Thursday, August 17, 2006

 

Praying for non-believers

First off - sorry it's taken so long to put anything in here. At some point I want to answer a question which appeared on my coding blog, in terms of how I square my faith and scientific background, and what happens when I experience doubt. Tonight, however, I'm thinking about prayer.

Right now, a friend of mine is in labour. (At least, I assume she is - she went in this evening to be induced.) Both halves of the couple are friends of ours (although I know the guy in question much better than the lady), and I know both of them are atheists. That leaves me in a bit of a quandary when it comes to praying for them.

I have no issue with praying for anyone. I certainly don't believe I should only pray for Christians - that would be daft. However, I'm aware that some non-believers don't like to be prayed for. I don't know the wishes of the couple involved in this respect. I strongly suspect they wouldn't mind at all, and wouldn't see the harm - but as I don't fully understand the reasoning of those who do mind being prayed for, it's hard to say for sure.

I wouldn't mind being prayed for by a non-Christian, assuming it was with good intent. I would object if sacrifices were involved, but the equivalent of Christian prayer would be something to be respected and welcomed, for me. I suspect the issue for some is a feeling of "meddling" - but would those same people object to a card saying, "Thinking of you at this difficult time" (or whatever)?

In my view, God's already with this newly growing family, and is looking after them and loving them. That's what God does. I waver greatly in terms of what prayer does, what it can accomplish etc, but I think I'm generally of the opinion that it's more to influence our actions than God's. If praying makes me more aware of their needs, even just by giving me space to consciously think of what they might be going through and how I could help, how is that a bad thing?

The tone of this post may be seen as somewhat aggressive towards those who do object to being prayed for, but that's not the aim at all. I'm just intensely puzzled by that mindset (just as I know some without faith are very puzzled by those who have faith). I'd like to understand better, so I could either be more sensitive or perhaps even ease some concerns. So, do any of you readers (assuming anyone is still even subscribed to this blog) object to being prayed for? If so, why? (If it's something that's hard to put into words, that's fine - I'm interested anyway!) If you're a person of faith, how do you deal with the issue?


Comments:
You say, “However, I'm aware that some non-believers don't like to be prayed for.”

Could you explain the story behind that? I've never encountered this phenomenon before.

Myself, I am not religious, although I wouldn't object to somebody praying for me. However, I admit that it would seem weird to me, probably because I don't entirely understand things like prayer, because I haven't been exposed to religion very much. Still, I wouldn't mind.

I wonder to what degree ‘fear of the unknown’ comes into play with this phenomenon.

Regards
 
Well, I remember it from a time on a newsgroup. I'll try to find the post, although I don't want to particularly highlight the person who made the comment, so I wouldn't want to repost the exact words.

It could be that it's not widespread at all...
 
well it wouldn't matter if a nonbeliever prayed for you anyway, it would have no effect.

and if you pray for someone who doesnt believe the effects of said prayer, it won't help them either.

prayer becomes reality only when belief (in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ) is involved.
 
So you (the anonymous poster) believe that prayers are useless when the "target" is non-believers? How about "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing"? Was Jairus's daughter a believer?

I'm not going to pretend I understand how or when prayer works, but I certainly disagree with the idea that it only has an effect when the person being prayed for is a Christian.
 
Wow, I found this page after a couple of Internet hops from google. I don't fully know why I read a bit of your homepage and then this entry in your Blog but that's the fun of the Internet.

I'm not religious but I have grown up in a Christian based household. I find it hard to join and believe in religion for the folowing:

1) Like you I'm logically / scientifically minded I seem to get to the 'Faith' boundry and can't get over it. (that's what my Mum said anyway). that is what made me interested in your thoughts..

2) Religion to me is tainted by people like the Anonymous poster.

Maybe harsh but that's my view and since I'm here I might as well share it!!

On the matter in hand.... I think being prayed for is a nice thing. It's the same as myself spending a few minutes of the day thinking of someone else and wishing them well. That's nice. I spare thoughts for other people and it's roughly the same thing (ish ;P ). what I do regect to is when someone prayes that I become Christian - and that the Lord forgives me and that I shouldn't go to hell. It's happened before and I hate the almost superiority of it.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
"How about "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing"?" Right on target Jon. By the way, I hear many people say, "I am not religious...etc, etc, etc." Being a Christian is a personal relationship with God the Father brought about by Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 
You stated it happened in a newsgroup, but I think it is more a thing of publicity than anything else... The person in question felt to respond that way because everybody could read about 'being prayed for'... But probably, when asked in private, his/her reaction would have been different, I guess.

