Eighth place — High school essay contest: Samuel Talbott
FFRF awarded Samuel $500.
A prayer a day keeps nothing away
By Samuel Talbott
Every year in July, my high school’s marching band meets for two weeks to prepare for the upcoming competition season. Lunch is held on site and each day before we would eat, the band’s elected student chaplain would pray that the food be blessed. One day, however, in the summer before my sophomore year, the band directors forgot about the prayer and sent us to lunch without it.
We were eating unblessed food. I could only imagine what horrors my submarine sandwich might bring upon me. Yet, amazingly, disaster passed us by. No storms, no plagues, not even a case of food poisoning.
What I found even more amazing was that the next day, the band directors restarted the prayers, apologizing that they had missed the previous day. As I stood that day, waiting for the chaplain to ask his god’s blessing, I wondered why anyone cared. The day before had effectively proven that unblessed food was entirely safe. Why were we wasting our time with a ritual that accomplished nothing?
Growing up in the American South, I have spent my life witnessing prayer and religious devotion being used to address every conceivable sort of problem. Students prayed before sporting events for the safety of the players. Friends prayed for help in their relationships. The band prayed for a former member who fell into a coma. Nothing came of it. Players were injured, relationships fell apart, and the young man in the coma died.
Most people pray when they have no idea what to do. It gives them the feeling that their problems are in some way being addressed. The previous examples are mostly harmless displays. When this starts to be applied to problems in lieu of real solutions, however, it becomes dangerous. In some cases, prayer becomes a substitute for everything from parenting to medicine. Parents ask their deity to influence their children for them, expecting behavioral issues to be fixed through literal magic. People recommend prayer for ill family members, sometimes preventing them from seeking real medical care. Reliance on prayer can often cause long-lasting damage and can even become life-threatening.
To pray is to wish upon a star. It is, at best, an idle diversion and is most certainly not a solution to the problems presented by the world around us. Life is a results-focused endeavor, and prayers and wishes yield no results. Only through real action can we address the issues that we face.
Samuel, 18, is from Olive Branch, Miss., and will attend Millsaps College, where he plans to major in political science and minor in history. He is an only child of atheist parents, raised in the South. He was fourth in his high school class and has traveled to Europe three times.