So I had an interesting discussion with a few religious friends of mine the other day (anyone else get grilled about atheism on a regular basis?), and at one point we were talking about prayer and its utility. Of course, I argued that prayer is completely pointless. One of the more liberal Christians there agreed with me in the sense that God "doesn't always answer prayers" (which almost led to the whole 'omnipotent/omnibenevolent' debate), but that prayer is useful in other ways. Specifically, he said that when someone tells him they are 'praying for him', it makes him 'feel good'. At the time, I immediately thought 'Oh hey, this is bullshit', but I've been thinking about it and it seems that a lot of people feel the same way.
So here's my four-pronged question/topic of discussion:
1. Do you think most Christians realize that prayer is useless, but 'pray' anyway because it 'feels good'?
2. If/when someone says they are 'praying for you', do you feel better?
3. Is there something special about the word prayer? (What I mean by that is that when you tell someone that you 'hope' things get better for them, it doesn't seem to have the same effect as telling someone you're 'praying' for them.)
4. And now for the rhetorical question: Is 'prayer' bullshit? ;) hehehe
I've formulated my own answers to these, which I may post, but I wanted some outside feedback first ;)
Praying for you, atheists!
1. Maybe. I think a lot of them pray because it makes them feel like they're accomplishing something, even if they're not.
2. No, I just roll my eyes.
3. No, I don't think so.
4. Prayer is bullshit.
Orthodox christians pray because they believe in miracles like olive oil comes out of the statue of the virgin Mary, olive oil comes out of a nun's hands ...
or visions of Mary.. they are always proud of these things they called miracles..
It's hard to convince them to Atheism.
From my viewpoint, I think that praying is just like talking to myself...
Millions of people pray this prayer,
Oh God of father Abraham, what is you your name is it Jehovah or Allah or.. what ?
he did'nt even answer them this silly question...
The Islamic prayer is reading what you have memoried just like a parrot.
Maybe your prayer well be accepted maybe not.
There is no ensure to go to heaven unless you blow yourself up in the name of Allah.
I've read a lot of these, and I agree with what most people are saying, namely:
1. Christians at some level know that prayer is useless, but they do it for several reasons anyway. It makes them feel like they're doing something without actually contributing; they find some kind of relief in prayer/meditation; or maybe they're just self-righteous assholes that get a kick out of telling people 'I'm praying for you.'
2. No, I don't feel better when they say they're praying for me. But I don't get annoyed either. I understand that this statement usually carries positive sentiments, and I appreciate it for that and nothing else. I wish they would be more honest with themselves and instead say "I know that there is nothing I can do for you right now and that things are out of my hands, but I wish you the best and am thinking of you." At least that statement carries no notions of invisible sky-people.
3. I'm still a little hazy on this one. For me (and judging by the other posts here, atheists in general), there is nothing special about the word 'prayer'. I have noticed, however, that among the religious, there is a special connotation that the word carries that other words may not be able to convey. But that's just dumb, because there is no god, which leads me to my last point...
4. Prayer is utter bullshit. :)
Thanks for your responses guys; it's nice to know there are people with the same beliefs out there.
I think it would be better to say there are people with the same 'facts' out there. :)
'Prayer is bullshit' seems like a fact to me.
Kyle, while that is true that most people are saying that, and I agree with your #2 too... my reply about my grandmother didn't say anything about whether or not my grandmother knows on any level that prayer is useless. ;)
So as for #1... I don't know. I'd say many know it might be useless, but many don't know.
