I got into an exchange with someone who insisted that prayer offers people something "inside"--even if it's not true that it actually changes anything in the real world. Ironically, I agree, which is why I think it's horrible. Here's an analogy inspired by the dialog:
Intercessory Prayer, a hypothetical: I put an ad in the local paper saying I am retired, but have experience and contacts in the business world and can help people find work. They need only drive out to my house--an hour outside the city--and bring me their resume and talk to me about their work history for 30 minutes. I don't charge anyone a dime.
You are a reporter and you'd like to do a story on me and the inspirational work I'm doing. I meet with you and you ask me how it works. How do I help these people find work? I say, "Oh, after the applicants leave, I throw their resumes and vitaes in the trash. I don't actually do anything to help them find work. I just like knowing that I provide them with a sense of hope and inspiration that things might improve for them--since they believe I can help them. In fact, I was a bus driver all my life and have no real business experience at all.
Am I a kind, caring helpful person offering a benefit to people? Or an asshole who wastes their time? Remember--it only takes 2.5 hours of their time, and they're still looking for work on their own. But am I helpful or a dick?
In the context of the church--organized religion--they do charge for this "service." And in addition, there is a story in the news just about daily of parents who didn't seek medical help for their children because their churches teach that god will heal if it's His will--and a doctor is a demonstration of a lack of faith in god.
So, let's redo the scenario above to say I tell people to give me 10% of their net worth if they want me to take their case, and that in some cases I tell them that I won't help them unless they cease all other independent job hunting.
Again--helping or hurting? Kind or asshole?
Is this really hard?