Prayer. It doesn’t do anything.

It’s been an interesting few days… Not quite a week of having my son in my care, and it’s already very tiring. This is a huge adjustment for both of us. He has been in foster care since he was about 18 months old, and further, he got used to being one of four children. So he expects constant stimulation, and since he is now for all intents and purposes an only child (apart from when his mother and half-sister visit roughly fortnightly), that attention is expected to come from me. (At least until I can hopefully get him into spending his time reading. But I only did that with most of my time from around eight to nine years old, so I can’t expect too much yet. Currently he spends more time trying to get the pronunciation of words right, so reading comprehension, and even maintaining context when lines wrap, is not something I can expect him to master just yet.)

Another thing on my mind regarding him is church, and prayer. Church is easy… I’ve explained to him that he can go to church if he wants to. Of course he doesn’t want to. I was expecting prayer to be more difficult. I used to pray every night, and when I stopped believing in god, I still continued to pray for a while. It was difficult to let go of the feeling of guilt when I didn’t pray. I was expecting my son to want to pray, at least at bedtime, but he hasn’t mentioned it at all. Maybe he hasn’t quite reached that state of brainwashing yet.

(Of course another possibility is that he is afraid to pray or afraid that he will disappoint me, knowing that I don’t believe in god. I’ve spoken to him about this already… and mentioned that if he wants to pray, he can. Maybe this discussion needs to happen again. But it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Bedtime is a ritual – since he is used to sharing a bedroom with another child, I have to brush my teeth with him, and lay down the same time he does. Then I generally get up and have my time for writing and watching television while he is sleeping.)

The thing about prayer is that my title isn’t totally true. While prayer doesn’t do anything in that there is no god answering those prayers, it does have psychological effects on those praying. I believe it is dangerous to delude yourself into seeing signs of reciprocation, into perceiving some sort of personal relationship with an imaginary creator. Prayer brings you false comfort and provides answers for your insecurities. Answers that are bullshit, but who doesn’t want to hear that they will live on after physical death? Who doesn’t want to hear that their departed loved ones are in a better place, and will meet them again?

Believing that you are saved (because you happened to be born into the “right” religion) is also extremely arrogant. But I learned something new today. Apparently, another way of justifying your belief is to say that lots of other people believe, therefore it must be true. The person who stated that didn’t even know that it is a well-known fallacy: The appeal to popularity. As my mother used to ask me in my childhood, “If everybody else jumps in the fire, will you jump in the fire?”

AppealToPopularity

Edit: I’m not trying to brag about my wit or anything here… I just happened to be the first to respond to the prayer share on an atheist group. A day later now and I could grab a new screen-shot to show off all the likes… but that’s way too much trouble. I captured the screen shots on the web and manually stitched them together (in Photoshop – total overkill, I know) because the height of what I wanted was higher than what was displayed on my screen at one time.


Excuse this jumbled-up mess. I haven’t had much time lately and wrote it in two sittings, but didn’t get time to fix it up so that the paragraphs “flow” into each other. I’ve too much of a headache to fix it now and don’t want to leave it unpublished, so…

Some might say that I should lighten up with regard to my son. (And the possibility that he might pray.) Just six months ago, I read a psychologist’s report that concluded (although the rest of it was in my favour) that it is important for a child to have something to believe in. But the psychologist was Roman Catholic and practised from a Catholic school… In my experience, people who say such things are always people of faith. They can not or will not understand that in their faith, they are already indoctrinated. Therefore they do not see that giving a child something to believe in, when that thing (god) is not real, may be harmful to the child. False hope might be hope, but it’s still false!

My own indoctrination dragged on long enough that I felt guilty when I stopped praying. So it had done me real harm. So while it is all very well to say that my son saying a few blessings and expressing gratitude in prayer each night would not doing him any real harm, I believe that such prayer does contribute to long term harm. It contributes to indoctrination, also known as brainwashing, and every such aspect of that brainwashing must stop. My mother doesn’t know it yet because we have yet to have the conversation, but I need to make it very clear to her that there will be no proselytizing in my home.

And of course, there is other kind of prayer. Prayer by a child who is innocent enough, but I have known adults who pray “in tongues”… also known as gibberish. Also, there are people who pray for Paris, for example, or for the poor, and convince themselves that they are actually achieving something. Actions speak louder than words, and I do not want my son to turn into one of those deluded people.

My son’s former foster mother arranged with my mother for him to have some holy water stashed in my mother’s room. I only found out about it after the fact. It’s now too late for me to say no and I don’t want to seem like an arsehole and disallow it after the fact. On that front though, I am quite sure that I can convince my son that there is no such thing as magic water. He can have his fantasy for now, but he will come to understand that it is fantasy.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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