Thoughts on prayer


As an atheist, it’s always awkward for me when I come across a prayer posted online or am at a function where a group prayer takes place. When I was younger it always felt funny forcing myself to participate in a prayer when I didn’t believe in it. As I got older and more comfortable with being an out atheist, I got more comfortable with not closing my eyes or not putting my head down during prayer. The reason coming across prayers on the internet makes me feel awkward is because I have the gut reaction that I want to explain to them that prayer doesn’t work. I know, however, that it would be perceived as mean to say that and crush their hope. That’s why prayer often is a touchy subject, it gives people hope which makes them feel good. Why take that away from them?  Also, for many religions prayer is a very integral part of their doctrines. For many Christians, prayer is how they communicate with god. For some of them, that “communication” is proof of god. There are so many issues I have with those basic notions of prayer. If they think they’re communicating with god, does god speak back to them? What prayers did he answer? 

Most of the time I think people pray for generic things that they can accomplish on their own. For instance, if someone is on their way to a family member’s wedding they might pray to god to give them the strength to get along with certain people at the wedding and to enjoy themselves. I’m pretty sure someone does not need to have help from an outside source to do that sort of thing and are entirely capable of having the self control to do so. If the event they prayed about went well, it was most likely because the person who made that prayer really wanted what they prayed for to come true and they made unconscious decisions to make it happen. Many believers make even more generic prayers, like asking god to give them the strength to be a good person. With a request as generic as that, they could easily be “good” and say that god answered their prayer. But I’m sorry, god did not answer that prayer. The person who is concerned enough to want to be a good person will most likely be a good person. 

People also have very specific prayers that range from mundane things like doing well on a test to bigger things like a family member being cured of cancer. Christians love to point out the times that a specific prayer was answered but they usually neglect to address the great number of times when their prayers went unanswered. There are many times when people claim a prayer has been answered, but things are sort of twisted around to make it seem as if it has been fulfilled. Or when the prayer flat out isn’t answered, excuses are usually given like, it was all part of god’s plan or god has other plans for me. If you think god has a plan in the first place, why are you even praying to him? 

It’s the idea that people need to rely on this outside force for help that really bothers me. It’s like the football player or actor that thanks god for their great achievements. Why don’t they just give themselves credit for honing the skills that lead them to being successful? Or give credit to the people around them that aided them in their journey to success? I find it really sad to not give yourself and the people who support you credit and to give the credit to a supreme being there is no evidence of. This notion also reminds me of how when a doctor performs a very difficult surgery or heals someone of a terrible disease, and a Christian patient and their family will thank god for giving that doctor the skills to save the patient or for god bringing the doctor into their lives. God shouldn’t get credit for the doctor, the doctor worked hard to become a doctor and he was able to do what he did with modern medicine. 

At least there are those middle ground Christians that are a part of the religious world but are a bit more rational and use the benefits of modern technology and science. They may think prayer works, but they don’t entirely rely on it. When they get sick they do not only pray to get better, but they see a doctor as well. What scares me are the fundamentalists that do think prayer works and do not need to do anything else. There are cases all over the US of parents refusing to take their children to doctors, and instead taking them to churches. Many times these cases end badly and children end up dying of easily curable things (here’s an example: ). This way of thinking also can lead to parents thinking that their child’s bad behavior is demonic possession and not a treatable behavioral problem. Instead of doing something that would actually help the child, they are just prayed for or in some cases even taken to an exorcism. Many of those cases of parents praying the demons out of their children don’t lead to greatly terrible things, there might be some psychological scaring from being told they have demons in them but don’t usually have physical harm done to them. Although there are very terrifying times when a notion like that goes greatly out of hand when in the hands of a mentally unstable person ( )

So, I don’t care that prayer gives people hope. I think there are a lot more negative effects of prayer than there are positive effects. It encourages delusion. God hasn’t answered people’s prayers, people have just convinced themselves that god was listening.

I have one last point to make. What made these people who have claimed their prayers have worked worthy of being noticed and helped by god? He’ll help football players win games or help people to behave a certain way but won’t help AIDS babies? Do these people really think they’re more special then millions of people suffering throughout the world? In my opinion, it’s a very selfish and close minded way of thinking. 


