The Perils of Prayer

Catholic masses typically feature various prayers, hymns, and offerings in which priests and parishioners evoke their deity for some sort of divine intercession or a simple "Lord, hear our prayer." It seems to me that if people are asking for someone to hear something and are aware that this someone is all-powerful, they are expecting something to happen. If prayer was always some sort of spiritual boost or ritual with no desired literal effects from a deity, the words and masses ought to be changed. Believers literally believe that their god does answer prayers and is active in helping other humans.

Some Catholics will say that God doesn't literally answer prayers, but praying is just a personal and communal activity that might "pump you up" or ready yourself for important situations.

Some Catholics believe that God literally does answer prayers...but when he doesn't, it must be "God's will" ... and when the prayers "appear to be answered," God has acted and was "listening."

Not all Catholics will agree on this definition of prayer, but the Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say:
Prayer - An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire aknowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer.
The idea of "I prayed and the person recovered" is a classic attribution error; instead of praising (no pun intended) doctors for their hard work, thanking scientists/doctors for inventing medicines, saying "I don't know how the person recovered," or acknowledging personal strength of the recovering person, people thank God for the recovery. This can also be applied to situations where people say "I prayed to do well on a test and I passed, so God must have answered."

Take away the doctors.
Take away individual hard work.
...you'll often see drastically different results.

Sure, we have "flukes" when people pass tests or recover when they "had no chance," but these events do occur and we don't need a deity to explain these situations.

Personally, I find the whole "Thank God he/she recovered" very demeaning because doctors the ones who really did the work...but God gets the thanks. The sentiment of "I prayed and something happened" is very compelling because the situation is often emotional and people can't think of other explanations...but we should count the hits and misses here. How many times have you prayed and received no "results?" Compare this to the "successes."

Imagine a time where you were thinking of someone and suddenly this person telephoned you. You might think, "Wow! I was just thinking of Jim and he called!" ...but how many times do you think of Jim and hear no phone ring afterwards? The same thinking process should be involved with all superstition...think about it.

When a person acknowledges the "power of prayer" and other people chime in and agree, this is a great validation that is almost certainly false and really vicious.

The worst situations involving prayer are when people don't actually do anything and decide to only pray and, because of negligence, a person dies. Christian Scientists refuse medical treatment and resort to prayer for maladies. If a person dies, I'd think, who really cares if you believe that it was God's will anyway and the next life is so much better than this one?

Stop thanking God for the situations you can't explain.
Stop saying that prayer worked and this is a legitimate claim to prove the existence of God.

Even if prayer does work, which I won't accept, this gives no credence to a claim about a specific god. What if Thor is answering your prayers? What if an ancient intergalactic civilization can hear our thoughts?....

Prayer doesn't prove anything. If you're going to pray (and obviously I'm not going to stop you nor do I want to), be honest about it. Don't use the "results" of prayer as a proof for any gods. Don't rashly accept supernatural explanations just because you don't have naturalistic ones.

You may think prayer is harmless and others don't take prayer seriously, but you'd be mistaken.

In the midst of one of the worst ecological disasters ever, we turn to the God who created, sustains, and will redeem all things. We trust that He is in control and able to act. So it is that in the face of disaster we turn in prayer to our Lord who is in control.

Some theistic friends on Facebook made some comments about prayer. I admire their courage in posting and having discussions, because many, many, many theists simply won't have the conversation and resort to sending hate mail, running their mouths on other's profiles, and threatening me. Anyway, here are some definitions of prayer:

I guarantee that the vast majority of people who pray know that it won't produce "mass miracles" or anything of that sort. Does it help through divine intervention? Normally not. Does it help those who do pray through a calming effect, and a self-reassurance of faith as well as assurance that there are others around you who believe like you and care about similar things? Yes. If you also believe that it can do good through divine intervention and God "answering your prayers," than so be it.

Prayer there is a calming, and reassuring thing, just as any religious faith is / should be as well as a path in life. Religion has always had it's way of easing people through troubled times.

I pray knowing that He is listening, and that's a great comfort to me. Do I believe He'll miraculously stop all sin? No. Do I believe that he could and will someone's hard times into better times? Maybe. Just the knowledge that He is listening and there to listen can do much.
So, what exactly is prayer, what do you think it does, and do you think that there is actual literal divine intervention? Feel free to comment.