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[icon] Something I don't understand about religion - Patti
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Subject:Something I don't understand about religion
Time:01:08 am
Warning: If you're religious and easily offended, you might want to skip this.

I saw something on the net the other day that puzzled me. It was a request to pray for someone, and it went something like this:
Please pray for my father. He's in the hospital, he's stopped eating and drinking, a couple of his major organs are failing, and he may not make it through the weekend. His name is ... please pray for him.

I've paraphrased a bit, but you get my point, and we've all seen things like this before. "My father's about to die. Please pray for him." I've always been puzzled by this... what exactly are you praying for? What are you asking your god to do?

Are you asking your god to let him live? He's in a world o'hurt, and prolonging his life doesn't seem like a very good idea-- you'd basically be asking your god to prolong dad's suffering. On the other hand, praying for him to die doesn't exactly seem cool. Presumably dad's already either earned himself a ticket on the northbound or the southbound train when he goes, so praying for him to get into heaven doesn't seem effective. If that trick worked, then people could economize by only having one believer in the family and letting that person pray for everyone-- a designated prayer.

Maybe the idea is just "hey god, don't forget about this guy." Even if that were the case, an all-powerful all-knowing deity would seem to have sufficient tracking and accounting skills to know that dad's about done, and he wouldn't really need reminding. He might not even appreciate being nagged about it.

So when you ask people to pray for someone, what exactly are you asking them to ask for? And do you really, deep in your heart of hearts, believe that a dozen strangers asking for whateveritis will change your deity's mind?


My theory, and I know I'm not breaking new ground here, is that prayer gives people something to do, a way to feel like they're helping, when there's nothing else they can do. Being powerless over a situation is frustrating and nerve-wracking, so they turn to prayer as a way to feel like they're working on the problem. I doubt that true believers see it that way, but it's easy to see how prayer would provide an emotional outlet when all else has failed.
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ruth_lawrence
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 10:24 am (UTC)
I don't pray for anyone (although I may very well hold them in my thoughts), and would not ask for prayers.

I'm somewhat embarrassed when others do, as it is not something done here in Oz in public space. *So* not.

I pretty much agree with your theory, but hey, I don't do religion so what do I know?
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terrencechan
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 10:29 am (UTC)
Maybe it's like calling for an ace.

One time, surgeon, one time!
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mspurrmeow
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 11:39 am (UTC)

Having been raised right smack in the middle of the Holy Rollers Revival set, I learned this... It has nothing to do with prayer at all. Prayer requests are a designated opportunity to cry in front of people and get some attention focused on you when the going gets rough. It also serves as good gossip time. Gossip time is also covered by "Testimony Hour", but "Prayer Requests" are taken more often when you just can't wait for the one night of the week for testimonies.

It also relieves the guilt for the person requesting the prayers. They are often in a position where there's nothing that they really CAN do about a situation, but telling the story to a lot of people and asking for prayers makes them feel like they are doing something generous for the person in deep doo-doo.

It always amazes me when people talk about the omniscience of God, yet they seem to think that their little requests will change his mind from his "Divine Plan."


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cpk
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-07 08:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, kinda.
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catness
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-07 07:49 am (UTC)
Ya know, most of the bible thumpers I was raised among in the midwest weren't as shallow and selfish as all that. Certainly the evangelical set does things differently and more... publicly, but I still met a lot of sincere holy rollers. A large number of the Christians I knew in my school years were critical thinkers and theological debators, and while they believed that God was real, they also understood that the trappings of religion were less about God and more about man.

Praying for someone, in that context, would be bringing all the positive energy of their belief system into play for someone else. People who *actually* pray (not those who intone "for what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful" before dinner), are asking their God for the best help that can be bestowed given the circumstances, and a lessening of grief for those affected. Granted, less complicated souls might pray for something like "please make him well" rather than "please ease his journey", but most of the time, people bothering to pray or asking for prayers aren't trying to get one over.

There are creeps in every demographic, of course, but I find it pretty odd to paint all Christians as stupid, self-serving, and petty.
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mspurrmeow
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-07 09:16 am (UTC)
I'm sorry you read it that way. My point was, and belief is, that it is a human behavior to fulfill human needs. People in crisis sometimes feel a need to get some attention. Asking for prayer requests is an opportunity to open dialogue with people about a crisis in your life. That's human nature and a need for many people. Self-serving? Yeah, probably, but most mental-health-benefiting catharses can be called that. Sometimes people need to talk about what's going on in their life, and if the church-folk are the ones they want to listen, then they follow those rituals to get their needs met. Relieving oneself of guilt in order to process a loss, again, is another mental health exercise. If it's done through a ritual of prayer requests and meditation, then so be it. It is what it is. Another person might see a therapist or do some other form of ritual hoohaw to accomplish the same thing. It IS self-serving, but I don't see that term as negative. How about self-care? Getting needs met without speaking directly? Following ritual to process grief?

