As with every first Thursday in May, today is the annual National Day of Prayer, when, alarmingly, the most powerful man in the world resorts to asking his constituents to pray for the country. Keeping in line with previous entreaties, this year’s official proclamation implores Americans to “ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation.” Apparently it is not sufficient that only the president pray; for he feels compelled to request assistance from millions of Americans to show god he has the votes. No matter. On Thursday, the prayers of millions of god-fearing people will have all the impact of a leisurely trip to the wishing well. The effect will be much the same on Friday, and on Saturday, and so on, ad infinitum.
Will Americans ever reject such religious hokum? The prospect is not bright for the foreseeable future. Although nonbelievers constitute one of the fastest-growing demographics, the United States remains the most religious country in the developed world, with 92% of Americans believing in a god of some kind. Eighty three-percent say that god answers prayers, and 22% think the world is going to end in their lifetime, betraying a troubling desire to see firsthand the horrifying events described in the Book of Revelation. The effects of such beliefs are far from innocuous. It should come as no surprise that in this very religious nation, the populace is woefully ignorant in the sciences.
Whereas religious belief is a matter of revealed wisdom, science is process of inquiry, experimentation, and discovery. With religion, the answers to life’s most vexing questions come prepackaged like a stale microwavable dinner. How was the world created? Why, god created it. How do we know? Because the Old Testament — a collection of tales written during the Bronze Age by unknown individuals — says so. Amazingly, more than 40% of Americans actually believe that god created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago, in what is an outright rejection of Evolution, radiometric dating, and, tacitly, trigonometry.
Then there is the spiritual blackmail and intimidation of religion. Christianity, for example, teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and that failure to accept this proposition results in eternal damnation in some torturous underworld. What proof is there of such a harrowing proposition? It says so in the New Testament. Or take the Qur’an, which also says that the unfaithful will be sent to Jahannam, and adds that apostates be put to death. Why should this command be followed? Because it was issued by Allah. Thinking is not necessary in any of this because all salient wisdom has already been revealed by god himself, and is proliferated with the help of his earthly religious surrogates.
Religious belief is anathema to critical thinking and science because it offers a plethora of explanations on a myriad of existential and cosmological matters on no evidentiary grounds whatsoever. Its most deeply held tenets about the origins of the universe, the afterlife, and so forth, are entirely untestable because there is no evidence which to test. Religion is about conclusions only, while science is concerned with conclusions, as well as the methods by which they were reached. Hence, religion is about dogma, and science, understanding.
Americans are free to believe as they wish, but instead of declaring a National Day of Prayer, it would be better if the president proclaimed a National Day of Critical Thinking, where Americans are encouraged to do some thinking for themselves.