Prayer. Its power is something a lot of people take for granted when something bad happens. People pray for their god or gods to make things better when something bad happens. Or they pray to whatever wights and spirits in the hopes that things will improve. Prayer gives people a sense that they are doing something to change the situation. But, they’re not. Not really.
The Wild Hunt Article
I was reading a Wild Hunt article about Native Americans and pagans “healing” the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Long story short, members of the Indigenous peoples and pagans there are walking around the entire length of the lake (the second largest freshwater lake in the contiguous US) and praying for the waters to heal, and hopefully forgive humans for causing the damage to the ecosystem.
Some Explanation Before I Continue
Now, before I get into my rant, let me first say that I have the utmost respect for the Native Americans. These people have been treated horribly–and are still being treated horribly–by the United States government. These people have, in many cases, been stripped of their culture, language, and religion, not to mention their freedom and their lives. Even into the 1950s and 1960s, children were being stolen from their parents, put in orphanages, and then sold to white people for a mere donation. I’ve known plenty of people with Native American ancestry and I respect them highly. What was done to their people is unconscionable.
This post is not questioning whether their beliefs are “right” or “wrong,” but rather the methodology being used to “fix” the problem. The problem is quite real and it affects people, both Indigenous and those from other ancestry.
Lake Okeechobee and its Problems
Okay, I get that there’s a problem with Lake Okeechobee and the issues that arise from humans trying to control the lake’s waters. The lake, from what I understand, has a containment ring and its waters are only allowed out through canals into the sugarcane fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area. As a result, the lake is prone to flooding and toxic algae blooms. The water seeps into the ground, adding arsenic to the aquifers from agriculture. Not good.
Naturally there is a lot of concern. Algae blooms kill wildlife and make the lake inhospitable to humans. The blooms, if they get out through flooding, cause havoc with the local ecosystem as well as life in the ocean, if it makes it there. You can guess the issue with the arsenic. Basically, none of it is cool.
Prayers and Pleas
Now, I’m not going to say that people shouldn’t pray to the lake’s spirit. But reading the article it suggests that humans are going to start healing the waters by praying to the spirit and asking forgiveness.
Okay, let me remind you all that the gods and wights are not your bitches and that prayer only goes so far. If you want to spend a week walking along the lake and saying prayers, that’s nice, but you’re really not doing much. It’s human hubris to think that the wights there would listen without some type of established rapport. And even if they did listen, what exactly would they think about someone saying they’re sorry?
It’s like locking someone in a room and feeding them toxic bread and water occasionally. And then, someone comes in who looks a lot like their captors and ask for forgiveness. If you were the wight in that situation, would you respond positively? I think not.
How a Wight Might Respond
Now, obviously I don’t know the wights or the spirits of that lake. But knowing how wights react out West, and seeing the general reaction of the spirit of the lake (algae blooms, floods, etc), I can pretty much guess that the apology won’t go very far, if anywhere. You see, the problem hasn’t changed for the lake, and the lake isn’t getting the help it needs. Forty or so pagans and Native Americans praying aren’t going to make a difference to its problems. The only thing that it will respond positively to is returning it to some semblance of a natural state.
Prayer Doesn’t Work, According to Science
Now, if you point out to me that the real intention is to call attention to the problem with their prayer walk, I’d agree with you. It’s a good media promotion and one that will work given the nature of the situation. (Pardon the pun.) But prayer only goes so far, and if you believe the atheists, prayer really doesn’t do shit to improve anything. To a certain degree, they’re spot on. A real, double-blind scientific study suggests that intercessory prayer doesn’t work and may actually make things worse. (Talk about a twist.)
Now, we can argue that they were praying to a Christian god, but we really don’t know that for certain. (Although it’s a pretty sure bet that they were.) And we can argue that in that case, the people were asking a god for an outcome, and not just talking to the god. Fair enough. I concede that point. But how is this different than thinking your prayers can heal the lake wight? If they are praying to the wight, wouldn’t the wight be able to heal itself, if it could? If they’re praying for a deity to heal the wight, how is this different than the intercessory prayer?
What DOES Work
Prayer is nice, but it doesn’t do the heavy lifting here. Action, that is repairing the physical damage done to the lake, does work. Look, I live in the West where there are tons of Superfund sites, caused by past damage to the environment by mining, logging, and yes, damming rivers and lakes. People deal with arsenic and heavy metals in their water, asbestos in the top soil, floods, radon gas in their homes, mudslides, erosion, and widespread wildfires because of past insults to the environment. The environment responds in ways that it can only respond, given the rules set forth by the laws of physics. To expect anything different is foolhardy, at best. And yet, people pray for divine intercession to problems that humans have caused.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. I get that those who don’t have the power to get the clean up done feel powerless and use prayer as a way to assuage their guilt, hopeless feelings, or whatever. But don’t tell me you’re going to heal the lake through prayer. That sounds remarkably Christian, and it provides a band-aid when you’ve cut a femoral artery.