'Answered Prayer':
It's No Proof That
Prayer Gets Answered

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "roberto"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: March 29, 2004 4:17 AM


I need to be very cautious with a question like this, because the most important thing for you is to be patient and understanding with your sister. You need to practice an inverted form of what I advocate as "Unconditional Self-Acceptance": we might call this "Unconditional Sister Acceptance"!

With that, is there a need to challenge it at all? Can you not simply leave her be (as your sister's awareness of the situation goes)?

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Faith versus Reason: The Irreconcilable Differences

Do you think that your own, personal awareness of the following observation would be sufficient?

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The Christian religion is faith-based, where acceptance is conditioned upon: obedience; surrender; going along with the authorities (or with the consensus, in sects like Judaism); not "rocking the boat"; not "fostering divisiveness"; not "leading the 'lambs' astray," and the like.

You have, thus far, spent your life (I assume) trying to train your mind to think rationally: to question, scrutinize, doubt, and challenge; to suspend judgement when you don't have all the facts; to shine a light on things that just don't seem right to you; to follow truth wherever she may lead, no matter who might get offended; to right wrongs, and such.

There are vast and insurmountable differences between what a life of faith would require of you and who you are. Faithfulness would be difficult if not impossible for you to accomplish because it would clash radically with your core values. Religious surrender and obedience would not be compatible with your ethics, your morals, and your sense of right and wrong, which you've been grooming for your whole life. Even simple exposure to religious indoctrination and study would violently clash with your personality and wreak havoc on your identity and your sense of self-acceptance, all of which you have carefully trained up through self-awareness, through self-discovery, through diligent study, and through sheer trial-and-error experimentation.

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Given these truths, to force or fast-talk you into becoming religious (I speak specifically of Christianity) would be most unfair to the others in the church, to say nothing of how patently unfair such an arrangement would be to you! You simply could not function in a faith-based world!

These are not things that I recommend discussing with your sister, given the possibility that you could upset the apple cart, as they say, leaving her with neither the skills to put her life together through natural means nor the faith to allow the sudden personality change brought on by indoctrination and faith to inspire her to maintain a different (and arguably healthier) lifestyle -- as if by brute force. (I describe it that way because I've been there: I didn't know how I was even staying alive. When asked, I'd tell people that "Jesus" was doing it. When people wanted advice I couldn't give it to them because I had no clue what had happened: I had undergone a radical personality change and maintaining those changes were premised upon my continued faith.

Because of this, I was deathly afraid of atheists at the time (and rightly so); I would do whatever I could to avoid even conversing with them. To this day, I consider that the height of wisdom for me at the time! It would have taken an atheist with my current level of skills no longer than an hour to unravel my faith, which, in my mind, spelled certain death -- certain physical death! This was the case only because of where I had been when I converted: to go back there could easily have killed me, and when I did return a few years later (thinking it was inevitable?) it almost did kill me!

In fact, several atheists with considerably lower skill levels made formidable attempts at breaking through my shell, but I had, by then, spent as much as 11 hours per day, six or seven days a week, studying Christian apologetics, learning all the tricks I could learn to prevent my own deconversion. I finally met my match in the form of one Ted Patrick, the famous "cult deprogrammer." A sat at his feet (so to speak) for almost two hours, one afternoon, but at the time thought very little of the encounter. Nevertheless, I count that experience as the beginning of the end of my faith; that moment, my trust in religion began to become undone. Patrick literally taught my mind to "deprogram" itself -- without my knowledge; without my consent!

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Where This Leads

With that, here is a thorough but somewhat meandering description of what I think about these subjects. This is not necessarily an explanation of what's going on; rather, it is, at most, a description of my thoughts on the subject.

Therefore, take all of this with salt (that is, however much salt your doctor or nutritionist will allow in your diet, because sodium is the most fully ignored Deadly Dietary Disaster in American culture today).

That's a joke, son, even though I'm being dead-serious!