I honestly don't know WHAT she believes. She's not a very talkative person, but she is Catholic, and goes to confession every Saturday, to confess, pardon the expression, "God knows what" lol... but seriously she is a very good person. Not getting me and my brother out of our mother's abuse sooner was a crime/sin of omission, perhaps, and she was neglectful as a guardian to me for the 1 year I lived there (my senior year of high school) in so much as I'd talk at dinner and she wouldn't even realize I'd spoken, and idk it was just really lonely there, and I got away with staying up all night with my vidding addiction:
and my schoolwork suffered for it. But I highly doubt that she considers those sins or even realizes that any of those things happened. She doesn't realize that letting her husband abuse and take advantage of her for essentially her whole life wasn't really the best thing to do for her nor for her 6 children. What she believes about God and religion is a mystery to me, because she never really talks much, and she didn't seem to care that on the FEW Sundays I was under her care, I chose not to go to church and sleep-in instead, and she didn't seem to want to bring up the subject of religion at all ever. She doesn't seem to care that one of her sons (David, the eldest of her 6 children) is gay, but she calls his life partner his "friend" lol so if she's in denial or not, I'm really not sure. I don't know if he ever came out to her or not, but he brings Don with him to every single family event - Christmas, his father's funeral, etc. and they're in their fifties and have been very close for years. I don't think they got married, even though they live in Washington D.C. where it's legal/possible, and I don't even know if they're living together lmao... I know very little about them, the most I know is that Don is more fun to talk to than my uncle even though my uncle is related to me, and on my uncle David's brand new facebook page he quotes something in French that he saw on the wall of a Persian gay bar (my uncle David has traveled the world for his bank-related job) and under religious views he put "no" lol... I highly doubt my grandmother knows that he has no religious beliefs anymore.
My grandmother is really lonely now that her husband has died... so she goes to church on weekdays now, not every single day but probably every day that there's a service. She does it just for the socialization though, and I'm sure she realizes that.
She might have always gone to confession every Saturday for the same reason - it's talking to another human being, a priest, and they are real people who might talk back and all... ;)
My grandmother is probably someone who on at least some level realizes that it doesn't really matter, and that her religion might not be the one and only truth. She doesn't bring up religion often enough for me to believe it's really that important to her.
For her, saying "I'll pray for you" COULD be a "I wish you well" euphemism and she's not actually going to pray, kind of like how atheists might accidentally say "thank god" or "oh my god" or "bless you" - it's the language of our culture and we're not always thinking about god when we say them. I am really only guilty of "oh my god" but others might be guilty of all 3...
Then again, I used to cross my fingers, and sometimes pray too. I never was very religious NOR very superstitious. I never offered to pray for someone, but when someone would ask me to cross my fingers for them, I understood they were "desperate" for something relatively trivial - never a matter of life and death but a good grade, that your mom won't get mad, etc - and I might do it, for a second. I think on twitter now when people say "oh no, my friend just got hit by a car, pray for her" many people see the tweet right then and there and DO pray, in an honest wish to help them. They might realize if they're not praying that would mean they're doubting the validity of it, so they pray in order to keep their own worldview from shattering, I don't know. I don't know why I crossed my fingers when I was little, but I did. I had the "it couldn't hurt" mentality and perhaps also the illusion of "feeling like I'm doing something when in actuality I'm doing nothing".
I would pray most often for cafeterias or my grandmother to be serving a type of food I'd be willing to eat, because I was a very picky eater, and I was really hungry, and I really really wanted the food to be under a very small specific subset of possibilities. I didn't think to pray for important things, but if I was bored and hungry, the idea of praying would come to my mind.
I myself never prayed very often though, and surprisingly the extreme psychological torture that my mother inflicted on me almost daily due to her borderline personality disorder VERY rarely if ever made me think about praying to make her stop. I never REALLY believed in God, not enough to think praying would help in that situation. In a situation like that, where I truly desperately needed a way to make her stop yelling (and sometimes cornering me and using her body to block me into a wall and sometimes knocking the glasses off of my head and/or pulling my hair and/or physically screaming at the top of her lungs into my ear to try to hurt my hearing) I thought very practically at all times. I figured out when I was very young that crying made her stop, so I started crying essentially on cue, the second she started yelling. Eventually that stopped working, and even when my tears were real she considered them fake/"crocodile" tears, and new methods were developed. Lots of lies, secrets, etc, etc, were involved in my life, all methods of tricking her. The best way to avoid being yelled at was to avoid her altogether so I'd usually hide from her, lock myself in my room, sneak watching TV and doing things I wanted to do when and where she couldn't notice me, etc. Never once did praying seem like an actually practical thing to do. I was never properly indoctrinated enough to believe that it would really do anything. When I went to forced Confession during Religious Education in my Catholic Church, I couldn't think of any sins I'd committed recently, so I lied and made up something, and then didn't do my assigned penance of prayer because it was tedious (like say the Our Father twice and the Hail Mary 3 times) and I couldn't quite remember all the words to my assigned prayers. I didn't think those prayers mattered at all, not in the slightest, nor did I think God cared about me lying in confession lol.
