BEYOND BELIEF: The power of prayer

In a recent Fox News poll, 77 percent of voters said prayer was responsible for saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head in last month’s massacre in Tucson.

The statistic is hardly surprising given the religiosity of this country, not to mention the Fox News audience. But it seems to represent misplaced praise.

Shouldn’t the doctors who worked diligently to save the congresswoman’s life get the positive public feedback, rather than the god that presumably allowed her to be shot through the head in the first place?

Giffords may have survived her wounds, but one could hardly say she is blessed or lucky. In all likelihood, she will be left with serious and permanent disabilities.

And what about the six people who did not survive, including a 76-year-old pastor and a 9-year-old girl who had just come from receiving her first holy communion? Did the prayers of the public somehow overlook them?

Why would prayer work for Giffords but not
for the victims who died? Unless we assume that no one was praying for the others, it seems more likely that prayer, if a factor at all, was an utter failure.

Three survivors of the Tucson shooting, including Giffords, are reported to be in intensive care. If they do pull through, that would mean three of the nine whose wounds were potentially fatal have survived.

Assuming all of the victims were being prayed for, prayer’s success rate in this case was around 33 percent – hardly a stellar performance. If God is to be thanked for saving the life of Giffords, he should also be blamed for failing to do so in the cases of those who were not so lucky.

Of course, Giffords owes her survival not to God or prayer but to the forces of blind chance, which is neither benevolent or evil. Chance engenders immense tragedy as well as good fortune, regardless of the hopes, dreams and prayers of those affected.

I shudder to think what would have happened if prayer had been the only thing relied on to save Giffords’ life. I wonder whether those who agree with the Fox News poll would prefer to entrust their own lives to a team of skilled doctors or to a Sunday prayer group.

If doctors hadn’t operated on Giffords, no amount of prayer in the world would have stopped her brain from swelling, or becoming infected, or suffering any number of possible complications of a gunshot to the head.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.

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BEYOND BELIEF: The power of prayer