Prayer: Why you’re just talking to yourself.

One thing I regret since becoming active on twitter is that I didn’t keep track of the number of theists who have, usually after losing an argument, told me they would pray for me. Surely by now the number must be well into the hundreds. As I often point out to them, after all of these prayers- I’m still an atheist. So, either they’re praying for me to remain an atheist, or maybe, just maybe, prayer doesn’t work.

But let’s consider prayer for a moment. Why do Christians pray? When I was a Christian, I prayed for 3 reasons.
1) To thank God for something
2) To beg forgiveness for looking at a hot guy and allowing my raging teenaged hormones to plant dirty thoughts in my mind (or some other similarly ridiculous “sin”)
3) To ask for something

Typically, I only did #1 and #2 so I sounded like less of a dick when I asked for everything I wanted in #3. Now, I was never delusional enough to truly believe God was speaking back to me. In fact, this was one of the more frustrating things about my time as a Christian. I spent all that time praying and always got the feeling I was talking to myself. Which, of course, I was- but to a Christian who believed God was speaking to every OTHER Christian, but not to you, this was rather distressing.

Essentially, what we think about prayer is that God is able to hear you, either with actual words or telepathically as you “think” at him… but instead of responding directly, you need to interpret him through vague feelings intermixed with your own thoughts? Why does God not actually SPEAK back to us? Surely hearing a loud, booming voice actually answering your questions would lead to a lot less confusion about what God actually wants us to do. But, no, apparently your all powerful God prefers to leave his plan for your life, his instructions for you, and his answers to your concerns, up to your own vague interpretation. How does this make any sense whatsoever? Your God has some absolutely terrible ideas for an all-knowing, all-powerful being!

Christians will often tell me that they pray because they have a “relationship” with God, and like their other relationships, it needs to be nourished and sustained through this sort of interaction. I refrain from pointing out that their ACTUAL relationships are probably suffering because they waste so much time speaking to their invisible friend… but I digress. When I consider a “relationship” with God, a few things come to mind. The first is to be terribly embarrassed that any human could think that, if there WERE an all-powerful creator of the universe, that he would give a shit if you talk to him or not. It’s truly the height of arrogance for the religious to believe that God, who has created everything in the universe, and the universe itself, would be offended that YOU don’t want to talk to him. Or, that if such a being existed, he’d be at all interested in hearing how you really need a new car, or that you want me to become a Christian. The second is to wonder how exactly you consider it a “relationship” with God if you do all the talking and never get a concrete response? It’s a bit like my relationship with Ian Somerhalder. No matter how often I ask him to marry me, he just carries on ignoring me. Hardly a real “relationship”, as it is with Christians and their God. If any Christian tells you they have literally heard the voice of God, they are either lying to you, or require an immediate mental health intervention before this voice tells them to burn things.

Now, when considering the 3rd reason people pray, ie, “asking God for something”, there simply can be no debate. This is one of the most ridiculous concepts in all of Christianity, which is saying something considering this is the religion of virgin births and resurrections. Let’s consider for a moment what this really means in the context of what we “know” about God. For example, let’s say you’re asking God to help cure a loved one with cancer. From what we know of God, he is “all-knowing”. It was hammered into me again and again and AGAIN at bible camp that “God knows my heart”. So, of course, an all knowing God would already know exactly what you want and what you need- all of the deepest desires of your heart. So why ask him? Is God in Heaven right now, watching your loved one suffering with cancer, all the while knowing how much you’d like them to be cured, but just waiting for you to ASK him to help out? That’s a pretty douchey move by your all-loving God. If you believe that God sometimes DOES answer these prayers, that’s a whole different kind of beast. Whatever happened to God’s perfect plan? Not to worry about your life because God has a plan and we’re all a part of it? Are we REALLY so egotistical to think not only that we have a relationship with our all-knowing, all-loving creator, but that we can change his mind, and have him alter his “perfect plan”, simply by requesting it? This level of delusion is bordering on true insanity. It also brings up an even larger issue surrounding how God could possibly intervene in some cases, such as to cure your friend’s cancer, and not in other cases, such as to regrow an amputated limb, prevent children being raped, or to feed the hungry.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone can truly consider these things and still come to the conclusion that prayer is a useful exercise. This is what religion does to people- it takes every logical, rational thought you may possess and poisons it to the point that you no longer question anything you’re told. It honestly makes me sad that so many people are trapped in this ridiculous delusion. I’d love to sum this up with some sort of clever tag line, but I’ll never be able to do so better than The Onion has.


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12 Responses to Prayer: Why you’re just talking to yourself.

  1. Toma says:

    Mel you are correct in saying that many people use prayer for the reasons you’ve stated, but the point that most people miss about prayer is that it’s not to simply ask for shit or to have a one-way conversation with God, but to get in touch with your own spirit. We live such material lives and our minds are so dominant that we lose our sense of spirit.

    Praying for selfish things is futile. You may or may not receive what you ask for, but religiously speaking it’s irrelevant, and it’s also better you don’t. True religious practice dictates that we will get what God gives us, so we needn’t ask in the first place. Using prayer to ask for something *for yourself* is not something I recommend.

    Now you most certainly feel that even praying selflessly is futile. My only argument to someone who doesn’t believe in God is that it, at the very least, enhances compassion within the person praying, and that is a cosmically good thing, whether God exists or not.

    True religious practice should always be centred on the spirit, and prayer is the prime example. By getting in touch with the spirit we release the ego’s hold over us and we escape our fleshly bodies for a moment. It is also meditative, which, atheist or Christian, is a good thing.

    Effectively, in the absence of a God, to criticise true, selfless and spirited prayer is to criticise meditation.

  2. The problem is just what you stated though, Toma. The vast majority of Christians I have encountered pray in the exact way that I mentioned. They pray for their ill family members to be healed, or for them to feel some sense of “peace”. They pray for themselves, for their “hearts to be more open” to god (a prayer I admit to having prayed in my lifetime), or to be more open to “hear what he has to say”. In fact I don’t think I’ve met a single Christian who does not pray in this way. If it is for getting in touch with your spirit, as you say, then the vast majority of Christians are missing the point.

    I’m sure meditation is useful for some people. I’d say the difference between “true, selfless prayer” and meditation is effectively zero- except for the level of delusion required. For meditation, I’d expect most people are well aware of what it is and what the purpose is. For prayer, people truly believe they are speaking with god. It’s possible the effect is the same, but I can’t stomach the amount of delusion required during any form of prayer.

  3. I have been trying to think what reply would be most useful (and or interesting). It has been difficult because I suppose I am not sure quite if you are asking anything.

    I keep holding onto the title of your blog “Reason.Logic.Reality” and I know you are trying to point out the contrast from, within and out of your personal experience of Christian practice.

    I suppose it is one thing to question what so-called “Bible literate” people should and do practise and believe, another thing to question what the Bible actually says about the matter.

    For example it would be completely unreasonable and illogical to say one believes in the God of the Bible, but does not believe that he is sovereign over absolutely everything including the very act of prayer itself.

    Leaving out whether God really exists in reality or not, let’s look at what the Bible says about prayer and then make a decision on experienced “Christian practice” and whether or not it is unreasonable or illogical.

    In the context of the Bible, prayer is as much a gift of God as faith is.[1] That being that one would not, or could not pray without it being driven by the Spirit in the first place[2]. Faith comes from hearing or reading[3] the revelation of Christ[4], which is the revelation of who God is, his character and actions contained within and across the whole Bible[5]. It is the very same Spirit that inspired the writers[6], and the very same Spirit that provides one the spiritual ability to understand what they are hearing or reading.[7] True prayer (Spirit driven) is both the manifestation of God’s will and one of the means by which he carries out his will[8], and even the Spirit himself intercedes for the person according to the will of God.[9]

    You are very right in terms of questioning the point of prayer if God is ultimately sovereign over everything, but that is what the Bible unashamedly stipulates. You could have pressed on it further though. The Bible states that God’s sovereignty extends just as much over preventing a car-crash as bringing the two cars together in the first place. It is completely unavoidable in the pages of the Bible to not see that every “misfortune” that happens to anyone is ordained by God, allowed by God and could be prevented by God if he so chooses to. But the biggest misconception and misrepresentation is the very character of God. It is all well and good choosing to believe God is “like this or that”, but that matters absolutely nothing if in all actuality he isn’t like that at all.

    For example in the context of the Bible and Christian practise, it is absolutely unreasonable to believe that the God of the Bible is anything other than just and gracious. It is not even a matter of interpretation, but simply reading an overview of the Bible shows the extent of God’s grace in relation to his creation. For some reason people still can’t quite get over the fact that God owes his creation nothing, that creation has no rights whatsoever to anything, and it owes its very existence and continuing existence to God. Which I have to add makes the grace of the God of the Bible even more remarkable. Anyone who thinks the Biblical God is an “unfair meany” really has not read the Bible as an educated adult, and thinking this is illogical and unreasonable since it certainly is not the reality portrayed in the Bible.

