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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Don't Pray For The Kids

by Eric Hall

October 12, 2013

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Donate I went through a few days of personal deliberation before deciding to put this on my Skeptoid soapbox. When Brian invited me to blog for Skeptoid, he promised that it would still be up to me to write about pretty much whatever I want. I assume there is some limit to that, but I haven't yet been told I have reached it. Let's see what happens today.

I've written personal appeals before. When someone's story of dealing with depression reached the news a couple of years ago, it prompted me to write about how we ignore the science as well as the personal impacts of depression. I made an appeal to everyone to help those going through mental health issues, and how we need to eliminate the stigma of depression and other illnesses and instead open our minds...and our hearts to those in need.

In another previous post, I described my dislike of people requesting prayers. Scientific study shows us praying for others who are sick can actually reduce the chances of a positive outcome. While self-prayer (like any other relaxation or meditation technique) has shown to help reduce stress and related illnesses, praying for others may be perceived to be good, but it is really only helping yourself and may possibly be harming those for whom you are praying.

Why this is of a concern is the pass we (we meaning society as a whole) allow ourselves when it comes to how to integrate religion into society. I will declare here that I subscribe to Neil deGrasse Tyson's idea of not believing in an active deity or that there is any proof of such a deity. It doesn't mean there isn't one, but there isn't any evidence of it, and it would be difficult to prove such a deity exists. While the number of people of this mindset is growing, those that fall under this umbrella of atheists and agnostics is still a minority. A majority still believe in some organized religion, and feel it is a good for society. I say they have become separate.

Two stories of kids dying have popped up in the news this week. One is because of the extreme nature of the method, the other because it involved someone famous. The first involved a grandmother who brutally murdered her grandchild with a sledgehammer. This is an absolutely horrific crime. One has to wonder if this was the first time this child had been abused by this grandmother. In an interview with someone in the neighborhood, her response was, "Never in my life would I ever have believed this could happen. You have to just pray for the whole family."

The second story involves NFL running back Adrian Peterson. His 2-year-old son who lived with his mother and her significant other, was brutally beaten and eventually died from the injuries. Peterson often publicly displays his faith and speaks of god. His dad asked people to pray for their family. And people did - famous and otherwise in large numbers. There were thousands of tweets expressing that people were praying for Peterson.

I will explain in a moment why these are important, but I also wanted to talk about a much less serious issue, but one faced by me personally this week. I posted on Facebook a few days ago about a note was sent home from the superintendent stating the Gideon's were on the sidewalk in front of the school handing out copies of the New Testament. When asked to leave, they wouldn't saying they were doing nothing wrong. I will credit the school for doing what they could. They sought out legal advice, and it turns out as long as they were on a public sidewalk, the school couldn't require them to leave. The school also called the city, and it turns out religious organizations are exempt from the peddlers' permit requirement.

What bothers me about these incidents is the obvious "slacktivism" involved. A quick search on child abuse statistics shows that in 2011, 4.3 children died per day in the United States alone from maltreatment. While these 2 stories dominated the news this week, 28 other kids died unnoticed. They all went without prayers. They all went without media attention. So why is there nothing done for these children and these families?

I don't want people to think I am against people praying. There is a scientific basis for prayer as I stated above, though it doesn't need to be prayer in order to have its positive effects. But in the case of actually committing the time to specifically pray because of these news stories I do feel could be better spent. What if everyone tweeted the website or phone number of child abuse resources? What if instead of handing out bibles, they cooked meals for those in need (many children are reported to die from being malnourished - even in the United States)?

Is that to say we shouldn't be doing things for ourselves ever? Most of us participate in recreation - some probably even more than we should. Many of us also post on social media - and sometimes it has little to no meaning other than mindless drivel. But these actions are at least acknowledged as selfish, or a part of our personal well-being. If I spend money on vacation, on a video game, or on a beer, I know it is for my personal satisfaction. Somehow, when someone tweets they are praying for someone else or hands out a bible, it suddenly becomes an active action to many in society. Prayer is only helpful to the person praying. Same with spreading your religious message. We shouldn't treat these actions as actively helping others.

What I am asking is that no one gets a pass for their religious action as being "doing something." There also needs to be a clear understanding that all of the "prayers" being sent are a selfish act. Science shows that the only benefit of prayer is to help the person doing the praying. In fact, science also shows us there could be harm in praying for others. Let's not be passive in trying to reduce the number of kids being neglected in the US and the world.

I want to do my own small part. Please share this information for the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. Their number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). They provide a whole host of services. Their list from their website:
  • Need help and want to talk to a counselor.

  • Are in physical or emotional crisis and need support and encouragement

  • Connect you to the best possible resources in your area.

  • Have questions about the signs of child abuse.

  • Need to find out how to report known or suspected abuse.

  • Have questions about the reporting process and what you might expect through the process.

  • Want to learn about Childhelp programs that will address you or your child's needs.

  • Want to learn about resources available to parents, grandparents & caregivers.

  • Need emotional support as survivor of abuse.

  • Want a referral to an agency, counseling or other services near where you live.

  • Want literature mailed to you.(Allow two weeks for delivery via the U.S. Postal Service.)

  • Want information on how to make a donation to Childhelp.

  • Childhelp crisis counselors cannot come to the home where the abuse is happening and take away the child or teen who is in danger of being hurt and put them in a new home.

The Childhelp Hotline crisis counselors can't make the child abuse report for you, but we are here to help you through it.

I want to repeat - I do not fault people for praying when hearing about stories such as those above. I just don't want that to be the end of someone's actions against these horrible situations. If you are not able to commit the time to do anything but pray, that's OK. One person cannot help every cause. But just know praying alone did not help the cause - other than your own.

by Eric Hall

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