I was more convinced of Santa Claus's reality than of God's... so I can't judge what the true true Christians believe when they pray. I don't know but I feel that there must be a continuum, and if you're a Christian who believes very sincerely with all of your heart that God is real and does things probably do truly believe without a doubt that this God answers all of their prayers, and this belief is reinforced by confirmation bias and seeing all the hits and discounting all the misses. I bet there are all types of praying people, ranging from those who barely pray or who pretend to pray etc. to those who pray ALL the time, every day, about everything, and sincerely believe in its power.
@luvtheheaven - Thanks for sharing you perspective. I usually don't have the attention span to hang in there with a post that long but I found your's interesting. I'm sorry you had it so rough during that time of your life.
Lol yeah I considered deleting most of it before posting because I realized I'd rambled on for WAY too long... but then I just thought what the hell and continued to write MORE lol... ;)
1) Most Christians think it will actually DO something. I have been placed in prayer circles via my grandmother. Of course, since things worked out, it's thanks to God and the hundreds of people praying for me during my illness. Never mind the fact I was sick to begin with and had the life force sucked out of me by a year's worth of nasty medicine. I think it also helped her feel good, because, what else COULD she do in this situation? I told her it wasn't necessary, but to her it was. And yes, she knows I am atheist.
2) No, I do NOT feel better if someone says they are praying for me. Rather, I feel irritated, because I KNOW it is a waste of time and energy. I don't need to be prayed for, and if you know I don't believe, and insist on saying it anyway, you are just an ass.
3) There is nothing special about the word to me, except for it being a useless concept. Perhaps it is more comforting for a believer, but rather than PRAY for something to happen, people would have much higher success rates if they got off their knees and DID something.
To answer your question: praying actually worsens situations. If someone prays for me, I will know for sure that person was never a friend or someone who cared. They just want you to be cursed
In any case, praying isn't free either. Someone is going to have to pay for a prayer to be fulfilled
1. I've never been able to tell. When some people say it, I get the sense that it is only intended as a general good sentiment. Others seem to use prayer as a coping mechanism without placing much emphasis on measurably successful outcomes. Some will go so far as to refuse medical treatment in favour of praying away disease, so I think at that extreme we can assume these individuals believe prayer works directly. Basically, there's a gamut, but I personally have no idea how prayer advocates are distributed within it.
2. No. When the offer is sincere, I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but I find the promise of prayer itself to be hollow. If the gesture is disingenuous, I'm not particularly bothered by it. It isn't a common thing for people to say in my social circles.
3. There is cultural significance. Some people use the term 'prayer' for that reason. I avoid the term for that reason.
4. Rhetoric aside, yes and no. If someone literally expects their prayers to be answered then yes. If, on the other hand, it is just being used as an emotional release, a perspective-shaping tool, or as a form of meditation, then I don't think it's bullshit. Are there other ways to achieve the same effect? Yes, and some of them are arguably better, but we all have our personal preferences.
The ONE thing prayer does do.............is show support from friends and family. It lets people know that others care what is happening to them..even when they can't really do anything about it.
Usually when I get a prayer request on facebook or somewhere else I will respond that I hope the outcome is favorable...... 'that my thoughts are with them' or that i'm thinking positive thoughts.
My wife is going to have a hysterectomy on the 24th and I'm not going to be asking for any prayers...but it doesn't hurt to know that family and friends are thinking about you and hoping for a positive outcome.
I think this is why prayer is popular and why people do it.