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Results Don't Necessarily Point To a Specific Cause

If you prayed the Jesus prayer and what you prayed for came to pass, then this proves that the Jesus-based god-claim is truthful, correct?

No. By no means.

This question is most memorably addressed, in my opinion, with a quotation from atheistic occultist Aleister Crowley:

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In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth & the Paths, of Spirits & Conjurations, of Gods, spheres, Planes & many other things which may or may not exist.
     It is immaterial whether they exist or not.
     By doing certain things, certain results follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophical validity to any of them.
     -- quoted from Robert Anton Wilson,
        Cosmic Trigger (1976), p. 18

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One question that you need to ask is, Which came first? Did she develop a strong desire to change, which prompted her to either seek religion or be introduced to it by others, or could this have been an accidental religious conversion experience (either straight out of a hat or as the continuation of earlier religious indoctrination) after which she saw right away that she would need to change her tune? In other words, did your sister finally grow weary of the burden she had been carrying (maybe even months or even years before her conversion) when finally someone told her to "lay down your burdens at the Cross"? Or did she get talked into becoming a Christian, only later realizing that this "sin" problem of hers would have to go?

This question is not easy to answer because for one thing, politesse demands that we go along with her description of her own religious encounter (though not necessarily coming to the same conclusions, of course).

My conversion, in 1979 or so, was a bit unusual in that it was of the former variety: I took a challenge, a dare, to test a certain man's claims about the Bible religion. My life was going nowhere, to be sure, but it wasn't anything like loss of control on drugs or any such thing. It took months for me to eventually make some of the lifestyle changes that I did need to make, but this was not a big struggle like most would expect. I simply waited for "my heart" to change and it did. These changes came about slowly and gracefully, prompted mostly through constant exposure to the faith-based thinking and the religious culture, the people. The experience was very much like switching my loyalty from one group or cause to another.

What "helped" the change take place was the fact that all my former friends had one-by-one disappeared, having moved away after college, gotten married, joined other religious movements, and such. They were not around to see me undergo these changes, to challenge my decisions or even to raise their eyebrows and say, "Oh, really, now! You, of all people! I would have never suspected!" Unfortunately, as I point out in the part about "Irreconcilable Differences," nobody in the church noticed these changes either, so I never got the reinforcement from them that your sister may be getting (or may not be getting, from what I've heard and experienced). The church members and leadership didn't know who I was or what I had been like before: I just showed up on their doorstep one day, already converted. But most of all they only saw a contentious person who took his religion seriously and didn't like religious charlatans (like the pastor and leaders of wherever I found myself).

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The Myth of Uncontrollable Behavior

Most people who become hooked or addicted to a destructive behavior eventually outgrow the habit. The prospect of the activity becoming too costly is a big factor in prompting this change, but often the person won't admit this (or even recognize it), being in the thick of the controversy. I've counseled numerous families to make and keep a stern ultimatum when one member's behavior becomes burdensome or destructive to the remaining family structure. One factor that plays a big role is loyalty: quitting an addition was very much a case of switching loyalty. This, in turn, would make a potentially effective catalyst to spark the willingness to change, a fulcrum upon which to focus the leverage of desire to change. Nevertheless, the most powerful factor was understanding the role that cost plays in prompting the person to seek a way to stop.

But really, we all have full control of our voluntary muscular systems (the skeletal muscles as opposed to involuntary muscles such as the heart, stomach, and sphincter). One problem is that the modern American addiction care system teaches a lie alleging the complete personal powerlessness of the addicted person to change.

Anybody who has a radical change in ideology is likely to throw out certain former aspects of their behavior that are now no longer pertinent to the new ideology. It's not the ideology itself, otherwise, born-again Christians would not have drug and alcohol problems and non-Christian classes would have much higher levels of these problems (but take my word for it: they are just as susceptible as you or I, given enough stress and ample opportunity).

