The power of prayer when disaster strikes.

About a week after the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, I saw an article on which featured a photo of Japanese students painting “Pray for Japan” on The Rock at the southeast corner of the University of Michigan campus.

I’m curious about the belief that underlies this message. What is the purpose of praying for Japan? Did their god not notice that the earthquake and tsunami were happening? Was he somewhere reading “The Pet Goat” and couldn’t be bothered to act? Was he so busy cursing people who were having homosexual sex that he didn’t notice this catastrophe? Perhaps he didn’t hear the screams of pain and suffering of the thousands of people who were killed or injured. He wouldn’t have acted until a few people in a small college town in Michigan point out to him, “Hey, look over at Japan. There seems to be some trouble over there that needs your attention.”

Imagine if our government worked this way. What if there was an earthquake off the coast of California which caused a tsunami which wiped out part of San Francisco. What if the government didn’t do anything until people around the country started calling Washington DC a few days later to tell them about the disaster? Would these people put up with that? OK, perhaps that is pretty much what happened with Hurricane Katrina, but that doesn’t make it acceptable, especially from a god.

OK. So perhaps their god did notice, but then, why pray? Will their god not provide enough relief and comfort for the survivors until he gets enough prayers to support it? Is he playing Japanese Tsunami Survivor and is waiting for all the prayers to come in to see who will get booted off the island and who gets to stay? If their god is truly compassionate, then he should do what is in his power (which should be everything!) and fix the problem. He shouldn’t need prayer to encourage him in the task.

I guess another option is that, yes, their god will do what he wants to help the people of Japan, but they pray to make themselves feel better. They don’t really expect to influence their god, but the act of prayer is an act of self-reflection. It focuses them and shows their solidarity with the suffering of the survivors. Wouldn’t it be better to take all that energy that is being spent on prayer and focus on actively doing something that will help? Donate to the charities who are effective in helping with these types of disasters. Do work in your own home and community to prepare if a disaster occurs where you live. Contact your government representatives and let them know what you think they should be doing to help. There are lots of ways that you can actively do good in the world. Kneeling and praying and then feeling better about yourself because you did it isn’t one of them.

The final possibility for why these people pray instead of act is because that is what they have been trained to do by their leaders. If you have a problem, pray for help. Suffer silently and pray. Because people who pray when there is trouble don’t cause problems. They are willing to put up with injustice, incompetence, and abuse. They don’t strike or revolt. And when their leaders pray with them, they don’t notice that the leaders are the ones causing a lot of the problems. They are taught to pray and wait for good things to come along.

If you pray, think about it. Why do you pray? What do you hope to accomplish with prayer? Wouldn’t you be more likely to get the results you want if you actively did something to accomplish those ends instead of praying for them?

IT strategy expert, Enterprise Architect, Stoic, Humanist. I like to help people find the path to what they think is important.

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