I have a good friend who is a Christian. He's a really cool guy and he's currently getting a degree in theology. Recently he posted about a relative whose husband was having some medical issues. The first post went like this:
As you can see, my friend is truly a believer. An otherwise half-assed Christian wouldn't go into fasting and prayer if they didn't truly believe in it. His conviction is commendable, and I feel he truly believes that the praying and fasting will help. So convinced is he, in fact, that he is practically certain that God can and will work wonders, and he sounds optimistic. After all, for the believer, anything is possible with God on your side.
The sad part is however...
Perhaps sadder than the earnest prayers of my friend, his family members, his friends, and his church (who all left dozens of "I'm praying for him" posts) not working is the fact that, even after this immense failure of prayer, their reaction is to pray more!
As a rationalist, I can't help but see the belief in prayer as a type of delusion because of examples like this.
If something proves the opposite of what you believe, but you continue believing in it regardless, that's delusional. And I find it sad. The impotence of prayer isn't something to keep trying at once it fails. The neglect of God isn't likely going to change if you just pray harder.
The fact is, prayer simply doesn't work.
I think my friend, who is genuinely a smart guy, would probably be more inclined to realize this if he would just take a step back from his faith for a moment, take the religious goggles off, wipe the dogmatic fog of conviction from them, and take another look at his faith with a new clarity.
As an atheist, when I see things like this it only confirms my atheistic belief that God does not exist. After all, it's a simple observation. If the Christian God was real, the prayers would work. They'd work all of the time. They'd work so often, one would assume, that atheists would likely have a hard time explaining it. But that's not the case.
In actuality, prayers never work. The Benson study showed this and the countless examples like the above act as a constant reminder of this. In fact, the impotence of prayer suggests, if anything, that atheists are on the right track--God doesn't exist and so prayers don't get answered.
As for the religious who think God answers their prayers all of the time, well, it seems to me that they just haven't stepped back to look at the full picture and give it proper scrutiny. When you look at it from the outside in, it looks less like miracles from God and more like coincidence. It looks a lot less like a loving God concerned with your personal affairs than it does simple, cruel indifferent fate playing out like it always has.
Although I get the appeal of prayer. When I was a believer I prayed all the time. I told my friends I was praying for them, and they prayer for me. And it felt good knowing people cared. When things went right, everything was right in the world, and it confirmed my belief in God as a loving God who answered prayers. When things went wrong, well, I just took it as God telling me there was something I needed to learn from the experience.
But now, looking back in retrospect it all just seems like wishful thinking to me.