Thursday, June 02, 2011

Christians Say Interesting Things Part Two: "Pray For Me"

I've been thinking about this prayer thing for years now. I've even written two essays (linked below) using reason and logic to explore the irrationality and ineffectiveness of prayer.

Over the last few months as natural disasters have ripped through the south and the midwest and as I have personally dealt with the death of one of my best friends, I've seen, more than ever it seems, appeals for people to pray for them. During a calamity all of my social networking sites are clogged with people petitioning for prayer.

I simply don't understand it. Even when I was an evangelical Christian devoted to the teaching of the Bible I found it ineffective and slightly embarrassing to ask people to pray for me. As a progressive believer (meaning a believer more or less in touch with observable reality) I had relegated prayer to some abstract form of faith exercising. In my dialogues on the below essay's I've even heard some of you say this very thing. You pray because it changes you in an abstract sense, not because it actually changes reality.

And that brings us to my point. Here are some logical questions I have in response to people using social media to ask for prayers in the wake of an approaching thunder storm:

1. Is your god capricious enough to reserve help simply because not enough people prayed for it?

2. Don't you believe that god is in control of everything? Doesn't this include the very storm on it's way to potentially destroy your life? What is the goal of prayer here? To honor your god's will or to thwart it?

3. How do you explain the fact that there are people in this world who probably pray harder and better than you and who are still susceptible to the same natural disasters as yourself?

One Christian, who is fairly well known as a musician in a successful Christian band, had this to say in response to making it through a storm that others were destroyed by:

"We were *blessed* this line arrived after sunset. Avoided a tornadic outbreak. Feels good to get a reminder of Who is in charge."

I pointed out that this was incredibly offensive to those who were devastated by the storms and, according to this logic, "unblessed" by the Big Man in charge. He responded by saying he didn't consider it offensive to be thankful not to get hit by a tornado.

Do you see the cognitive dualism here, folks? It's like missing a flight that ends up crashing and thanking god for his goodness and his blessings while hundreds of lives were lost and thousands destroyed.

This is nonsense. If you want to pray to gods or to Elvis or to your dead loved ones then by all means, I want you to have the freedom to do that. But when you start publicly petitioning for prayer and thanking your god for sparing you while thousands of others are picking up the pieces then you deserve some social criticism.

Prayer quite obviously is a complete denial of reality. It is the ostrich burying it's head in the sand. It is childish and it is time to grow up, folks. What we need in a time of crisis is human solidarity and tangible resources. We don't need to waste our time praying to an invisible being who, whether that being exists or not, isn't going to do a damn thing for us. We don't need to proliferate wish thinking as a viable method of coping with tragedy.

We must use the tools of reality to face reality. Together.

In reason,

Clint Wells


susan said...

I think the thing that bothers me about your post is not the elucidation of your rationale for deeming prayer ineffective, but rather that you deem people who ask for prayer from other Christians deserving of social criticism. It doesn't seem a far jump to say that a nun who goes to the grocery store in her habit deserves some social criticism or that a Muslim who wears a headscarf deserves some social criticism.

And then, what is social criticism? All well and good if it's just Clint calling you out on his blog, but when is that line crossed between Clint calling you out and Biff employing hate speech to entice violence against a nun or a Muslim woman or a Sikh man in a turban?

And no, your blog is not hate speech. And I am sure by social criticism you don't mean "throw tomatoes." But is there not some kind of relationship between deeming someone deserving of social criticism for what is essentially an outward display of their religious beliefs and a kind of fascist (hegemonic?) prohibition of such a display in its entirety? There is, certainly, some hegemonic potentiality here if only seen in hindsight. (I am such a dork.)

(Or are you just calling that band guy an a-hole? Cause I can see that.)


Robert said...


I agree with the basic sentiment of your post. It reminds me of the "And when you pray..." sermon Steve gave a while back. The fact that we proclaim these things on social networks rightfully sounds pious and is often profane (though I understand where A.O. was coming from).

Christians frequently substitute some words for others that they deem too "secular". The obvious ones are the "curse" words. But there are other more subtle words that even so called Calvinists still misuse. A prime example is the word "providence" (blessed). If you see this word on twitter somewhere, it generally means luck (lucky). No one's out there tweeting about how it was God's providence or blessing that their dog died or their favorite sports team lost a game or especially that their house was leveled by a tornado. But from the accounts of scripture and the psalms, this imbalance should be appear quite "unrealistic" to the skeptic. Of course, the fact that we discriminate between the use of one word over the other based strictly on it being a good or bad word in an of itself (devoid of context or meaning) is evidence that we Christians often tacitly proclaim a linguistic dualism in the way we speak. if the God we worship isn't capable of redeeming the word "shit" for his purpose.

I'll post more about abstract/physical dualism and where I disagree with you later.

Clint Wells said...

Susan - A few things.

1. I believe that nuns and Muslims (to use your examples) DO deserve social criticism. I believe anyone who publicly advertises that they believe in invisible beings should feel some sort of embarrassment in public. Most people DO feel shame and embarrassment but chalk it up to persecution and social martyrdom.

2. That is QUITE a different thing than hate speech and enticing violence. The jump to those things is utterly absurd. A person should pay a social price for what they believe because beliefs matter. You're more likely to trust a stranger with your children if they don't believe in things like the May 21st rapture.

When I meet people who believe in absurdities I don't verbally insult them or entice violence or deny them basic human rights. But I also don't bat an eye at holding them to their beliefs and judging them. This is the response of a rational human being. Judge and be prepared to be judged.

In short, I deny your relationship between social criticism and (again to use your own words) fascism. To be honest with you I don't even think those comments were worth my time.

3. From what I know about this artist he seems like a very kind and thoughtful person. I don't think he is an asshole. I just think his remarks were short-sighted and offensive. He (and most believers I know) aren't used to having people call them out and apply non-violent social criticism. Hopefully he will be more thoughtful the next time he wants to spout nonsense about his god.

Robert - Interesting thoughts. So, do you believe that prayer changes the nature of reality? If so, why?

susan said...

Clint, I don't want this to become a heated exchange, but I frankly feel that to make the claim that most religious people feel embarrassed by their belief in an unseen God is short-sighted at best. For someone who is so passionately devoted to the pursuit of logic and science, that is an extremely subjective assertion.

But more importantly, if you take an historical view of 20th Century genocide you will see that the correlation between deeming a person irrational and therefore "deserving of social criticism" (or genetically flawed and deserving of criticism) and mass murder is clear and historically documented. One need look no further than the work of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center to see and understand that small intolerances grow into large intolerances regardless of religion or race if they are not constantly examined and exposed.


Clint Wells said...

Susan - I never claimed that my observations about social stigma were 100% verifiably objective. One can be passionate about science and logic and still make subjective assertions. There is no contradiction here.

What I'm noticing are trends towards disassociating from mainstream religious belief. People are leaving the Catholic church in droves over the child abuse scandal. Both believers and non-believers rightly mocked Harold Camping and his idiotic (and dangerous) end times prophecy. Believers in academia are giving a wide berth to evangelical creationists, etc. Non-belief is the largest and fastest growing minority in America. Religion is dying and as it dies people are less willing to publicly identify with it. I personally (and subjectively) consider this progress for humanity.

And I still reject your correlation between deeming someone irrational and mass murder. Criticism is not intolerance. At this point you're either not understanding the difference or you're ignoring the difference. I have literally said NOTHING about intolerance. In fact, I often redundantly emphasize my shared hope for the freedom of religious expression.

I don't know how to be more clear on this issue.

Clint Wells said...

I've written an essay outlining some of my thoughts about religion and social criticism here:

Robert said...


As I've stated before. I do think this country is under increasing judgement. (For the record, so are all other western countries save Canada, NZ, Swz and a few others). Do the tornadoes have something to do with this? I can't really know. But the fact that western leadership thinks that federal spending and war mongering (a hallmark of the 20th C.) is good for our well being (ie job creation) is pretty hard evidence that God judges nations that disobey his commandments. Heads of state have become puppet (fool) leadership. The real power is in who determines where money and resources go. These men are not "Christian", I assure you that.

more on the prayer question later...

Clint Wells said...

Robert - Your bar for "hard evidence" is rather low, old friend. :)

Robert said..., to continue my comments. I think you have correctly diagnosed the pious aspect in the language of the church with respect to prayer. Prayer is often used in the public sphere when all other tools known to man have failed. It sounds to me like you'd characterize prayer as some combination of piety and utilitarianism (the exhaustion of trusted physical mean).

So what is piety in the modern sense? Piety, originally, was a movement within 17th century Protestant theology (primarily of the Lutheran strain) that baptized the personal (individual) nature of the gospel with Greek philosophy in such a way that pitted the newly recognized diversity of Christianity against the older unity of the Catholic church. Similarly, we see that grace was pitted against law and spiritual against worldly and so on. The result of such dualisms in evangelical culture lead us to a worldview where the spiritual realm is entirely detached and even at odds with the physical one. Whether we consider the great awakenings, the Schofield bible or the social gospel/progressive mvt, all directly represent a reading of scripture and creed through a Greek dialectal/dualist manner.

Consider your following quote: "You pray because it changes you in an abstract sense, not because it actually changes reality." This is virtually the same as saying "Prayer only changes you metaphysically and BTW, the metaphysical self is totally distinct from the physical self". My question to that believer is, why go to church or even obey God's commandments? If prayer is entirely contained in the metaphysical realm, the so must be worship or sanctification. The point is, dualism leads to antinomianism. Anyone who presents their arguments to you for prayer and religion in this manner you should rightfully be able to shred to pieces.

The Greek philosopher has a problem. He must choose that virtue which is most supreme. Is it truth? unity? diversity? brotherhood? rationalism? This is not the way of Christianity, because its not the way of the ontological Trinity. It is in the Godhead that Christians see unity and plurality as equally ultimate. In the same way, the Trinity reflects both spiritual and physical realities of His character (simultaneous and in perfect communion with one another). This archetype of the Godhead should inform how we view all of reality. In particular, the relationship of physical and spiritual entities. For what we do matters (ethics). It effects not only our bodies but the mind and the spirit. There is no separating the two realities. This is quite different from Greek thought where one aspect of reality must battle others for ultimacy.

Here's why I agreed. Piety (or interesting things Christians say/do) IS terribly irresponsible. In fact it's terribly sinful. It presupposes man's sovereignty over Gods. It reduces Christianity from an ethical religion to a mystical one. It's pretty bad and we should be pissed at it.

Here's the problem for the skeptic. Unless you profess the ontological Trinity, you have no grounds to be pissed. You are merely advocating one area of dualistic ultimacy over the other. (empiricism) over faith, revealed truth over mystery, rationalism over romanticism.

Enter prayer (and rationality). If you're a Christian it's pretty irrational to not pray. God commands us to do so. Let me say it another way. If you're a Christian and God has ordained that your possessions be blown away by the winds (and He had revealed it to you specifically). It would be irrational of you to move these possessions. Reason is found entirely within the sphere of God's will and sovereignty. The Earth is the Lords and ALL that is in it.

That being said, I fully expect a wholesale rejection of my comments, but I appreciate you giving me the forum.

Jerf Ifwin said...

your ostrich comment is pejorative to certain species that must endure the subterranean and partial sensory loss in order to find sustenance. ostriches are not denying reality, rather they are engaging in it.