THE BLOG
12/11/2007 01:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Drought and the Power of Prayer, Part 2

Well it's been almost a month since I wrote about the governor of my home state of Georgia, Sonny Perdue, leading the state legislature in a prayer for rain, and after that I actually got my pants wet driving around Atlanta in my convertible with a leaky roof. Guess it serves me right for spoofing the governor and his prayerful friends. Who knows, maybe those prayer people had an effect. The local paper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, seems to have made a field day out of it. Looks like they were lacking content for their 'Faith and Values' section. I mean, until the rapture comes, or the Mormons find incontrovertible proof that Jesus really did go to Utah, what kind of "news" can there be in the world of religion?

So the AJC worked the prayer and drought thing for all that its worth. They got comments from the local preachers, priests, rabbis, and Buddhist monks, about whether it was appropriate to pray for rain and whether they were asking their congregations to do it. The faiths have come up with a variety of creative ways to squeeze liquid from the skies. Hindus came up with a special chant. At the direction of the local Archbishop, every week the Catholics read out "rain" as one of the things to pray for, followed by a "Lord, hear our prayer," from the congregation. It seems that from the Buddhist corner that there was a feeling that meditation by the monks on this topic might help liquid manna fall from the skies. And in the Baptists corner there seems to be fairly unanimous opinion that the earthly thoughts of the parishioners will convince the Lord Almighty to shower us with his beneficence. This month's showers were seen as evidence that this was the case. On the docket was a joint prayer service with the Methodists. Gonna bring their umbrellas as an expression of faith.

Even though my fellow Atlantans have been praying away, though, it hasn't done much good. You see after that one time I wet my pants we haven't had a drop of rain. Atlantans continue sucking water right out of Lake Lanier though, their principle source of drinking water. Picking up old tires and broken refrigerators off the dried up bed of Lake Lanier has replaced walking on the beach and looking for pretty stones as the weekend activity of choice. With regard to the use of prayer to bring on the deluge, to use clinical terms (I am a doctor, and I am supposed to be talking about medical news, so this is the medical part of this post) the intervention was effective but efficacy was not sustained. And there are no plans for controlled clinical trials to assess the efficacy of prayer for the creation of rain that I am aware of, at least not at Emory University where I work and do research (I talked more about research studies on the efficacy of prayer for medical problems in my other post).

I think it is fine for people to pray/meditate/dance/convulse/transcend, or whatever they want to do to get themselves to a better place. But I think that those people who are folding up their hands in prayer to a personal God to open up the heavens and let rain fall on their pointed heads are simply ridiculous.

You see there is a scientific consensus that planet Earth (you live there too? How cool!) is gradually warming up, and that this warming processes will cause changes in weather patterns throughout the world, including droughts. Normally in Georgia during the summertime the heat and humidity builds up throughout the day until late afternoon when we have some real doozy rain storms with lots of thunder 'n lighting. Didn't have a single one of those this summer. Sonny and the prayer people were only able to squeeze out of the skies two days of steady drizzle that looked more like my native Seattle. Hardly satisfying. And nothing since then. So the obvious conclusion is that climate change is behind the Georgia drought. OK not only Red State problem. Blue State people listen up. You are burning up out there in California. Literally. And for us to ask Jehovah to make things all better after we have pooped in our own room is absurd. I say better to use prayer/meditation/dance/convulsion/transcendence to make us all better able to be good stewards of Planet Earth, that was given to us by God/Yahweh/GreatSpirit/Osiris/BigBang/Whatever.

I actually like the views from the spiritual leaders of Atlanta's Muslim and Jewish faiths better than what the Hindus/Buddhists/Baptists/Catholics had to say.

Plemon Al-Amin, the prayer leader at Masjid of Al-Islam in Atlanta said, "Because the Quran was first revealed in Arabia, there were always challenges in terms of rain. And we do actually have rain prayers."

"But we want to make sure everybody is already in the frame of mind of conserving. Because it's problematic when you are asking for something and not making proper use of what you already have."

Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Etz Chaim of Atlanta, said, "I teach the efficacy of prayer is to inspire us, and it gives us a sense that we are participants in what goes on this planet and on this earth.

"And we also recognize that we pray to God for our ability to know what is right or wrong and how to deal with the limited bounty we have."

My point exactly. Rather than looking to miracles from heaven, why don't we use prayer/meditation to help us learn how to transform ourselves so that we can use the resources of Planet Earth in a sustainable way, cuz it is going to have to start with us, since our government doesn't seem to be playing a leadership role in this regard.

I'll leave you with the example of the Rain Man of Atlanta, who doesn't use the government's water supply, but has an abundance of supply from his own rain barrels. He's thinking about building a hot tub. I'm gonna say a prayer for him.