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CAN PRAYER DETERMINE THE WILL OF GOD?

Interpretation of a pilot study

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Interpretation of the results:

There are a number of possible explanations for these remarkable results:

bulletThe results could have been a fluke. For example, another group might replicate the study and find that God told the religious liberals that he opposed SSM. The probability of this happening is vanishingly small. Although the number of participants in this study is small, the results are striking.
bulletOne group might be lying. For example, they might have determined to their satisfaction that God disagreed with their stance on SSM, but they responded with false data, saying that God really agreed with them. We feel that quite unlikely. We receive about 10,000 Emails a year at this office. The maturity and ethics exhibited by almost all of their authors suggest to us that the participants are honorable and truthful people.
bulletOne group misunderstood God's response: This is also difficult to accept, because the answer is a simple "Yes" or "No" or perhaps "It depends upon the circumstances." Most subjects reported a yes or no answer. It is unlikely that they misunderstood a yes for a no and vice-versa.

Assuming that the results are accurate and can be replicated, then there are a number of possible explanations. Most or all of the possibilities listed below contradict widely held beliefs about the nature of God and prayer:

bulletGod is deceitful. God is responding in prayer by agreeing with anyone who communes with him, no matter what their opinion. God lies to some people and tells others the truth. One visitor to our web site suggested that God is "more like a friend who lends support, whatever the question." But deceit is not a quality associated with the Christian or Wiccan deities to whom most of the participants prayed.
bulletGod is being unhelpful: God has an opinion but is unwilling to reveal his will to those praying to him. Perhaps he doesn't want to tell people how to think, and would rather that they struggle with the question. This is unlikely because, if one believes that prayer is an effective method of communication between humans and God, one would then expect that he would:
bulletTell people in prayer that he does not wish to give an answer.
bulletRefrain from giving any response at all
bulletTell people to figure it out for themselves.
bulletMultiple Gods are answering: Hindus, Neopagans and others believe in multiple Gods and Goddesses. Each has their own properties, areas of expertise, personalities; some are male and others are female. It is quite possible that they would have different views on SSM. Perhaps one god or group of Gods, who oppose SSM respond to prayer from religious conservatives while others, who favor SSM, reply to religious liberals. 
bulletBoth God and Satan answer prayers: One might postulate that all prayers are not answered by God. For example, God might respond truthfully to the prayers of one group of Christians, by communicating that he is opposed to SSM. Meanwhile, Satan or one of his demons might reply to the prayers of other Christians who merely think that they are communicating with God. Satan or a demon would say that they are in favor of SSM. This introduces an additional complication: if God is opposed to SSM, if Satan says that he is in favor of SSM, and if Satan always lies, then Satan must really be opposed to SSM. That would put God and Satan on the same side of this topic. That does not make sense. If God favors SSM and Satan is opposed, the results would be similarly meaningless.

This possibility is consistent with the theology of some conservative Protestant faith groups who teach that born-again Christian believers have a reliable connection to God through prayer, but that others might not. Some, for example, believe that God has terminated his covenants with the Jewish people, and that God does not hear the prayers of a Jew. 1 Some conservative Christians feel that when non-Christians pray to their God(s) and/or Goddess(es), that they are really communing with Satan or his demons -- not with God. 

