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A few of my Rants

The power of prayer

I was brought up as a Christian, but when I was a teenager I accidentally destroyed my faith. Those of you who know me may be tempted to think that I would have been delighted to have lost this baggage, but I was devastated. This was a greater loss to me than breaking the most cherished family heirloom would have been.

As a Christian I did not have to think, as Christ had answered all the important questions, and I knew that even if I was not happy in this world I would find salvation in the next, provided I bore my cross manfully. And, most important of all, I was a member of a community in which I could hope to find companionship and understanding.

But now I was on my own in a hostile world, without either a book of rules or a rudder, and haunted by the frightening knowledge that, while I could escape from this world easily enough, there was not the slightest reason to suppose that I would find any other world, let alone the delightful heaven promised the Christian.

It took me a long time to overcome this loss, and eventually to develop the confidence to make the most of life and eventually even to enjoy it. I now know that religion is perhaps the oldest and certainly by far the most successful of all onfidence tricks, but unlike other confidence tricks the victims never discover that they have been cheated. I also know that in many cases it enables them to endure an otherwise miserable life, and I am careful not to try to disillusion them, provided they do not try to convert me.

So when I read David Smith's article "is Spirituality the new CAM?" (The Skeptic, spring 2006) I was concerned by the implied criticism of patients who asked nurses and visitors to pray with them. Medicine is a far from perfect art, and despite all the advances in medical science, the declining standards of nursing and the increasing prevalence of superbugs mean that luck plays a far bigger part than it should in medical outcomes. Furthermore it is well known that the attitude of the patient is the most important single factor in determining whether or not a procedure will be successful.

We may be certain that no-one is listening to their prayers, but if they increase the patient's confidence they may serve a very useful function. And conversely, if we attempt to point out the error of their ways to the patients, and we make them angry and upset, we will just make our own job that much harder.

Roger Riordan AM

 © Roger Riordan 2004-2017

Prayer