Supernatural Hypocrisy: The Cognitive Dissonance of a God Cosmology
*addition to this quote: “Or he’ll kill because another guy has a fish he wants.”
In seeking that rational approach to the question of God, and humanity’s patently blind belief in him, I considered many things. Among them, mental illness of some sort, like epilepsy or Dissociative Identity Disorder, or even schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is probably more common than we think, except the church gets hold of these people and tells them they are possessed by some demon, or even the Devil himself (there, see? An explanation of a mythical being, by way of another mythical being). Many of the devout speak of their experience as a schizophrenic does—voices in their heads telling them to do something. One might wonder, contrarily, why those who are “healed” feel better afterward. Could it be merely that the act of dispossession is a psychological machination that helps their mental illness?
Father Gabriele Amorth says he has performed around 70,000 exorcisms. Okay kids, get out your calculators.
70,000 ÷ 85 (his age in years)= 823 (rounded)
823 ÷ 12 (months in a year) = 68
That means he did roughly 68 exorcisms per month. There are 68 possessed Catholics per month? And that’s assuming he performed exorcisms when he was still in diapers for some of that time. That’s over two per day. So leaving off those years he wasn’t doing exorcism, and the number rises. He reportedly began doing exorcisms in 1986, and he was born in 1925, so he was 61 when he began;. 61 from 85= 24. Twenty four years that he did exorcisms. So that means that he did 2,916 exorcisms per year. That’s 243 per month. And 8 per day. When did he pee or have lunch?
Does anyone actually believe this? To me, that speaks more to the influx of mental illness than possession. And I’m not just talking about the possessed.
In examining this more closely and talking to some knowledgeable friends, I was informed that the priests do these little quickie-exorcisms. They’re more like blessings that last a minute. Or three seconds. I don’t consider that an exorcism, per se. But there you go. If you do a mass of two thousand in one day, that’s where the numbers come from. Very well, but this still reveals the whole thing as disingenuous number-crunching and spin-doctoring by the church. Like I should be surprised.
As my friend also pointed out by way of example, many in the clergy do mass weddings in which all attendees—say, in a park—are married simultaneously. The pastor can then claim to have married 5,000 people in a year, if they did a few of those mass-hitchings.
Regardless, what’s more likely, by far, is that whatever the number of exorcisms really was, there were quite a few mentally ill people out there who were in need of psychological counseling. It’s not hard to figure out that these people were suffering from other ailments like schizophrenia. (Though, an argument could be made that all people who believe in God are exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia because they hear the voice of God in their heads).
Regardless, exorcism can be a dangerous undertaking—not because the priest or the possessed might have their souls stolen by the Dark One, but because blind faith and belief in supernatural things, can erase any semblance of good sense.
There was a case in Romania, where a 23 year old nun died at the hands of a priest and three other nuns who were performing an exorcism. The “demon-possessed” nun was chained to a cross and died of starvation, and the priest was banned from the priesthood, the nuns were excommunicated, and all four went to jail (BBC News, Priest).
Still, after the article on schizophrenia and all the other monstrous stories in relation to exorcisms, I find posts like this one:
I think that schizophrenia is an act of God. Sometimes God pretends to be the Devil (schizophrenia.com).
Those believers are just relentless. This is, again, another ad hoc defense. Apparently, even in the face of perfectly logical explanations, and proof of the dangers inherent in religion, some Christians will always find a way to justify it, and shoehorn it into their faith.
In considering the Catholic convention of the rosary prayers, where people touch the beads and repeat a prayer, touch another bead, say another prayer, and so on…I made an interesting connection. This strikes me as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People with OCD often have to do repetitive things to make themselves feel better. The very act of prayer makes them feel better because of the nature of OCD. So maybe some of those who pray have OCD, or maybe there’s a comfort in that repetition that is manifested too strongly in OCD, but that comfort is exactly the goal of a praying person.
This again, does not prove that anyone is listening or acting on your prayer. If their wish within the prayer is at some point manifested, it would seem the prayer was answered, but there will, according to the law of averages, be a certain percentage of results on either side. If the wish within the prayer is not answered, the believer is then told that their faith was simply not strong enough, or that God, in His omniscience, had a different plan, about which they should not raise questions. So maybe this rosary bead touching and praying action is more about the psychology of OCD, and its results wrongly attributed to the power of prayer.
Let’s look at prayer, then. In John 14:14, Jesus said:
If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
In Matthew 7:7 Jesus said:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
And in Matthew 18:19:
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in Heaven.
I prayed for years as a Christian. Repeatedly. And my prayers were never answered. Never. Not really. Every perceived answer to prayer could also be explained by obvious means; most commonly, the law of averages, and the law of cause and effect.
