Whenever she had misplaced something, one of our secretaries at Northern recited a “Tony, Tony” rhyme, a somewhat flippant invocation of St. Anthony to help in her search. I didn’t know her rhyme nor any of the more formal prayers to St. Anthony. But after I got home from church, I was thinking how nice it would be if, instead of a frustrating and fruitless search, I could locate my jacket just by calling on the great Franciscan scholar. Two minutes later, I happened to glance in what’s now a mostly unused bedroom — and there on the bed was my lost coat [Art Marmorstein, “When Prayers Abound, Something Lost Might Be Found,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.05.04].
The Christian God, the same beardy spirit who wiped out humanity, then sent his son to die a grisly death at our hands to balance some cosmic sin budget, hears you thinking about praying and puts your coat back where you can find it? The blue men of the 1986 Twilight Zone building each minute of reality and occasionally experiencing a quality control glitch in setting every item where it belongs is a more plausible explanation. (I’m serious: next time you can’t find your keys, wait a minute or two. Quit looking. Do something else. Then go back to the spot where you thought you put them but where you’ve already looked four times. Your keys will be there. You did put them there. The blue men just forgot for a cycle or two, but they’ve realized their error and placed them in that coming minute.)
Marmorstein marches on through another post hoc ergo propter hoc to utterly baseless assertion:
Some years ago, I prayed with a former student who was going through a particularly rough time. A couple of weeks later, I asked him how things were going. “Your prayers are a lot more effective than mine,” he noted. Well, no. But, in general, prayers we make for others are more effective than the prayers we make for ourselves [Marmorstein, 2017.05.04].
I ate a peanut butter sandwich and a jelly sandwich yesterday. Today’s weather is beautiful. But in general, sandwiches I make for others are more effective than the sandwiches I make for myself. That line of sandwich nonsense makes no less sense that Marmorstein’s paragraph about intercessory prayer.
I don’t wholly discount the power of prayer. But a few words chanted by meat machines don’t change the course of an infinite, omnipotent Being. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, prayer doesn’t change God; it changes us.
Marmorstein acknowledges this Lewisian observation in his closing hope for something good to come from today’s National Prayer Day show in Aberdeen:
At a minimum, the civic officials, community leaders, and representatives of the various churches who attend will get the reminder that despite our differences, we are (or at least should be) playing on the same team-a small step toward finding the lost sense of common purpose that once united us as a nation [Marmorstein, 2017.05.04].
All on the same team—sure, Dr. Marmorstein. When you’re a Yankees fan, it’s really easy to think that bringing everyone together to shout, “Go, Yankees!” is a team-building activity. But for folks who root for the Cubs or don’t follow professional baseball, your Yankees pep rally doesn’t do much.
Tangentially Related: Speaking of baseball, the St. Paul Saints will hold another Atheist Night on August 12, 2017. For the past few years, the minor league team, in an event sponsored by Minnesota Atheists, has rebranded itself for a night as the “Mr. Paul Aints.” From 2012 to 2015, the Aints’ record was 2–2. The Saints’ overall record in those four years was 52–48, 47–53, 48–52, and 74–26.
And about those other boys in blue: