Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sola Ora and the Fallacy of Faith

I prayed so hard I got a headache, and now
I need two aspirin.
I recently read a story about a couple who are on probation, after their child died in 2009. The child was sick with bacterial pneumonia, and they relied solely on their faith to heal him. As one might predict by the fact they're on probation, their unfortunate son passed away. The reason this is news four years later is that they have had another son, and he too, has died - again after they ignored medicine in general, and tried to pray away what I understand was a reasonably aggressive case of diarrhea. You can read the original story here.

I'm going to preface this by saying that faith obviously has a role to play in medicine. For one thing, in absence of any evidence it's actually effective, I unerringly take white tea for my frequent headaches, and almost unerringly, the tea actually helps. What's more, I've seen a study or two that supports the idea that remote prayer provides positive results even in double-blind situations, where neither the doctors, the people praying, nor the people being prayed for are entirely sure which patients are being prayed for specifically. So there's that.

Having said that, I've not read a single case of a prayer dismissing cancer. Or diarrhea, or pneumonia, for that matter, that wasn't spurious at best. Excepting the acts of healing in the bible, I suppose, but take from that what you will. When the white tea doesn't work, I reach for ibuprofen. When I have an aggressive persistent chest cough for two months that comes and goes, I ignore it - until I take a coughing fit so grand I feel the need to see a doctor.

And that's sort of the thing of it. It wasn't that the couple couldn't get to a doctor (well, this was the US, so now that I think about that, it might actually be true) - it was that they refused to get to a doctor. Believe it or not, that was actually a violation of the terms of their probation.

It reminds me of a story I heard once. The town was flooding, and a radio message told Joe to get out of dodge. Joe prayed for his safety, ate a meal, and settled down to enjoy the relative quiet of an extra day off. Joe wakes up waist-deap in water and he steps to the veranda and sees a friend going by on a rowboat. "Hey Joe, come on, let's get out of here." "I prayed and God told me that I would be fine," so off Joe's friend goes. But the water is rising, and Joe's on the roof of his house. "Hey you," the helicopter operator cries. "Climb in the basket and let's get the hell out of here." "I am a man of faith, and I prayed, and God would never forsake me."

Joe died. But he was a man of faith, so he's standing before the throne of Judgement, and God says to Joe "What are you doing here? I sent you a weatherman, your friend, and a rescue worker!"

The long and short of it is that God's miracles are often, in WOD terms, coincidental magic. It's more likely that I will manage to find just enough in my pantry to make stew than I will be provided with a random free meal.

Perhaps my faith is limited in that regard, but I see no reason why God would help people in such a flashy manner, when history suggests his style is far more subtle.

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