Evey part of religion, right down to attending a church service fulfills an animal need in one form or another. I don't see the need for the delusion that they create in order to get my needs for congregation fulfilled, but some people do. Others certainly feel that they would be evil without a threat of damnation hanging over their heads. Sure, ok, whatever. It's about human needs and motivations. I would not phrase it as "Stupid, self-serving, and petty" but maybe you would.
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pokarpokarpokar
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 01:37 pm (UTC)
generalized prelude to begging for money
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slfisher
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 01:40 pm (UTC)
To the extent that I do something that could be described as praying for anyone, it's a generic 'best possible outcome.' Sometimes that means for them to die.
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wwjfergusond
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 04:41 pm (UTC)
What would be wrong with praying that the man experience a peaceful death, and that his family take solace, rather than grief, in that peace? Even if it it ultimately does nothing for the man, it may have some beneficial psychological effects on the family (presuming that they know people are praying for him/them). Of course, I am not certain of the real effects of intercessional prayer, either on the mover or the moved.

However, meditative prayer is pretty cool.

JMO. YM (obviously) MV.
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gayathri
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-07 06:35 am (UTC)
I'm with her on this -- I pray. It calms me down when I'm afraid, or anxious, it makes me feel better or brings me back into a space I had when I was young. I'm not 'religious' per se, but that sort of call to pray for someone seems like a call for attention.

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wild_irises
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 04:25 pm (UTC)
I was going to post something about the scientific studies that show that prayer makes a difference, but Googling them convinced me that they're not as good or as consistent as I thought.

At the same time, not being a religious person myself, I think that feeling of having something you can do is important to the person asking for prayers, even if not to the dying person. I also feel that you left "go gently" out of your options: when "let her live" is not reasonable and "don't forget her" underestimates God, "let her go gently" is still a good wish.

The part that bothers me is the part where somehow God is a popularity contest, taking more time/energy with the people who receive lots of intercessory prayers than the ones who don't. Of course, that also shows up elsewhere in Judeo-Christian tradition (see Sodom and Gomorrah, among others).
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hlmt
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 05:10 pm (UTC)
I think mspurrmeow hit it right on the money. A request for prayer is actually a request for companionship in a time of trial, linked by a common belief. Plus, then you feel like you've tried everything, so you alleviate guilt.

But what do I know--I'm not affiliated with any sort of religion.
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2wanda
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 06:32 pm (UTC)
I come from a pretty religious background, though I no longer consider myself religious. I don't even call myself "spiritual, not religious" as some ex-religious people do. I'm in a place in my life where I feel sort of like an observer, if that makes any sense.

Prayer is viewed similarly yet differently according to various religions. And then there is meditation and trance, which are also similar, though have subtle differences. A Christian will pray for someone who is sick and/or dying, perhaps for healing, or for a peaceful pain-free death, if that is "God's will" for that person. In the process of praying, hopefully there is some reflection of that person's life in relation to the prayers. Some things may come to light during that process, some reconciliation made, or what have you. Someone of a Shamanic tradition might go into a trance to effect pretty much the same things, healing and/or a peaceful passing (though the source of that power isn't "God" so much as it is in their own ability to manipulate energy, and this also varies from tradition to tradition.) A Buddhist might meditate upon similar things, light a candle for the person to aid in recovery or passing.

Christians don't necessarily believe that a person has to "earn" their way to heaven. They believe that Jesus came to die for our sins. Therefore, praying for someone on their death bed who has lived a wretched life is to pray that they obtain salvation through Jesus even if it is with their very last breath.

Mormons believe that they can be baptized for family members who have passed on, allowing them entrance into heaven even if they've been dead for centuries.

Buddhists believe a person will be reincarnated. Prayers can be said to aid in process, and to belay any influences that can hinder that.

So there are a lot of reasons, and most religious people have good intentions, other than the selfish reason of dealing with their own pain and fear of death. It's hard to tease out main motivations when people are in emotional pain.

