Praying For Peace In Winnipeg

Image from Radio Canada article here

I'm trying to decide just how much fun I want to poke at this guy. 

On one hand, Devon Clunis has an unenviable job, one I certainly never want. While Winnipeg is a quiet rural town when compared to comparable US cities when it comes to crime, tackling crime in Canada's murder capital is a hard job by anyone's reckoning. 

Unfortunately, I must temporarily suspend my respect for the person willing to take on this kind of job because Devon Clunis needs to sit down and think seriously about what policing involves and how best to deal with crime. Winnipeg's new police chief has apparently decided that the way to reduce crime is to get everyone to pray.

Yes, pray.

"I'm a little tired of us…being '[the] murder capital of Canada,'" says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."

"What would happen if we all just truly—I'm talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

What bothers me so much about this is what bothers me about prayer in general. It's a way to make yourself feel like you're helping when, in fact, you are doing absolutely nothing at all. Why work hard to solve the world's problems when you can pray them away? Besides, your god is coming back some time real soon now and this life is just something you do while waiting for eternal life and paradise. 

Praying for peace, or health, or anything else good for that matter is not only nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense. It renders you impotent and powerless and keeps you from actually doing something.

In a landmark (2006; Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer), which involved six major hospitals, the results showed that prayer had no effect on the outcome of surgery. Worse still, if the patient knew that people were praying for them, they actually got worse than those who simply had no idea they were being  prayed for. So if anything, prayer is harmful, particularly if you know people are praying for you.

Are you paying attention, Devon?

When it comes to murder, the more religious a country, the higher the murder rate. In the US, since I compared their murder rate to Canada's, the most religious of states have the highest murder rates while the least religious have the lowest. This holds true all over the world (see "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being" by Phil Zuckerman, PhD). To the believers out there, this must sound totally bogus but study after study proves it. The same is true of teen pregnancy rates. Check out this report from Reproductive Health which demonstrates a direct corelation between how religious a state is and the incidence of teen pregnancy. Abstinence and God are lousy methods of birth control. Sex education, on the other hand, works wonders. That's because religion's greatest contributions to the human condition continue to be ignorance, intolerance, and fear.

I'm sure Devon Clunis is a good man and a dedicated officer, but in his quest to help the residents of Winnipeg, he is looking for help in the wrong place.

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