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The Friend I’m Not Praying For

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“If you talked into your hair dryer and said you were communicating with someone in outer space, they’d put you away.  But take away the hair dryer, and you’re praying.”
Sam Harris

prayer

I seeing miss my sweet, witty, intelligent, compassionate, bawdy, hugs & sloppy kisses friend, HUL.  She gets back here (she used to live in Oregon) to visit when she can, and although it seems like there’s no distance between us when we phone or email or text, she lives 1300 miles away.  And she is having surgery today.  I will be thinking of her, and talking to her after the surgery as I’ve talked to her before and after her cancer diagnosis, commiserating about the shitty situation and brainstorming treatment options, colorfully cursing the brusque and clueless medical personnel she’s encountered and lavishly praising the smart, kind and competent ones.

I will not be praying for HUL. Nor will I be

* burning special incense for her
* anointing her head with oil
* finding a faith healer to perform a laying on of hands
* doing a Wiccan or Tibetan healing chant
* performing a Haipule [1]or smudging ceremony [2]
* sacrificing a child
* using crystals to balance her energy
* casting a voodoo healing spell
* sending her to a Hakim (traditional Muslim healer) for Unani medicine [3]

Or singing her favorite soccer team’s fight song….or performing any of the rituals many human beings once somehow (and, sadly, still) thought might cause the gods/spirits/cosmic energies to look upon them with favor and cure their maladies.

What the heck. I could pick one of those things, or cover the bases and do ’em all, as they have an equal likelihood of affecting the outcome of HUL’s surgery and subsequent prognosis.

HUL, righteously religion-free babe that she is, is not asking me, or anyone, to pray for her.

Not even moi?

Not even moi?

Her first surgery will be done in a Catholic-run hospital. HUL told me the only activity resembling praying that she might do is to beseech the friend who’s picking her up after surgery to refrain from vandalizing crucifixes and the like, should said friend spot any Catholibilia [4] in HUL’s room.

HUL will not be posting the news of her illness and surgery on any social media sites.  She wants to control access to this information and maintain a modicum of privacy.  She also wants to avoid the jaw-clenching, energy-sucking vibes produced by People Who Mean Well ® and who express their sentiments, even to those of us whom they know are religion-free, via the hackneyed expression [5] ,  I’ll be praying for you.

praying

She and I – and just about every atheist-agnostic-Bright-humanist-skeptic-freethinker on the planet – have commiserated over this phenomenon.  We realize the expression is a kneejerk, cultural/social, nicety response, and that not everyone who says “I’ll pray for you” literally intends to do so.  It’s similar to the way “How are you?” is used as a greeting – as a substitute or equivalent for Hi or Good morning.   If you take that “How are you?” query/greeting at face value and actually talk about how you are,  [6] you may be surprised by the WTF expression from the one who has greeted you and who now acts like they want to leave skidmarks as they flee from your discourse.

When it comes to being on the receiving end of I will be/I am praying for you, Those Of  Us Who Think About Such Things mostly grin and bear it, with various degrees of enthusiasm and anemia.  Here’s what we’re likely to say (even as this is what we’re likely thinking):

Well-Meaning But Ignorant Person:  “I am so sorry to hear about your upcoming hammertoe surgery! I’ll pray for you.”

Us: “Oh, okay. Thanks for thinking of me.” (You’re going to pray…uh…yeah, knock yourself out…but…really…WHY? Am I supposed to thank you for doing…well, nothing…when what I could use is a casserole, or for someone to mow my lawn while my foot is in a cast?)

I know, I know, IKNOWIKNOWIKNOWIKNOW.  People “mean well” (I’m trying to remember that great Lily Tomlin quote, something about thank goodness for kids, they never mean well).  But those of us who are fond of reality don’t just shelve it in times of crisis.  We we know about the efficacy [7] and therefore futility of prayer, to any one’s deities, for anything, and our bafflement at the announcement of the practice is often hard to disguise.

answered prayer

Skeptics more articulate than moiself have pointed out that while many religious people claim to truly believe that prayer can cure a variety of illnesses and injuries, they only pray for maladies that are generally self-limiting (and thus, they can attribute the cure to miraculous intervention).

