In an op-ed in the New York Times, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford questions the value of prayer to society.
As evidence accumulates about the many health benefits of religious practice, prayer is looking better and better. Some atheists have even gone public with their own prayer-for-health’s-sake practice.
Take Sigfried Gold, the subject of a recent article in The Washington Post. He’s a thoughtful, articulate man who lives in Takoma Park, Md., and turned 50 yesterday. He is passionate about philosophy and long ago decided that there was no stuff in the universe that was not physical — no supernatural, no divine.
But he also smoked too much, and more than anything else he ate too much. He was worried that his weight — a good 100 pounds of excess fat — would kill him. So he joined a 12-step program to control his food addiction. One of the steps is to turn your problem over to a higher power. So Mr. Gold created a god he doesn’t believe exists: a large African-American lesbian with an Afro that reached the edges of the universe….
The imagination is a double-edged sword. It is, from a secular perspective, at the heart of what makes Mr. Gold’s god sufficiently real that he treats it as more than himself. But the capacity to make something real is not the same as the capacity to make it good or useful. That’s a caveat to bear in mind for any kind of prayerful life.
Read it all.