Natural (and man-made) disasters great for goofball prayers

Whenever Thanksgiving weekend rolls around, memories of  playing hockey on ponds near my house where I grew up in Eagan (then a township) come back to me. By November 1st, most of my prayers consisted of praying for cold weather. If we didn’t have thick enough ice by Thanksgiving weekend, I was sure that God was punishing me for impure thoughts and related activities. My solution: saying a Rosary every day till we skated.

So I found it interesting this past week that weather-related prayers were in the news.

In Drought-Stricken Georgia, a Prayer for Rain:

At the state capitol in Georgia Tuesday, the governor tried something different. On a partly cloudy warm fall day, hundreds of people from the region came to join Gov. Sonny Perdue in a prayer service for rain. “I’m here today to appeal to you and to all Georgians and all people who believe in the power of prayer to ask God to shower our state, our region, our nation with the blessings of water,” Perdue said.

Stockton flood: A blessing in a very wet disguise

“This was not 40 days and 40 nights of rain. This was perhaps 40 hours,” Krusemark said. “There were many people praying for it to stop raining, and that prayer was answered. So God is still listening and is still there as a comfort to us.

California Fire Survivors Give Thanks

“Praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we have lucked out much more than we deserve,” said Bill Lange, a scientist who led the service. “Dear Lord, thank you for sparing us again and thank you for helping all the people who needed the help.”

GH-God at His Computer This idea of God above the clouds (at his computer?) with the ability to effect changes in weather when humans ask for it, is amazingly persistent. It’s only certain events that trigger our prayers, however: rain, snow, storms, fires, floods, volcanoes. The assumption seems to be that God can do something about these short-term events but El Niño and La Niña? Nope, out of his range. Earthquakes? Too unpredictable. If a group of people got together to pray that the earth’s tectonic plates stopped pressing together, we’d have them committed. Human-related causes? No way. Climate change? fergetaboutit!

It irritates me a little that reporters love to include quotes from people saying these goofy prayers in their coverage of natural disasters. It irritates me more that enlightened members of the clergy who don’t buy into this notion of God-as-the-Wizard-of-Oz flipping controls behind the curtain remain silent when it comes to labeling this type of praying as complete bullshit. It’s one of many reasons that I don’t attend church here in Northfield or anywhere else.

92 thoughts on “Natural (and man-made) disasters great for goofball prayers”

  1. Griff, I don’t get it. If you consider yourself an “athiest”, then why are you trying to distinguish “true” prayer from “false” prayer? Wouldn’t it all be “false” prayer to an athiest? Prayer != meditation. Prayer is a dialog w/God.

    With that, I find your criticisms of other’s hopes and prayers just down-right mean spirited and oriented at tearing others down. I guess I wouldn’t expect compassion and understanding from an “athiest”, but come on.. I thought you were trying to make yourself out to be a “community building” type person?

    Theology is an extremely difficult subject, with people scattered all over the spectrum of understanding the reality of God. So it is a given that some are going to pray “simple” prayers, because that’s just where they are at this point. Luckily we have a God who understands our weaknesses and his Holy Spirit that intercedes for us to make our prayers more “correct”.

    This would be similar to people’s understanding of technology and creating an online community — of which you profess to be an expert about. Do you also look down from your self-righteous perch at all those poor schmucks who don’t know what a “blog” is and how to effectively use it? From what I’ve seen you don’t, you have a consulting business setup to help those type of people. I wonder how far you would get in that business if you applied the same arrogance as you have here?

    My suspicion is that you’re not really an “athiest”, but simply someone who’s heart has grown callous and cold to the love of God, and thus love towards your fellow man. Even if you think you’re too good to be caught attending worship service here in Northfield or anywhere else, I’m sure all of us believers would love to welcome you in from the cold.

    I’ll be praying for a warming of your heart.

  2. John, I think there should be a separation between church and state.

    As to praying in church or any other place: I think silent prayers get to God. In this case there was no need to tell others they were praying/going to pray.

