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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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(Don's Report to the World)

Does Anything Fail Like Prayer? No, Nothing Else Comes Close. That's Why Reason-Based REAL Wellness and Prayer Are Incompatible

Saturday April 30, 2016

Introduction: Epic Time-Wasters

When Ted Cruz introduced Carly Fiorina as his Vice-Presidential running mate (which he will need only if he gets the Republican nomination, which seems about as likely as peace on Earth, the end of hunger, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series or Mississippi being named America’s healthiest state), he explained how he came to this choice: “I’ve prayed about this decision for a long time.”

Perhaps the god to whom he prayed has a great sense of humor, but it looks like Ted’s prayers were not a good investment for the time spent chatting up an imaginary friend.

Let me offer a rhetorical question: What would you say is the greatest time waster in human history, meaning the million or so years during which we’ve had a presence in partially evolved form on this good Earth?

I don’t think it’s spectator sports, stamp collecting, bingo or even chasing after or primping to look promising to prospective mates. The latter, after all, has a lot to do with the fact that we’re here at all after so many years.

We all have our opinions—but let me offer mine as to the best answer to this question. Prayer.


If you view reason as a key dimension of well being and thus place importance upon rational thinking, you might have reservations, as I do, about prayer. This is most likely to be the case if you are not disposed toward superstition and magical thinking. I don’t think there is any doubt that you can be well if you don't pray, but I’m not convinced you can’t really believe and engage in prayer and be well—mentally. It’s just so bizarre, when you think about it, unbounded by years or even decades of conditioning from the norms and habits of religious traditions.

Atheists in SwedenThe two qualities of living don't mix well. Prayer, in my view, is more injurious to well being than chain smoking, alcohol abuse and binging on sugary soda—put together. A person has to suspend his/her sense of reality to think or even hope that prayer can affect a change beyond his/her own feeling state. (I am not questioning the possible value of prayer—or simply whispering, chanting or thinking of words in a mumbo-jumbo fashion as a meditative chant or form of relaxation—only as an attempt to change something in the world beyond the self.) I’m with Ethan Winer: “If prayer actually worked, everyone would be a millionaire, nobody would ever get sick and die and both football teams would always win.”

Christopher Hitchens pointed out the arrogance of praying when he wrote, "A man who prays is one who thinks God has arranged matters all wrong but who also thinks he can instruct God on how to put them right." In “Improved Man,” Robert Green Ingersoll noted that such a person “will not endeavor, by prayers or supplication, by fastings and genuflections, to change the mind of the Almighty, or to alter the course of nature; neither will he employ others to do such things in his place.”

Many people believe, as several are credited with saying, that “nothing fails like prayer.” Dan Barker wrote a song with that title—and it's delightful.

PopeAny drug company that sold pills with less efficacy would be prosecuted; anyone who ingested them would be considered a fool. Yet a Pew survey a few years ago found that half the American population prays daily. Politicians have created a national prayer day; even lawsuits have not kept public officials from mixing city/county/state and other government business meetings with opening prayers. Our president can't conclude a speech without intoning the ritual mantra, "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America." After every hurricane, tornado, tsunami, mass killing and tragedy of every kind, people seem compelled to offer comfort or sympathy with these meaningless words: "Our prayers go out to the victims and their families."

Well, it does no harm, I suppose, to let prayers go out, but it would be nice if something positive were to come back as a result. And that has never happened. Never. Not once.


Step back and imagine for a moment you're a visitor from space. Knowing because of your vastly advanced large head containing multiple wondrous super computer-like brains that no prayer anywhere, anytime in any form has ever been answered by an deity or god-creature in the whole wide cosmos, what would you think of the inhabitants of this planet being attached to such a bizarre convention?

I don't know for sure, but I doubt that spaceman/woman you would be favorably impressed.

Other than eating, sleeping and having sex, humans have done more praying than anything else since climbing out of trees to walk about and jog on terra firma. No verifiable results, ever, from a single prayer and yet, we keep at it. Not everyone, of course, but most people, to say the least. More likely "nearly all" people.

As a small child under the spell of Roman Catholic brainwashing, I had to do a lot of praying. I stopped doing so when I was 12; I often wonder how many of my schoolmates from the graduating class at St. Barnabas in 1952 are still at it.

Be well while looking on the bright side of life and pray for me. Just kidding.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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