Definition of prayer
Prayer is a personal and sincere conversation with God.

Two types of prayer
One type of prayer is to quiet oneself, go away from the crowd, and enter into a sincere personal conversation with God that is shared from the heart and mind.
The other type of prayer is the insincere group rote prayer that is conducted over loudspeakers, printed in church bulletins, and recited in unison.
The first type is taught by leaders of all major religions.
The first type can be experienced at any time and in any place.
The first type can never be legislated, monitored, or prohibited.
The second type is usually written or printed in advance.
The second type is read by one person, repeated in unison by many, or listened to by many.
The second type can be legislated, monitored, and prohibited.

Which type is preferred?
Which type is holier, more pleasing to God? Of course, its the first - the personal sincere conversation from the heart.
Which type do 'Christians' strive to include in society? Unfortunately, its the second.
True Christians should be seeking to ban rote prayer, the second type. Instead, many who claim to be Christian are blaming the country's ills on the Supreme Court ban, on the 'absence of prayer in schools', and on removing 'God' from our schools (how can that even happen?)
Is their faith really that fragile?
Is their religion really that shallow?

Prayer in schools
Prayer has never left schools. There is no ban on prayer in school. There is no absence of prayer in school. God has never left schools. Or, at least, never left the minds of believers in school.
Yet, many 'Christians' continue to fight for insincere rote group prayer (and take time from school boards and courts on a useless debate). Why? Is it to cover their own insecurities, or to build political momentum?
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court case in Texas, says it well:
Nothing in the Constitution ... prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day. But the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the state affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.

From an interview in Playboy magazine, January 1965: One of the most controversial issues of the past year, apart from civil rights, was the question of school prayer, which has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. How do you feel about it?
Martin Luther King: I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.
Two things have resulted from the Supreme Court ban on group, school-sanctioned, insincere, rote prayer:
There is probably now more prayer in schools, and more importantly:
The prayer is better prayer: it is more personal, more sincere, more Christ-like.

Nothing fails like prayer
Some ask me why I think religion is so bad, since it does do a lot of good things. Yes, it does, however, the good that religion does can be achieved without religion. One can have hope without religion. One can love, forgive, and have peace - all without religion. The only thing religion provides exclusively is the notion of living forever in Heaven with your loved ones. Well, at least your loved ones that all-loving God didn't send to hell, to suffer in agony for all eternity. So, the bad things that religion does increase in significance without the positive balance. Bad things include murder, hatred, ignorance, intolerance, and arrogance.
Prayer can provide hope and comfort for those who believe in such myths, but when it comes down to the wire concerning a medical need - most sane people would select medicine and science over prayer.

If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished; for they are forever praying for evil against one another. - Epicurus, Athens, 341-270 BCE

We know that most prayer fails, but the value of prayer is that it makes those doing the praying feel better. They know God is not likely to change the preordained order of events just to suit their selfish wishes, but they feel better turning over their problems to an imaginary higher power. Following are some observations about the impotence of prayer.

The largest and most accurate study so far of the effect of intercessory prayer, was conducted by a team led by Harvard Medical School cardiologist Herbert Benson, who is sympathetic to the idea that prayer has healing effects, and funded in large part by the Templeton Foundation, an organization devoted to the scientific improvement of our understanding of spirituality, and published in the American Heart Journal. The study showed that cardiac patients who were prayed for had no better chance of recovery than those who were not. Even worse, patients who knew they were being prayed for actually did worse (possibly because of performance anxiety). However disappointing the outcome of the $2.4 million project was to the researchers, most believers are likely to remain unfazed. This has always been the quandary - science and religion are not playing by the same rules. No laboratory finding can compel a person to give up what is taken on faith. Looking to science to prove a miracle is a losing proposition, for both believers and skeptics. The skeptics continue to trust in science, the believers in miracles.

In Buffalo, there is the remarkable story of a local firefighter who awoke from a coma after two years. When his family was interviewed about the seeming miracle, they said "we prayed, and God answered our prayers". When the medical staff was interviewed, the doctors said "we tried a new medication". Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, asks - if you had to rely on only one treatment, prayer or the new medication, which would you keep and which would you give up? Wise people chose medicine.

