National Day of Self-Congratulation

Today is a very special day in the US: The National Day of Prayer. That means today is the day that people are encouraged to feel good about doing nothing at all, like those bumper stickers that proclaim one’s child is special regardless of accomplishment. That’s good, I suppose, if you’re a child with esteem issues, but probably not a positive reflection on the populace of our country at large.

I remember seeing a handmade sign, “Pray for our troops,” in the back window of a vehicle in town once (why, yes, it was a pickup truck, funny you should ask,) and mentally appending, “It’s the least you can do.” Because, let’s be honest (that’s important to religious folk, right?): there’s nothing that supports the idea of prayer working in any way, and no reason to believe it has a greater effect than, say, actually doing anything at all physically. It’s not hard to find someone who will mangle the concept of probability by claiming that every actual outcome that might have been prayed for is proof of its effectiveness, and we also have the old trope that the Master Plan™ means some prayers cannot be answered because it’s better that they aren’t. Mere assertions in a vacuum of evidence? You bet – that’s what most of theology is made of.

Others may argue that such a ridiculous action like encouraging prayer doesn’t hurt anything, but as indicated above, this is only in the face of doing nothing else. Donating just 10 cents to any cause at all is an inarguably positive effect for the cause – no reason to resort to vapid machinations to support it. Would it have been difficult, or require extensive consideration, to create a National Day of Activism or something, that actually resulted in a demonstrably positive effect? Remember that Earth Hour is something that our country couldn’t be bothered with, despite the obvious benefits, not just of reduced power usage, but awareness and encouragement of behavior. But we have a National Day of Prayer.

The only result of this, in all seriousness, is appealing to the self-absorbed behavior of the religious. Prayer is all about trying to influence a supreme being, raising the prayor above others in their ability to change events; it’s ego. Nothing more. Why is there the slightest need to encourage that? Most especially, why imply that this is some kind of accomplishment? In how many cases is it simply the alleviation of guilt over doing nothing to help anyone else at all? There are even times when it’s just a form of arrogance. Take it from an atheist; “I’ll pray for you,” is never intended as something altruistic, just as an expression of superiority.

I wonder how few have considered that merely mentioning “prayer” does not in any way specify what it might be for. Certain fundamentalist retards routinely encourage praying for the deaths of certain world leaders or influential people, while a significant number of prayers are appeals for selfish benefit, like passing exams or making some mistake go away, when they’re not for ponies. And of course, the argument for a Master Plan™ makes all prayers a complete waste of time – unless the prayor somehow believes that their appeal is the one that will alter the Plan.

Now, the part that’s even worse. A National Day of Prayer isn’t intended to benefit the country in any way, nor even raise people’s awareness of… well, anything at all. It’s there solely because too many religious folk are too stupid to realize they’re being played. The word is pandering. “Lookitme, Mr. Politician who can influence your vote by reinforcing your self-proclaimed goodness! I’ll make you feel better about yourself by encouraging your meaningless mental mumbling, and you’ll reciprocate by supporting me more!” Religious folk merely have to be told that their fleece is pretty, and they’ll fall right in line.

Lots of people would be defensive over all this, asserting that they’re not taken in by it or encouraging this in any way. Yet, it still exists, so someone (a lot of someones) are buying it. And as long as something as pointless and self-indulgent as prayer remains, implying by its existence that it has some importance, then we’ll keep seeing blatant manipulations. The only way out of the trap is with the ability to see the fallacies and emotional appeals that have replaced reason.

Here’s a wild and crazy thought: Instead of spending any time at all mumbling pleas to the sky, or even ignoring the ‘event’ in denial of its influence, do something positive. Anything. But before you do, take a few seconds and ponder what “positive” actually means.

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