I’ve never heard of religious believers petitioning their god to cause the boy with 3rd degree burns to grow new skin overnight (or even over the course of a few months), although I have heard them pray that the boy’s skin grafts will take.

An illness that gets better over time (and most do), a mood that improves, believers can and often do attribute these events to a “miracle” or divine intervention.  But hard physical evidence – the burnt, necrotizing flesh, the amputee’s stump– is a slap in the face to the “power” of prayer.

My theory is that deep down inside, even the most fundy believers have reality check neurons (besieged, but not extinct), which occasionally whisper to them, “Now, let’s not get carried away, you know this stuff is just mumbo jumbo.”

How else to explain the fact that, while believers fervently and publicly ask their god to heal the spirit and speed the recovery of the Iraqi war veteran whose leg was blown off by an IED, or of the diabetic who lost a foot to gangrene, they do not pray for their god to regenerate these sufferers’ limbs. In the case of Christian believers, their scriptures are filled with stories of “miraculous” events and healings performed by their god, including restoration of sight to the blind and movement to a paralytic, instantaneous curing of leprosy and healing of a soldier’s amputated ear and so on. Why should the production of new skin or a new leg be so difficult for an omniscient, omnipotent, responsive-to-the-heartfelt-petitions-of-his-flock deity?   Especially considering the fact that several species of our fellow animal inhabitants of our planet, including skinks, sea stars, conchs, and crayfish, can regenerate amputated appendages, and (presumably) do this without prayer.

"Oh great and merciful Poseidon, We beseech thee on behalf of our orange sister, that she be made whole again!"

“Oh great and merciful Poseidon, We beseech thee on behalf of our orange sister, that she be made whole again!”

Check out this site, for a more entertaining (and thought-provoking) examination of…well…of why this question is – or should be, to any sentient being – so important:  Why Won’t God Heal Amputees.

I get it; all of us who smite even the idea of prayer get it:  in times of adversity it’s often hard to know what to do or say.  Bad news makes everyone uncomfortable. You hear about someone’s misfortune, you care, you want to do something…but, think about it.  That “something” you do, if it’s praying (or just saying that you will pray), is more about making you feel better than about what prayer might actually accomplish.  Praying may provide you with the comforting illusion of having done something, but in fact you’ve done Absolutely. Nothing. Of. Substance.

If you really care, do something. Praying, or the secular version –  “holding a good thought for you” – doesn’t count.  Talk (and thought) is cheap; actions speak louder than – oh, don’t make me type it.

getwell

When HUL told me about her disease we cried and laughed and raged and cried and laughed some more. Here is what I will do for you, I told her, if you will let me, and if you need me to.[8] The list is a work in progress, based in part upon what other kind friends, neighbors and co-workers have done for me in times of need.  Like all such lists, it will and should be modified to fit the situation.

* Be there before, during and after surgery [9]
* Bring you healthful meals

"Get well soon, or more spam casseroles will be delivered to your  refrigerator."

“Get well soon, or more spam casseroles will be delivered to your  refrigerator.”

* Clean your house, hold your hand, feed your cats (and scoop their litterboxes)
* Donate to reputable, efficacious [10] cancer research funds
* Send you links to really bad jokes and visual puns and baby sloth videos
* Rent you some DVDs for a Daniel Day Lewis film festival [11]
* Encourage you to document what you are going through…

About that last one.  Although not a professional author, HUL is a pithy, articulate and entertaining writer, and I’ve urged her to record not only the logistics of her disease but her attitudes and reactions to it as well.  However, I have promised to refrain from referring to her dealing with cancer as if she’s on some kind of spiritual excursion.

I just can’t help it: when I heard phrases like, “Tell us what you’ve learned from your journey with pancreatic cancer,” it makes me want to kick Oprah in the ovaries.

 *   *   *

And Now For Something Completely Different

 Department of Making It All Better

When I serve a dish containing Brussels sprouts – to anyone, but mostly to MH and moiself – I also serve champagne.

sprouts

*   *   *

About Last Week’s Shirt

Receiving slightly less attention than the Rosetta mission’s landing of a probe on a comet was the PR meteor storm created by one of the project scientists.  This scientist dude chose “the most important day in spaceflight since Curiosity landed on Mars” – a day when he was slated to be speaking about the project on a worldwide live-stream – to wear a tacky bowling shirt covered in comic book-style images of half-naked women.

