Monday, August 31, 2015

Quote of the Week

The question then arises, "What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?" The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained.

Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic -- a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.

Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: "You must not try experiments on God, your Master." Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?

I have seen it suggested that a team of people -- the more the better -- should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.

The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. "Words without thoughts never to heaven go," says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiments. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.


For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The very question "Does prayer work?" puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. "Work": as if it were magic, or a machine -- something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary -- not necessarily the most important one -- from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

C.S. Lewis
"The Efficacy of Prayer"
The World's Last Night and Other Essays

Monday, August 24, 2015

Quote of the Week

The naturalistic/physicalistic crusade to reduce the mental to the physical is driven by the idea that we have better knowledge and understanding of the physical than we have of the "problematic" and uncomfortably "mysterious" mental. But if what I asserted above is true, the tenability of any sort of physicalism rests on an epistemology that is committed to a view diametrically opposed to this idea. We have a better, and more immediate grasp of the mental than we have of the theoretical posit that is the physical world and its properties. If anything, we should be much more concerned to reduce the physical to the comfortable, more familiar world of the mental than we should be interested in reductions that move in the opposite direction.

Richard Fumerton
Knowledge, Thought, and the Case for Dualism
(Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quote of the Week

"Everything seems meaningless," Charlene complained to me one day.

"What is the meaning of life?" I asked her with seeming innocence.

"How should I know?" she replied with obvious irritation.

"You're a dedicated religious person," I responded. "Surely your religion must have something to say about the meaning of life."

"You're trying to trap me," Charlene countered.

"That's right," I acknowledged. "I am trying to trap you into seeing your problem clearly. What does your religion hold to be the meaning of life?"

"I am not a Christian," Charlene proclaimed. "My religion speaks of love, not of meaning."

"Well, what do Christians say as to the meaning of life? Even if it isn't what you believe, at least it's a model."

"I'm not interested in models."

"You were raised in the Christian Church. You spent almost two years as a professional teacher of Christian doctrine," I went on, goading her. "Surely you're not so dumb as to be unaware of what Christians say is the meaning of life, the purpose of human existence."

"We exist for the glory of God," Charlene said in a flat, low monotone, as if she were sullenly repeating an alien catechism, learned by rote and extracted from her at gunpoint. "The purpose of our life is to glorify God."

"Well?" I asked.

There was a short silence. For a brief moment I thought she might cry -- the one time in our work together. "I cannot do it. There's no room for me in that. That would be my death," she said in a quavering voice. Then, with a suddenness that frightened me, what seemed to be her choked-back sobs turned into a roar. "I don't want to live for God. I will not. I want to live for me. My own sake!"

It was another session in the middle of which Charlene walked out. I felt a terrible pity for her. I wanted to cry, but my own tears would not come. "Oh God, she's so alone," was all I could whisper.

M. Scott Peck
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

Monday, August 10, 2015

Quote of the Week

We clearly weren't getting very far on the topic of pets, so I decided to switch to another topic, which often elicits some enthusiasm from young people. "It's not long since Christmas," I said. "What did you get for Christmas?"

"Nothing much."

"Your parents must have given you something. What did they give you?"

"A gun."

"A gun?" I repeated stupidly.


"What kind of gun?" I asked slowly.

"A twenty-two."

"A twenty-two pistol?"

"No, a twenty-two rifle."

There was a long moment of silence. I felt as if I had lost my bearings. I wanted to stop the interview. I wanted to go home. Finally I pushed myself to say what had to be said. "I understand that it was with a twenty-two rifle that your brother killed himself."


"Was that what you asked for for Christmas?"


"What did you ask for?"

"A tennis racket."

"But you got the gun instead?"


"How did you feel, getting the same kind of gun that your brother had?"

"It wasn't the same kind of gun."

I began to feel better. Maybe I was just confused. "I'm sorry," I said. "I thought they were the same kind of gun."

"It wasn't the same kind of gun" Bobby replied. "It was the gun."

"The gun?"


"You mean, it was your brother's gun?" I wanted to go home very badly now.


"You mean your parents gave you your brother's gun for Christmas, the one he shot himself with?"


"How did it make you feel getting your brother's gun for Christmas?" I asked.

"I don't know."

I almost regretted the question. How could he know? How could he answer such a thing? I looked at him. There had been no change in his appearance as we had talked about the gun. He had continued to pick away at his sores. Otherwise it was if he were already dead -- dull-eyed, listless, apathetic to the point of lifelessness, beyond terror.


"Look, Doctor," the father interjected, "I don't know what you're insinuating. You're asking all these questions like you were a policeman or something. We haven't done anything wrong. You don't have any right to take a boy from his parents, if that's what you're thinking of. We've worked hard for that boy. We've been good parents."

My stomach was feeling queasier moment by moment. "I'm concerned about the Christmas present you gave Bobby," I said.

"Christmas present?" The parents seems confused.

"Yes. I understand you gave him a gun."

"That's right."

"Was that what he asked for?"

"How should I know what he asked for?" the father demanded belligerently. Then immediately his manner turned plaintive. "I can't remember what he asked for. A lot's happened to us, you know. This has been a difficult year for us."

"I can believe it has been," I said, "but why did you give him a gun?"

"Why? Why not? It's a good present for a boy his age. Most boys his age would give their eyeteeth for a gun."

"I should think," I said slowly, "that since your only other child has killed himself with a gun that you wouldn't feel so kindly toward guns."

"You're one of these antigun people, are you?" the father asked me, faintly belligerent again. "Well, that's all right. You can be that way. I'm no gun nut myself, but it does seem to me that guns aren't the problem; it's the people who use them."

"To an extent, I agree with you," I said. "Stuart didn't kill himself simply because he had a gun. There must have been some other reason more important. Do you know what that reason might have been?"

"No. We've already told you we didn't even know that Stuart was depressed."

"That's right. Stuart was depressed. People don't commit suicide unless they're depressed. Since you didn't know Stuart was depressed, there was perhaps no reason for you to worry about him having a gun. But you did know Bobby was depressed. You knew he was depressed well before Christmas, well before you gave him the gun."

"Please, Doctor, you don't seem to understand," the mother said ingratiatingly, taking over from her husband. "We really didn't know it was this serious. We just thought he was upset over his brother."

"So you gave him his brother's suicide weapon. Not any gun. That particular gun."

The father took the lead again. "We couldn't afford to get him a new gun. I don't know why you're picking on us. We gave him the best present we could. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know. We're just ordinary working people. We could have sold the gun and made money. But we didn't. We kept it so we could give Bobby a good present."

"Did you think how that present might seem to Bobby?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that giving him his brother's suicide weapon was like telling him to walk in his brother's shoes, like telling him to go out and kill himself too."

"We didn't tell him anything of the sort."

"Of course not. But did you think that it might possibly seem that way to Bobby?"

"No, we didn't think about that. We're not educated people like you. We haven't been to college and learned all kinds of fancy ways of thinking. We're just simple working people. We can't be expected to think of all these things."

"Perhaps not," I said. "But that's what worries me. Because these things need to be thought of."

We stared at each other for a long moment. How did they feel, I wondered. Certainly they didn't seem to feel guilty. Angry? Frightened? Victimized? I didn't know. I didn't feel any empathy for them. I only knew how I felt. I felt repelled by them. And I felt very tired.

M. Scott Peck
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil