Today social media is rife with amateur preachers attributing any and everything to a Creator or God. It is particularly jarring to objective thought when people daily attribute life's vagaries and ups and downs to the mercurial behavior of a Supreme Being who, we're told, intercedes, punishes, grants favors, heals the sick, and welcomes the dead into paradise on a daily basis. Central to this belief system, we'll call it religion, is the doctrine and belief in "original sin" and the fact that "man is imperfect."
I'm told that I should believe all this blindly and unquestioning. I'm also told that I should base ALL and every world view on faith -- the confidence or trust in a person, thing; an obligation from loyalty or a belief not based on proof. I'm told that an omnipotent God made, no created, this world and everything in it, including you and me. The narrative further goes that if we obey "God's laws" as set forth in any number of holy books our rewards are in Heaven -- a place that our true believers have great difficult in articulating on account that there is no proof from anyone who went there.
Let me hasten to add that I respect the right of religious people to their beliefs, customs and rituals. But not because they believe in a Supreme Being makes it fact. Moreover, I am aware that religious communities provide many people with a sense of purpose and community. That's a good thing. The benefits of any religion are at the core of an individual's cultural identity. However, that in and of itself does not make their religious claims true. Believing in something does not make it true. Put another way: wanting something to be true based on passages in a book, some unexplained experiences or phenomenon, does not affect the likelihood that it's true. There is no evidence, no proof.
I may want to be a millionaire but that does not mean that my bank account will suddenly be filled with money tomorrow morning. I can also say that I'm a millionaire without any proof and no one will believe me. They will either think I'm a stark raving lunatic, a liar or delusional or a combination of all three. Applied to religion it does not matter if believing in something makes you feel better about yourself or suddenly gives your life meaning; if there is no proof to substantiate those beliefs/claims they are useless to act as verifiable evidence about the nature of reality.
For example, when a person says "God is love" he/she is really saying that without my believing in God "I cannot love." That's very stupid because love is an emotional and biological experience that all humans share -- regardless of being Christian, Muslim or Hindu. This faith is therefore irrelevant since reality exists independently of our beliefs. It is possible to believe in things that are false and reality continues to be true even if you do not believe in it. So when faced with the facts of reason and logic "True Believers" will fall back on well-rehearsed rebuttals. Hear them: "God cannot be comprehended by the human mind." Here's the weakness, the flaw, in this argument -- if you cannot comprehend or describe something, you can't possibly have a rational justification for believing in it. Therefore an indescribable god is also unprovable.
Then there's the sure fire lightning bolt -- faith. Unable to logically articulate their religious beliefs staunch adherents piously say "you must have faith." The faith argument is evoked every time the individual making a claim runs out of rational explanations to support his or her beliefs. Once faith enters the mix any religious argument soon degenerates to the realm of the absurd since ANY claim, no matter how outrageous and insane, can be "supported" and substantiated by faith.
Yeah, you can believe that your loving Pit-bull, Selma is really a closet werewolf and every night she goes on the hunt killing humans. You can believe that but other people will start distancing themselves from you reaching the conclusion that you're either an ass or a lunatic. The fact is this: you make a claim you must be prepared to back it up with evidence -- evidence that can be proved over and over again.
Finally, religion is very personal for most believers and it can run through every aspect of their daily lives. Most religions place a heavy emphasis on an individual's personal relationship with a given deity. The problem arises when using these personal relationships as proof of God's existence is that they are inherently subjective. It may be that praying makes a person feel more peaceful or reading passages from a supposedly holy book sends chills down their spines. Others report having visions, hearing the voice of God or some other sensory experience.
The emotional effects of prayer have absolutely nothing to do with a "supreme supernatural being" or origin. And too, religious people are not the only ones who can have these experiences. For example, near death experiences of feeling disconnected from your body and rushing down a tunnel towards the light is common and feels very real to the individual experiencing it. However, a multitude of studies have concluded and conclusively shown that these experiences are caused by chemical reactions in the brain. Not the hovering of an angel or some supernatural being with wings in flowing robes waiting to welcome you to paradise.
Moreover, there are many harmful, negative effects of prayer starting from the psychological damage prayer culture can visit on those whose prayers go unanswered. For example, parents who choose to pray for their sick children rather than seeking scientific medical help put their children's lives at risk of serious illness and even death. Religious sects that put their faith in handling "serpents" also risk serious physical damage and death by playing and handling venomous snakes. In the United States between 1975 and 1995, 140 children died from easily treatable diseases because their parents relied on prayer and faith.
Similarly, when prayer is a person's first response to disaster or tragedy it's often the least helpful. Instead of praying for disaster victims, I submit that it would be infinitely more helpful to donate blood, send monetary help and seek ways to volunteer. It is also important to look at the natural order of things and how prayer is irrelevant. In everyday life people die, divorce, become disabled, lose their jobs and live in poverty. I assume that many, many of them are believers and adherents of Christianity, Judaism or Islam -- the three major world religions. I also assume that they have prayed, some incessantly like five times a day, for better circumstances without receiving any divine assistance.
Also consider the fact that many prayers are inherently selfish and self-serving. Accordingly, while you pray for your grandmother's much needed heart transplant, someone is praying for this organ donor's son or daughter's life to be spared. Even if you're praying to win a war or a Super Bowl football game, you're also praying for the people on the opposing side to lose. Therefore to assume that God is not only personally invested in the minutiae of everyone's life but your problems are much more important than those of other people, all praying fervently like you, is both selfish and absurd.
Working from the belief -- here's that word again -- that God is good and hears all prayers, many Christians, Muslims and others believe that when your prayers are not answered three things many have happened to make God get turned off by you; to "lose faith" in you:
You prayed incorrectly
You don't believe hard enough
God did not see fit to grant your wish -- move on
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