PS keep up this blog, I am subscribed to both of yours :)
 
A few points (as I should have replied before):

1) I can certainly see why the idea of a Christian praying for a non-Christian to "be converted" would be annoying. At the same time, I think it's quite natural - just as I extol the virtues of the Wii to my friends. If I think I've found something which really helps in my life, it's natural to want others to share - and part of that "want" may come out in prayer. It's a tricky one, certainly.

2) Publicity: I wish I could remember the details of hte newsgroup post, but unfortunately I just can't. I don't know whether it was a response to someone saying "I'll pray for you" or not.

3) Keeping up with the blog: I have a new post to make when I get a chance, entitled something like: "The God/Nintendo analogy: my Christmas sermon". Hopefully that'll keep people interested :) Sorry there hasn't been much on this blog so far - time is incredibly short :(

4) I've got another new blog, shortly to be announced from the coding blog. It should be a bit more active than this one, partly as I won't be the only author...

Jon
 
Why bother worrying about what other people think? If you truly care for them then pray anyway. If they object to you trying to gain their favour from G-d then that's their problem!
 
i agree with a person abover, that many, i mean MANY, just hate it when people pray for their salvation, and pray that they will not go to hell, that kind of things. it sounds "bad" (to them)! many people i encountered have the exact same situation. they don't like to hear something like:"dear God, help this person, for he/she is a sinner etc." we, as christians, believe in it, because we feel the love. we don't want people to think that all God thinks about is sin, and how God thinks he/she is a sinner. They need to feel the love! the positive thing! They need to be loved! that's how salvation come to people, people are touched! touched by love! not because they finally understand that they are sinners. personally, i believe in it not because i've seen it, but because i was touched. God showed his love to me. As Chirtians, we show God's love to non believers. When praying, make sure don't offense them. pray as a thanksgiving, for they are loved by God also. they are wonderfully made. :)
 
What an interesting bit of writing, and thought on praying for non-believers. I have not encountered anyone in my life as a believer who actually said they did not want to be prayed for. However, I have had the sensitivity towards certain non-believers to not tell them that I am praying for them lest I cause offense and inadvertently harden their hearts against the tender drawing of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding your comment, Jon, on whether your, or any believer's prayers influence the actions of God... Oh, do they EVER. Yes, it is for OUR benefit as well, but Our God, He likes to be ASKED for things... He likes His kids to tug on his elbow with requests, praise, supplication... He longs to dry up our tears, laugh with us, and give us the things that we ask for that are good for us and in line with His will. He wants a close, loving relationship with us, filled with delight and communication.

As for biblical references that show that our prayers can and do effect the decisions that the Father makes... there are plenty. One example can be found in Genesis 18, where Abraham pleads for the incredibly degenerated city of Sodom:
"Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing- to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?
The Lord said, 'If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." (NIV)
This 'conversation' between Abraham and the Lord went on thusly till Abraham had God whittle the number required to spare the wicked city of Sodom down to a mere 10 righteous men.

Well, I've gone on long enough... thanks for putting this interesting line of thinking up for all to see. My prayer goes with you, brother.
M.V.
 
Hello, Jon. Stumbled across your faith blog while looking at your C# posts. I'm starting in on C# 3.5 and LINQ; you've got some great stuff, and I'm looking forward to your C# In Depth. You're comments on praying for non-believers caught my interest.

I was raised very religiously; my father was a professor of theology; a published New Testament scholar (somewhat famous in his field), and a Baptist minister. After a lifetime of serious doubt (beginning at age 7) I'm finally out of the closet (at 40something) as an unbeliever. And I don't care at all if anyone prays for me, or casts voodoo spells on me or whatever, same difference; have a ball.

