In a post warning of 2012 Olympic Prayer Testing, Crispian Jago makes a humorous point or three about the use of prayer to ensure athletic success:

Many athletes believe that the all powerful deity of their choice will be willing to influence the outcome of sporting events to their advantage and the detriment of their fellow athletes, if they ask nicely enough.

Fortunately, steps are being taken to prevent anyone gaining an unfair advantage in this manner:

In the run up to the London 2012 Olympics athletes are being warned that the prayer-testing authorities are being extra vigilant and will be keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of illegal performance enhancing prayers such as the possession of rosary beads, a travel rug or the excessive head-butting of tall walls.

Of course, this is all very tongue-in-cheek but the points made got me thinking about the merit of petitioning a deity to seek better performance or of attributing your success to a god should you be triumphant.

The very act of offering up a prayer to ensure your success is surely unworthy as you’re asking that your fellow competitors be made to fail for your personal gain. Anyone making this kind of supplication would surely be disappointed by any fair-minded deity.

What if all those involved pray for their individual success as if they each believe they have received it? How does a common deity decide who to favour? Even if they all pray to different deities, whose will prevails? Is the equivalent of a no-score-draw awarded with spoils going to whoever is either in form or on home soil? Or would some form of deity committee arrange for every competitor to cross the finish simultaneously? That’d be a sight to see.

Thanking a god in the wake of victory isn’t really that much better. The god being thanked didn’t run the race, endure the training regime, master the techniques, or any of the other things that led to your success. Nor – let’s be clear – did he/she/it create you and endow you with any attributes or abilities beyond those of the person who came in second, or third. Or last. The reality is that on the day it all came together and YOU did everything better than the other guys. That’s how you crossed the finish line first. If you must thank anyone, thank the folk that were actually there to help and encourage you along the way. Not some imagined benefactor in the sky – or below the ground.

Of course the main problem with prayer (1) is that it simply doesn’t work (2).

Kudos to:

(1) the ever informative and thought provoking Skeptic’s Dictionary and (2) the equally thought provoking yet cumbersomely titled Why won’t God heal amputees?


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