Not Impressed By the “Power of Prayer”

This past week, Bill Donohue took a break from complaining about perceived slights to his religion of choice, and posted something more inspirational, entitled The Power of Hope and Prayer. He tells of a family whose newborn son had a heart disease, but who was cured thanks to hope, prayer, and the best medical care that a Fox News anchor’s salary can afford.

Here’s a sampling of what Donohue has to say about the power of prayer:

[…] Bret and Amy were not alone—they were one with the Lord. Bret’s prayer was quintessentially Catholic: he was not angry with God—he thanked the Lord for the gift of his son and asked for his help. But most of all, he did not despair. By praying for Paulie’s “recovery that will follow,” he evinced optimism and hope.

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” How can this be? […] New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan put it in a way that really drives home the essence of Jesus’ words. He explored what he called “the theological reasons for laughter.” Why are people of faith happy, he asked. “Here’s my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” The death of Jesus was not the last word. His resurrection was. After Christ was crucified, Dolan says, it “seemed we could never smile again…But, then came the Sunday called Easter! The sun—S-U-N—came up, and the Son—S-O-N—came out as He rose from the dead. Guess who had the last word? God!” […] It is a theology grounded in hope, and hope is the natural antidote to despair.

When Pope John Paul II died, I happened to be at the studios of the Fox News Network in New York City. I knew he was dying, but I had no idea that I would be the first guest to go on the air when he passed away. When asked by Shepard Smith what my thoughts were, I answered, “On the one hand, great sorrow. On the other hand, great joy. Sorrow that he’s no longer with us. Joy that he’s with God, with his Lord.”

For those who skipped past that, he basically says that prayer makes people happy and gives them hope. Basically, pretty standard inspirational-chain-email stuff.

I can’t help noticing that he fails to mention any kind of medical benefit or, indeed, any benefit to the patient. All of the benefits he mentions could, it seems, be provided equally well by prayer to Krishna, or a sacrifice to Dionysus, or even by meditation.

People can get these benefits of Donohue’s religion even if they’re not true. It’s enough that people believe them. In other words, from everything Donohue has said, Jesus might as well be an imaginary friend.

If he’d left it at that, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this. But he had to throw in some digs at atheists:

The Baiers are practicing Catholics. What would they have done had they been atheists? It must be tough going it alone, and indeed the evidence shows exactly that.

Note that he doesn’t actually mention what any of this evidence might be.

And in case you were wondering about ellipses, above:

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” How can this be? It is not something atheists can grasp. It eludes the secular mind. New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan put it in a way that really drives home the essence of Jesus’ words. He explored what he called “the theological reasons for laughter.” Why are people of faith happy, he asked. “Here’s my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” The death of Jesus was not the last word. His resurrection was. After Christ was crucified, Dolan says, it “seemed we could never smile again…But, then came the Sunday called Easter! The sun—S-U-N—came up, and the Son—S-O-N—came out as He rose from the dead. Guess who had the last word? God!” There is probably nothing more baffling to an atheist than this “theology of laughter.” It is a theology grounded in hope, and hope is the natural antidote to despair.

I know that Donohue has been around long enough, has spoken to enough atheists that this can’t be dismissed as simple ignorance. He’s going out of his way to insult a class of people with whom he doesn’t agree.

And coming from the guy who throws a fit every time someone dares point out some bad about his religion, that’s pretty rich.

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