REALLY

Same dude also went on to describe the difficulty of the Rosetta mission: “She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

facepalm

Read this, for one of the more coherent takes on this brouhaha, including the dude’s [12] apology, and the (surprise!) internet-troll backlash aimed at those people [13] who called out the dude on his astounding inappropriateness.

“If you think this is just a bunch of prudes, you’re wrong. It’s not about the prurience. It’s about the atmosphere of denigration….. If you think this isn’t a big deal, well, by itself, it’s not a huge one. But it’s not by itself, is it? This event didn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes when there is still a tremendously leaky pipeline for women from undergraduate science classes to professional scientist. It comes when having a female name on a paper makes it less likely to get published, and cited less. It comes when there is still not even close to parity in hiring and retaining women in the sciences.”
 (Phil Plait, Astronomer and “science evangelist,” from his Bad Astronomy blog)

Is that your comet probe or are you just excited to see me?

Is that your comet probe or are you just excited to see me?

*   *   *

May your choice of bowling shirts be workplace-appropriate and face-palm-worthy-free, may well-meaning folks have no reason to pray for your recovery, may your cruciferous vegetables always be champagne-escorted, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] A Hawaiian healing ritual.

[2] A Native American practice involving cleansing a person with the smoke of sacred plants.

[3] The use of food and herbs to reestablish balance, based on a theory of wet/dry, hot/cold humors in the body.

[4] Yeah, I made that word up, but you know what I mean: crucifixes, rosaries, framed pictures of Jesus and saints and John F. Kennedy….

[5] and seemingly obligatory Facebook response to bad news.

[6] Like many a bewildered newcomer to American culture has done, and discovered that the Howareyou supplicant  did not really want to hear about your latest triumphs and travails. Or, as one European traveler put it, “Why do Americans ask how you are when they don’t want to know? Why don’t they just say, ‘Hello’?”

[7] That would be: zero.

[8] Make sure your help is practical and actually wanted, and not yet another task for the afflicted to manage.

[9] HUL has friends lined up to help, and graciously deflected that offer…although she’s made me promise to fly out for her “Yay, I’m all better!” or “I need more treatment, so kiss my hair goodbye!” party – whichever one she throws.

[10] Check out any and all charities to make sure they are legitimate and use funds wisely (Charity Navigator and Givewell are just two of the organizations that provide such evaluations), and fuck the Susan Komen industry ’cause festooning your body with plastic pink crap made in China does not cure breast cancer.

[11] Do not underestimate the power of watching your favorite movies featuring your favorite, fine-looking actors – ’twas repeated showings of Last of the Mohicans, not the antibiotics, that cured my pneumonia, I truly believe, brothers and sisters (somebody say, Amen!).

[12] Nah, I won’t use his name. I don’t think he was evil or even (consciously) misogynistic, just incredibly puerile.

[13] Every sentient being with an IQ larger than their hat size and their heads out of the sand (and not up their asses) – which I assume is an accurate description for y’all.

The Cufflinks I’m Not Inspired By

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 Cufflinks: these affordable imitations make you look rich at a fraction of the cost

I was thrilled to find out, via my email spam filter, that there is a more affordable way to fulfill my lifelong ambition to spend as little money as possible to “look rich.”

If I were a composer, that out-of-nowhere e-solicitation might be a source of artistic inspiration.  Odd/random snippets of information have provided the creative kick for many a song.  John Lennon famously wrote Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite after seeing a 19th century circus poster in an antique shop.  The brain nudge for yet another Lennon-penned track on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Good Morning, came from a breakfast cereal commercial.

Most of the ideas for my stories have come from what I call the what-if? question.  Following a seemingly haphazard visual, auditory or personal encounter, I find myself asking questions and/or posing scenarios and wahoo, story outline.

Cufflinks.  What if?  Cufflinks…cufflinks…cufflinks….  Nothin.’