Still, it would be distressing to moderates and liberals from various religions to learn that prayer does not assess the will of God and that they are being deluded with false information during prayer.
bulletGod doesn't exist or isn't answering prayer: Another possibility is some or all of the participants are deluded. They may believe that they have assessed the will of God. However, they are really only hearing echoes of their own thoughts. The "still, quiet voice" that they interpret to be the voice of God is really their own conscience. Perhaps God does not exist. Perhaps the Deists are correct -- God created the universe, wound it up, let it go and hasn't been seen since. Again, these are distressing thoughts to theists. But they would not surprise Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, and some other secularists.
bulletGod answers prayer, but most people don't really listen: Perhaps God does respond to prayer, but he doesn't yell. Perhaps some people's own ideas are screaming out loud with such intensity that the individuals cannot hear God's quiet voice. This seems very unlikely, because almost all of those who felt they had learned the will of God reported that they were certain or very sure of the answer; i.e. God had communicated clearly.
bulletGod feels that SSM is ethical in some regions of the world and not in others. Thus, he would give a positive answer to those seeking his will from, say, the Netherlands and Canada, while giving a negative response to those from the American South. But this possibility does not agree with the data. It was religious liberals who got positive answers while conservatives got negative answers; to our knowledge, the division did not occur along geographic lines. Essentially all the responses came from North America.
bulletGod answered a different question from the one that the subjects asked: The subjects asked whether God approved of same-sex marriage in general. He may have answered a different question: whether God approved of same-sex marriage for the person doing the praying. This explanation also involves problems:
bulletAlmost all of the subjects are heterosexual, so one would expect God to tell them that same sex marriage was not good for them. But God did not.
bulletWe would find with dozens of subjects praying to God for his will on same-sex marriage in general, and finding out that he was lying to half of them. Lying is not a common attribute that is normally associated with God.
bulletThe question is intrinsically unanswerable: Jesus took the ten commandments and the 613 instructions in the Mosaic code and distilled them down into two directives: to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God. One might conclude that all marriages -- whether same-sex or opposite-sex, are good if they are based on love, respect, and commitment. Those marriages which are not based on these principles are inadvisable and outside the will of God. Thus, one cannot say whether same-sex marriages are good; it depends upon the relationship between the spouses, as it does for opposite-sex marriages. Perhaps a better question would have been whether God favors making marriage available as an option for gays or lesbians who are in loving, committed relationships.

Still, if the original question is unanswerable, then one would expect God to either:
bulletGive no answer, or
bulletRespond that the question cannot be answered, or
bulletInform the believer that the answer depends upon the individual couple's relationship.

Instead, the vast majority of subjects in this study reported that God gave them a definite answer -- pro or con.

bulletGod is fickle and switched his stand during the study: God could have sometimes favored SSM and other times opposed it, depending on just how he was feeling on a particular day. There are instances in the Hebrew Scriptures where God changed his mind. For example, in the book of Genesis, he created humanity. Then, later, he became disenchanted with how humans turned out and committed a massive genocide, killing almost every human on earth, except Noah and his family. He changed his mind over how many just people would have to be found in Sodom and Gomorrah before he would refrain from committing mass murder of the adults, children, infants, and newborns in those cities. However, a fickle God is not generally seen throughout the Bible and is not taught by any Christian denomination today of which we are aware.
bulletGod operates under a paraconsistent logic: This is a system of logic in which genuine contradictions can happen. A proposition can be both absolutely true and absolutely false at the same time. Perhaps God's will is that same-sex marriage should be illegal and also be legal.
bulletGod rejects tests: In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there are indications that God rejects any tests by humans of his powers. Perhaps the best example is when Satan tried to get Jesus to jump from the top of the Temple in anticipation of God sending angels to rescue him. Perhaps God would reject this pilot study's attempt to assess his will as being a type of test.
bulletOther possibilities: If you can think of any, please Email them to us.

Future plans:

We have no plans to replicate this study in the future. We are not really in that business. We hope that some group will repeat this survey with a larger number of subjects to eliminate the possibility that our results were a fluke. A more elaborate questionnaire, personal interviews, or even polygraph tests might be needed to prove that the subjects were sincere in their responses and not lying.

There appear to be only six logical possibilities: That:

bulletGod is acting in a a deceitful manner.
bulletGod is fickle and changes his mind often.
bulletGod is not helpful and is letting people struggle with the question.
bulletMultiple Gods are answering prayer.
bulletSatan or a demon sometimes answers some individuals' prayer, even though they think they are communicating with God. Perhaps Northrop Frye was correct when he said that most people who think they are worshipping God are actually worshiping the devil.
bulletPrayer does not work at all; what people believe is the voice of God is their own conscience speaking. They are in a state of delusion.

All of these are disturbing options to most Theists who believe in prayer. They all contradict many of the beliefs taught by Christian denominations about the nature and attributes of God. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any feasible method to figure out which of the above possibilities is true.

References:

  1. Rev. Bailey Smith, 1980 Religious Roundtable national affairs briefing in Dallas TX. The exact quote was: "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." Smith later enlarged on this comment by saying:  "I am pro-Jew?I believe they are God's special people, but without Jesus Christ, they are lost." i.e. they are routed to be eternally tortured in Hell after death because of their religious beliefs.

Copyright ? 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-OCT-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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