Pray for Japan?

Recently I’ve seen “Pray for Japan” badges appearing on my friends’ Facebook pages. Praying .. really? It’s going to make a difference?

I think this is not just not good, but actively bad.

Some people believe that praying will help. Those people’s time will be wasted in a pointless activity when they could be spending that effort on something that would help.

Update: Here are a couple of links showing that prayer does not work. The links are to blog postings on atheist sites, but from there you can follow through and read the actual studies if you want to:

http://anamericanatheist.org/2010/11/06/breaking-news-prayer-does-not-work/

http://www.floridafreethinkers.com/785/scientific-conclusion-prayer-doesnt-work-part-1/ and http://www.floridafreethinkers.com/795/scientific-conclusion-prayer-doesnt-work-part-2/

Update 2: Edited for language. If you want to help, give money or volunteer instead. Buy Japanese goods or resolve to visit Tohoku on holiday.

Update 3: It gets stranger. In some private email, a Japanese person commented that the word used in Japanese for “pray” just means “hope for” or “wish for”. The praying part is led by some American missionaries who live in Japan, and has been taken up by American christians. So this might be the result of non-Japanese speakers getting the entire wrong end of the stick, or an unfortunate choice of word in a translation.

22 Comments

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22 responses to “Pray for Japan?

  1. Praying for Japan

    “…going to make a difference?” … “…something that would help.” … “stupid or misguided”

    With such talk you speak as though you know something the rest of the world does not. Do you? If so, there is a tiny island with a big problem on its hands that would appreciate your grand insight into how to deal with nuclear melt-down.

    To say something is bad implies it is actively doing harm. Is prayer doing harm? Prayer is a form of invoking hope in what is feared to be a insurmountable situation. Who is the idiot? One who believes in the power of the human mind in all situations or one who believes in the power of the human mind in only certain situations?

    • rich

      Praying is not going to make any difference. Updating your Facebook icon is not going to make any difference. It’s quite different from applying the human mind to solve problems. Don’t confuse the two things.

      • You seem to confuse publicly stating support for X on Facebook or elsewhere and private praying or other means of empathy practice with victims of environmental (or other) disasters. Praying is (or was) not meant to be “social ego massage” (as Jeff put it). And I am sure prayer has been used by people to lessen their own suffering (sort of a “placebo effect” if you will). So it all depends what you intend to achieve with your prayer. What does it hurt when some people privately think about other people suffering for 5 minutes of their day? And believe most people giving money to charities or helping in other ways have in their own way prayed for others. Praying doesn’t mean just words, we pray with our lives/actions as well.

        I’ve seen the original wording of the text and wanted to take time to digest it. In the meantime you seemed to have toned it down a notch, so I have no grief there🙂

      • rich

        Stanislav, my beef is entirely with people taking actions that have no effect.

        Giving money, sending messages of encouragement (especially asking what we can do directly to help and then doing it), going to volunteer — all positive actions that I strongly encourage and endorse.

        “Praying doesn’t mean just words, we pray with our lives/actions as well” is just twisting the meaning. My objection, and it should be quite clear and obvious, is to praying in the ordinary meaning of the word, where as shown in the studies linked in the first update this has no scientific effect.

        I’m frankly annoyed and affronted that people think because I’m against praying that I’m a bad person. As if, unless you’re a christian you can’t do good or know right and wrong. Such people should read about humanism.

      • Praying doesn’t mean just words, we pray with our lives/actions as well” is just twisting the meaning. My objection, and it should be quite clear and obvious, is to praying in the ordinary meaning of the word, where as shown in the studies linked in the first update this has no scientific effect.

        OK, fair enough. My “definition” is well out of standard meaning. Even the standard meaning can still provide help for people who are praying to cope with stress of disasters etc. (aforementioned placebo effect). Yes there are people who are stressed because something happened at the other side of the world (I’ll refrain from commenting on their state of mind).

        I’m frankly annoyed and affronted that people think because I’m against praying that I’m a bad person. As if, unless you’re a christian you can’t do good or know right and wrong. Such people should read about humanism.

        OK. I’m frankly annoyed and affronted that people call me and probably several billion other people stupid just because we like to have a little hope. I am actually not annoyed/affronted, but I wanted to illustrate how silly it is to generalise your experience with few people into whole group(s). You seemed to have narrowed “praying” into a christian-only thing. Most religions have forms of prayer with the same meaning (i.e. “speaking” to their deity). It seems to me you are overgeneralising things from one (or very few) experiences.

      • rich

        Just a small clarification. According to the one study I linked to in the first update, prayer doesn’t have any placebo effect. It’s a common misconception actually that prayer is ok because it has a placebo effect, but as far as our current understanding goes, that’s not true.

        The properly conducted gold standard test of prayer showed only one statistically significant result: heart patients who were prayed for had worse outcomes in a few narrow cases. (Most likely this just shows there’s no effect at all).