There was never anything magical or unusual about any desire I had, which subsequently was filled. My most fervent prayers for things that had weighty merit, almost never fell into the column of “answered.” And it wasn’t because I lacked faith in those prayers coming true, nor the ability of God to answer them, nor was I undeserving. Yet the Bible tells us “ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be opened to you.” Well I knocked and the door stayed closed. I can hear the Christians now, saying my faith wasn’t strong enough, or God had another plan.
I’ve heard countless believers say that they prayed about something or for something, and if it came to fruition, they attributed this to the power of prayer, and consequently, the presence of a God who heard and answered. But the results (when they do happen) can also be explained more rationally. Some things will happen and some won’t. If you want something passionately, this becomes part of your thought process and motivates your behavior in such a way that you might have just made it happen all by yourself. There is absolutely no empirical proof that prayer works or has any affect on anything.
Christians, realizing this on some level, had to acknowledge those prayers that were not answered, or otherwise were not realized. So they had to make up excuses to contradict what their beloved Bible told them. Another one is “God moves in mysterious ways.” I’ll say He does. He mysteriously promises you something but doesn’t deliver in any way.
Yet, there are still those who firmly believe in the power of prayer, though there has never been any empirical proof of its efficacy. On the contrary, several scientific experiments have shown that prayer has no affect on hospital patients.
According to a study at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, “The world’s largest study into the effects of prayer on patients undergoing heart surgery has found it appears to make no difference.” The response from the devout were predictable: God will not allow you to test Him.
In the article, the usual objection was voiced by Reverend Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who said,
Prayer is not a penny in the slot machine. You can’t just put in a coin and get out a chocolate bar. This is like setting an exam for God to see if God will pass it or not (BBC News, No Health Benefit).
Another ad hoc argument that leaves a nice loophole in the need for facts.
Again, this indicates that mindset and hope can have positive affects, but it is in no way dependent on religion in order to work, if indeed it does work on any given occasion.
One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments. A review of 17 past studies of ”distant healing,” published in 2003 by a British researcher, found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods (Dembner).
Or how about this example, regarding another study in 2006 that gave the same result?:
In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications (Ritter).
For those who disagree with the results of this study, there was a tendency to refer to another study in 2001 at Columbia University Medical Center, that indicated infertile women who were prayed for became pregnant two times more often than those women who were not prayed for. The researchers themselves were surprised and called these results “miraculous.” This study was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine (Flamm).
The kicker? The study was later found to be fraudulent. According to the article, “everyone who cut out the original article in the New York Times and posted it on their refrigerators still has that article as ‘proof’ that prayer works.”
Fraud appears again in a 2001 study associated with psychiatrist Elisabeth Targ, though she succumbed to an illness herself, her research results regarding intercessory prayer from psychic healers proved to also be fraudulent. The results were altered, perhaps unconsciously, to allow the researchers to see what they wanted to see (Bronson).
Even reputable studies regarding the effect of positive thinking on cancer has been shown to support the concept that mindset, wishing and prayer do not make any difference, and can even be counterproductive, according to an Australian study of 179 cancer patients (USA Today).
And in another article, an odd assertion that theologians were relieved to know that intercessory prayer did not work. Curiously,
Religious leaders will breathe a sigh of relief at the news that so-called intercessory prayer is medically ineffective. In a large and much touted scientific study, one group of patients was told that strangers would pray for them, a second group was told strangers might or might not pray for them, and a third group was not prayed for at all. The $2.4 million study found that the strangers’ prayers did not help patients’ recovery (Lawrence).
The author explains this “sigh of relief” by saying that scientists should not be dabbling in the purview of theologians, implicating that this would somehow undermine the nature of faith. He also lamented the lack of inclusion in these studies of theologians, feeling that a religious authority of some kind should be “consulted” as if the scientific method could ever rely on faith-based parameters. This would, of course, contradict the point of using the scientific method. It might come as no surprise that the author of the article is an Episcopal Priest.
The more cogent point here, is that if your explanations become more confusing and numerous, then the original assumption is most likely false. The simplest answer, ala Occam’s Razor,* is always the best one.
*A rule in science and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known. Also called law of parsimony. (American Heritage Dictionary).
Forgive me, but to say that God answers your prayers is like masturbating and then saying the person in your fantasy made you have an orgasm. Hello. It was all in your mind.
Does God know our wants? “Your father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
Then what is the use of prayer? Is God a mischievous urchin taunting his hungry dog with a morsel of bread, and shouting, “Beg, Tray, beg” (Remsberg).