Friday, October 16, 2009

The Concept of Prayer

Prayer is a central component of many religions as well as a core practice of spirituality. Different theists assert there being different meanings, purposes, and ways of practicing prayer. For some, prayer is a, or perhaps the, means of connection between the person and what they describe as being god. It is the means by which the relationship is formed and maintained. Through this connection, they say they experience the presence of god and may even receive god’s "guidance". There are also prayers of gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness.

While these kinds of prayer are routinely practiced by some, there is no doubt that the vast majority of believers look to prayer for another purpose. To most believers, this purpose is perceived either overtly or covertly as being one of the greatest benefits of believing in god. This purpose is asking god to intervene in reality in some way to give the theist what they are asking for. It is almost as if prayer is treated as magical wish granting.


As an Atheist, I believe events are determined by some combination of our own actions and choices, the laws of nature, and chance. Therefore, we do have some amount of control over what happens in our lives, but we can not control everything that happens to us and inevitably the dice of chance roll against us. Good things and bad things happen to good people. Good things and bad things happen to bad people. Sometimes we can do things to ameliorate their effects, but at other times we cannot alter the inevitable outcomes. This reality can be extremely painful, such as receiving news from a doctor that a child of ours has contracted a terminal and incurable disease. In fact, such a time may be the most difficult we have or will ever experience.

It is wholly normal and understandable for people in such situations to feel desperate, not wanting to accept the outcomes reality has presented them with. It is in this time that religion offers something immensely powerful and seductive, which is the assertion that prayer can change odds against us to being in our favor, even making the seemingly impossible possible. And what do we have to do to have a chance to control the impossible? We are told that all we have to do is believe in god. Yet so often I see people go farther than this, attempting to score and stock up on positive points with god, which they hope can later be used for their benefit during times when the odds are against them. So they praise god, offer prayers of thanks when times go well, go to church, attempt to bring others to god, give money to church, and do other things they believe or are told god wants them to do.

I feel this is a safe assertion to make, as any experienced religious leader will tell you about their experiences where members have come to them angry because god did not answer their prayers during desperate times. For example, they’ll ask why god let their child die and make statements such as, “I come to church. I volunteer my time. I pray. I encourage other people to believe in god. I believe. I sincerely make efforts to live a good life.” Such statements are completely understandable and valid. After all, don’t all good relationships necessarily contain some amount of quid pro quo kindness, where I do nice things for you and you do nice things for me? Of course they do. Friendships with people who only take from us and do not give in return don’t last and they shouldn’t, because to act that way is the very definition of unfriendly. Yet all believers at one time or another will experience god not delivering when things are at their worse and for no good explanation from god. So they turn to their religious leader for an explanation, which always seem to be some variation of “I don’t know”, such as “We are not meant to know God’s great plan.” I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be for religious leaders who have to stick up for a god who doesn’t adhere to the most basic principles of friendship.

As an Atheist, there is some peace in knowing that I only have so much control. I can do what I can do and that’s it. It makes acceptance and letting go during hard times easier. It also makes me happy to know that I can spend my time attempting to make changes that actually do have a chance of working, rather than spending my energy on things which won’t make a difference.


Many theists assert that the outcomes of their prayers are proof of god’s existence. They typically do this by citing times that they got what they prayed for. However, no believer always gets what they pray for. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. If you ask such a believer why they didn’t get what they prayed for, the typical response is that it wasn’t in god’s plan. This is faulty reasoning at its most basic level.

The flaw here is that the believer breaks their own standard of evidence midstream. The standard they first set is that answered prayers constitute proof of god’s existence. If they were to correctly adhere to their own standard, which is necessary for the standard to be consistent and valid, then unanswered prayers are proof against the existence of god. Instead of following consistency, they assert that what they asked for wasn’t in god’s plan. But if a god is following its own plan regardless of prayer, then what is the point of praying in the first place?