    But back to prayer. The Bible states that God is sovereign over everything, and sustains everything, and one of the means by which his will is carried out is the involvement of people praying. That being the fact someone truly prays for something means that before time existed God ordained that that person would pray, and God’s will would be carried out which involves that prayer. Blaise Pascal stated that one of the reasons God established prayer was to communicate to his creatures the dignity of second causality. (Blaise Pascal. Thoughts, Section VII, Morality and Doctrine.)

    More simply said, God allows our involvement in history for our ultimate joy and good.[10]

    I won’t go on much more, but in the context of the Bible, prayer is the very work of the will of God in the person, and therefore it is by and through the will of God someone can and would pray, and if or not the prayer is effective. Prayer is the means by which one continues in the faith, faith being the work of God, which is birthed from reading his word and prayer. But all of it, every bit of it, is the work of the Spirit on the will of the person carrying out the ultimate will of God.

    Jesus of course demonstrated this most fully.

    [1] Ephesians 2:8
    [2] 1 Corinthians 12:3
    [3] Romans 10:17, Romans 10:14–15
    [4] John 1:1-2
    [5] Luke 24:27
    [6] 2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:21
    [7] 2 Corinthians 4:6
    [8] Ephesians 1:11
    [9] Romans 8:27
    [10] Romans 8

  4. Joyce Jensen says:

    Hi Mel,
    I’ve been thinking about you and about this post in recent days as my daughter’s wedding approaches. It is to be an outdoor ceremony and, with all the drat luck in normally sunny Santa Fe, it looks like there is a strong chance of rain. In my past life, even though I wasn’t terribly religious, I would have been praying over and over that God would be kind and grant us a sunny day, just for this wedding if nothing else. (The irony here is that we are in a terrible drought here so rain is most welcome….and why would I want anything else?) I have to smile now, thinking of how silly such a notion is. What hubris to think that there is a god sitting around somewhere, doling out sunshine and rain like so many commodities and at people’s whims such as this? Absurd. It’s a powerful habit to break, though, I tell you… More than once, when I have seen the threatening skies, I would nearly start to murmur one of my old entreaties.
    I haven’t been on Twitter much lately so don’t know what mischief you’ve been up to, but when I do find the time you are one of the feeds I seek out. Thanks for your dose of wisdom and for often making me laugh.
    Can we at least say fingers crossed for Saturday, the 14th? 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    We all have our beliefs so go fuck yourself and just shut the fuck up. If you choose to not believe in the Lord then hey more power to you. Fuck off noone cares . I couldnt even ready half of your shitty ass blog

  6. Anonymous says:

    All of the Christians praying for you….now myself among them have succeeded in their task….You do in fact believe quite strongly in God, which is what you stated their prayers were for, because you mention His name over and over and over again. I cannot speak on something I believe does not exist. I wouldn’t even have the word to speak for this non-existent thing, SO!!! in all that you so eloquently stated you have really shared a testimony and I thank you! I’m going to specify the prayer next time it is placed on my spirit to include you in my conversation with God and ask not only that you believe, because you already do, but also that you let go of the anger and hurt that you experienced through your years of Bible camp and organized religion to be able to truly embrace the one and only God that created you and loves you more than you know. God bless you!

    • Yeah, this is so illogical, it’s funny. You say that mentioning God’s name over and over demonstrates a belief in God? First, God is not a NAME, it’s a Role/Title. For Christians, God’s name in the Old Testament is Yahweh, and in the New Testament it’s Jesus Christ (well, they are both God [along with the Holy Spirit] to Trinitarians, but that is a doctrinal digression. In Islam, God’s name is Allah. Also, your argument is fallacious because it would be like saying Santa Clause’s name over and over would mean one believes Santa Clause is real. Just talking about something doesn’t indicate belief.

  7. Jamie says:

    I went to your Twitter page and it says you are #TeamJesus now. Is this really your Twitter page? Have you converted back to Christianity… I’m curious as to why. What could persuade you to go back? Genuinely curious. Please explain. x

  8. Bella One says:

    Well shit. At least the boy got an answer. I’m assuming it was a loud booming audible voice. Thank goodness it was made clear.

  9. R S says:

    Brilliantly written. Outstanding analytics. Logic is profound and unapologetic. Thank you for the journey of an interesting read!
    –Rationalist by default

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