But, I do have have some plausible insight into why other more sensitive nontheists might be offended. Essentially it's this: you praying for me implies an implicit assumption that you are privvy to something that I'm not, in particular, the origins and purpose of the Universe and existence itself, and an intimate knowledge and understanding of the Mind of God. And this is coupled with the theology that unbelievers will burn in Hell for an Eternity. You seem pretty liberal, (relatively) open minded, and kind, and I don't know how on board you are with your theology, but this is in fact the standard dogma of your belief system. That I, and the billions and billions of others of people who've ever lived and haven't accepted the fact that Jesus Christ is the son of God and their personal savior, even those who lived before he was even born (!), are consigned to eternal suffering. To some, this is outrageous, and offensive (to me, it's just stupid).

It is a sadistic and offensive religion, based on the notion that belief is more important than action. Christianity teaches, and I was always taught this, that a truly vile human being, a Hitler or a Manson, could achieve eternal life in Heaven simply by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior before they die; and that a truly morally good human will burn in Hell, will suffer eternal pain and damnation, because he doesn't accept certain metaphysical beliefs (even if he has never heard of them).

This is bizarre. I'd be interested in you response. Especially since you are in such a minority; a truly intelligent and rational and compassionate human, accepting such beliefs, which have absolutely no reasonable justification in fact. Remember, you *are* an atheist. With respect to all of the hundreds of religions of this earth which have ever existed, you are an atheist; you don't (I assume) believe in Zeus, Allah, Poseiden, etc. Atheists are just like you, but just go one step further, from one to zero.

None of my business, of course, but I'd suggest you think twice about raising your kids with religion. At least in the sense of presenting it to them as *fact*, not to be questioned (which was my situation, as I believe it is with most raised religiously). It simply made no sense to me, from *very* early on; I was a born skeptic, like Pascal, I was made such that I can *not* believe. I never *decided* not to believe - I *couldn't*! But being in the intensely religious environment I was in, I spent countless hours, in my head, trying to reconcile my own sense of reality and Truth, with what was presented to me as being Absolute Truth.

Tens of thousands of hours of my life wasted struggling with this nonsense. How about this. How would you feel if fellow programmers prayed for you because you believed in Object Oriented Programming, and even (gad!) elements of Functional Programming via LINQ and .NET, when your peers *know* through information (privately revealed to them and not you ... why not you? ... who knows) that good old fashioned Procedural Programming is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and anything else is heresy.

Would you feel offended? If not, maybe just a little frustrated that you've been misunderstood, that you're not really bad? That there's a good chance you might know the real Truth as opposed to what your peers believe? And keep in mind, the situation is not symmetric - you are claim to know (the unknowable) - I'm claiming ignorance - I'm technically an agnostic, not an atheist, but that doesn't mean I assign a 50% probability to God's existence - I believe, no, I observe, there is *no* good evidence for God's existence. This is the scientifice world view - ignorance, and searching, via experimentation and reason. And that's just the half of it. Then there is the God / Bible non-sequitur - even if God exists, it says nothing about the existence of some as the very parochial and obviously recent human creation of the Bible.

Whadoyathink? If you read, thanks for reading.

-- David.
 
David - thanks very much for your comments. I promise I'll address them, probably in a whole other post. I wouldn't like to say exactly when though. I have a pretty long plane journey soon, which might provide an appropriately quite time...
 
Hi Jon

The 2nd half of Dan Dennett's short essay "Thank Goodness" offers an insightful explanation of why some non-theists might object being prayed for.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dennett06/dennett06_index.html
 
I came to your C# blog, then while browsing various links from your main site, opened this blog and this topic caught my attention. I'm afraid this is going to be a long post.

I was brought up in a non-Christian religion, started questioning the beliefs and became an Agnostic with a strong Atheistic leanings). For a while I was shifting between being belief and atheism but then finally settled for being an atheist as that was more comfortable for me.

However, somewhere during the middle of my religious period I stopped praying for myself but pray for others (if a need arises) provided those who prey for believe in praying.

I stopped praying for myself because I felt I'm responsible for my actions and there is no need to worship him because he didn't request anyone to do so and if he did then I would like to know why and without that I would rather consider him to be weak which goes against the definition of God.
Also, if God is here to protect then he should do so without expecting anyone to specifically seek his help in the matter.