*   *   *

So, it’s officially launched.  The Mighty Quinn had its release date May 14, which means I was finally able to download my e-version of my own book.  My publisher, Scarletta Press,  had sent me my author’s copies and readers who’d preordered the paperback version on Amazon and Barnes & Noble told me they’d begun receiving their copies two weeks before the 14th.  I was able to get TMQ’s tantalizing icon on my ereader two weeks before the release date, but could not access it until that very day.  I wanted to e-whine into my Nook, but I’m the author; can’t I see how it looks on screen, pretty please?

And now, I know. Yikes, and with a capital Y.  Here’s how the title page looks when the screen is rotated long side vertical.:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

Last week was must-see TV week in this house, what with the series and season finales of The Office and Grey’s Anatomy.  And then there was this unexpected entertainment from that bastion of reasoned debate and civic discourse, Meet the Press, Face the Nation Geraldo at Large.

Confession: I’d never seen the show (which, judging from the title, I thought was a reality show about the host’s battle of the bulge), until alert media critics called to attention the episode with a certain, guaranteed-to-amuse guest.

Ostensibly on the program to dispute NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s public health initiatives, conservative political foghorn commentator Ann Coulter managed to steer her anti-nanny state tirade to one of her favorite topics: naughty gay sex.  The always blithering quotable Coulter’s best line:

“Sodomy: we all have to pay.”

That’ll be $200, in cash, up front, Ms. Coulter.  Leave it on the sink counter, next to the mint mouthwash.

Poor Ann, still paying for it.  No wonder she seems so agitated.  Someone, please, send her a link to Craig’s List Casual Encounters.

*   *   *

One prays for rain, one prays for sun;
they kneel in church together.
Which of them, do you suppose
will regulate the weather? [1]

When someone asked Humanist Rabbi Adam Chalom to pray for a friend who had breast cancer, Adam said, “I have a better idea — give me her phone number and I’ll call her. Talking to her to lift her spirits, and make her feel less alone and more cared for, will do much more for her than talking to anything else.” [2]

To many people, prayer apparently provides the illusion of compassion and intention.  “I’m praying for ____ (your job search, a cure for Nana’s cancer, the tornado/ flood/hurricane/bombing victims…).”  No matter how sincerely you may hold that thought, all you have is the self-comforting (read: selfish) delusion of doing something, when, in fact,

You. Have. Done. Absolutely. Nothing. Except. Pray.

People in trouble, people in need, need your actions, not your carefully arranged thought patterns.

My point is not to bash the ignorant praying masses, nor make light of the latest tornado tragedy.  My intention, as always, is to promote reason and look reality in the face (metaphorically speaking, of course.)

And then, there is Wolf Blitzer.

Need I say more?  No.  But I will.

In case you were on a media-free retreat in an Indian ashram this week (or perhaps busy crawling out of the tornado-flung –debris from which your Lord and Savior neglected to save you [3]), you’ve probably come across the Ultimate Newsman Fail clip, in which CNN Evangelist Snake Handler Blessings Giver correspondent Wolf Blitzer keeps pushing an Oklahoma tornado survivor to mouth the obligatory Natural Disaster Survivor’s Pious Blather ®  .  Blitzer prattles on about how Rebecca Vitsuan and her family have been “blessed,” and when he insists, “You gotta thank the Lord,” a visibly bemused and flustered Vitsmun  gives that BlitzHole more civility than he deserves by politely replying, uh, no, that’s not gonna happen, seeing as how she’s an atheist.

It would make for a fascinating on-camera moment to see a real “news” correspondent ask some religious person (preferably your average, Sally PraiseDeLawd and not Pat Robertson or other religious pros) [4] the following question:   Please explain your understanding of why all those faithful believers living in in the heart of the Bible Belt died (no doubt furiously praying their asses off as the wind howled around them), while that unrepentant atheist survived.

Okay. I understand why many people appeal to their deities and call for prayers during times of loss and tragedy.  It is something I did (with varying degrees of confidence in the efficacy of the act) when I called myself a believer; it is a cultural reflex, a part of the human struggle to attribute cause and effect – or assign blame – for events we don’t understand or burdens we feel powerless to ameliorate.

But please, leave the god talk out of natural disasters.