Most people acknowledge that nothing fails quite like prayer. Every plane that has crashed probably had several people on board praying for a safe flite, victims of Katrina most certainly had prayed to God to save them. We know most prayer fails, but the value of prayer is that it makes the one praying feel better. They know God is not likely to change the preordained order of events just to suit their selfish wishes, but they feel better turning over their problems to a perceived higher power.

3 Oklahoma children have died without medical care.
      • Aaron, age 9, died of complications from diabetes after his mother did not get him medical help. She told police that she believed her son would be healed through prayer and faith.
      • Troy, age 4, died at his family's trailer home after being sick for a week.
      • Silas died hours after his at-home birth. His mother, 25, died 20 days later.
The Church of the Firstborn is a network of more than 100 churches in 20 states. A bishop of the Church said congregations are strictly Bible-based. "We conduct our lives by the New Testament. We're a God-fearing people. It is our belief that God can heal any illness. I know if we put all our trust in God, he can heal us."
One woman realized it was not a sin to cut her hair. "Once I realized that, I asked God about other areas, and the Lord started speaking to me. I was delivered from goofed-up thinking." A man who left the church said, "People focus on the children, but a lot of people let their (adult) family members die," he said. "They'll take their cattle to the vet, but won't take their children to the doctor. Is that messed up?" From the Tulsa World, May 2012

99 percent of Oklahoma in a severe drought
By Bryan Painter, The Oklahoman, August 3, 2012 (edited by Jim Watson)
Tyler McDowell, pastor of Cowboy Cross Brand Church in Stillwater, offers a reminder: "We need to pray for rain, and expect it to happen. There's nothing that takes Him by surprise, and there's nothing that's out of His control. So the best thing that we could do is ask Him and rely on Him. It's kind of a bittersweet deal because it's the only choice we have, but it's the best choice we can make." The Stillwater area has gone 47 consecutive days with less than a quarter of an inch of rain on any one day.
"The main thing is everybody's just worried about having enough water for their cattle and their horses, but people are getting worried about not having much hay again," McDowell said. "This year we had a good spring and it looked like things were looking up, but it seems like now we're really back in it."
"The thing is, we ourselves can't do anything about it," McDowell said. "Really, in times like this, faith is the most important thing."

They are praying for rain to the same God who caused the drought as part of His Glorious Plan. Are they telling God His plan stinks and they want Him to change to suit their needs? Seems you can't have it both ways - either you believe everything (including drought, cancer, tornadoes, and earthquakes) goes according to God's plan and prayer won't matter or you pray because you believe His plan sucks.

In 2011, Texas had the hottest summer for any state in US history, beating a record set by Oklahoma in 1934, according to the National Weather Service. The dearth of rain has wilted fields and led to destructive wildfires across the state.

"We're just hanging on, praying for rain," one Texan says. So are others: every Thursday night, a few residents of Llano, 75 miles west of Austin, gather in the gazebo in the town square and pray. Recently, 15 of the faithful joined hands, squeezed their eyes shut, and prayed for an end to the wildfires, for the thinning deer and cattle, for neighbors who have lost homes; and they prayed for rain.
The problem plaguing Texas is not so much shifting weather patterns as a lack of fervent faith from its residents, says another Texan. More prayer could open up the skies, he says. "When enough people get serious and do whatever it takes to get God's attention, that's when we'll have our rain."
Shouldn't we describe this person and the thousands like him, delusional? They are spiritually ignorant, believing they can overcome God's will. Texans have been praying for rain over 5 months, per request from governor Rick Perry. How long will God wait before responding? Is there a specific number of people that have to join in before He will grant their request?
And watch - when it does finally rain, many of these Texans will thank God and sing praises to His almighty power. Even with their ruined crops and devastated livestock industry.

During a church meeting the night before a horrendous car crash, Mesh family members asked the congregation to pray for their safe travels to Iowa. Police credited child safety seats for sparing two 3-year old brothers, the lone survivors. Even as some fought back tears of grief, members of the close knit Mennonite community said they were convinced the deaths were God's will. "It's a little like a tapestry, if you focus on one piece, it looks black and bad, but it has to be a part of a bigger whole." The Meshes were Mennonites who believe that entry into heaven is immediate and assured for their followers.
"It's joyous, yet the loss of a loved one is sad, tough to bear." As crews cleaned up debris, one of the workers found a brown woman's purse containing a Bible. A bench seat from the van rested on the road with two children's' car seats attached.