Ok, let me come back to the relevance of my commenting here. Recently, my Manager at work told me that he prays for all the members of his team. When I heard it, my first reaction was surprise and an attitude of not being comfortable/dislike. One more thing, I respect my manager and we are in good terms so the relationship side had nothing to do with this.

It's very difficult to put that feeling in words but it's like: "Why is he doing it? I don't believe in God and I don't see any reason why he should pray for me. If something good comes out does it mean it's got something to do with his prayers? Thats uncomfortable because I don't believe it and so I won't be able to give him any credit which means it's like being disrespectful for what he did. Also, from his point of view he had something to do with this good event and that means I'm obligated in someway and thats adding complexity to frustration".

Ok, so thats about verbalizing my feeling.

Hope I didn't waste your time or bore you. Thanks.
 
Hey!

I was a christian, but I have left my faith a few years ago and since then I am a happy atheist.

I do have several objections when someone tells me that he/she prays for me. First of all, this is totally hypocritical in my point of view. It actually feel like being told this: "I know the only turth, your world view is false and you are a lost soul who sould be saved". So, this attitude hurts the dignity of many atheists.

Let's assume I am a believer of a completely different faith than christianity. How would it feel that I will pray to my gods for your soul? I hope this reflects why many atheist object to being prayed for.

Keep up the great blogs!

--
ps: sorry for my jerky english, it's my second language.
 
As a non-Christian, I vehemently object having someone pray for me. Doing so is paramount to spiritual rape. Unfortunately, there are some folks who can't understand that. Yet, when I make the offer to pray for them next time I am at the feet of my idols, they become quite irate and suggest I am the devil or at the least worshipping the devil. ::shrug:: You'd think they'd get it, but they don't.
 
I'm a believer and I have a non-believer friend that HATES it when someone says "I will pray for you." In that context, my friend feels insulted, since as a non-believer she does not believe she needs to be saved. "Praying for you", is taken as "you need help". She has some church-wounds from her younger years and a lot of people have been turned off by the approach of some Christians. That being said, I understand why some non-believers would have an attitude about it, since their belief system is based on relying on self or they feel that their God is not the same as the other person's God and thus would not want to even have them involved, if that makes sense.

My belief system (as well as my own experience) tells me that God responds to prayer and that it is very effective. It very different than meditating - it actually works. For instance, I will say, please change this person's mind and heart. Or remove this from mine, and people say and do things that would be very uncharacterstic. Hard to explain, it's just something that has to be experienced.

Faith is a choice sometimes. I decided I wanted to be open to this and I have asked God to show me things. And things have been revealed. Sometimes it is just a matter of being open and willing to see where something will take you. I've been blown away, personally and that to me just confirms a lot. Having been on both sides, I feel pretty confident and strong in my faith. For me, it's not up for debate.
 
I just want to add, at the same time, I think it would be totally cool if a Buddist, a Shaker, a Quaker, a Hindu, whatever prayed for me. What does it matter? Won't affect me except that I know the person cares. That's always a good thing. So, it's all good. It really begs the question to the confident atheist - if you don't believe in God, then what does it matter if someone prays? Accordig to you, it is only going as far as the clouds. So, big deal. It should be a non-issue, in my humble opinion. If one is being defensive about it, maybe it's because they aren't as confident in their chosen path as they would like to let on.
 
To the annoynymous comment - you said if someone prays for you it is spiritual rape yet you don't understand why they think you are the devil when you pray to your idols? That is contradictory. If it's spiritual rape to you, then you should understand when it is the spiritual rape to another. That makes you the same as them. Interesting how you don't see that. ?? Let it be known I don't agree with you at all - to me it is not spiritual rape. But you just said you do the same thing. Had to point that out.
 
Jon,

The reason we (non-believers) get annoyed depends on what you are praying for. Allow me to present a couple scenarios:

SCENARIO A: You pray for someone to help them achieve a goal.

My girlfriend is in medical school right now, and her friend was over the other day. He started talking about how grateful to Allah he is about getting in, how he is nothing without Allah, how he couldn't have done it without Allah.

Think about how messed up that is for a second. He worked insanely hard to get into medical school, and he is crediting Allah with for that. You may look at this and think "how humble"...we look at that and think "how sadistic..."

