Understanding Christian Motivations

As you will learn when you read the book entitiled Why Won't God Heal Amputees?, it is easy to prove that "answered prayers" are nothing but coincidences. For example:

  • If we set up any unambiguous situation -- like asking God to restore amputated limbs -- God never answers prayers. (see chapter 5 and chapter 7 for details)

  • If we do a statistical analysis of prayer, no benefit is ever found. No valid statisical study has ever found any measurable benefit from praying. (see chapter 6 and chapter 11)

  • Tens of millions of children are dying every year of things like starvation and miscarriages. Obviously God is ignoring all of the prayers to save them. (see chapter 8)
The scientific evidence is overwhelming. The idea that "God answers prayers" is strictly an artifact of human imagination.

Yet, if you talk to actively practicing Christians, they ignore the evidence. They will tell you that God is answering prayers for them every day. Christian bookstores and Christian magazines are filled with stories of answered prayers. Christians believe that God is reaching down out of heaven and answering billions of prayers on Earth for Christians.

Therefore, the question arises: If there is all of this evidence showing that God is imaginary, why do Christians insist that God is answering prayers for them on a daily basis? What would prompt Christians to make these statements?

To put it another way, what might motivate Christians to make statements that are clearly false? Here are five possibile explanations:

  • Christians might choose to believe that God is answering their prayers, despite the evidence that "answered prayers" are nothing more than coincidences, because they are afraid of death. As described in Chapter 27, there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a "heaven" or an "afterlife." Yet the prospect of permanent mortality is very uncomfortable to many people. Because of this discomfort, they may have such a strong reason to believe in Jesus' promise of eternal life that they need to support their belief with other evidence. Since Jesus also promises that he answers prayers, they are willing to turn any coincidence into an "answered prayer" and ascribe the answer to Jesus. (see chapter 27)

  • Christians might choose to believe that God is answering their prayers, despite the evidence that "answered prayers" are nothing more than coincidences, because it is a huge boost to the ego. This explanation works both for big "miracles" and small ones. Imagine this: Imagine that you have cancer (as described in chapter 6), you pray to God for a cure, you undergo surgery and chemotherapy, and the cancer does go into remission. What cured you? The surgery and chemo -- all evidence indicates that this is the case. If God was going to cure you, you would have been able to skip the surgery and chemo. Yet, as a Christian, it is a huge ego boost to believe that the all-powerful creator of the universe cured you. It means he has "big plans" for the rest of your life.

    Or imagine something much smaller: you pray that God remove a stain from your favorite blouse when you wash it, and after you wash it the stain is in fact gone. It is the detergent that removed it. But a Christian interprets the event differently. What it means to a Christian is that the all-powerful creator of the universe has reached down from heaven to specifically hear and answer your prayer. If you selectively ignore all the prayers that God does not "answer" with the statement that "it is not part of his plan", and if you selectively ignore the billions of people suffering and dying in abject poverty all around the world, then the idea that God is listening to and responding to you individually can be tremendously satisfying to the ego. It means that you are special in God's eyes. The entire thing is an illusion that is created in the mind of the Christian to stroke the ego.

  • Christians might choose to believe that God is answering their prayers, despite the evidence that "answered prayers" are nothing more than coincidences, because they are afraid of being alone. They need an invisible friend to talk to in order to cope with lonliness, and God is the "community sanctioned" invisible friend that is accepted in our society. It may be that, for millions of people, an invisible friend is the only way they can cope with being alone. In order to make this invisible friend seem more real, it may help the illusion if you believe that he hears and answers prayers.

  • Another possibility along similar lines would go like this. When we are born, we instinctively have a place in our brains for an "all-knowing, all-loving being". When we are young this being is called a parent, and children naturally and instinctively bond to their parents. What if a large number of people never outgrow this phase, and need to fill this place in their brains with something once they have left their real parents and moved on? That is, what if this place in the brain remains into adulthood for many people, long after it has served its need, and people feel lonely unless they fill this place with something? Having an "all-knowing, all-loving" invisible friend would be an obvious thing to fill it with.

  • Christians might choose to believe that God is answering their prayers, despite the evidence that "answered prayers" are nothing more than coincidences, because it makes them the center of attention with their peers at church. If you ever watch a group of Christians comparing their answered prayers, you can see how this process works. One Christian starts the conversation, "Well, my dog Binky was suffering from terrible skin sores, and the vet gave me some medicine and it didn't work when I first put it on, but I prayed to God and four days later the sores were gone! Praise Jesus!" Now what can happen is a game of one-upmanship. Another will say, "Well, I was planning my vacation and I had no idea where the money was going to come from, so I prayed to God and that very day a credit card offer came in my mail and the credit line was just enough to cover the bills! Praise the Lord!" In such an environment, if you don't have a prayer story to tell, it appears that you have lost favor with God. Therefore, you may be willing to exagerate a little, and even make something up, in order not to lose face.
What you can see is that Christians -- especially Christians who are members of church communities -- have strong personal motivations to make up stories about prayer and to ignore the obvious evidence that "answered prayers" really are coincidences. These motivations completely explain the phenomenon of "answered prayers" in Christian communities.

See also "Understanding Delusion" >>>

by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

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