Oral Roberts, the evangelist known to millions by catchphrases such as "expect a miracle," died from complications of pneumonia. His family and friends had been praying for a quick recovery and they trusted that he would make a speedy and miraculous recovery. December 2009

A year before her disappearance, Susan Powell thought about divorcing her husband, but after fasting and praying about it, she made the decision to stay in her marriage. She was reported missing on December 14, 2009. From the article above: A prayer service attended by about 100 people. Friends and family are praying for her safe return. And on January 27, this appeal was published: "We'll keep praying." How effective were these prayers and a 24-hour fast by church members in their appeals to God?
In Febuary 2012, Susan Powell's husband murdered their two sons (apparently with a hatchet) and then blew up the house with the two boys and himself inside. He left a voicemail message: "I'm sorry to everyone I've hurt. Goodbye." After years of prayer, Susan Powell's body has yet to be found.
Important note: All prayers for her marriage, her safe return, and the safety of her children have been completely ineffective.
Lesson: God's will for us will be done whether or not we tell God what we want Him to do.

Florida Today reported December 17, 2009: two-year-old Bryson Ross died in the family's swimming pool Monday. Mother Shellie Ross, who has 5,000 followers on Twitter, wrote that she was outside with her son Monday evening and "it took him two seconds to slip away." She called 911 at 5:38p to say she had found him in the bottom of the pool. At 6:12, she tweeted: Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool. The County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the child died.

Dale Neumann was convicted in the death of his 11-year-old daughter from undiagnosed diabetes. He should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn’t walk, talk, eat or speak. Instead, his child died on the floor of the family’s home as people surrounded her and prayed. Neumann, a “full-Gospel Christian” who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, testified that he believed God would heal his daughter and he never expected her to die. God promises in the Bible to heal, he said. “If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God,” Neumann testified. He considered Madeline’s illness “a test of his faith.”
Doctors testified that Madeline would have had a good chance of survival if she had received medical care, including insulin and fluids. Defense attorney Jay Kronenwetter said Neumann sincerely believed praying would heal his daughter and he did nothing criminally wrong. “Dale Neumann was doing what he thought would work for his daughter,” Kronenwetter said. “He was administering faith healing. He thought it was working.”
Of course, the praying didn’t work, Kronenwetter said: “He was terribly wrong.” From The Associated Press

Institutional ignorance

This article in The Good News magazine has so many errors that I just had to write them:

DATE: November 14, 2013 • TO: • SUBJECT: The rotten apples are rotten
Rotten Apple #5 states, "ban prayer and Bible reading from American public schools."
Certainly you know this is not true. Prayer, a personal conversation with God, can neither be legislated nor banned. The Supreme Court ruled that a school cannot appear to support or favor one religion over another. Prayer was not banned. But, you knew that. So, I must assume you wrote that lie to inflame your readers. Shame on you.
How can God be banned? He can't. He lives in the hearts of His children - he cannot be removed from school. And I suspect you know that, also. Now, I can no longer trust any statement I read in The Good News.

Their reply
DATE: November 18, 2013 • SUBJECT: Hello
Hello James,
Thanks for your input.
I believe you misunderstood the fifth point of the article I wrote.
Of course prayer is not banned from our homes or private meetings, but previous to the Supreme Court decision, prayer was made in the classroom, just as the pledge allegiance.
The supposition was, as our founding fathers thought, we were a Christian nation. But now we are increasingly becoming a more secular country. We have freedom of religion according to the First Amendment, but it was not evert the intention to have freedom from religions. Perhaps you feel more comfortable with what is happening in our society, but such court decisions as not having school prayers do have serious implications for future generation. I hope you do not judge all the content of the magazine because of this point I made, which is part of U. S. history.
Thanks again,
Mario Seiglie

My reply to his reply
DATE: November 19, 2013 • TO:,
1. I quote your words: "ban prayer and Bible reading from American public schools." What I understand is that you either meant to mislead your readers or you, and the editors, chose the wrong word - 'ban'.
2. You say "prayer was made in the classroom". Prayer is still 'made' in the classroom - students are still allowed to pray in American public school classrooms. Here's an important point: school sanctioned prayer was impersonal and insincere - it was from the PA intercom or read aloud from the front of the room. That is not prayer the way Jesus taught us. The prayer that is in the classroom today is from individual students - personal and sincere - prayers the way Jesus prayed. Not only is there still prayer in American schools, but it is better prayer, more Christ-like.
3. "as our founding fathers thought". It is impossible for you to actually know what the Founding Fathers thought.
Your article and your response show me that The Good News is not concerned with facts nor educating it's readers with truth, but has jumped on the bandwagon of modern Christian victim folklore. A bit disappointing, but understandable.

