Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pray for the Godless at Your Own Peril

I may not be religious, but I am not particularly interested in making religious people go against their religion. I wouldn’t get anything out of sneaking some bacon grease into food being prepared for a Jewish or Muslim person. I see no point in trying to keep a Christian from going to church. I’m not going to do something that, even though I know it’s actually harmless, would cause severe distress to a religious person.

I might cause a little light distress, and certainly some insult, but I’m not going to force a person to break the code of their religion unless it adversely affects other people. So, with that in mind, I am begging religious people (and it seems to be primarily Christians) to stop praying for me.

Praying “for” someone or something is pointless on so many levels. For one thing, the Christian God has a plan. What’s more, the Christian God knows all that you desire before you ask it, so there isn’t much point in asking. The only thing to gain from praying for something or someone is to feel like you did a good deed… when you actually didn’t. This is especially true when you go so far as to tell someone your plans to mumble to yourself in their honor.

It seems kind of vain, self-serving, and empty. If what a Christian prays for doesn’t happen, they take no responsibility for it. They don’t blame their own personal lack of faith, or God. Yet, if things go the way they hope, then obviously it was through prayer that it happened…

But that isn’t what prayer is about, from my reading of the Bible. According to my interpretation, God isn’t your personal genie. It’s my impression that prayers (at least all the prayers actually in the Bible) ask for the praying Christian to be made better, while at the same time gushing about how great God is. Praying is for self-betterment and divine vanity, at least according to the Bible.

And it begs the question… what are Christians praying for when they pray for us heathens? Maybe they’re praying for something good to happen to us, maybe they’re praying for us to become believers, but ultimately, what they’re hoping is that by telling an atheist they will pray for them, the atheist will be swayed in some way towards having positive feelings about faith. After all, if someone prays for me and things go my way… then clearly I will become a Christian.

Now, you won’t bother me by praying for me, but I think there’s nothing in the Bible saying you ought to pray for someone who is not a believer. Quite the contrary, the Bible is not very forgiving of those who reject Jesus. You might as well pray for the devil, quite frankly. More importantly, Christians should probably know how some non-believers feel about it, because not all of them are as tolerant as I am.

I get the feeling most non-believers take one of two stances on “being prayed for.” The first group is rather simple: we don’t care. There is a general indifference among a lot of non-believers for having someone mutter to themselves in our name. In this case, no harm, no foul. It would be like me saying, “Have a nice day.” Hardly anyone is going to get upset and say, “Don’t tell me what to do!”

But there are some atheists who are bothered by it. I imagine there’s quite a range of irritation or offense that could be taken by such an act as a Christian telling a non-believer they will pray for them. For some, it may even border on atheistic blasphemy, in which case you’re not doing the Christian faith any favors by praying for someone. By telling someone you’ll “pray for them,” you may just be making Christianity (or if you’re lucky, just yourself) look smug or pompous.

Regardless of how an irreligious person feels about being prayed for, none of us want it. On some level, it’s often implying, “You aren’t good enough as you are, you need the help of me and my magical friend.” Even if you’re praying for a good thing to happen to someone, we know that what you really want is for us to believe like you do, and that can be insulting on a very personal level. You might as well be saying, “I wish you would change.”

Part of why I imagine this is so confusing to Christians is how they must see this. To a Christian, Christianity is great, and they think they’re sharing something amazing with us infidels. To see how irritating a non-believer might find this practice, a Christian would have to do something none of them seem capable of doing: treating others the way they themselves would want to be treated.

I wouldn’t tell a religious person they need to change their faith in order for things to get better for them, and telling someone you know isn’t religious that you will pray for them can be seen as similar to saying, “You can’t handle things yourself, but rather than actually doing anything real to help you, I’ll just say you clearly need assistance from my religion.”

A Christian wouldn’t want someone of another religion to sacrifice a goat for them, nor would they appreciate someone making a burnt offering in their personal shrine for them. Maybe those are too abstract… how about something more concrete?

Would a Christian appreciate it if I told them I was making a large donation to a local coven of witches on their behalf or that I would protest outside a church for an hour in their name? Perhaps the most apt similitude in my eyes would be if I told a Christian that tonight, I would cut myself for them. I imagine most Christians would rather I not do that.

No one wants to know that someone else is doing something stupid in their name. In this regard, I sort of understand how God must feel.


  1. Nice post. It reminded me, and this is somewhat irrelevant, that the senior-most Catholic clergyman in Australia, Cardinal Pell, recently said atheists can go to heaven. So even if we're wrong, we're all good. Apparently, to paraphrase, 'every gesture towards truth and goodness is a gesture towards God' (even if an atheist doesn't know it).

    1. As a former Catholic, I can assure you: even if Jesus was God, Catholicism is not the right religion.

  2. Good read. I wouldn't slip anyone bacon grease but I do think all religion has adverse affects on people.

  3. When I pray for people - and it doesn't matter who I pray for, atheist, Christian, wiccan - I'm not hoping for the atheist to have a positive feeling toward faith. How or what they believe is not my main concern. Which is why, when I pray for people I come across in my daily routine, I look for people who need to know God is good and God is love.

    I don't say, God is good, or tell them God loves them (at least not often, and not usually in those words). I pray to release the Presence of God - when someone has an encounter with God, they can evaluate for themselves what that means to them.

    The people I usually approach to pray for are people who have a physical condition that needs healing, such as a mother who was at Costco with a daughter who had celiac disease. She was an atheist, but was open to receiving prayer for her daughter because, maybe, just maybe there was a glimmer of hope her daughter might be healed. At worse, it couldn't do any greater damage.

    I realize the hope for those without faith is akin to winning the lottery (slim to none), but that doesn't stop millions of people from buying lottery tickets. People will try anything, especially for their children.

    On the same Costco trip, I saw a woman limping around the food court and I said to my son, "We should pray for that woman." So I went over, started chatting and asked what was wrong. She had Cerebral Palsey from birth. I asked she would like God to heal her and then I prayed. She was a Christian, as was her partner.

    Last week, I was at the hospital, getting x-rays on my knee when I noticed the x-ray technician was limping. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had polio from childhood. I asked him if I could pray for him. He physically felt the presence of God, and although he wasn't healed instantly he had an encounter with God that left him feeling good - his words, not mine.

    I never invite people to my church, I've never asked for anyone's contact information and on the (very) rare occasion I will offer my contact information so if they want to talk again, I'm available.


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