About 18 years ago (give or take) I had become ill and unable to work, gone broke, been rendered homeless, and developed a modest drug problem for five or six months. (I don't know anybody who could endure that life without the relief offered by drinking or drug use!) This time, however, I began working with a Marxist group as the art and communications director of a long-term protest. (I'm a lifelong social activist and haven't always fully agreed with every point of the scenario's I've had to advocate while "on duty.") I remained homeless the entire time I was working with this Marxist group, but my drug problem, including the very desire to get loaded, ended literally within hours of being accepted into the group.

It wasn't the Marxism that ended my desire (addiction, really) for drugs; rather, it was the fact that I was now working again, I now had purpose and my life was now going in a specific direction. Most powerful, however, was my being focused on making this world a better place for all of us to live. One cannot do that and remain interested in an activity that is as self-indulgent as taking drugs!

Finally, here is a tool for you (not your sister: this is not to be revealed to her!). This tool should help you never to lose perspective on the lifesaving sense of empathy you will need to hold toward your sister throughout her religious experience (even if it lasts her lifetime). Here is an important perspective by Albert Ellis that has helped me tremendously over the years to understand the difference that rational thought makes versus religious faith, in retaining an empathetic:

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The kind of the Belief System you adopt does have some importance to long-term sobriety, however. This is because we often start out gung ho with a new Belief System, but the fire dims as time passes. Farfetched Belief-Systems with little general problem-solving, happiness-producing capacities frequently lose their hold. This often happens with cults, even powerful and dangerous ones. In time we see their limitations, learn that their leaders are only human, and realize that we do better when we put ourselves ahead of the cult leader.

We lose faith in faith-inspired Belief Systems unless we continue to surround ourselves with other true believers. This is why you have to attend most kinds of churches pretty well forever. The same thing is true of some kinds of recovery meetings. If you don't attend, your faith may fade. People who adopt a faith-based Belief System and improve often think it should work for others also if those others will just "work a good program." They may feel threatened and attacked if some people don't like that approach and prefer something different.
     -- When AA Doesn't Work For You

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This perspective has come in handy for me again and again.

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Faith?  In What!?

Ultimately, I think we all have the power to change what people call moral behavior regardless of what they say about "powerlessness" and such. The exception includes bona fide illness, such as the Texas Bell Tower Murderer who, after he was shot by sharpshooters, was said to have a modest sized tumor growing in his brain after he turned from nice guy to raging lunatic murderer.

Many who struggle unsuccessfully with moral problems, I think, simply don't believe they can win the battle; they don't think they know the trick to self-control.

I suspect that we don't need to know the trick (though that helps): we need only believe that we can succeed, that all we need to do is apply ourselves and work at it. This is sufficient in most cases. If your sister becomes convinced that "Jesus" can give her the power of self-control and that "Jesus" wants her to use these powers of self-control, then she cannot but undergo radical changes.

The proof is in the principle behind all this, not in the specific "technique" or, as we used to call it, "head-game," that she happens to utilize when she finds success or that finally motivates her to even try with the amount of dedication that is needed to achieve success.

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Patience and Empathy: All For the Best

These are all speculations that I have given you, but they are speculations that have behind them eleven years of direct experience with addiction education, seventeen years of exposure to addictive lifestyles and addicted people, and perhaps as many twenty-three years of direct experience studying, in theory and practice, the effects that the religious conversion experience has on various people who undergo its processes.

I hope these speculations help you to understand what your sister is going through. Most of all, I hope you can come to a state of sympathetic empathy toward your sister, because she needs whatever support she can get during these crucial times.

For all of these reasons, your sister needs all the patience you can muster for her. What would you rather have, a sister who is superstitious but alive and functioning in society, or a sister who thought rationally all the way to prison or the grave? These are not necessarily her only two options, to be sure. I say this only to bring perspective: although a rational method would have worked, that's not what she found interesting; that's not what she found trustworthy; that's not what someone ended up introducing her to when that Golden Moment arrived and she became willing to listen to someone who had "been there before" and take their advice (regardless of what you and I might think about that advice).

I hope all the best for your sister, yourself, and your family.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight-and-one-half years of service to
          people with no reason to believe

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