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Posted by on Mar 31, 2013 in Atheism | 2 comments

Church of England: lying for Jesus

Just before Easter, the Church of England announced that it had commissioned research which showed – contrary to data from research like last year’s RDFS survey – that religion might well be in rude health, judging from the number of people who appeared to believe in the power of prayer. Even more heartening was the ‘fact’ that young folk, in particular, said that they would pray for something. You can read the results of the survey here (pdf).

Except, there’s just one problem. Both the Church, as well as journalists like the Telegraph’s religion editor, are talking utter nonsense. The Church probably knows that it’s lying, while Bingham is perhaps just guilty of being inattentive (even though quite a few of us have pointed out his mistake to him on Twitter). The mistake is this: the survey question asked “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?”

If I were to pray for something, I suspect I’d pray for prayer to work. And if I’d answered that way to this survey question, I’d be counted amongst the “4 out of 5” people that the Church of England claim to believe in the power of prayer. Yep – simply answering a hypothetical question is being interpreted as an affirmation of faith.

As Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association points out, this is like demonstrating that people believe in genies through getting positive responses to the question “irrespective of whether you make wishes of genies, what would you wish for?”. It’s a thoroughly dishonest and desperate attempt to find something positive to say about the Church and religion at Easter-time – and notably, also a rather cynical ploy in that it seems to indicate that the Church don’t think much of the intelligence of their flock.

I’d urge you to read Martin Robbins’ fine column on this in The Guardian. As he points out:

What’s particularly fun about this survey is that when you examine it in detail you realise that it’s full of uncomfortable implications. Whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, it makes the British people look like pretty terrible human beings.

As an atheist, if it were really true that four in five people believed in the power of prayer, then I’d nail myself to a cross now and be done with it. It’s not the stupidity that bothers me so much as the self-entitled arrogance required to believe that there’s an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent deity who looks like you and will do whatever you ask him to do, like some sort of celestial concierge service.

31% of respondents said they would pray for peace in the world. Given the noticeable absence of world peace, there are only a few ways this plays out. Either nobody has got around to praying yet, in which case people are callous bastards; or God has ignored them all, in which case God is a callous bastard; or prayer doesn’t work, in which case the Christian movement is the equivalent of a town full of people still trying to call the number of their local Papa John’s 2,000 years after it closed down and the phone was disconnected, speaking at the error tone even though nobody has picked up, then spotting a pizza in the supermarket two days later and insisting that it must have arrived by the grace of Papa John’s.