Prayer Vigils! Why???? December 30, 2012Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Rants.
Tags: atheism, Catholic, prayer, prayer vigil, religion, stupidity, vigil
I’ve seen many blog entries posted about the shooting in Newtown, and most of the things I would say about it have already been well discussed by other bloggers. But the one thing that kept jumping out at me was that churches would hold “prayer vigils” for the victims and their families.
This is probably a good opportunity for me to discuss my opinions on “prayer” in general.
I see two things going on with prayer: first, what the believer thinks is happening, and secondly, what is actually happening in the real world.
When an individual prays, they often say they are talking to god, or listening to god, or asking for god to do something, or trying to understand what god wants them to do, or connecting with the divine, or some such. I don’t think any communication with a god is actually occurring, but that does not mean that there is nothing beneficial happening for the individual. What I see actually happening is that the person is focusing their mind, tuning out outside distractions, and often concentrating on repetitive actions and thought patterns. In other words, meditation.
I think meditation, in any form, can be helpful. In our hectic society, it’s great for a person to take a few minutes to still the clamor of everyday life. It’s kind of a reboot for the brain. If a person finds that meditating helps them function better, I’m all for it. As long as they are not pretending that they are causing changes in the world outside their own brain, or using it as a substitute for actually doing things.
But what about vigils? When there is a tragedy, Christians often respond by holding this thing called a prayer vigil. They gather in groups for a long period of time, often overnight and usually outdoors. They light candles, sing songs, and spend lots of time talking to their invisible friend.
From a real-world point of view, I get this. I really do. When a random tragedy strikes, we are shaken as individuals and need the reassurance that we are part of a supportive social group. Having a special gathering, and doing things together like singing and lighting candles can help us feel better. It’s the same reason I think we gather for funerals instead of grieving privately. Humans are social animals, and our response to major stressful events is to do group activities that reinforce the strength of our social support network.
What I don’t understand is what believers think they are accomplishing with prayer vigils. Even when I was a believer, this seemed a totally pointless activity and I never participated when I could avoid it.
If someone I loved had been killed or injured in some disaster or tragedy, and some church miles and miles away said they were going to help me by holding a prayer vigil, would this help me in any way? Certainly not! I’d tell them to get up off their knees and go do something real instead of the colossal waste of time and energy involved in a “vigil”.
There are real world things that can be done to help, and I’ll use the Newtown shooting as an example. In that case they could:
- Donate money to the families to cover medical and funeral costs
- Donate blood, which won’t help the victims directly, but which may save someone else’s life
- If they actually knew one of the people affected, contact them and, in addition to offering sympathy, ask if there is anything they could do to help them right now.
And to keep this kind of thing from happening again:
- Donate time and/or money to push for more sensible gun laws
- Donate time and/or money to push for better care of the mentally ill.
- Donate time and/or money to push for better prevention of bullying in our schools.
Prayer vigils don’t do any of this; as far as I can tell prayer vigils don’t actually do anything for anybody except those participating.
So here are my questions for believers:
How is praying outside in the cold with a candle any better than praying indoors? Why would praying in a group be more effective than the same people praying individually in their own homes? If you pray for longer does god take your prayer more seriously? Does god listen harder when you light candles? (And, for Catholics, does god pay more attention to the prayers of those who are fiddling with magic beads?)
And – how is it that you think holding a prayer vigil counts as helping???
***UPDATE – Jan 10***
And…here they go at it again:
Please Join the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate in
“A Pray-In for the Climate”
in front of the White House
So what are they trying to accomplish? From a blurb I was sent about this: “A gathering and vigil to ask the President and the nation to find strength and wisdom to steer us away from the Climate Cliff.” So they’re not actually asking god to fix the climate problem (which would seem to be the obvious answer if you believe in an omnipotent god who answers prayers), they are gathering to pressure the government into taking action. So why don’t they just call this what it is: a “protest”? Oh, no, this has to be a “vigil” because somehow that’s more effective than a protest. Sheesh.