      • Just a small clarification. According to the one study I linked to in the first update, prayer doesn’t have any placebo effect. It’s a common misconception actually that prayer is ok because it has a placebo effect, but as far as our current understanding goes, that’s not true.

        Study you mentioned used placebo effect to describe getting better from illnes because someone is praying for you. When I used the term I was referring to person doing the praying. I.e if someone prays for people in Japan (to use example in the original post) he/she will feel better (at least psychically). I am almost sure prayer helps people praying more than others, but that doesn’t mean people who are praying don’t need that help. Think of praying as your very own personal psychologist that is around whenever/wherever you need him.

        I actually agree that praying for people in Japan is not helping people in Japan unless it’s done in parallel with some other action as well. But that same prayer IS helping people who are praying somehow cope with the situation. Not sure it’s entirely clear what I mean, but I hope it is at least partially.

      • rich

        I’d be a bit surprised if people who advocate praying do it solely because it benefits themselves.

        I’m narrowly focussed here on prayer itself, since that has no effect. One thing that I would support would be writing to people asking what we can do to help. It might be that they don’t want or need help and just the fact that we are thinking about them makes them feel better. Or they might have some practical and direct suggestions for how to help (does giving money to the Red Cross help? would it be better to try to kick start tourism and jobs again by visiting the more northern regions like Aomori? — I don’t know, best to ask the people who live there.)

  2. Jim

    “idiotic”… “bad”… “stupid”… “misguided”… “wasted”…
    Please don’t be so intolerant and bigoted. You can express your opinions without being impolite to those you disagree with.

    • Conrad

      @Jim: “intolerant”… “bigoted”…
      Please do not impose your own values when you read views you do not share.

  3. Jeff

    Jim, I think Richard’s point is that this is just the latest example of what I’ve been calling “social ego massage rather than social action.” If this had happened 20 years ago, probably even ten years ago, people would be helping with their wallets; a week after the disaster, there’d be an organised way for (mostly young or idealistic) volunteers to get from North America or Europe over to Japan and put them to work doing something useful, all cheered on by the worldwide (admittedly corporate then as now) media who don’t let a day go by without reminding people what they can do that will really, materially, help.

    Now? Badges on Facebook, and people knowingly delude themselves into thinking they’ve accomplished something useful.

    To the other Americans reading this: How many of you knew someone affected by Katrina? Now, imagine a Katrina-style disaster that laid waste to not just Louisiana, but Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida north of Tampa as well. What would you do about that? Proportionally, that’s not too far off what’s happened to Japan.

    Of course, the fans of a certain “we report…” “news” network would clamour for the Government to “do something about it,” and savage any reasonably progressive Administration that failed to flip a magic switch and make the problem “all better.” Thank $DEITY the Japanese are more practical, not to mention honest with themselves.

  4. I am sorry that nun-teacher in the elementary school was so harsh on you. I’ll pray for power for you to forgive her.

    • rich

      Praying is just magical thinking. It’s self-delusionary. Someone has to come out and say this, because I see a lot of people kidding themselves and a lot of other people not saying anything about how silly the whole thing is.

      Let’s instead speak up for reason.

      • And? Why are you bothered that other people believe (and act based on such belief) something different than you? And let me tell you I am speaking to you from one of the most rational and atheist countries in Europe (which I guess means most atheist in whole world). It really made us happy and wise.

      • rich

        If you sincerely believe that the human race is run by lizards, and you never tell anyone about that belief, then no one would ever find out.

        If you told everyone about it, that would rightly be considered delusional. People might wonder about your other judgements and whether you were right in the head. If you forced children to believe in it, that would be abusive.

        Normally I’m pretty mild-mannered about people believing in nonsense, but right now I fear that enlightenment and reason are actually under threat (in the western world anyhow). We should stand up for Reason and stand against mumbo-jumbo. That’s what I’m doing here. Take a stand and say that praying won’t make a difference. Gold standard experiments have shown there is no effect (not even placebo). There is no statistical evidence for it. Don’t pussy-foot around the issue with people who are forcing nonsense down everyone’s throats.

  5. Martin

    The public usage of God in the USA gives me a feeling of Iran.

    I am a Norwegian. Some years ago we had a priest as a prime minister. Not even he mentioned God during his political work. Mentioning God once might be doable, but doing it several times is likely to start a public debate than can end the political career.

    A lot of people in the USA seems to believe that they can care less about mostly everything as long as they pray. “Not my problem! I have prayed!”

  6. Yes, that’s the difference between us (BTW, do you have broken blogging software, or you really disallow me to reply you in the thread?). Although I believe that the Enlightenment was necessary step up, I also believe that it brought us as a side effect the biggest disasters in the world history (Nazism and Communism … with both of which I have a personal experience of various kind).

    However, that is not the point. The point IMHO is that decent people should be able to tolerate differences in their opinions without calling each other idiots, and their actions (without further proof) stupid and bad.

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