My view of church is that the primary advantage of belonging to a church is that it offers community for people. I'm sure that you can relate to the need for community, as you have your own community of sorts, with its own rules for membership, and its own rituals. Prayer is a ritual that assists people in dealing with the various challenges of life. In that sense, prayer does work.
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bldrnrpdx
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 07:18 pm (UTC)
I'm running into this, with people volunteering to pray for my mom (and my family as a hole). I'm starting to find expressions of sympathy from strangers annoying. Not friends, but people I don't know well or at all. Even under the best of circumstances I've never been comfortable with offers of prayers from people I don't know well, and it's become increasingly uncomfortable to deal with. I'm sure 99% of the offers are people either wishing to offer some measure of comfort or because they have no idea what else to day. I think I'm actually more annoyed by the supposed social obligation that people 'must say something' when they find out about my mom being sick. The other day I went to the doctor to follow up on my ear infection and at the end of the appointment, I decided to ask if she knew of any caregiver-of-adults support groups at that particular office. While giving me the information, she offered her sympathies and whatnot. Fine. But then I found the same statement in her write-up of the visit. It's now part of my file. I'm more than a little annoyed about that.

It's something I'm going to have to work through because it's not going to stop. And because I know most people mean to be kind, I really need to work at not snapping at them when they offer it.
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filthy_habit
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 07:31 pm (UTC)
While praying is a distraction, there's something even more troublesome in the way the religious deal with death: "He's in a better place now."

I can't say how many times I've heard this senseless platitude uttered to the grief-stricken, and I cringe every time I hear it.

Like prayer, it seems so valueless to me. It seems like a cheap way to trick someone out of their grief. It doesn't actually deal with or confront the situation, it just seems to sidestep it. And, it completely lacks sincerity.

I've had some experience in helping people who have experienced the death of a loved one, and in one case, it was a tragic, senseless and sudden death. I've always avoided the obvious platitudes and focused my attention on them instead. In each case I was told that I had contributed more to getting them through it than those who simply utter the convenient expressions, which they had inevitably gotten so tired of hearing that I was like a breath of fresh air.
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filthy_habit
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-08 05:14 am (UTC)
I agree, but there are better ways of expressing it, I think. And, "If saying it actually comforts somebody, why not?" isn't condescending, I don't know what is. A little sincerity might be a good thing when speaking to a grieving person. They appreciate sincerity and are hyper-aware of insincerity.

I don't think it's so much the sentiment itself. It's the endless procession of well-wishers that utter it that dilute its meaning. Once or twice and everything's fine, but after sixteen or twenty or forty times you begin to wonder. I think that what most infuriated the people I know is that the phrase sounded like everyone was reading it from a script instead of truly saying what was in their hearts.

Overall, I think the sentiment is generally uttered with empty intent as a means of avoidance, as if trying to politely say, "Well he's gone and that's the end of it...Gotta go! Bye!" No one really believes it.
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frogpyjamas
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 07:49 pm (UTC)
My mother, who is religious, has explained prayer as a time for her to reflect on and think about someone or a situation, usually in a positive way. I've asked "What's the point in praying for me if I'm an atheist?" and she's explained it as a means for her to think nice things about me or contemplate where I am in life. When someone is dying, I think prayer is a way of coming to terms with it, greiving and getting closure.

I often wonder topics like this, and it's interesting to read the comments.
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gramina
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-06 11:43 pm (UTC)
My own perspective on intercessory prayer is based strongly on process theology, and is probably best (though somewhat simply) explained in John Cobb's Praying for Jennifer.

Probably the most important point is that process thinkers don't necessarily affirm the "three 'omni's" traditionally associated with God: all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing. Most process thinkers tend to understand God as the most powerful, but not as all-powerful in the traditional sense. Also, God's power is an alluring power, not a coercing power. When we align our wills with the will of God for the wholeness of all things, that (I believe) increases God's ability to transform a given situation in ways that lead to wholeness for whoever's involved.

(It also, of course, increases my *own* openness to that kind of transformation, and may increase *my* willingness or ability to serve the people I'm concerned about in ways that open them to that kind of transformation.)

/shrug/ FWIW. Not everybody is working with a Giant Bookkeeper In The Sky.
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cpk
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-07 08:15 pm (UTC)
My theory, and I know I'm not breaking new ground here, is that prayer gives people something to do, a way to feel like they're helping, when there's nothing else they can do. Being powerless over a situation is frustrating and nerve-wracking, so they turn to prayer as a way to feel like they're working on the problem. I doubt that true believers see it that way, but it's easy to see how prayer would provide an emotional outlet when all else has failed.

Being a religious nut myself, I think this is actually the right answer. Though I never did see the point of petitionary prayer, anyway, except as a communal ritual.
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whipartist
Subject:Re: Booky
Link:(Link)
Time:2008-01-09 07:29 pm (UTC)
I have a copy, though I've only read bits and pieces of it.
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[icon] Something I don't understand about religion - Patti
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