Clearly, I’m not an atheist. But it’s important to note I am not a christian, either. Some would call me an agnostic, but I prefer merely to describe myself as spiritual. Raised (for the most part) Unitarian, I seek truth–to the extent it can be found. I do not believe in a personified, interventionist god. I believe in a force of nature that science has not–nor do I believe ever will–really explain, but like Stephen Jay Gould, I don’t think science need bother.
Proving–or disproving–the existence of “god” would be a very low priority in my lab, I can tell you that.
So, recently, Daniel C. Dennett, who’s work I’ve read and admire, had a medical problem that might have ended his life. He survived, and when he did, he thanked “goodness”. I have absolutely no issue with that. I’d thank goodness, too!
Where I think he’s mis-guided is in his chastising those who “prayed” for him. Oh, he’s quick to say that he appreciates the thought and that he understands the urge, but he wishes they’d do something useful:
“Surely it does the world no harm if those who can honestly do so pray for me! No, I’m not at all sure about that. For one thing, if they really wanted to do something useful, they could devote their prayer time and energy to some pressing project that they can do something about.”
Look, I understand what he’s getting at, but c’mon. This shit is getting ridiculous. The idea of “praying” or even saying, “you’re in my prayers” isn’t any more “wasteful” or “useless” than saying “you’re in my thoughts”. Is it wasted time to take a moment and stop, reflect on the state of a close friend or loved one, whether that thought is based in religion or secular humanism? The idea that someone is wasting their time because they are offering their support in form of prayer is just plain stupid. It’s no different (and I would agree no more effective) than saying, “I thought about you today.”
Yes, yes, I understand that if you’re a friend of Dennett and you know that he would feel the best way to honor or express care for him was plowing into your work and getting something remarkable done, well, by golly, that’s what you should do. But again, I’m calling bullshit. Humans, whether they believe in “god” or not should care about each other and the people in their lives. When they express that care as a thought, gesture or even–gasp–a prayer, it’s never useless and it’s never a waste of time.