8 thoughts on “Thoughts on prayer

  1. If you think god has a plan in the first place, why are you even praying to him?

    The whole concept of praying to an omniscient God to request something is incoherent. God knows everything, so he already knows what you want and how much you want it and whether you deserve to get it, so how can asking him for it make any difference at all?

    And as you say, people pray for a good outcome to something trivial like a football game and claim such prayers are answered, while God leaves much more serious matters ignored. Again, it’s incoherent.

    In fact, it comes from the human tendency to anthropomorphize things in the world around us. When I’m driving and coming up to a traffic light I really don’t want to get stuck at, I sometimes find myself saying “Stay green! Stay green!” in my head. Sometimes it does, and if I remember all those times and forget all the times it turned red, I might start to imagine that the traffic light is actually listening to me, except that that idea doesn’t have the weight of religion behind it, so it’s obvious how silly it is.

    • I liked the post. I take it one step further. Christians say two things about God. 1) He is just; 2) He knows everything and the future. Those to statementsd by Christians are really an oxymoron. How can God be just when he knows the outcome? He can’t. There would be no need for him to help or answer or even listen to prayers. Christians don’t think things through. They attribute their own ideas into God. In other words, the create God in their own ignorant image.

      • “How can God be just when he knows the outcome?”

        No comprende, senor, but if you refer to the problem of reconciling human agency
        (free will) with God’s foreknowledge of all events, it’s beyond human comprehension.
        (Call that a cop-out if you want to.)

    • Prayer is meant to be transformative and thus make you more deserving.

      As for “people pray for a good outcome to something trivial like a football game and claim such prayers are answered, while God leaves much more serious matters ignored,”
      by this logic, God either does not exist or isn’t “fair” in a way that you understand.
      For religious people, it’s the latter.

  2. You can no more “explain that prayer doesn’t work” than you
    could “explain that God doesn’t exist,” you know, though you
    can explain that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

    In my religion, I think the thought runs as follows:
    There are some things God will give you without praying for them,
    there are some things God will give you only if you pray for them,
    and there are some things God will not give you even if you pray for them.
    We should treat everything as though it’s in the second category,
    even though it may not be.
    If it’s in the first, we still accomplish prayer, which is good in itself,
    if in the second, our prayer is also actually helpful,
    and if in the third, the spiritual power of our prayer will be used for
    something else that is to our benefit [this might apply to the first category as well].

    “God shouldn’t get credit for the doctor, the doctor worked hard to become a doctor
    and he was able to do what he did with modern medicine.”

    Neither modern medicine nor doctors are infallible, you know, though
    that’s no excuse for not thanking the doctor and anyone who assisted.
    As for people who don’t take their kids to doctors, they should have them taken away.
    That’s criminal neglect (and mental instability + exorcism attempts = scary as hell).

    “So, I don’t care that prayer gives people hope. I think there are a lot more negative
    effects of prayer than there are positive effects. It encourages delusion.”

    You’d be more convincing if you listed any of those supposed negative effects
    (your “delusion” = their hope). Do you think anyone convinces themselves to believe
    through prayer (to who)? Those who pray already believe.
    Just leave people with their hope/delusion/whatever you want to call it.

    As for your last point, what “makes them special” is nothing more than that they’re
    praying, and anyone else is welcome to be just as “special” as they are.
    (AIDS babies would take a miracle, and those are hard to come by.
    You can pray that scientists find a cure instead if you want to be helpful, according to
    religious thought – and many scientific discoveries have been made “accidentally” or
    are a matter of chance, so there’s your room for God.)

  3. The bible instructs us to pray the Lord’s Prayer-Matthew 6:9-13. He hears the prayers of the humble-II Chronicles 34:27. As you succinctly communicated prayer should not be an exhausting list of selfish desires. God knows what we need and desires should align with what GOD’s will. The intent is to strengthen our relationship with GOD. In addition to the Lord’s Prayer, we should pray for others ,even those who hate us, pray for forgiveness, and pray for our world that is being overcome by pollution, poisoned food and water, incompetent leaders, poverty and disease. Our own personal requests should align with GOD’s will. This is authentic prayer.

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