Word, “prayer” reportedly originated from the old French word ‘preiere’: ‘Preiere’ means, “to obtain by entreaty”.
The essence, purpose and need of prayer is well known to everybody all across the world: Every believer recognizes the nature and the purpose of prayer. There is nothing to surprise in the premise that even domestic animals know the essence of prayer but that is in a different context: When a pet dog is hungry, it screams in a peculiar way; cattle and goats are no different. The screams and cries of hungry domestic animals are signals sent out to draw the attention of their foster Masters for feeds. In a sense, moods expressed by these animals are prayers for benevolence.
‘Prayer’ is explained as a solemn request to God or to an object of worship for help. Prayer also means expression of thanks to god or the object of worship for benevolence received by the ones who prayed for the help. Prayer is, therefore, a religious service offered by believers. But outside religion, prayer may mean an earnest request without the appearance of divine shades, either for favors or for rights. For example, in traditional Judicial System, petitioners would address the Judges, “I pray, Your Honor”.
As in the case of every thought and action, evaluation and conclusion is the propriety of human nature: According to the propriety Prayers have been divided into different types: They include ADORATION Prayers, CONFESSION Prayers, THANKSGIVING Prayers, SUPPLICATION Prayers and INTERCESSORY Prayers; prayers which are directed to god for the benefit of self, so also for others.
Praising the Almighty god is Adoration Prayer. Adoration forms an important part of verses meant for propitiating god. In Confession Prayers devotees confess their sins to god for forgiveness. Thanksgiving Prayer is meant to express gratitude to the Almighty for favors received by the faithful. It is by and through Supplication Prayer that believers seek blessings for themselves and their family. In Intercessory Prayer, the believer or a group of believers beg to god for showering mercy on others; for curing diseases of others.
For long, the question how far is prayer effective or beneficial to cure illnesses has been a serious thought. Dawn of twentieth Century saw number of experiments conducted in this direction: Some reports said that the American government set aside 23 million dollars for scientific experiments for the purpose. More than ten research centres had sprung up in the US even though the believers objected the proposal to investigate prayer within the frame work of science.
Experiments were conducted in two different ways for establishing validity of prayer for curing illnesses: In one, Prayers were offered with the knowledge of the patients. In the other, prayers were carried out without the knowledge of the patients.
The New Mexico University conducted experiments on forty alcoholics who were patients in a rehabilitation centre. It was in the year, 1997. The alcoholics included both women and men. Prayers were recited after obtaining their written consent. The prayer session continued uninterruptedly for a couple of months. On completion of the session, a series of tests were made to ascertain the effects of the prayer in reducing their alcoholism and debilities. To the surprise of all, it was found that not a single subject had any improvement, instead they became more depressed and more addicted. Not only that, most of them became ill and unsound.
During the years 1982 and 1983, another series of experiments were carried out without the knowledge of patients. It was an Intercessory Prayer session. The Southern Medical Journal in its July 1988 edition gave full details of the prayer. The heading of the article was, “Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population”.
The experiment was reportedly conducted by one Dr.Randolph C. Berd, MD. Apart from being an expert medical practitioner, Dr. Berd was a faithful follower of a particular Christian Sect. He selected 393 inpatients from a rehabilitation centre. These patients were divided into two groups, one group to be subjected to prayer with their knowledge and consent and the other group without being informed about the prayers for their recovery. The first group was code named as ‘IP Group’ and the Second as ‘Control Group’. The Doctors, Nurses and the faithful who were to conduct prayers for the patients were not allowed to know the details of the patients and for which group they were to provide their services.
The responsibility for offering prayers was assigned to followers of “Born Again” Christian Sect. The prayer hall was arranged in a room outside the hospital premises. The Doctors ensured that the health status of the selected patients was almost equal to one another. There were 192 patients in the IP Group while the number of patients in Control Group was 201. Dr. Berd believed that these arrangements would give reliable results in terms of clinical validity.
The assignees prayed for the recovery of the patients in both the Groups continuously for three-four weeks. On completion of the service, the doctors were requested to identify the patients who were cured as ‘Good’; the patients who made improvement as ‘Middle’ and the patients whose condition became worse as ‘Serious’. While there were none in the group ‘Good” there were hardly anyone in the ‘Middle’ group. All the patients fell in the ‘Serious’ category.
The experiments so elaborately carried out by Dr. Berd and his associates were a sheer waste of time and resources: Nothing concrete with proof of evidence could be established in the experiments. Similar Studies were conducted in AD 2001 by Mayo Clinic but could not prove any effect for prayer on the patients. Another story of failure was published in the American Heart Journal of 2006 edition. All the efforts made so far to prove scientifically the effect of prayer for cure of diseases or improvement of patient-health ended miserably in the negative.
God is an entity that exists only in human thoughts. Prayer and belief in god are the products of human thoughts. Patients are real, their diseases and illnesses are real. Both patients and the diseases exist in the physical plane. No amount of subjective imaginations, subjective thoughts can impact on objective reality. Attempts to prove objectively the benefits of subjective prayer shall therefore be futile.
There is, however, another dimension for the picture of prayers. Dedicated supplication prayer by individuals will be tiresome task for human brain. It causes over excitation of sensory centres in the cerebral cortex which will result in inhibition followed by hallucinatory experiences. These experiences may be in the form of relief from pains, body aches, worries, agonies, sorrows, grief and enlightenment. In the longer run, these temporary reliefs will make the faithful devotee to ignore the physical and neurological defections. As a result, timely medical or psychiatric treatment will elude the believer which will result in serious consequences.