    “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…”

    I think all groups should have equal access to facilities– or no groups should have access to facilities. So, all groups meet in Roder’s office, or no groups meet in Roder’s office (or whatever is similar influence and access). You say there is no proof that another group was denied. I’m glad someone did a poll.

    Two separate issues here:
    1. Is prayer a good thing?
    2. Is it okay to pray in the city hall?

    My thoughts: Just to be clear: Praying is good, but it isn’t good to pray in the city hall, unless it is in silence and when it is not announced.

    Thanks for the comments, Anne. Proof? Life itself is proof. 🙂

  3. To those of you who have addressed their comments to me, rest assured, I’ll get to them. I’ve been reading along but haven’t had enough time the past few days to reply.

    I’m pleased the discussion is continuing.

  4. Bright- Phew!! What a long breath of air, but, I think, a good one!

    Holly- Re: separation of church and state, the popular slant on that right now is separation of church FROM state. In that, I do not believe. As far as praying in city hall, part of the taxes I pay keeps city hall going, so I believe I should have equal access to it, along with any Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Native Americans, or Athiests (and any other sect I omitted in my brevity) that so choose to use it. According to the Supreme Court, use of government or public facilities cannot be limited because of religious content of the use.

    Matt- Don’t return evil for evil, but instead, a blessing. I was once worse than an athiest. I was a spreader of half truths. That was before God got ahold of me and started straightening me out. I think we all start out with the same need for God. It takes some people longer to realize that than others, but we know that God is long suffering, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. Continue praying for Griff.

    Griff- Thanks for keeping the discussion going. I would still like to have coffee or breakfast with you sometime. You strike me as a man without guile. I admire that quality in people. I’m taking vacation the week before Christmas, and I’ll be around home. Let me know if you have some time in there.

  5. John,
    Just so long as you agree that ALL groups should have equal access. That means the local chapter of the KKK should have equal access to Roder’s office, etc. I, for one, I would be very upset to see them sitting in his office…

    Thanks, I think that’s the end of me on this one.

    Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong….

  6. Holly, interestingly, I think everyone is right, if a tad melodramatic.
    Of course, City Hall and other public spaces should be ‘de-militarized zones’ where those of all faiths are welcome but none are favored. For example if I were a minister, I would not want my religious symbols tossed on the crowded lawn of City Hall amid the burning crosses of the KKK and altars of Satanic cults that always show up whenever a baby Jesus in a manger is unveiled this time of year. I would want to showcase that baby Jesus at my church as a way to draw people in so they can hear my message unabridged. I guess it’s the difference between a business having a kiosk in the mall or a glorious little shop on Division Street.
    Just look at all the new and old churches in town. None want to be in City Hall when so many other venues are available.
    Back to Roder…the people who attacked were sincere and had the Constitution on their side, to be sure. (Some also used that attack as a very un-Christian smear campaign to remove a person they thought was an obstacle to their own plans for power, but we’re talking here about the people who were right in their pursuits.)
    I think the ensuing months have proven that the issue was not ice slicing the side of the Titanic. Mr. Roder had no grand plan to plant pews in the council chambers and replace the agendas with hymnals and halleluias. It seems he really was being a gentleman by offering a small group of citizens a quiet place to sit during the meetings. It was a charmingly small town gesture that In this litigious and conspiracy-laden society quickly took on the dramatic flair of an urban legend. Great campfire narrative but as phony as Iraq’s WMD.
    One thing that’s interesting is that maybe the prayers for wisdom worked, at least to some extent. Mr. Roder complied immediately with the request to vacate his office. The council enacted a simple room use policy. The council waived legal action against the mayor in favor of honest and civil conversation. They voted to release the tapes of closed meetings to end a lawsuit and show their honor and good intentions. They hired an investigator to prove themselves honest and a mediator to find a way to get along with the mayor.
    Heck we even got the Christmas trees off the boulevard without a court fight.
    Now if we could round up a few more prayers to get the lawsuit withdrawn we can all head over to WinterWalk and listen to the blatant attempts by downtown merchants to capitalize on a decidedly Christian ritual — on public land — but that’s business, and another campfire conversation.