1. They took another lesson from FOX News, repeat a lie over and over (Fair and Balanced) and ignorant readers will believe it. Here the lie is A Magazine of Understanding. Well, it is true, since the understanding they desire is of their particular agenda, not facts or truth. But, get prepared - we are entering the season of religion's cries of the innocent abused victim, otherwise known as The War on Christmas.
2. Because intelligent Christians realize that neither prayer nor God can be banned, Mike Huckabee's ignorant and ill-informed statement may have cost him his place in the Presidential campaign.
3. The article states that after the Supreme Court decision (that removed insincere impersonal prayer and replaced it with more sincere individual prayer), there was an accelerated rise in all manners of societal ills. I contend that that rise began when our nation changed it's national motto from E Pluribus Unum (From many, one) to In God We Trust.
4. I canceled my subscription to The Good News.

Nothing fails quite like prayer
The medical examiner called the death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley “an absolute waste of a young life.” The boy died of a simple urinary tract condition that could have been treated easily with a catheter. Without treatment, the boy was unable to urinate for a week. He suffered stomach pains and shortness of breath until the toxins in his blood caused heart failure. The medical examiner suspects that his “final days were excruciating." The boy and his family believe that prayer, not medical treatment, is the best way to cure illness. His 15-month-old niece died of an untreated bronchial infection and her parents have been charged with manslaughter. Their lawyer says that their Constitutional right to religious freedom has been violated and that “they’ve been called upon by God to face this challenge.” A former Church member says that the whole group is a cult - the parents “are victims of the church and they were just following their beliefs that they’ve been taught since they were born.”

A man in Oregon is facing jail for relying only upon prayer to cure his 15-month-old daughter of pneumonia. The mother was acquitted since, in families of the 'Followers of Christ', husbands make all important decisions. The child died in March 2008 after family and church members prayed over her and anointed her with olive oil. The 'Followers of Christ' shun conventional medicine in favor of faith healing - the state medical examiner said she could easily have been saved with antibiotics. The County Judge told lawyers that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, despite their religious beliefs. “There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children.”

The odds are good that every plane that has crashed had several people on board praying to God for a safe landing. There were most likely people on those 4 planes on 9/11 that were praying for a miracle, a safe resolution to the hijacking. Victims of the Katrina hurricane and flooding most certainly had prayed to God to save them.

God Bless America - we have been praying for God to bless America for about 200 years. God has sent hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and fires during those 200 years. His actions have killed thousands and thousands of innocent Americans. America has a high rate of crime, abortion, murder, and greed. Just how long will we wait for God to bless America?

For several decades now we have followed the suggestion to Pray for our Troops. Why do US soldiers continue to die awful deaths even though many devoutly religious people have been praying for their safe return?

A CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she introduced herself.
    "Pardon me, sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?"
         "For about 60 years."
    "60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"
         "I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews, and the Muslims.
          I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children
          to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man."
    "How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"
         "Like I'm talking to a fucking wall."

1. God doesn't listen attentively to our prayers.
2. God ignores us.
3. God must not like it when we tell him what to do.
4. God is just not going to intercede to save lives.
5. God listens and answers prayers but then bungles the task.
6. God is just a mythical being that we use to help us feel better.

Prayer is okay if you keep it to yourself.
It's when you impose your beliefs on others that it gets tricky. I realize many people find comfort in believing in a higher power to help calm their fears. Whatever one does, within reason, to heal physically and mentally can usually be condoned. But, demanding others to do the same is a bit too conceited - telling others to pray to one's personal belief system.
In response to a woman who said she was praying for the tornado victims, a Facebook commenter replied, "If prayer worked (and superseded God's will), there wouldn't have been a disaster like this in the first place."