When you pray for us and we achieve a goal, we know you are at least partially crediting yourself and God for our success, and that is bloody annoying.

One of the many ways religion keeps you in check is by convincing you that you are worthless without God and you need him. It's so sad.

SCENARIO B: You pray for our redemption, for we know not what we do.

This has already been addressed, but for sake of being complete - the implication there (is it even an implication? It's pretty explicit) is that we are too stupid to know we are being bad, but YOU know better than us and thus will help pray our sins away. I don't think the arrogance of this position to be explained. Keep your pity to yourself please and thanks.

SCENARIO C: I'm terminally ill and you pray for me to get better. I get better.

Similar to A - you remove some credit from the health care system and from hard working doctors and give that credit to God. I don't want there to be any ambiguity if I get better - it was all my will to live and the work of awesome doctors that got me better.
 
Hi Jon

This is quite an interesting blog I stumbled upon through my C# self-teaching endeavours. I always like to look into more detail if there are notions that someone shares my beliefs, which is why I found this blog.

It is interesting to see how certain 'ex'-believers came into being atheist. As an anonymous commenter said that he/she struggled to decide to believe or not, and decided to become atheist because it was more comfortable. To me it sounds like giving up "I don't want to try anymore, it's hard". It comes down to: "I actually believe, but I don't want to acknowledge it because then I have to give up my comfortable lavish lifestyle to a lifetime abstinence."

Concerning prayer, I think we should pray for everyone, ourselves and fellow Christians as well.

By saying the following I might step on some toes, but I think I should: I think that those who object to being prayed for are those who need our prayer the most. They see that we judge them, we see that we care about them.

To comment on another anonymous comment about Christianity being sadistic as to how can Hitler be saved by repenting on his death bed, but a good non-believer go to hell. Well, the thing is that you should repent, if Hitler truly repents and accepts Jesus, then he is forgiven, no matter when or where. The problem comes in when one 'believes' just for the reason not to go to hell, as the pastor pointed out just this Sunday, then religion is futile.

As for the good-doing non-believer, if at some point in his life he got to know Jesus and chosen not to follow, well... he knows his fate. This comes to what Sandra commented: "If one is being defensive about it(being prayed for), maybe it's because they aren't as confident in their chosen path as they would like to let on." As I said, they know their fate, but doesn't want to admit it to themselves.

I don't even know if this blog is being read by anyone anymore and if this will be posted, but I still thought I'd try, and hope that you( that is Jon ) at least reads it and perhaps comment.
 
Hi Jon

This is quite an interesting blog I stumbled upon through my C# self-teaching endeavours. I always like to look into more detail if there are notions that someone shares my beliefs, which is why I found this blog.

It is interesting to see how certain 'ex'-believers came into being atheist. As an anonymous commenter said that he/she struggled to decide to believe or not, and decided to become atheist because it was more comfortable. To me it sounds like giving up "I don't want to try anymore, it's hard". It comes down to: "I actually believe, but I don't want to acknowledge it because then I have to give up my comfortable lavish lifestyle to a lifetime abstinence."

Concerning prayer, I think we should pray for everyone, ourselves and fellow Christians as well.

By saying the following I might step on some toes, but I think I should: I think that those who object to being prayed for are those who need our prayer the most. They see that we judge them, we see that we care about them.

To comment on another anonymous comment about Christianity being sadistic as to how can Hitler be saved by repenting on his death bed, but a good non-believer go to hell. Well, the thing is that you should repent, if Hitler truly repents and accepts Jesus, then he is forgiven, no matter when or where. The problem comes in when one 'believes' just for the reason not to go to hell, as our pastor pointed out just this Sunday, then religion is futile.

As for the good-doing non-believer, if at some point in his life he got to know Jesus and chosen not to follow, well... he knows his fate. This comes to what Sandra commented: "If one is being defensive about it(being prayed for), maybe it's because they aren't as confident in their chosen path as they would like to let on." As I said, they know their fate, but doesn't want to admit it to themselves.

I don't even know if this blog is being read by anyone anymore and if this will be posted, but I still thought I'd try, and hope that you( that is Jon ) at least reads it and perhaps comment.
 
"You'll be in our thoughts." I think that's a very comforting thing to say to anybody, atheist or not.
 
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