  7. Anne- Just goes to show, no good deed goes unpunished. I like your analogy to the Titanic. Interesting that one of the ministries given to the church in the New Testament is reconciliation.

  8. John, thanks for your comments. I admit that what I wrote could be read as harsh, I wasn’t trying to be harsh for the simple sake of it. I was trying to speak with honesty and not hide my opinion in flowery niceties (admittedly I was angry with the arrogance of the original post). With that, Griff I’m sorry if I offended you with sharp words.

    Back to the topic.. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “goofball” prayer, or “wrong” prayer, etc — with the caveat that you are a believer, if you’re an athiest it is all “false”, “wrong”, and “goofball”.

    Just as there are no “dumb” questions. If you want to shutdown someone’s learning, just belittle their “dumb” questions and they’ll most likely stop. Belittling someone’s “dumb/goofball/wrong” prayer will most likely lead to them ceasing to pray — never God’s desire.

    Believers believe in miracles. So it is absolutely not wrong to ask for rain in a time of drought. Or to ask that your terminally ill child be healed when all medical options seem to have failed. God does intervene in our reality, there are countless examples. But I wouldn’t expect an atheist to believe that. An athiest and a believer have two very different bases for their beliefs.

    Of course it is better to add “but thy Will be done” to the end of your “goofball” request. But even if left out, so what? God knows the desire of our heart. He knows what we really need. He knows how difficult it is for us to see clearly enough in our time of need to accept his Will. There is no reason for us to become preoccupied with being high-minded to only submit “true/smart/correct” prayers to Him to the detriment of not praying constantly.

    Griff, this discussion has been in my thoughts and prayers since I stumbled upon it a few days ago. I think of you praying the Rosary for the ponds to freeze when you were a kid is a beautiful example of the simple faith we need to have. Without the simple faith of a child we can become full of our own pride, thinking that we can fix ourself. No need for the outside love and assistance of God.

    Well, some day a person who thinks like that is going to reach a situation where they can’t heal themselves, they can’t sooth their hurt feelings, they can’t forgive. The only choice is the path toward death. Pretty sad.

    Having Faith is tough — as it ultimately means a surrendering of our own will. But it sure is rewarding to learn true love, charity, compassion, humility and all the joys that come with dying to yourself and living for God.

    AMEN!

  9. Bright’s long post (God vs Science) was a fun read, but the most important point it makes is lost in the flawed use of the duality argument.

    When the professor is losing ground (and he knows it), he is delighted …

    The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes
    where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

    Imagine if the roles were reversed, and it was the believer who was being shown a flawed argument using the language of his faith. Would he smile and be happy at the thought of an entire semester of confrontation? I think not, and that (it seems to me) is the fundamental difference between faith based believers and evidence-based believers. Faith-based believers seem to think they know the answers and therefore uncomfortable contradictions are just that, uncomfortable. Evidence-based believers seem to think they know a methodology for finding answers, and can be quite excited when confronted with contradictions.

    It was interesting to me that the Dalai Lama embraced physics and neuroscience as paths to truth, noting that when confronted by evidence-based arguments, true spirituality embraces that knowledge and thoughtfully incorporates that knowledge into its cosmology. I see little evidence that the Abrahamic religions follow this lead. The pope did make some comments suggesting that his church (well, St. Paul’s church, I suppose) should be more open, I guess they are a bit embarrassed by the whole Darwin and Galileo thing). Unfortunately, the other two branches of the Abrahamists do not have a single person who can speak for them, and I understand that the pope only speaks for one sect of the third, but then the secularists don’t have a single authority either (unless one counts the peer-reviewed literature as an authority).

    – Freedom. Peace. Justice. Can’t have just one.

  10. Bruce-
    Correct me if I am wrong. Are you saying that science is evidence – based and religion is faith – based? Evolution is and always has been a “theory”. There is still the “missing link”, yet it is taught in school as fact.
    If a person put all the makings for a watch in a box and that box was shook for thousands of years would it ever result in a complete, working watch?
    Just a thought.

