and the nearer we get to achieving our goals the more inspired we are to ultimately get there. On reaching a milestone, the non-believer congratulates himself for his persistence and presses on. The believer turns to God and thanks Him for his help and probably concludes by asking for continued assistance in his efforts. What help? What did God actually do for you other than inspire additional confidence that you otherwise should have (and could have) had in yourself anyway?! Are we simply using these prayers to bolster our self-confidence? Surely not – that would be a selfish use of God’s time – wouldn’t it? That said, praying for other people is an entirely different matter!

Here’s a little experiment you can try for yourself if you get the opportunity. Ask God for something statistically improbable e.g. a lottery win. You can do absolutely nothing to further the wish other than buy a lottery ticket. What happens? Invariably, nothing! You don’t win. It was, after all, statistically improbable! Now, you might be able to afford to buy lots of tickets – to increase your odds of winning – but that may still not defeat the central point of my argument. When you ask for the unrealistic, the chances are your prayer will remain unanswered – in this case because you could do nothing about the outcome – or very little in any case.

However, should you pray for something more realistic e.g. a pay rise at work, it is more likely you will receive that pay rise if you help yourself by improving your performance on the job. Whether you dilute the credit for ultimately achieving the pay rise depends on whether you believe God was involved in the success – or not.

PS: DO let me know if you win the lottery – remembering, of course, it was me that inspired you to buy that ticket! It’s not a miracle that you won – just a statistical improbability – realised!