“The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray.”- Robert G. Ingersoll
Come May 1, we have a choice:
– We may, at our government’s request, fold our hands and pray for world peace, clean air, evenly distributed food, good health or a winning sports team; or
– We may use our individual and collective tools of reason, i.e. conclusions based on observable evidence, to take concrete actions toward solving both personal and societal problems.
Our federal government has opted for the former by ratifying in Congress a National Day of Prayer. Many believe this to be a dangerous violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against our government’s endorsement of religion. On May 1, politicians will parade throughout the nation impressing voters with their prayers for social equity and world peace. However, many of their voting records will leave us scratching our heads at the dichotomy.
On the other hand, there are thousands of religious and nonreligious individuals and secular organizations, including the La Crosse Area Freethought Society (www.LCAFS.org) that have endorsed a corresponding National Day of Reason. The goals are to:
– Celebrate the human ability for reasoned action as a way to confront human problems; and
– Raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the sphere of private worship.
Let’s examine the latter item first- the threat to religious liberty posed by government sponsorship. America’s framers were quite cognizant of the dangers posed by a blending of politics and religion- dangers not just to a free government, but also to free religious institutions and those who want to remain free from organized religion.
The 2001 census found that the nonreligious comprised 15 percent of the United States adult population. This outnumbered Methodists, Lutherans, Mormons, Jews and Muslims combined. In 2007, a Pew survey found that the religiously unaffiliated is the fastest growing group in the nation. We believe it is unconstitutional for a government that is supposed to remain neutral in matters of religion to spend time and tax dollars recognizing the alleged benefits of prayer, thus marginalizing citizens who do not engage in this religious ritual. Why set aside a national day that needlessly excludes so many?
Now let’s return to Goal One- “to celebrate human ability for reasoned action, rather than passive prayer.” In other words, does prayer work?
Prayers for the sick have been shown repeatedly to be totally ineffective. Scientists, most attempting to validate the value of intercessory prayers, have found absolutely no effect on the intended beneficiary.
The largest study to date, which was published in the American Heart Journal in 2006, found that patients who had heart surgery and were prayed for had the same rate of complications as those who were not prayed for. In fact, the group who knew they were being prayed for suffered more complications than the other control groups.
We all know of the recent disastrous outcome for little Madeline Neumann, whose family relied on prayer rather than seeking medical treatment for her diabetes. Prayer may have helped relieve the parents’ anxiety, but it did nothing to intervene in the child’s disease she died.
That’s an extreme case, you say. And, yes, I would agree. However, do we not run the risk of government sending the message that we can pray for solutions to our nation’s problems rather than taking the more difficult step of reasoned actions?
On this National Day of Reason, let us consider doing something that has a proven record of helping people here and now. Let’s volunteer to teach a child to read, donate blood, deliver meals to shut-ins, send money in support of cancer research, etc. You get the idea let’s put our love for humanity into action through reasoned compassion.