The Futility of Prayer


An old schoolmate posted on her Facebook account that she is praying for Hurricane Irene to go back out to sea and not hit the US, where it will likely do enormous damage. But there is no doubt that in every single hurricane that has ever threatened anywhere, huge numbers of people in every location where it might hit have prayed that it not hit them and not cause damage. And yet hurricanes hit land and do enormous damage all the time.

Pat Robertson claimed long ago that he had successfully prayed a hurricane away from Virginia, but it continued up the east coast and did enormous damage in states north of there. And yet there were undoubtedly lots and lots of good Christian folks in New Jersey and on Long Island praying the same thing Robertson had prayed. Does this mean God likes Virginia better than New Jersey? That he pays special attention to Robertson’s prayers? That there were more people praying in Virginia than on Long Island?

Those are all possible answers. The most obvious answer, even from a Christian perspective, is that God will follow his own will regardless of what we do. But then why bother to pray at all, if it has no effect at all on what will happen? And what about John 14, where Jesus clearly promises that anything that you ask in his name will be done? That clearly isn’t true. If it was true, every prayer would be answered — and since people often pray for contradictory things, that simply can’t be true.

When it comes to a situation like a hurricane, praying that it doesn’t hit you is tantamount to praying that it hits someone else. Or that it dissipates and hits no one, but since nearly everyone prays for such an outcome every time a hurricane occurs, those prayers obviously don’t do much good. The whole exercise strikes me as quite silly and irrational.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Ed rhetorically asks:

    . . . God will follow his own will regardless of what we do. But then why bother to pray at all, if it has no effect at all on what will happen?

    Perhaps because we’re like God’s reality TV show and he gets enormous entertainment utility from watching us pray.

  2. Larry says

    Fuckin’ twits. Their sky pixie sent the sodding hurricane to them in the first place (nwith much love, no doubt). Who are they to suggest s/he take it back? Sounds a bit like blasphemy to me.

  3. MikeMa says

    Prayer to Redirect a Hurricane – Time wasted asking the sky fairy you believe responsible for all nature to change his mind.

  4. raven says

    Some people are praying while others are saying God sent the hurricane to punish Washington DC for gays/boobs/liberals/Muslims.

    Naw.

    The hurricane is scheduled to hit North Carolina, which is part of xian fundiestan.

    It’s crystal clear. God hates fundie xians.

    This happens often except when he sends tornadoes instead.

  5. hitchens2965 says

    If God cared at all, he would have sent all this rain to Texas and ease the pain for poor struggling farmers. I guess God hates Rick Perry

  6. Paul from VA says

    Somehow, when I read this post in Greader, I somehow managed to pull down this ad. Clearly posting prayers to the internet is the best way to solve all of life’s problem problems…..

    Anyone else gotten… how shall we say… extremely ironic adds through google reader when reading FTB?

  7. says

    If God cared at all, he would have sent all this rain to Texas and ease the pain for poor struggling farmers. I guess God hates Rick Perry

    Not being a meterologist, I don’t know how closely it’s related to the hurricane, but my part of east Texas got a bit of rain, recently, including a nasty storm that cut off our power for a while.

    Of course, if the hurricane was aiming straight for the heart of Texas, I’d be rolling my eyes alongside the skeptical/atheist community at Perry trying to pray it away.

    Of course, I’d be more immediately concerned with battening down the hatches and making sure all my gizmos had a full battery charge. Good luck to all you Easterners, by the way.

  8. tacitus says

    Not being a meterologist, I don’t know how closely it’s related to the hurricane, but my part of east Texas got a bit of rain, recently, including a nasty storm that cut off our power for a while.

    The answer is, not in the slightest.

    I live in Austin, TX, and a superstitious person could almost be forgive for believing that something was going on here regarding the lack of rainfall — especially in the last few days were several significant doses of rain around Austin (including yours in East Texas) either passed by within 50 miles or petered out just before getting here.

    It’s rained once in my neighborhood in three months. So yeah, if Perry was in the slightest bit interested and objective in interpreting feedback from God, he might be wondering if he should have decided to run for President, but somehow I suspect that’s not going to happen.