I was elated to see the Oklahoma elderly woman’s on-camera joy at discovering her dog beneath the rubble of her home, the dog she’d assumed was dead…even as I cringed to know what was coming – the thanking of a god for not only saving her, but her dog:

 “I thought god just answered one prayer; ‘let me be OK,’ but he answered both of them.”

I would never want to quash the woman’s delight at having her beloved canine companion back.  If I knew her personally, and had an ounce of respect for her intellect and sentience, after her recovery I’d hope she’d have the opportunity to consider the conflicting, disturbing implications of truly believing what she said on camera.

1) If this supernatural being you prayed to exists, you believe he [5] has the ability and the willpower to intervene in the natural world, which is why you prayed for him to rescue you, and your dog.

2) If you believe this god used his divine powers to rescue your dog you must also consider that he did so while allowing human beings, including children cowering in terror in their schools, to suffer horrific, crushing injuries, and die.

3) This same god is now the object of prayers of gratitude from survivors, and petitionary prayers to extend his comfort to the brokenhearted families whose dead children were somehow less worthy of divine protection and intervention than one old woman’s dog.

prayer

I am being advised, on Facebook, radio, television, email petitions, by people who don’t even know me (as well as by people who do and should know better), to pray and pray some more – this week, for the tornado survivors.  Next week will surely bring another prayer-worthy petition.

And I realize it isn’t considered kosher to bring up this Uh, wait a minute, are you really thinking this through?  issue in times of trouble – or at any time, in a culture as superficial as ours.  Pandering religious sound bites of gratitude and “comfort” are the norm, and it’s a popular move for politicians, media mouthpieces and other public figures to Thank God for ____ or announce, as one newscaster did this week, while viewing footage of a tornado-razed school,  “We pray they [the faculty and children of a Plaza Towers Elementary] were somewhere else.” [6] But true religious believers cannot be taken seriously when they (claim to) apply reason to the rest of their lives, and then perform mental gymnastics worthy of an Olympic medal when it comes to their theology or worldview.

If your deity is all-knowing, it knew the tornado was coming yet “said” nothing. If your deity is all-powerful, it watched the tornado and did nothing. If your deity is all-loving and compassionate, it did not warn its beloved followers and  it did not prevent their violent deaths by stopping the tornado as it was being formed or by redirecting it to an empty prairie.

The deity whom you believe formed the universe with a thought and animated humanity with its breath and commanded a 40 day flood to rain upon the earth, this deity was unable to affect a minor change in barometric pressure to morph the tornado into a harmless rainstorm.  And no running away from it with the “the gods work in mysterious ways” crap.  If a god is unable to act, then it isn’t much of a god.  If you believe that this (or any) god exists then you must consider that this god twiddled its divine thumbs while a school building collapsed upon the heads of terrified and screaming children.

Social media has, of course, proven to be yet another venue for perpetuating the prayer nonsense…and also combating it, or at least pointing out its ultimate inefficacy.  An example of this is comic/actor/director and atheist Ricky Gervais,’s marvelous reaction to trending Twitter hashtags #PrayForOklahoma and #PrayersForOklahoma.

When MTV News tweeted, “Beyonce, Rihanna & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma,” Gervais’s commented:  “I feel like an idiot now.  I only sent money.”

Gervais went on to promote #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma, and suggested his 4.6 million followers give $10 to the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts

Oh, and back to the dog. As caught on camera, the stunned puppy peeking out from the rubble was saved by human hands.  Humans lifted up the debris.  Humans pulled the dog to safety, held the trembling, whimpering animal, and comforted it.  No matter what their supposed motivation or attribution, it is our fellow human beings who pull us from the wreckage, help us heal, and rebuild.

*   *   *

In order not to end on too serious a note, have you ever wondered what would happen if you did a search for cutest reptile in the world?

lizard1

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Variously attributed to “Anonymous”

[2] Event also cited in author Dale McGowan’s insightful, witty and compassionate blog, The Meming of Life

[3] Or caused to be flung upon you. If you believe your deity is in control of such things.

[4] or at least waiting until the professionals have finished blaming those storm-causing homos

[5] I’m using the male pronoun because the elderly women did. Although I believe all supernatural beliefs, mythologies and superstitions to be gender inclusive.

[6] They weren’t.  Seven children died.)