Until you let go of God and take hold of yourselves,
of the innate powers of your own beings,
there is no hope for you . . .
stop praying and go to work.”
— Lois Waisbrooker, c. 1896.
It’s simple logic. The Christian god promises to answer prayer. Prayers to this god are not answered. Therefore, the Christian god does not exist.
Right now, millions of Christians are asking their god to defeat the coronavirus and to heal the sick. Those prayers are having no effect.
It is not just the coronavirus, of course. We could take the example of the horrific 1755 Lisbon earthquake that Voltaire called a “repellant dance of death” and which 19th-century orator Robert Ingersoll concluded had “denied the existence of God.” Or the 1918 “Spanish flu,” which killed my great-grandfather. Or the 2001 terrorist attacks that prompted Richard Dawkins to say: “My respect for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th.”
History is pockmarked with examples, but we only need one. SARS-CoV-2 is virulent enough to single-handedly kill the Christian god.
What does the Christian god promise?
The Christian god makes a crystal-clear pledge: “I will answer your prayers.”
Jesus stated boldly: “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22) There is no ambiguity here. “All things” means “all things.” He even clarified: “Even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.”
Jesus, who said “I and the father are one,” confirmed this in many other passages:
“So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” — Mark 11:24
If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. — Matthew 18:19
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. — Matthew 7:7–8
“Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” — Mark 11:22–23
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. — John 14:12–14
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. — John 15:7
I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. — John 15:16
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him. — Matthew 7:11
“Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. . . . Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. — John 16:23–24
Other New Testament writers agreed:
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. — 1 John 3:22
And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. — 1 John 5:14–15
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him . . . and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. — James 5:14–15
The same promise appears in the Old Testament: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
The claim is indisputable. The omnipotent and omnibenevolent Christian god promises to answer “everyone who asks,” “all things,” “whatever you ask for in prayer.” If a believing Christian prays, then “it will be done for you,” “you shall receive,” “it will be yours,” “I will do it.”
There is no more solid promise in scripture.
The Christian god vows to answer prayer not with “Yes, No, or Wait,” as some apologists claim. He promises an unequivocal “Yes.”
Does God answer prayer?
“How many are the fervent petitions,
presented in faith by God’s worshippers,
which are never granted!”
— Emma Martin, 1840
“Nothing fails like prayer.”
— Anne Gaylor, 1978
Multitudes of Christians have been fervently praying. The Jesuits have asked Jesus to “Heal those who are sick with the virus.” The Christian relief organization World Vision is asking Almighty God to “keep this new coronavirus from continuing to spread.” The Southern Baptists are entreating “Lord, you are the Great Physician, so we pray for healing for the victims of COVID-19.” President Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White said “I believe in the same way if we call on God almighty to divinely intervene just as He does so many times, that the plague can be stopped.”
So why are thousands continuing to succumb indiscriminately to the coronavirus? The tragic deaths include devout believers, as well as ministers, priests, and bishops. They are beseeching their Lord for protection, but the impudent virus, no respecter of persons, is recklessly cavorting around the planet oblivious to their beliefs.
By the middle of March, President Trump finally realized that the pandemic was a problem. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States was inching toward 100. So he announced (by tweet) a National Day of Prayer, “looking to God for protection.”
“It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer. We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these . . . No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!”
Trump’s proclamation prayed “for God’s healing hand to be placed on the people of our Nation. . . . For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
Then what happened?
If you look at a graph, you can see that the death rate from COVID-19 shot up dramatically after that.
A month later there were more than 30,000 known deaths. A week after that it approached 50,000. The sad statistic will be greater by the time you read this. Christian families are not being spared. Prayer is making no difference. In fact, the reluctance of some pastors to close their sanctuaries — trusting that Jesus meant what he promised — most certainly has increased the risk of infection among churchgoers.
Mountains are not being cast into the sea.
Is governmental prayer effective?
“Who can prove that a single prayer ever was effectual?
—that any single event in Nature
was ever altered or changed by prayer?. . .
‘Not my will, O Lord! but thine be done!’
is, after all, but resigning one’s self to the inevitable.”
— Elmina D. Slenker, 1870
Since the 1950s, the U.S. president has issued an annual “National Day of Prayer” proclamation. Many governors and mayors have echoed it, asking for God’s protection for our nation. President Trump’s 2019 Proclamation said:
“Today, on this National Day of Prayer, we once again come together to give thanks to Almighty God for the bountiful blessings He has bestowed on our great Nation . . . We also acknowledge our dependence on God’s love to guide our families, communities, and our country away from harm and toward abundance and peace.”
Look around. Did that have any effect?