I have heard a rather insidious explanation given at this point, rather than agreement that an error in reasoning is occurring, which is that the person wasn’t praying hard enough or didn’t have enough faith. This kind of blame being put back on the person rather than god is nothing short of cruel mental abuse. I have known people who have believed this and resulted in self-condemnation and mental self-abuse.

Again, as an Atheist I believe events in our lives are determined by our own actions and choices, the laws of nature and chance. Therefore, sometimes I get what I want and sometimes I don’t. What I do notice is that the rate of good things happening to me and bad things happening to me in my life is hardly unchanged from when I was a praying Christian. If there is any difference, it is that more things go the way I want in my life as an Atheist, because I no longer rely on god and prayer for the determination of outcomes. Instead, I put all my efforts into actions attempting to influence outcomes, which works wonders.


  1. *REPOSTED FROM BRET, October 20, 2009 5:50 PM

    I am not sure if it is worth commenting, because as an anti-theist, you would realize I still believe in a god and my viewpoint would become irrelevant. But I'll give it a shot anyways. You make many good points that most Christians probably could not answer but should be able to. Unfortunately we live in a time when many Christians view God as a genie in a bottle. How they don't lose faith when their wishes aren't granted is beyond me because the teaching they subscribe to clearly states that their prayers will be answered. How they don't get frustrated and say "screw it" if they actually believe the reason for a lack of an answer is that they don't have enough faith is also something I don't understand. I used to be very frustrated by this because it was all so elusive. I did believe and have faith yet my prayer was not answered, what was wrong with me? I also feel sorry for people who work hard, make good investments, and then say that god blessed them because they gave X amount of dollars to something. The reason they are doing well financially is because they are financially savvy. The Bible tells us all things come from god - good and bad. I don't expect you to beleive that, but my point is that a Christian should, after all it is in the book they beleive is truth though they may have never bothered to read it. The Bible simply does not teach what these people believe; however, these people do make up the masses of evangelicals today who have run after false teachings. As a result it turns people off because if you look at the weak and aloof god they pray to it is very easy to punch holes in these beliefs. I predict the numbers of anti-theists will continue to grow because of the ridiculous teachings of the modern church. A faith built on sand will easily be washed away. I was very close to becoming an atheist at one point in my life when I discovered that almost everything I had been taught was warped by false teachings. When I examined sound doctrine for myself, I found it to line up with the common human experience. The message of the bible is plain and very simple. But the core thing you have to believe to accept any of it is that there is an omnipotent god. If you do, then you can beleive the rest if you want to: the fallen nature of man has seperated us from god, man was unable to resolve this on his own, god wiped the slate clean and we can be with him again if we want to. I know that everyone who was ever born feels the weight of sin, even if they say they don't. I know it because I am a sinner. Anyone can call me a hypocrite and be correct - thing is that I don't care because they don't know that I am trying which is all I can do. I always feel reassured that no matter how bad things get, even when I caused them to be bad - someday I will be welcomed home. The bible tells us to take responsibility and be productive. We were created in god's image after all so we all do the same things to a large extent, no matter who we are or where we are from, no matter if we believe in god or not. Some people use religion as an excuse for all sorts of things - laziness, greed, power, pride. That won't change until this world ends. Just because they do it in the name of religion doesn't invalidate god or his word. In the end, what you believe is between you and god. By the way, I pray for simple reasons - to communicate with god and because he told me to in his written words of the bible (written by many men over the course of centuries) which is pretty much the main thing any Christian should pay attention to.


    Hey Bret. Thank you again for your comments. I’ll respond to your points in the order you presented them.

    First, I don’t choose the word Antitheist to describe myself. If you’re interested in the terms I use to describe myself, I suggest you read the article I wrote titled, “Why I Don’t Like the Word Atheist, But Take It On.”

    In no way do I consider your or anyone’s viewpoint to be irrelevant. All people’s viewpoints are relevant to me, as our beliefs influence our actions and our actions affect the world. My blog is here for anyone to read and comment on and I take people’s comments seriously and respond to all of them in the best way I am currently able to.

    I appreciate your compliments and will accept them with the humility that I do not know everything and always leave my beliefs open to change based on new and better information.

    I’ve never heard the “genie in a bottle” comparison, but I like it and think it’s a very good one.

    In answer to your question about how some theists don’t lose faith when their wishes aren’t granted, I offer one explanation of many. Some religious leaders pump people full of fear starting at a very young age that they had better believe or else they will be tortured for eternity. These threats are repeated over and over again as fact. Typically people come to believe things that they are repeatedly told over and over again. Given this, people are willing to overlook the holes and contradictions in the Bible in order to stay on the good side of this god.


    You repeatedly write about true teachings and false teachings in your comments. I often wonder how people are able to tell which is which and am honestly interested in how you are able to discern the difference. For every individual Christian, there exists a unique view and set of beliefs about what is right and wrong. It is an undeniable fact that the Bible is rife with contradictory statements and assertions, which has lead to the existence of many different Christian denominations whose followers disagree with the meaning of Biblical statements and who give credence to some passages, but not others. For example, some Christians believe homosexuality is a sin, but then disobey god by not killing the homosexuals, as the Christian god directs them to in Leviticus 20:13. Further, from my own experience of talking with Christians, the vast majority of them have no idea that just a few verses before that, the Christian god orders his followers to kill people that commit adultery, as stated in Leviticus 20:10. These same people are also unaware that the Christian god advocates slavery in the Old Testament. Let’s also not forget one of my favorites as a family therapist, where god says in Leviticus 20:9, “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death.” Must be. That’s pretty unambiguous. I believe every Christian cherry picks from the Bible, accepting some passages while intentionally and purposefully ignoring others. If the Bible were completely unambiguous, as it obviously should be, no such disagreements would exist. If there was a god that actually did intend for the Bible to exist in the form we have, then that god is either completely inept or is evil beyond measure, considering the lakes of blood that have been spilled in wars over such confusion and disagreement. If god was good, clearly the god would make more direct and clear efforts to clarify the confusion. I could write a book, as many have, about the moral character of the god of the Old Testament, but I think Richard Dawkins put it best, and quite bluntly, when he said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” If anyone were to disagree with this statement, I would recommend they read the Old Testament.


    I appreciated your comment about people who work hard for things and then say god blessed them for the outcome which their actions led to.

    You are correct that the Bible states that all things come from god, both good and bad, which is one reason among many why I am not a Christian. I go into this in more detail in my article, “Thoughts on the Christian God”.

    I also predict that the numbers of Antitheists, Atheists, and Secularists will grow, but not only due to the teachings of the modern church.

    You used the word “faith”. I am presently writing an article on the concept of faith, but it is growing so large, that I will likely have to break it up into a series of articles.

    In referring to doctrine, you used the word “sound”. Just so you know, “sound” by this definition comes from the field of logic. I am in the process of writing an article clarifying the definitions and meanings of certain words often used inaccurately in these kinds of discussions. Some examples of other words whose definitions and meanings I will be clarifying are: reason/reasonable, rational, logic/logical, proof, and theory.

    You emphasized the importance of an omnipotent god and “the fallen nature of man”. Again, I suggest you read the article, “Thoughts on the Christian God” which I published in this blog earlier.

    You used the word sin. Sin is a religiously grounded word and because I am an Atheist, I don’t use or accept it. I prefer the word “immoral” and certainly most people, including myself, experience guilt when they do something immoral, which is good.

    Just so you know, I have no doubt that you make every effort to be a good person and I do think that you are a good person.

    You said “Just because they do it in the name of religion doesn’t invalidate god or his word.” I think nothing invalidates the Bible better than the Bible itself, based on the statements I made earlier.

    Thank you for your comments again. They were very much appreciated.