--Carl Sagan ("Demon-Haunted World")
"Not only in peasant homes, but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside the twentieth century the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic powers of signs and exorcisms . . . Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery!"
When I first heard about Evangelical Christians "speaking in tongues" at revivals my teenage mind thought it was a joke. I really could not fathom that someone would believe--much less attempt--such a practice genuinely. But when I saw the footage on television (I think it was on the Trinity Broadcasting Network) it became clear to me that such people exist.
Later I found that my own religion, Mormonism, taught something similar: the gift of speaking in tongues. Most often this "gift of the spirit" is attributed to Mormon missionaries who go to foreign countries and learn the native language in order to preach more effectively. Never mind the 2-3 months of language training before even entering the country and the countless hours of daily study and practice with natives throughout the 2-year mission; if god wants thousands of highly motivated, collage-aged young adults with a first-world education to learn languages not dissimilar to the language of their up-bringing, through thousands of hours of individual and group study, he will make it so.
Similarly, when I saw Evangelical preachers "heal" frail and infirmed people on live television through the power of Jesus Christ, my reaction was one of amazement that anyone could take such a circus act seriously. And, yet again, I came to find that Mormonism taught a similar principle, which at the time I had to assume was more authentic to miracles performed by Christ than the "bastardized" version essentially being sold by charlatans to presumably sincere suckers.
While the Mormon version of faith-healing is much less flashy and more intimate (laying hands on the head of the sick and praying that god will heal them, usually in a small group), it is every bit as misguided and scientifically unsupported as more theatrical versions of the practice.
It seems that on some level many religious people know that science and medicine are more reliable in healing the sick than a sincere prayer. My own father, who was both a Mormon bishop and a Family Practitioner during my childhood, taught me that when sick one should pray and follow doctor's orders. Apparently, god requires both since he "helps those who help themselves" (I failed to find this little quip in any canonized scripture). Well, I could just as easily claim that Joe Pesci helps those who help themselves; or, for that matter, my half-empty can of Mt. Dew.
But as Russell Glasser of the Atheist Experience inquires, if one is to take an aspirin and say a prayer for a headache, and the ailment subsides, how do you know the prayer actually did anything? The scientific literature shows that aspirin is effective in relieving headaches by itself, so what exactly does the prayer contribute?
On its own, can prayer relieve headaches with the same level of consistency and effectiveness as aspirin? If so, why bother spending money on aspirin? If you had to choose a single method to relieve a headache, aspirin or prayer, which would you trust to get the job done in a timely manner?
What about cancer treatment? Amputees? How many prayers did it take to eradicate small pox?
How many people does god require to sincerely pray and die before he will "inspire" doctors and scientists with a cure for HIV and AIDS? If god inspires doctors in this way, as I have heard religious people claim, thereby giving god all the credit for scientific advancements, of what use is the scientific method? It seems to me that the only way to verify that a scientist is so "inspired" by god is by testing their "inspirations" through scientific experiments. Without scientific verification, such revealed wisdom falls within the realm of magic rather than science.
In what way is god actually helping anybody?
Comedian George Carlin on religion (and Joe Pesci) (warning: explicit):
I have posted this before, but its too good not to post again: Benny Hinn letting the bodies hit the floor:
And one with light sabers: