Thursday, August 9, 2012

Open Letter To People Who Make Prayer Requests

If your standard response to tragedy is to request people pray, this is intended for you.

My intention here is not antagonistic or any attempt to insult, belittle, or mock.  These are genuine questions I have regarding a concept I have never understood.

Prayer has always perplexed me.  George Carlin's famous bit about prayer & "God's plan" described my thoughts on prayer best until I found Tim Minchin's "Thank You God" (the inspiration for this blog's title).

I don't understand why people think praying for someone experiencing a tragedy is actually accomplishing anything tangible.  I'm trying to understand what goes through your mind when you request prayer instead of actual action.

When you make prayer requests, what are you expecting?

Do you think the outcome is dependent on how many people pray?

If God has a plan, how could prayer alter that plan?

How often do you also request direct action other than prayer?  Given the less than stellar success rate of prayer, do you ever wonder if direct action would be more effective?

Do you ever think people who experience tragedy just didn't have enough people praying for them?

What about when people do pray & bad things still happen?  Did God say no?  Were not enough people praying?

Do you think direct action that occurs after a prayer is because of the prayer?  What about when disaster is averted without anyone praying?  Did God help that person anyway?  If so, is prayer even required or useful?  If not, is prayer even required or useful?

As far as I as I can tell, prayer is only useful for making the person praying feel better emotionally & is entirely useless in terms of otherwise helping people.

I'm not trying to tell you to stop praying.  It's not my place to make such a request if praying does make you feel better.  But please never let it be your only effort.

When you see someone in need that you want to help, please think for a minute about what tangible actions you could take to directly help.  That way, the person in trouble receives help and you get to feel better.  Instead of just you feeling better.


  1. I seem to recall that there is research that suggests that sick or injured people for whom others are praying, and who are aware of such praying, tend to find comfort and gain strength from that knowledge and so tend to have better recovery rates. This might be described as the home court advantage for sick people. I don't know why this works; apparently it's just the way we're wired.

    I also think you're setting up something of as false dichotomy between prayer and direct action. I agree with you that direct action would probably be the more useful and efficacious approach, but in most cases the option simply doesn't exist. If I find someone lying injured in a ditch, I don't drop to my knees and pray; I offer aid, call 911, etc. But if I know someone who's fighting cancer, what direct action can I possibly take? So I pray; that's the best I can do.

    And--full disclosure--I actually DON'T pray. I understand that it works for some people, but it doesn't work for me because I'm simply not invested in it. But I stop just a little short of calling myself an atheist because atheism, like all -isms is an absolutist position; it's a dogma. As a proponent of rational, scientific thought I understand that knowledge is always somewhat provisional, that absolute certainty is possible only in the realm of absolute faith. A truly rational person must realize that even the most secure knowledge rests only on a high degree of probability. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Probably. The probability is so high, in fact, that one might well accept it as an absolute certainty--except that it might not come up. Maybe it blew up 8 minutes ago and we just don't know it yet.

  2. Actually, the studies I'm aware have shown that prayer has no demonstrable positive effects. However, at least one has shown that knowing someone is praying for you has a negative effect. I'll try to remember to go find the studies and link them for you.

    Regarding atheism being an absolutist position, that simply is not true. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in god(s). There is dogma whatsoever.

    If you do not believe in god(s), you're an atheist. This is true whether you identify yourself with that label or not. But the label says absolutely nothing else about your beliefs.

  3. First I must say... I love George Carlin and his beliefs. LOL. Very wise, sensible man.

    Prayer to me just has never made sense.

    By belief, God controls everything. Good and Bad. He gives you free will.

    If something has happened... it is both God and your own doing.
    By this reasoning, prayer should have no effect.

    "God helps those who help themselves."

    Well, if you helped yourself, you no longer need God's help.

    Do events happen that are great and mysterious? Yes, but it's often results of someone's actions unknown or some type of medically rare odds.

    God's Plan? - Also makes no sense. You are given choices everyday. Which also means by terms God has to have at least 2 plans for you for every choice you make. How do you know if it's actually his plan? If you can alter it....every time you decide something. Or are you assuming your choices are his plan because he already knew you'd do in- in that case Free will is more or less obsolete.

    So I agree. Although I do believe some type of god is out there... I do NOT believe in all the stories or theories people make God out to be.