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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Prayer Not Effective, And Could Even Be Harmful, Large Scale Objective Study Shows.

Do Not Tell People You Are Praying For Them

The Tear Fund has just published a report Prayer in the UK claiming that prayer is effective and many people in the UK pray. The National Secular Society dismisses this report as an exercise in delusion about the power of prayer and evasion that prayer is declining in popularity.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society responded by pointing to the prestigious Harvard Medical School’s report: Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery, which you can read: here.

Keith Porteous Wood commented: “The Harvard study showed conclusively that those who knew they were being prayed for fared significantly worse than those who didn’t. Also, more complications arose in those prayed for than those who weren’t.”

“The message seems clear, not only is it not a good idea to pray for people, it is essential to avoid that well- worn phrase ‘you are in our prayers’. I hope the Government will think carefully about this study before passing any legislation forcing hospitals to employ chaplains at the expense of front-line care staff, as has been mooted.”

Turning to the Tear Fund Report, he added: ”The above survey is essential reading for the Fund’s estimated 12 million adults who believe that prayer can change their friends’, families’ and their own lives. The Funds’ figures do not look so rosy if expressed as ‘Two in three people do not believe that God is watching over them and will answer their prayers; for those who pray - 62% do not think it makes them more peaceful and content, 70% do not find it makes them feel stronger, 79% do not feel reassured; and 81% do not feel happier.

The report gives evidence consistent with prayer dying out: only 27% of young people pray, whereas twice that proportion of the over 54s pray. Younger people are simply not taking up prayer as earlier generations did. Moreover, the definition of prayer is lax, given that it includes people who pray ‘hardly ever’, and respondents exaggerate their answers on piety in such surveys as Christian statisticians accept over church attendance.

EXTRACT FROM HARVARD STUDY
Investigators enrolled 1,802 bypass surgery patients from six hospitals and randomly assigned each to one of three groups: 604 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayers (Group 1); 597 patients did not receive prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayer (Group 2); and 601 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive it (Group 3).

Caregivers and independent auditors comparing case reports to medical records were unaware of the patients' assignments throughout the study. The study enlisted members of three Christian groups, two Catholic and one Protestant, to provide prayer throughout the multi-year study. The researchers approached other denominations, but none were able to make the time commitments that the study required.

Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer: complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus 51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in 59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus 52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1). Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.

The American Heart Journal have concluded brusquely of the Harvard survey: “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.”

Click here to read the Tear Fund report.

November 12 2007



Published Mon, 12 Nov 2007