  9. tacitus says

    Do you think there any chance that Pat Robertson will wonder if the double whammy of an earthquake (same distance from the epicenter to his HQ as it was to the cracked Washington Monument) and a direct hit from a hurricane was a warning directed at him? After all, he did recently join Mormon, Mitt Romney in a local fundraiser…

    Nah.

  10. Chris from Europe says

    The hurricane is scheduled to hit North Carolina, which is part of xian fundiestan.

    But it’s a relatively good place for that part. I wonder if it will convince them that they need a marriage amendment like the rest of the South.

  11. AndrewD says

    You have this all wrong,
    it is a battle between Islamic prayer and fundy christian prayer. The Muslims are winning and forcing Irene on to the US mainland

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    Here’s a frothy pronouncement you’ll want to post about:
    Santorum: GOP not ‘anti-science’

    “We are going through this debate right now by somebody who’s in the Republican field talking about people who believe in certain scientific theories, whether it’s global warming or evolution. And somehow or another if you believe that we are creatures of a loving God, that that is somehow anti-science,” Santorum said. “It’s not anti-science. It’s an affirmation of what we view in the world. Which is, we see God.”

  13. Trebuchet says

    Love the “Thousands Will Pray For You” ad right above the comments!

    Speedwell: “Oh, the fucking morons. It has ALREADY hit the US. Puerto Rico is part of the US.”

    No, you don’t understand. People in Puerto Rico have Spanish surnames and are likely Catholic, in other words not real Christians. So they can’t be real Americans….

    One day I’ll learn to use blockquotes, promise!

  14. pinky says

    Raven you are correct when you said god sends hurricanes because he hates fundy xians, however god sends tornadoes because he hates mobile homes.

  15. Nemo says

    Jesus is their role model here. “Let this cup pass from me,” he prayed, but then immediately added “not as I will, but as thou wilt”. So he knew prayer was useless to change God’s mind, but he did it anyway.

  16. abusedbypenguins says

    Management at building center stores and hardware stores are praying for a big-ass storm. Lots of stuff to rebuild and repair when it’s over.

  17. teawithbertrand says

    It’s always seemed to me that either:

    1) God simply does not exist, so prayer is completely pointless.

    Or

    2) God does exist, and because he is literally and truly omniscient, everything in the universe is exactly how he wants it to be at any given moment in time, so prayer is…completely pointless.

    I tend to lean toward option 1.

  18. Aquaria says

    Raven you are correct when you said god sends hurricanes because he hates fundy xians, however god sends tornadoes because he hates mobile homes.

    Funny, the big hurricane in the late 80s near my old home town of Tyler didn’t touch the massive trailer park right by its path, but it did go for the subdivisions full of three-story brick McMansions and hurl them across a major highway.

    Tornadoes also have a special fondness for Wichita Falls.

    So the genocidal scumbag deity must hate Texas, and especially greedy, fat-ass Southern Baptists.

  19. georgewiman says

    A friend of our family has a daughter with cancer. Her recent email requested prayer “that she would lose only the one [blood] vessel; that she would have no infection; and that the nerve damage would be minimal so she would not need a brace.”

    I feel so bad for them…

    Then, angry that religion dangles false comfort in front of good people, setting them up for self-hatred when tragedy occurs.

  20. lofgren says

    This is pure confirmation bias. You remember the storms where prayer failed because you’re predisposed to be suspicious of supernatural inttervention and because storms hitting population centers is more dramatic than a storm fizzling out over the ocean. But you don’t even think about all those times when prayer successfully redirected a storm because it seems like business as usual. If you go a day without getting washed away in a class 5 hurricane it’s because some good Christian spared a few moments of prayer to save your lucky ass. Atheists are always asking why bad things happen to good people. They should be asking why good things happen at all.

  21. Quantum Mechanic says

    Ed asked:

    Does this mean God likes Virginia better than New Jersey?

    Everyone else hates New Jersey. Why should God be any different?

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