Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Retroactive prayer pay

Yesterday there was a story in News24, a media outlet in South Africa, that a Lichtenburg man, Nelson Thabo Modupe, has submitted a bill to Eskom, the South African electric company, for 250,000 Rand (about $23,000).

The reason?  There were storms during the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, which were held in Johannesburg.  When the weather turned bad, Mr. Modupe prayed to god that there wouldn't be a power outage, and there wasn't, because by his prayers he "saved the power utility the burden and humiliation" that would have ensued had there been a loss of electricity during the game.  So he figures that Eskom owes him some big bucks for having had the foresight to pray.

[Spain vs. Portugal at the 2010 World Cup.  Image courtesy of photographer Andrew Deacon and the Wikimedia Commons]

Predictably, there has been a significant hue and cry against Mr. Modupe's case.  "I think he misunderstands the power of prayer," one person wrote, in the comments section of the News24 article. 

"(I)t seems like it's only Christianity, people use to make a quick buck," said another.  "I can give you a few quick quotes from the bible, but that won't be enough, you must know the Author, and the Author I know is not an Author of confusion."

"For money?" said a third.  "Imagine Moses charging admission fees for anyone wanting to cross the Red Sea."

Now, wait just a moment.  I can see your criticizing him for wanting to profit out of the whole thing; after all, Jesus himself had a few things to say about money, and none of them were good.  But I get the impression that most of the folks who wrote to respond to the story were religious themselves, and they were virtually unanimous in ridiculing Mr. Modupe and his FIFA World Cup Miracle.  And I was reading the comments, and thinking, "Aren't you people the ones who supposedly think that prayer works?"

I mean, I could understand it if one of us atheists made fun of the whole thing.  Whenever I hear of someone claiming, after the fact, that something happened because (s)he prayed for it, I always kind of roll my eyes a little, because it's pretty convenient to attribute to god's divine grace something that has already happened.

But why aren't the Christians cheering Mr. Modupe along?

I've thought about this before.  Back in biblical days, all sorts of weird shit happened -- donkeys talked (Numbers 22:21-39), the Earth stopped turning so that Joshua could finish fighting a battle (Joshua 10:12), and god told a man to slit his son's throat, only saying at the last moment that he was just kidding (Genesis 22).  These days, you have to wonder what would happen if someone claimed any of this stuff.  My general feeling is if someone killed a bunch of members of another religion, and then said that god had commanded him to do so (1 Kings 18:36-40), the judge -- Christian or not -- would throw the guy in jail, or worse.

So you have to wonder if the self-proclaimed bible-believing, god-obeying Christians really believe what they're saying.  If god told one of you to kill your own child, would you do it?  If he told you that you should jump off a cliff, because he would catch you with his Mighty Hand and Outstretched Arm and lower you gently to the ground, would you do it?  Why did such miracles happen every second Thursday, back in biblical times, but now people who believe such things are considered to be crazy -- even by the Christians themselves?

Kind of strange, isn't it?  Being an evidence-based kind of guy, myself, all it would take is one or two such miraculous occurrences to turn me into a True Believer, so you'd think it'd be in god's best interest to exert himself a little.  But there have been no talking donkeys, no times the Earth has stopped turning, nothing but things like "no power outages at the World Cup."

Oh, but wait.  "Thou shall not put the Lord thy God to the test."  (Matthew 4:7)  Mighty convenient, that.

In any case, I expect that Mr. Modupe will lose his lawsuit.  I mean, the power of prayer is one thing, but the power of the almighty dollar (or South African Rand, as the case may be) is another thing entirely.  But it does open up some pretty major philosophical questions, which I don't begin to know how to answer.

After all, I'm not the one who's claiming that all of this stuff works.


  1. The complete lack of modern day, miraculuos occurrences is puzzling. Mayhap God hath turned his back on man. Mayhap, God doth save his might for a great cataclysm, yet unfolded.

    Or maybe God gave their life birthing existence.
    Or maybe God IS existence.

    Or maybe we don't friggin' know. In the meantime, praying for an outcome of any kind (which is the motus operandi of prayer)... is testing the might of God, which makes it technically impossible to work at all. The snake eats it's tail, everytime. That doesn't seem to be holding anyone back, though.

    What I DO know is that Mr. Modupe should win this case... because it's hilarious.

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