In case you haven't picked up on it in some of the threads or in chat; I've been going through a bit of rough patch since graduating from University. Finding work with a BA is damned hard. I've been working on applying for dental school and talking with recruiters should everything fall through the cracks.

Two days ago I took a standardized test for applying to dental school. I spent the better part of six months teaching myself two years worth of science that I wish I had taken more seriously in Uni. I had taken it once before and only scored average; this time around I got an excellent score putting me in a very competitive position but just shy of guaranteeing me anything. Right now I'm hoping it's high enough to outshine my less than stellar undergrad science grades.

My parents are very religious, all of my relatives, and most of our family friends are are also highly religious. Of them only my family and a few friends know that I'm an atheist. As I was preparing I knew that a lot of them were praying for me, my parents reminded me every day that they were praying for me.

Before I went in to take the test I read an e-mail from a family friend in Hong Kong who wanted to let me know she was praying for me. After I got my scores my mom told me that she was in sustained prayer for the full 4h30m that I was in the testing center.

As sincere as those praying for me were, I know that my performance had everything to do with six months of soul crushing study and almost nothing from the prayer of others. If there was any positive effect it was the kind of moral support that comes from words as simple as "good luck."

I received the same kinds of prayer a year ago when I found out that my being severely overweight put me at serious risk of diabetes. Two and a half hours of exercise per day for almost a year later, I'm healthy and fit. It was nice to know that people were praying for me, but I know that discipline had much more to do with my current health than the well wishes of others.

These kinds of prayers coming from people so close to me has put me in an odd place, intellectually.

After my test, I wrote my aunt in Hong Kong who is an evangelical; I told her "thank you so much for your kind thoughts and well wishes, I know your moral support kept my head clear and steady."

All of which, I felt, was true enough. I thanked my mother for praying for me as well.

In a way I don't mind it; my aunt in Hong Kong couldn't really do much to help me in any material way. My mother, to her credit, didn't pester me about going to church as the test day drew close and once I entered the test center there really wasn't much more she could do but pray. They asked what they believe to be the supreme power in the universe to bend all the laws of reality to help me and, in a way, I was happy for it. A simple "good luck" or "I was thinking of you" would have been good enough, but I'll take the equally ineffective prayer.

I don't think either of them are claiming any kind of credit for I managed, though I do believe they want me to credit it to a god I don't believe in.

This is not to say my opinion on prayer and people who pray has changed significantly. I still know that prayer is useless and doesn't actually do anything but waste time. When there are other non-useless things that can be done I would always want that to be done first, e.g. going to a doctor as opposed to faith healing.

However, when there really is nothing else that can be done, like being locked in a windowless room for 4h30m, I can appreciate the exercise in futility.

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Comment by Greywolf on August 1, 2009 at 3:55pm
A funny thing about "prayer": When I come into contact with Christians who really are stand-up individuals, like your relatives, for example, and they say they'll pray for me, I treat it as though someone were extending me "best wishes" or something of the sort. It's the sentiment beneath the remark that matters to me; not the comment itself. You can tell the remark is coming from someone truly wishng you well.

But then there's the flip side of that.

There are those times, when you've just kicked some nauseating, proselytizing born-again's theological butt big-time, for example, and they'll say to you: "I'll pray for you." (A sure sign they got their butt kicked in the debate!) That is when you know you are getting a veritable slap in the face and when the prayer remark has been turned into an insult. So it can go either way.

Happy Birthday, by the by. Hope the future ones keep you just as healthy as you are now.
Comment by Scott on July 31, 2009 at 2:43pm
It might be more fun to write a nasty letter to the pope and get ex-communicated!LOL. Go out with, The Big Bang.
Comment by Scott on July 31, 2009 at 12:46pm
Exactly! Thats the one. It was a placebo type test. I think either Hitchens or Dawkins makes reference to it in one of their books. Of course moral support is wonderful but I suppose the hardest decision is wether or not you keep your opinions to yourself regarding the prayer aspect. It may be better for familial relations but it would be a conforming behavior to say the least. I sometimes feel that this stifling may cause bitterness if left unchecked. It is like some psychic vampire lurking in the shadow waiting to steal any optimism you have towards your own atheistic views.
Comment by Louis on July 31, 2009 at 11:41am
Thanks Scott and Cliff for the comments.

For Scott:
I'm totally with you on that. I think I know what study you're talking about.

It was a study on prayer with three groups of hospital patients: one group had no one praying for them, one group had people praying for them but were unaware, one group had people praying for them and were aware.

The first two groups preformed the same, there was no significant difference between the two; the third group performed statistically worse than the first two but not practically worse.

Essentially, prayer does nothing; but if it does, it hurts.

To Cliff:
It took me a while to calculate what to write and say. I didn't want to concede any notion that I believed their prayer helped. I would be hard pressed to say that knowing they were thinking of me didn't do anything; but I would never concede that it helped in a seriously material way.

Knowing that someone is cheering for you always helps morally even if it doesn't help materially and its the moral support that I used and credit to them.

But the god they want me to thank as well can fuck off.
Comment by Scott on July 30, 2009 at 5:06pm
Jack, I can not relate to having family members praying for me, they are only culturally religious. It does seem to me that praying is the same as saying "I give up". It is a fail safe way to place the burden of responsibility of the task to be completed on the shoulders of some extra-terrestial being. In the event that the prayer fails then it was obviously gods will. I am happy for your success. I guess it would be hard to explain the futility of prayer to loved ones who honestly believe in it. I read a thorough study on prayer but too many years of smoking pot have clouded my memory so I forget who did the study.LOL.

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