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What the Coronavirus Pandemic Tells Us About the Efficacy of Prayer

coronavirus psalm 91:10

Unless you are Jeremiah Johnson living in an abandoned bus in remote Alaska without access to electricity, cellphone service, and internet access, you have likely heard that the world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 virus. Here in the Buckeye State, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of people — inexplicably exempting houses of worship — and ordered the shutdown of all food establishments. I suspect Governor DeWine is not yet done with attempts to mitigate the Coronavirus.

While Ohio is in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, other states, cities, and countries are facing alarming increases in cases and deaths. Medical workers are overwhelmed, supplies are running low, and hospitals lack available beds and respirators to treat seriously ill patients — with and without infection from the Coronavirus. My wife was scheduled to have major bowel surgery on March 24. After talking it over with me, Polly decided to postpone her surgery until late June. Yes, that means three more months with a colostomy bag, but it beats being exposed to the virus while in a medically compromised state. I have canceled all of my doctor’s appointments, save one. Since I am on the “this shit will kill you if you catch it” list, I am homebound for the duration. Yesterday, I heard from one long-time reader of this blog who is infected with Covid-19. His mother could also be infected. Here in the United States, we are in the early stages of the spread of the virus. Things will get worse before they get better; and they WILL, in time, get better. Whether all of us come out on the other side of this medically and financially whole, or even among the living, for that matter, is unknown. All any of us can do is listen to what experts are telling us and act accordingly.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15. That day has now passed, and, as expected, millions of Christians praying to their version of the Christian God did exactly nothing. Granted, I am sure some of the faithful felt better after beseeching the big man upstairs to ameliorate those affected by the Coronavirus. I suspect that scores of Evangelicals prayed to Jesus, asking him to turn back this attempt by China and the Democrats to crash Trump’s awesome economy and run him out of office. Yet, outside of the cathartic psychological effects felt from praying, what, exactly, changed after the Nothing Fails Like Prayer National Day of Christian Piety? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “Bruce, you can’t know that,” I am sure some Evangelicals might say. “God works behind the scenes in mysterious ways!” Sorry, but this line of bullshit no longer works for me, and I suspect it no longer works for millions of other people, including many Christians. It’s time for the Evangelical God to come out of the shadows and reveal himself. It’s time for him/her/it to make an appearance at hospitals and nursing homes and do some real “saving.” And dammit, it is time for Jesus to make sure there’s toilet paper in every American home. Just remember, the family that shits together stays together.

I am not attacking individual Christians for praying. You do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. However, don’t expect rational people who put their faith in science to give any credence to claims that your God has the power to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic. If 2,000 years of Christian church history has taught us anything, it has taught us that when epidemics, plagues, wars, and natural disasters show their faces, the God of Christianity remains firmly ensconced in the fictional pages of the Bible. He is but a character in a movie that’s been playing on an endless loop for thousands of years. We alone remain the only hope for a better tomorrow. We alone have the opportunity, knowledge, and power to hopefully limit the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I remain hopeful that the world is up to the task and that better days lie ahead.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    dale m

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (an atheist organization) provided the financial muscle behind the Queensland Coronavirus breakthrough as of late. Their Foundation website also expressly forbids the financing of any religious association. Any bets they will get no mention by evangelicals?

  2. Avatar
    Bob Felton

    Certain sorts of prayer have a psychological benefit. If a cigarette smoker prays daily that He will help him stop smoking, then it’s entirely possible that the desire to quit smoking will eventually embed in the subconscious and change the behavior. It doesn’t seem altogether outrageous to me to speculate that prayer can mobilize the subconscious to fight some sicknesses or infirmities, too, though I won’t hazard a guess what those might be.

    But prayer’s value is purely private, purely psychological, and won’t affect anything outside the supplicant’s head.

  3. Avatar

    Hey Bruce, I hope you and Polly come through this ok.
    Events like this remind me what a weird and sick kind of god, the god of Christianity is.
    He is a god that allows horrible things to happen to his creation/children (granted, some of which are self inflicted), and rarely does anything to help them. Not that I still believe in “god”, but for the benefit of this post and all.
    What if you or I did that to our children? Not only not doing what we can to protect them from illness/injury, but also keeping them from proper medical care when they get sick or injured? At some point, I imagine that DHS would show up and take our children away and we would be put in jail for abuse.
    It reminds me of what Dave Warnock (an atheist ex-Christian dealing with a recent ALS diagnosis) said recently in a podcast I listened to. He said something along the lines of, if god exists, he is a dick, and I don’t want anything to do with him.

  4. Avatar

    I noticed when I was on Twitter Sunday, the National Day of Prayer hashtag wasn’t even trending, nor were my Christian followers posting it. I believe many people, while still believers, are getting sick of the “thoughts and prayers” bull instead of real action.

  5. Avatar

    If I weren’t already an atheist I imagine I’d have serious questions about a deity who can’t (or won’t) protect pilgrims at places like Mecca ot Lourdes from tiny snippets of RNA.

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