To thine own self be true, Musings from a former student and now an Ex-Prayer
I grew up in a Christian home and attended a private non-denominational Christian school from 5th-12th grade. From the time I was young until two years ago, I constantly questioned my faith. In what was called "Bible Class" but really was a theology course, I asked many questions about faith, prayer, other religions, and scientific facts. But, all of my questions were answered with non-relevant answers from Bible verses or typical church answers. I wanted proof that what I was being told to believe was real. The proof never came.
In my experience, God never has responded to my prayers. One occasion was during my freshman year in college. My friend was visiting in Stillwater and had to drive home pretty late to get back to Oklahoma Baptist for her campus curfew. On the way out of Stillwater, her car was hit by a drunk driver. She was immediately sent to the ER in Stillwater. After being put in ICU, the doctors told her parents and friends that there was nothing they could do and that her survival depended on the strength of her body to recuperate. For hours and hours we prayed and prayed that God would spare her life. It never happened.
After her death, I continued to pray and ask that God watch over my friends. A month after my friend's death, another one of my friends drowned while kayaking. Six months later, my friend's little sister died in a horrible car wreck. A month after that, one of my best friends was murdered. During that funeral I had my last conversation with God. I asked him, Why, if he was such a benevolent God, would he take away my friends so violently? After I asked him to watch over every one of my friends, why would he do this? To prove a point? To fulfill fate? To simply be an asshole? I asked him to show me that he was sorry, or that he had a purpose. I asked him to just speak to me, to help me come to peace with what was happening to my friends.
Nothing ever came of that prayer. I wondered if I was being too selfish, or maybe I was challenging God, a big taboo in Christianity. I wondered if there was something I did wrong, if I was living the sinful life. Then I finally decided that prayer just doesn’t work. The only thing I understood was that this God had a plan, and I wasn't going to change it. Fate is going to happen regardless, because it's fate. Praying to God to change it isn't going to do anything. You might get the outcome you wanted, but it's only because fate had it planned that way.
So enough praying for your sick daughter to be healed, enough praying for people to give enough money to the church so that you can have new TVs for the youth, enough praying for the murderer of your close friend or family member to be found. Sometimes, it takes a little of yourself getting up off your ass and stop relying so much on an omnipotent being to do everything for you, especially if your daughter is sick and needs to be taken to the hospital. If you rely on prayer, you're bound to be disappointed.

The crosses we see along highways are more visible evidence of the failure of prayer. They represent prayers for safe journeys; for recoveries in the hospital; and/or for protection of loved ones. Each cross along the highway honors a dead person who didn't receive blessings for life from God. If their death was a result of God's preordained plan, then why does one even need to pay attention while driving? Free will defies preordination. How can both exist for one person?

Please don't pray for me
By William Hamby, edited by Jim Watson, June 2014;
Prayer doesn't work. There is nothing we've ever measured in which people who pray for things score better in getting them than simple random chance. "Answers" can all be explained by medical science or just plain mathematics. No miracles happen. No amputated limbs grow back. Prayer has never helped. So when you say you'll pray for me, what I hear is, "I won't do anything that will help you."
It feels like it's just about votes. If it is good for things to improve for me, why doesn't God just go ahead and do it? Why does he need your vote? I'd prefer not to live in a world where my success or failure, my sickness or health, and even my very life is a matter of whether or not you vote for me.
Do you believe that you are so important to God that he's actually going to change his mind just because you think he should? I doubt he is so petty and vain as to refuse to do the right thing unless enough people beg him. You're suggesting that of all the thousands of gods and religions, yours is the correct one, and you're in so good with your God that he will obey you.
You could do something that has been proven to work when someone is in need: Ask what you can do to help, and then do it. I realize that praying takes almost no effort on your part. But, it would mean a lot more if you went out of your way to do something that would immediately make things better - especially if you cared enough to ask.
If you insist on praying, please do it the way the Bible instructs:
"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

Links to other religious essays
The decline of Christianity
The absurdity of religion, believing that myths are real
The Bible: some questions to ask believers
Religious costumes
Quotes: Words of Wisdom about religion
Islam for the novice
Atheism explained
Jim's spiritual journey