February 28, 2005

The Selfish Nature of Prayer

I'll pray for you.
You're in my prayers.
Prayer flag above the monastery (Gomp...
Prayer flag above the monastery (Gompa) of Tanze, in the Kurgiakh valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What do statements like this mean to you? What do you suppose they mean to most atheists who are on the receiving end of them, atheists who do not generally believe that prayer accomplishes much at all?

I derive no benefit from your prayers. If you want to pray, admit that you are doing it for yourself. You derive whatever benefit there is to be had from the act of prayer.

Maybe prayer lets you feel superior to others, especially when you insist on doing it publicly. Maybe it helps you relax. Maybe it gives you the reassuring impression that you are not alone in the universe.

If prayer yields these benefits for you, so be it. But don't tell me that it is for me. Better yet, don't tell me about it at all. Pray to yourself in private like the Christian bible instructs.

Maybe your statements about how you are praying for me are intended to bring me comfort. They do not. They highlight your superstitious beliefs and lead me to feel a mixture of pity and disgust.

Praying for someone is a selfish act aimed at soothing yourself without doing anything beneficial for the person for whom you are praying.