Friday, March 31, 2006

Button-Pushing Prayer

So here is the absurd denouement of one of the sillier stories of recent years--the futile, Templeton-funded attempt to prove the value of intercessory prayer by experiment.

Like so many of the blind alleys stumbled into by people eager to defend the value of religion in the modern world (such as creationism), it's traceable to a category error. Like the other great monotheistic faiths, Christianity is neither magic nor science. It's not a box into which you can keypad specific instructions and expect to get predictable results. It's about our personal relationship with God. And like all personal relationships, our relationship with God doesn't obey simple and obvious rules.

Think about the people you know. Most of them are fairly difficult to manipulate, aren't they? And those who are easy to manipulate--the ones whose buttons you can push and be sure of getting a particular, stereotyped response--are the ones you tend to hold in contempt, no? Whereas the people we love and respect are at least a bit unpredictable. And the richest relationships are the ones where we can say, after twenty or thirty years, "Sometimes she still surprises me."

Given that, why on earth would anyone believe that God responds to prayers like a pigeon in a Skinner box, automatically pecking a lever in response to a flashing light? And how could someone who holds God in such contempt be considered "religious"?

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