The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer on May 7 will be “God’s Glory Across The Earth.” That unintentionally tragic-comic phrase was selected many months ago, before the glory of the virus was parading across the earth, before the prickly irony would have been apparent. And yet, people will continue to pray, hoping that maybe this time God will keep his promise.
After Governor Rick Perry proclaimed “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas” in April 2011, asking for “the healing of our land,” not only did the rain fail to comply; the drought worsened. Wildfires continued to ravage the terrain. The first major rain in Texas came in October, more than 160 days later. Perry should have taken Mark Twain’s advice: “It is better to read the weather forecast before we pray for rain.”
When Florida Governor Rick Scott publicly prayed for Hurricane Irma to bypass his state in 2017, the destructive storm paid no attention. That merciless tempest was nicknamed “Irmageddon.”
On April 9 this year, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked citizens to “Please pause at noon from home, work, the store, the doctors office for a moment of prayer or silent meditation and ask God in your own way to heal our land. . . . We ask our churches with bells for them to ring 12 times to show unity and strength.”
A few days later, on Easter Sunday, storms and tornadoes severely damaged churches in the south. A Baptist steeple with a towering cross was destroyed by lightning in Alabama. This in spite of the fact that those congregations had been faithfully praying for God’s protection.
“Thy will be done”
“We are taught to pray ‘Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.’
If the thing cannot be done,
why waste breath asking it?”
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1869
Christians are aware of the failure of their prayers, because they often add “nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” Some insist that the verses (cited above) that plainly promise to answer prayer should be interpreted less literally. “Prayer is not a magic wand,” we sometimes hear. In The Lord’s Prayer, for example, Christ advised his followers to ask the Father: “Thy will be done.” If God has a purpose for allowing the coronavirus to proceed, who are we to ask otherwise?
The obvious reply is that if you believe the bible, you actually do know God’s will. “I will do it,” Jesus said. If he is a loving god, then he will want to alleviate pain and suffering.
So why do Christians keep praying? If God is going to do his will, what is the point of asking otherwise? Are they maybe hoping that this once, God will smile on them and break the laws of nature in their favor? Is that any different from an atheist hoping that maybe this once I will win the lottery?
Let’s just say it plainly: the emperor has no clothes and the Christian god does not exist.
Is it our fault?
Rev. Ralph Drollinger, the evangelical pastor who conducts bible study at the White House for President Trump’s cabinet, blames the coronavirus on sin: “Whenever an individual or corporate group of individuals violate the inviolate precepts of God’s Word, he, she, they or the institution will suffer the respective consequences,” he wrote. “Most assuredly America is facing this form of God’s judgment.”
Some Christians preach that prayer is contingent. Natural disasters are actually punishments from God, they proclaim. He doesn’t answer prayer at the moment because America has turned its back on him. They cite verses that condition God’s favor on our obedience.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14
So the pestilence is our fault.
Actually, it isn’t. Notice that that verse is only the second half of a sentence. The first half says:
“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;” — 2 Chronicles 7:13
Put those verses in the right order, and we see what it is that God promises to “heal the land” from: himself!
In my book, GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, I cite more than 50 passages showing that the jealous biblical God uses pestilence and plagues to punish his people for worshipping someone other than himself. Here are a few:
“I will heap calamities on them . . . I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague.” — Deuteronomy 32:23
“So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel . . . and there died of the people . . . 70,000 men.” — 2 Samuel 24:15
“Behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite thy people.” — 1 Chronicles 21:14
“And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.” — Jeremiah 21:6
For more examples, see unpleasantgod.ffrf.org.
Instead of a National Day of Prayer, those who stubbornly continue to believe in the biblical deity should proclaim a National Day of Cursing God. Their god caused the virus and will do nothing to stop it.
“God did not stop the virus”
“We grovel and ‘worship’ and pray to God to do
what we ourselves ought to have done
a thousand years ago,
and can do now, as soon as we choose.”
— Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1923.
“Good works instead of long prayers.”
— Anne Royall, 19th-century feminist activist
On April 14, New York Governor Cuomo was expressing guarded optimism that the curve was beginning to flatten in his state. “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus,” he said. “God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.”
Exactly. What we do. It should be obvious, even to those who believe in prayer (including Cuomo, who is Catholic), that effective remedies do not come from begging God. Prayer might offer hope and comfort to some, but the heavy lifting of problem solving is done by science through human effort. Brave health-care workers (including believers and nonbelievers) and enforced governmental policies like sheltering at home are what make the difference.
There is no good evidence for any god. But isn’t it a relief to know that the Christian god does not exist? Instead of being distracted and disappointed by supplicating an ancient deity full of empty threats and emptier promises, let’s open our eyes, get off our knees, roll up our sleeves and work with science and medicine to battle this pandemic.
Robert Ingersoll said it best: “The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”