The miracle of prayer

Chet Raymo quotes Kenneth Miller on prayer:

Finally, any traditional believer must agree that God is able to influence the thoughts and actions of individual human beings. We pray for strength, we pray for patience, and we pray for understanding. Prayer is an element of faith, and bound within it is the conviction that God can affect us and those we pray for in positive ways.

Wait. If we pray for strength, patience and understanding and find (or believe we find) that we have more strength, patience and understanding, that could simply be because praying is a way we get ourselves to have more strength, patience and understanding. It’s true that in that sense ‘faith’ may well work – and that in order to work the faith may have to include the conviction that God can affect us – but that can be true quite independently of whether or not God actually exists or actually affects us. That may be all Ken Miller means by that passage…but it would be a good deal clearer if he pointed out that how much strength, patience and understanding we have is something that we ourselves can (in general) help to determine, and that all kinds of mental tricks and crutches and games can help with that process.

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