    Julie

  11. Evolution and Christianity don’t have to be at odds. They can agree with each other– in other words, evolution can be supported by the Bible, and the Bible can support evolution.

    Look carefully at Genesis. Genesis 1:25 the beasts are formed first. Genesis 1:26 man is formed, second.

    While in Genesis 2:7 man is formed out of the dust, first. Genesis 2:19 God formed the beasts, second.

    Right there is enough conflict for us to realize that evolution can’t be counted out. And, it lends to idea that the Bible can’t be read literally, all the time…

    Right? Or what do you think, Julie?

    Bruce, I wasn’t sure of the professor’s lack of faith. Are you sure of it? He might have just been asking questions.

  12. Julie asks a very salient question … all belief is, in fact, faith-based, at least if you really get into the epistemology side of the questions. The difference is a concept I call “actionable”. Science’s understanding of gravity is “actionable” in that if you want a satellite to stay in a stable orbit you learn pretty quickly that the simple high-school level model of gravity is inadequate, and you end up using a much more sophisticated model, the simple elliptical orbits model fails. But for a baseball player, the simple parabolic model (the short range approximation to the ellipse) is an adequate approximation. So ALL scientific theories are statements of relative belief. The beauty of science is that it will change its mind to fit well-tested evidence rather than denying or changing the facts.

    As for the clock parts in a box, I study genomics (genetics, epigenetics etc) in my job. I have built and tested so-called “genetic algorithms” which mimic the basic mathematics of evolution. From this background, I have to argue that the clock parts in a box example ignores three critical mechanisms.

    First, the power of a genetic code to search through the set of all possible configurations of a system (chemistry, in this case) and find solutions to hard problems (like how to create selected compounds from simpler compounds using, for example, light). I have seen these algorithms solve very difficult problems purely through the random reorganizations we call mutations and (for higher organisms) sexual reproduction. The incredible power of these searches to find useful combinations is awe-inducing (if I were an artist I’d do a Sistine Chapel ceiling that would bring you to your knees).

    Second, these searches are not completely random (unlike the shaking box of clock parts), they are constrained by simpler rules about how chemical elements fit together (e.g., it is nearly impossible to form He2, in fact it has never been observed to form).

    Finally, we (with our 3 score and ten years) are nearly incapable of understanding how long 3-4 billion years is.

    All of this combines to make the theory of evolution actionable in a way that the theory of (for one example) Vishnu as an existent entity is not. That is why I DO act as if (“believe”) that bacteria are made more virulent if we indiscriminantly use antibiotics (Ref: CLINICAL PRACTICE GUIDELINE, Position Paper) and I do not make offerings (prayers) to Vishnu will help when I do need antibiotics.

    So the answer to Julie’s question is, yes, the clock would form spontaneously, given the right rules and enough time. In fact, think of the universe as the box, the laws of physics (and chemistry and …) providing some guidance, shake well for 13-15 billion years and not only do the parts appear assembled, so does the clock factory that makes it happen.

  13. Bruce said:

    the clock would form spontaneously, given the right rules and enough time

    I’m thinking we’d eventually have dust/dirt/rust/etc. in the box. After that… you think the parts would spontaneously form into a watch? Wow. Explain this one to me. What rules, Bruce?

    Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest because you’re looking at one tree? I’m guilty of that, too, sometimes… or are you seeing the forest?

  14. Think about the meaning of the word “faith”…. In order to BE faith, there must be an element of doubt, which is then overcome by the entrance of faith.

    Doubt is an intrinsic, non-separable part of faith, or faith would not be faith …it would be fact.

  15. Holly, the rules in chemistry are quite simple, one carbon will easily join with one or two oxygen atoms (CO, CO2), but not easily with three (CO3?). The rules in the clock box would have to be complex (probably nearly as complex as the rules that create life in a cell). Because the clock box metaphor is so artificial, the rules would be too, e.g., “gears that do not mesh will not align permanently”. Shaking the box is then the equivalent of reducing atoms to protons, neutrons and electrons and expecting them to reform into a rose. As I said, that would take more like 13-15 billion years, even with the simple rules of chemistry and genetic algorithms to help.

