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The Absurdity of Prayer-Based Healthcare

02.26.09

To a secularist, prayer is essentially equivalent to wishful-thinking.  It’s the kind of thinking that a student does when he hasn’t studied for an exam and hopes to God that he’ll miraculously recall the information needed to pass.  Odds are that if you truly haven’t studied the material, you’re not going to do well on the test, no matter how much praying, hoping, pleading, wishing you do.  It’s a case like this where wishful thinking cannot magically place the knowledge into your brain.

On the other hand, there are countless stories of people with “terminal” illnesses that somehow pull through, or at least, they live years and years longer than ever predicted by a doctor.  We always talk about people who are strong and need to fight when they’re battling cancer or other terrible diseases.  Yet rarely do we say these words in reference to their physical strength or their prowess at hand-to-hand combat.  We mean their mental fortitude.  Their ability to stay positive in light of devastating news and physical ailments.  Essentially, the strength of their will to live.

In that sense, prayer could be extremely beneficial.  That is to say, praying for strength may actually be what gives the person the ability to battle through the illness.  Much has been said about the power of positive thinking even though most of it cannot be quantified or singled out as being the sole cause for someone’s recovery; but, I don’t think there’s a doctor alive who would argue that being hopeful when dealing with a traumatic condition is bad for the patient.  At worst, being positive doesn’t help.  But it certainly can’t hurt.

All that being said, I highly doubt you’ll find any doctors that would recommend prayer/wishful thinking/positive thoughts as the sole treatment for most, if not all, serious conditions, illnesses, and diseases.  This is why the notion of prayer-based healthcare is completely absurd, if not insane.

You can hope and pray all you want.  But that won’t stop those cancer cells in your lungs from multiplying at an exponential rate.  Now, I’m not going to mandate that if you have cancer that you must have radiation treatment or chemotherapy or anything like that.  If you decide to simply pray for the best and let whatever happens happen, so be it.  More power to you.  The issue I have is when people can be hired to pray for you to get better and then those people get PAID for those services by the insurance companies.  The same insurance companies who refuse to pay for a blood test that would tell my doctor exactly what type of gastrointestinal disease I have (apparently because it’s new and there are other ways to glean that type of information, for example, by performing the much more invasive colonoscopy) are reimbursing people for praying.

I’m not making this up.  There’s a religion called Christian Science, whose followers believe that sickness is a spiritual issue, not physical.   Phil Davis, global spokesman for the Boston-based religion, explains:

We’re a relatively small religion and not too well-known. The elephant in the room comes to, “Why don’t you people go to doctors?” It’s not based on dogma or church officials, but on results.

Not sure exactly what results he’s referring to since he offers none in the article.  I doubt there are any of substance or relevance.  And while he claims they to not have dogma, they basically don’t believe in germs.  So they’re essentially living in a world also known as the 1800s.  This makes them worried about the looming health care reforms:

Christian Science is a religion of equals, not a priesthood or hierarchy. The branch churches are democratic and run from the laity. But there are those whose career is to pray with others. They do charge, because that is their only source of income, doing this full time.

I know that it’s so clichedly liberal of me to constantly remind everyone of the importance of the separation of church and state.  I’ve been told that I’m a “strict-separationist” versus the other approach which would be a “non-preferentialist.”  This would make sense if there were a real difference between the two ideas.  To truly not prefer one religion over the other, one must strictly separate church from the state.  Instead of allowing a manger and a menorah in front of city hall, how about just not having any religious imagery at all?

Alas, I digress.

I will leave you with this: there are people getting paid by health insurance companies to pray.  Reform can’t come soon enough.

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3 comments

  1. All I want to know is how I can get one of those full-time praying jobs. Score!


  2. That’s actually the first thing I thought about after I posted this blog.


  3. I think you just pray really hard and an angel shows up with a 401K.



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