Only Humans Can Solve Human Problems

Why do the religious insist on looking to the divine to solve human problems?

Prayer, at best, can be an effective placebo. It helps believers feel they are doing something positive, and prayers might even “cure” some psychosomatic disorders.

Now let’s look at the prayers of politicians. Several presidential candidates asked God whether they should run, and God said “yes.” Funny how God’s plan always seems to be the same as that of the politician who asks for guidance. God even told Tim Scott, my congressman, that he should oppose the Boehner Bill to raise the debt ceiling. Who would have thought that the infallible ruler of the universe would be such a micro-manager?

When the Rev. Bailey Smith was head of the Southern Baptist Convention, he said, “God does not hear the prayers of a Jew.” As an atheist, I agree with the reverend. It would also appear that God does not hear the prayers of Texas Governor Rick Perry. After Perry officially declared three days of prayer for rain in the state of Texas, the drought continued. That didn’t deter Perry from trying to do for the nation what he tried to do for his state: Throw up his hands (literally) in prayer and ask God to solve the nation’s problems.

A more effective way to solve problems would be to seek guidance from another book with talking animals, Aesop’s Fables. In one fable, the wheels of a wagon get stuck in the mud and the driver gets on his knees to pray. Hercules appears to him and says, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” 

Ben Franklin also made this statement a number of centuries later, but with a singular God. In other words, only humans can solve human problems.

If Governor Perry should become President Perry (which might happen if God tells him to run), perhaps he will recommend as the next justice for the Supreme Court someone from the legal team of the American Family Association, monetary sponsor of Perry’s recent national prayer event. This “pro-family” Christian group claims that only Christians legitimately have freedom of religion. It’s bad enough when politicians go around spouting, “We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.” The natural next step might be, “We have freedom of Christianity, not freedom from Christianity.” Welcome to the Dark Ages.

Our secular government must be governed by secular principles. Our political leaders work best when they examine relevant evidence and look for the best available solutions to a problem. Politics is the art of negotiation and compromise, while religious fundamentalism espouses an uncompromising and absolutist worldview. There is lots of blame to go around for the current fiscal crisis that put our wheels in the mud, but neither prayers nor uncompromising principles will get us out. Humans need to find solutions, but not by looking in the Bible.


Herb Silverman Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

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