    Obviously, no one, not even I, would expect vibrating the box to force the clock to assemble itself. What I wanted to do was make clear that the clock box metaphor is way misleading in the context of the discussion by giving some idea of the real complexity of the real world system we are living in.

  16. In Mark 10:15 Jesus tells the diciples: Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.

    As a child I was daddy’s girl, and as a woman I’m still daddy’s girl who trust Him completely & has unwavering faith in His teachings.

    Food for thought: If God were to be found through human wisdom, He would only be accessible to the elite. Paul argued that God’s wisdom is foolishness to humanly-conceived wisdom. On your own you will fail to know God, because true knowledge of God can only come through the Holy Spirit.

  17. Lisa, that’s good.

    Maybe, in fact, God would only be accessible to those with limited thinking abilities (instead of only to the elite)?

    Bruce: So, you are showing

    (the) idea of the real complexity of the real world system we are living in

    by saying

    yes, the clock would form spontaneously, given the right rules and enough time

    Maybe the line of thinking that “there are complex laws at work and so things evolve” would be better applied to the evolution of living things? Rather than non-living things. Or perhaps I miss what you mean.

    But if I did understand what you meant, and I applied your line of thinking to living things– rules or not, life has to begin someplace. There has to be something to start with, and then some kind of energy.

    You can’t have something from nothing.

    I bet you’ve already visited this thought and have a good answer to where the first particles and the first energy came from… I believe God is designer and master at work.

    Of course this goes against my usual idea that you have to have Faith and trying to reason everything out is a waste of time.

  18. Bruce, I realize that my example of the watch is simplistic. My point is that the original idea “the big bang theory” seems quite simplistic also. As you have said, certain things need to be present…I agree. You believe (I use the term loosely!) that in millions or billions of years there would be a full functioning watch in the box. How can you, with such certainty, say that? Just wondering.

    The universe and beyond is incredibly complex. It is exciting to learn about how things work and function, how certain things work together and certain things don’t. Fascinating!

    Why is it so hard to believe that someone “created” all things? People “create” things everyday. The difference is we humans are limited to using the things that are already here.

    BTW Bruce – See you Sunday, to reprise your POLITICS & A PINT keynote speech!
    Thanks for participating!
    Julie

  19. Holly, you asked

    I bet you’ve already visited this thought and have a good answer to where the first particles and the first energy came from.

    Wow, it’s like you’ve been peeking over my shoulder when I visit with a good friend at the Hideaway where we discuss exactly that question (along with other equally interesting). And yes, I have an answer that works for me, just as nearly everyone on this discussion has an answer that works for them, or at least a strategy for finding such an answer. And this group is so politely willing to listen to each other’s thoughts on the matter, which is such a variation from the norm we see in the rest of the known universe. Peace.

  20. Holly I agree with your correction. I have experienced so much in my life, and some of my favorite memories were when I lived in foreign countries where their faith was all they had, and they experienced super natural miracles that could not be humanly explained.

  21. Bruce- You do an excellent job of keeping up with this whole thing. You said in your post #70, “And yes, I have an answer that works for me, just as nearly everyone on this discussion has an answer that works for them, or at least a strategy for finding such an answer.” Now, how is this scientific? I thought the foundation for science was proving or disproving theories by analyzing and applying observable facts. Most of the scientific examples you have provided portray scientific laws as duplicatable every time. Your laws for analyzing gravity work every time and can be duplicated, as are the laws of chemistry you refered to. If these are the case, then doesn’t every scientist rely on the same laws? The answers you have work for others besides yourself, correct? This really does not require faith, does it? Or is your faith based on a knowlege that the laws you cite will work every time? Just wondering.

