“than this world dreams of”. The first line of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem continues to be quoted by believers, as though the statement were some sort of proof of the efficacy of prayer. It is suggesting implicitly that it is we atheists who are blind. We simply can’t see, or even dream of, all the ways God answers requests for Him to provide people with what they need or even simply desire (there is no Statute of Limitations on “Ask and you shall receive”).
If somehow people could be prevented from praying – though even the most totalitarian of dictators could not stop people from praying silently – religion would be kaput. (Need it be clarified that no one has the right to PREVENT anyone from praying . I am not, of course, talking about violating the law, for example, by blocking circulation on streets and on sidewalks.) Prayer is the heart of religion. Unfortunately no amount of atheist arguments is going to convince some dyed-in-the-wool believers that their prayers are the equivalent of blowin’ in the wind, hot air wasted addressing a non-existent deity. Believers continue to believe in and practise prayer because, especially when the chips are down, when there’s nowhere else to turn, God is the last resort. Some even believe prayer works because they imagine that they have actually received what they asked for. We can put into question their assumption of cause and effect, but then it would be us who are blowin’ in the wind.
My only hope is that when prayers for the worthiest of reasons (for example, the cure of a child’s cancer or protection from natural catastrophes) are followed by the disaster they were meant to avert, people will finally begin to wonder whether they have been duped or guilty of wishful thinking and self-deception. But some will find reasons to excuse God even then for His refusal, and persist in the blindness that the leaders of the blind continue to promote. That is why the priority target for militant atheists must be the clergy and religious educators. I may not be winning many converts to atheism, but just think of all the people these last forty years since I abandonned propagating the faith, whom I have not continued to encourage to pray. One less promoter of prayer means thousands less people conned into depending on the favors of a God who never existed.