One of the main things people pray for is peace. But there have already been trillions upon trillions of prayers for peace through the years, yet peace remains as elusive as mercury, as groups and factions and nations persist in warring viciously with each other, the violence continuing unabated.
Wouldn’t one think that people would finally come to the realization that either there’s no one up there listening to their prayers for peace, or if there is, he doesn’t have the power to stop the violence, or if he does, he has no desire to do so? That they may just as well be praying to a tree trunk?
I’ve been told there is some religious sect in the Himalayan Mountains that has been praying for peace, twenty-four hours a day in shifts, for more than five hundred years. Nuns of the Franciscan Sisters in La Crosse, Wisconsin, have been praying for world peace in thirty-minute rotating shifts twenty four hours a day in an unbroken chain of perpetual prayers dating back to 1878. Even a fire that reached the chapel doors in 1923 never stopped the nuns from praying inside.
When will the poor nuns and millions of others give up? How many more centuries are people going to have to pray and how many more trillions of prayers are they going to have to say before they wake up to the fact that no one is listening to their prayers? (I mean, if whoever is up there ignores even the pope when he prays for peace, and the pope is the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion Catholics and, per Catholicism, God’s chief representative on this earth, why would people think that God would listen to common folk like them?) Not only do they seem incapable of waking up to this fact, but they compound the idiocy of it all by always talking about “the power of prayer.”
How is it that in their daily lives, if these people who pray for peace ask someone to do something for them and they are turned down, they’d probably never ask again. And rarely would they ask a third time. But in praying to God for peace, these same people never give up, and they do this even with the realization and knowledge that there are and have been millions just like them saying prayers for peace to the same God for centuries. Why isn’t this type of behavior considered to be clinically psychotic? But far from being consigned to a diagnosis of psychosis, I have no doubt that these prayers will continue to be considered completely normal, even healthy, and will go on, as an old Indian treaty provided, “as long as the water flows and the wind blows and the grass grows.”
What could possibly be on the minds of the countless who never stop praying for peace in the world? Is this surreal praying without end a grand extrapolation of Jacob Riis’ Stonecutter Credo of the mason who hammers away at his rock, perhaps one hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it, but at the one hundred and first blow it splits in two, and he knows that it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before?
In other words, do these many millions of people praying for peace, think that their prayer for peace, which they remarkably say in all earnestness, will be the one out of the trillions already said down through the years that will finally be the one that breaks the camel’s back with God, that will cause him to say, “Okay, okay, I don’t need, any more prayers. I’ll give you your peace”? Or could they actually believe that God might respond solely and simply because they asked him and he might answer their prayer? Whichever of the two it is, you have to know this is not insanity. It’s beyond insanity. And this is why, though I’d love to approach these people and ask them why they praying for peace, I don’t because I’m afraid to go near them.
It’s hard to know which is a bigger mystery — people saying prayers for peace or people always immediately going to their churches to pray whenever there is a terrible tragedy, such as September 11, 2001, or Hurricane Katrina. I’m serious when I ask, What in the world do people pray about when a tragedy like 9/l1 or Katrina happens? Since God caused 9/l1 and Katrina, or allowed them to happen, I sincerely like to know what the national prayers during these tragedies are all about. (President Bush declared a national day of prayer after both 9/11 and Katrina.) Are people praying to the Lord beseeching him not to do this again or allow it to happen again? Or are they asking him to give them strength to stand the mental and emotional pain caused by the act he caused or allowed to happen? Or asking him to take care of those he just caused or allowed to be killed? I’m absolutely serious. What do the prayers say that could possibly make sense to a rational person? Whatever the prayers are, hasn’t God already shown by what he did or allowed to happen to these people that he couldn’t possibly care less about them? So why are people praying to him?
Frank Geer, a rector at St. Philip’s Church-in-the-Highlands in Garrison, New York, has tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense out of prayers in times like 9/l1. Geer worked at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City counseling and comforting survivors of 9/l1. During a break in his work, he said he went to St. Paul’s chapel, a 250-year old Episcopal church that was a block from the World Trade Center devastation. In the book Where Was God on September 11? he says he prayed to God “first and foremost for all the people who had died. I prayed for their families, and I prayed for the workers who were risking their lives every day at the site that God would keep them safe.” Speaking of the churches, synagogues, and mosques that were overflowing with people after 9/l1, he remarks, “People wanted to be together with other human beings and with God. Going to church was a way to activate and amplify their sense of God … They wanted to be together with a force that cares about them, that cares for them. Religion [i.e., belief in God] was an incredible source of comfort for people” after 9/l1.
But of course I already knew that religion was a source of comfort for those praying to their God. My question is, How could this possibly be when the God they were praying to caused or allowed to happen the tragedy they were on their knees praying about? (If he didn’t, then he’s not the omnipotent God they believe him to be who can answer their prayers, and hence, why are they praying to him?) How can such numbing, staggering stupidity continue without end? Einstein once said that there are only two things that are infinite: the universe and the stupidity of man. And he added that he was unsure only of the former. With respect to people praying after a tragedy to a God who caused or allowed it, are we dealing here with an indelible, ineradicable, inerasable, inexpungible psychosis that can no more be removed than can the pigmentation of one’s skin? A psychosis that will stop only when the sun rises in the west? When Frenchmen stop drinking wine? Cervantes tells us that every dog has his day, but my God, when is this day ever going to end?
In recognizing the futility of prayer, people could learn from the destitute. They don’t pray. They beg.
The above is an excerpt from the book Divinity of Doubt: The God Question by Vincent Bugliosi, by kind permission of the publisher, Vanguard Press. Copyright © 2011 Vincent Bugliosi.
Vincent Bugliosi, author of Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, received his law degree in 1964. In his career at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder convictions without a single loss. His most famous trial, the Charles Manson case, became the basis of his true-crime classic, Helter Skelter , the biggest selling true-crime book in publishing history. Two of Bugliosi’s other true-crime books—And the Sea Will Tell and Outrage — also reached #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. No other American true-crime writer has ever had more than one book that achieved this ranking. His latest book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was also a New York Times bestseller, and is being made into a ten-part HBO miniseries, for which Tom Hanks will be a producer. Bugliosi lives with his wife of many years in Los Angeles. For more information follow the author on Facebook.