    Actually, this same logic (if you want to call it that) can apply to those of us grounded in faith in God. The laws you cite work, just as the laws of God we follow work. My faith is that they are proven principles on the moral and spiritual level, just as your laws apply to the physical realm. The question you cannot answer by empirical observations is the prime source of our universe. You have to believe in an unprovable opinion, or a theory. You can spend your whole life pursuing the proof of this theory, but you won’t find it outside of God.

    My simple argument in this is that science cannot explain everything and every phenominum just as “faith” cannot “prove” every observation. There is a need for both in a society. I believe one can be a scientist and a Christian without imploding or being contradictory. In fact, scientific study has strengthened my faith. Science only makes sense to me in the context of my belief in God.

    You also said,”It was interesting to me that the Dalai Lama embraced physics and neuroscience as paths to truth, noting that when confronted by evidence-based arguments, true spirituality embraces that knowledge and thoughtfully incorporates that knowledge into its cosmology. I see little evidence that the Abrahamic religions follow this lead.” Well, duh! The Abrahamic faiths do not follow the Dalai Lama. That is what differentiates them from all the other religions of the world. They were known before Abraham as the people who followed “the Living God.” In the New Testament, they are refered to as “the way.” We don’t have to incorporate other knowledge to strengthen our “cosmology.” (The New Testament does warn about the vain application of make up, you know.) If you want to use the Dalai Lama as your spiritual bench mark, then I suppose you can. I will continue to follow the Living God. Nothing else compares to Him. And, my pursuit of Him is a lifelong endeavor.

    Kiffi- Welcome back to the “pidgen hole.”

    Lisa- I, too, have seen the miraculous done before my own eyes, both in this country and abroad. Once you have tasted of God, you become spoiled for the ordinary.

  22. I have a suggestion for Y’all… Read a book entitled “When Science Meets Religion ( enemies, strangers , or partners?)” by Ian G. Barbour. the book is in PB, $16.95, and I guarantee you will find it is interesting , and it might prompt about another 300 posts. I’m sure you can get the book at any of our fine LOCAL bookstores, and you have the author, a very brilliant person, and lovely human being, living right here in town.

    Dr. Barbour is a professor emeritus of physics and religion at Carleton, a preeminent figure in the intersection of these two worlds, having won the Templeton Prize a few years ago. A quote off the jacket: ” … Barbour explores the fascinating topics that illuminate the critical encounter of the spiritual and quantitative dimensions of life.”

    All that and an “angel”, too!

  23. Anthony- I don’t suppose our musings on prayer or spirituality or the relationship between science and religion particularly bother God. He is most interested in redeeming our souls and bringing us into the image of His Son. That is what is written in His word, at least.

    Kiffi- I’m not familiar with this book, though there are many good books out there reasoning on the relationship between science and religion. I only judge them by how they line up with scripture. In Jeremiah’s writings, we are exhorted to extract the precious from the worthless. We can only do that if we have a standard. The Biblical standard I use has never failed me, and I’m not looking for another one.

  24. Right, Tony, we won’t know FOR SURE until the very end (of our life or everyone’s).

    BTW, At the end: What if atheists are wrong? What if Christians are wrong?

  25. What if everyone is wrong and when we die there is just blackness. Occam’s razor: the simplest answer is usually the correct one.

  26. If there is just blackness, then some atheists were right, so someone was right. And we won’t know it.

    But what if Christians are right? We’ll know it.

    The anxieties over what is truth vs. what isn’t can just be let go (if we want)– either you believe, or you don’t. Why not err on the side of believing?

    To me, it’s not an err, but maybe for the people that have to understand everything, they can find peace in that approach.

  27. Whatever people believe or do not believe really doesn’t concern me. I really don’t care either way. I think it is great people have differing opinions.

    What does concern me, however, is people pushing their beliefs on someone else or one belief is better than the next one.

    Holly it is refreshing to have a discussion like this.

  28. Ha ha. Noodly appendage.

    I had to look up Wisenheimer, and then I wondered if it is Bright Wisenheimer? I’m slow this AM. One of those days.

    Back to work.

Leave a Reply