What is “An Atheist Reads”?
“An Atheist Reads” is where I read something that is religious/spiritual and try to see if it has any scientific merit. In this case, the answer is no.
Rather than do an in-depth look at this book, this will be a short review. Why? Because this is less a book and more of an essay, which I read in an hour and forty-five minutes. I’m not kidding; there wasn’t a lot to this book. If anything, this is just “say a prayer and all will get better…!” repeated ad infinitum. Well, with the usual “it may not work because mysterious ways” and other bull.
This book starts out with an eye-roll from the very get-go; the jacket sports an endorsement from none other than Deepak Chopra. Just reading this tells you that you are in for a ride. And what a ride it is! The author, Larry Dossey, loves to claim that prayer heals and he has 130 studies that prove it… but he never cites any of them. When he references them, he’s happy to point to another book that he’s written, claiming that the information is in there. That may be, but it simply feels as though the guy is shilling and shilling badly, as though he just wants you to rush out and purchase his previous work in order to get the full effect.
The book itself presents the usual anecdotes and personal stories that most New Age healers like to quote in order to prove that magical thinking works. But there are warnings: there are such things as “negative prayer” which can cause harm. So try and keep those thoughts pure and positive!
Oh and if you aren’t careful and your prayer works, you may get an unexpected result, like the tale of a car accident survivor whose personality completely changed. It seems that the prayer healed the guy but he would have been better off dead. Because his positive attitude flipped and he became cynical and negative. (Never mind that it might have had something to do with–oh, I don’t know–HE MIGHT BE IN SEVERE PAIN DUE TO HIS INJURIES BECAUSE OF A CAR ACCIDENT…!) So if you’re praying, you are supposed to add a “for the best outcome” tag, in case god/Shiva/the universe/the Flying Spaghetti Monster/ the Invisible Pink Unicorn might not know the best way to act. I’m serious here.
We also have the usual “god/the Universe doesn’t answer prayers because he/she/it knows better than us”–which contradicts the whole “best outcome” tag. But even more infuriating is Dossey claiming that your prayer may not be answered because you probably asked for something stupid, like the bike you wanted when you were 12, so the answer now is no.
You read that right. Since you wanted that pony when you were five, god won’t cure your mother’s cancer now. Or, god might have already cured it because our understanding of time is completely screwed up and in New Age-y speak, it already happened in the future or some crap.
By this point, my brain had shut down. This was just bad. Seriously bad.
Final verdict: This is just the usual, feel good New Age crap that makes people think that they are doing something when all they happen to be doing is having an imaginary conversation inside their heads. It’s bad, very bad and this book is bad medicine. If you need medical advice, go to an actual doctor. Hit the Mayo Clinic’s website. Go find something that’s based in science, not woo. You’ll live longer.