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technodad Thu 13-Jun-13 18:58:52

I know this has been discussed as part of other threads before, but the recent news articles discussing the fact that "everyone" is praying for Nelson Mandela has got me thinking about it again.

Why do people pray?

Clearly there are many people across the world who pray, from the rich Monarchy, to the African child dying from Malaria. Some people pray that they will get a parking space close to the supermarket, others that their daddy won't abuse them, and some that they will survive the night. Yet, sadly, children are still abused, and die, whilst fortunate people like me don't have to walk far to the shops.

So, since it is evident that if prayer does work, then it doesn't work in the way people think it should, then why do people do it. Is it:

a) Because people think it does work in a simple "ask and you shall get" sort of way, even though they see poor African children on TV breathing their last breath, which provides overwhelming evidence that it doesn't? (these people can't all be uneducated and stupid, so why think it?)

b) Because the act of praying and belief gives them an inner strength to continue with life despite it's hardships and they genuinely don't believe it will work (this seems a contradiction to me)?

c) Because people don't think about it in a conscious way and the un-thinking habit produces a reduction in stress (like clicking the end of a pen, or biting ones finger nails)?

d) I don't know what else… any other thoughts?

Also, what are people praying for with Mandela? Do they want him to survive for ever (they seem to)? Or are they praying that he will pass peacefully to "heaven" when he does finally pass? Since he is regarded as such a saviour, then surely he is guaranteed a pain free route and pride of place, so why does everyone need bother?

I would be interested in the views of any faith, or those of none equally.


yamsareyammy Sat 15-Jun-13 12:16:32

I came on here to tell Ellie that to me rational and logical mean different things.
But now headinhands has used the word logic in her post. So I will not read that post properly for now, and just say what I was going to say to Ellie.
To me, rational means, in your right mind.
You seemed to switch my post Ellie from me meaning and using the word logical[which to me means everything sort of earthly right, and earthly makes sense] to the word rational [which to me means things to do with peoples' minds, which is not what I meant] which is the word you used in your post.

Thistledew Sat 15-Jun-13 12:31:05

Yams- I think you have ducked the question a bit. How does it make you a better, kinder, happier person to know that god has chosen to bless you with good weather for your picnic, but not to save your neighbours child? If the answer is that it doesn't, does that mean that the 'reward' for your faith in prayer is just material?

Or if you think, "this nice weather means that I have had a chance to relax, so I can be happier and nicer to my family this week", does it not matter at all that the benefactor of your happy mood has allowed someone else to have misery and grief? To my view, believing that you have somehow been 'given' good fortune when others have not, only creates a sense of disconnection to your fellow human beings, and taken to its extreme (for example in Calvinist views of Christianity) is the idea that you got the good fortune because you are somehow more deserving than those who do not. It is my view that the current political and societal attacks on benefits claimants, the disabled and people born into developing countries is a resurgence of this sort of belief - that if you are unfortunate it is somehow your fault or you are intrinsically less deserving.

On the other hand, if you accept that everyone is subject to the same vagaries of luck, and that there is no reason at all why some people have better fortune than others, then it becomes much more of an equaliser. You can still be thankful (in the sense of "aren't I lucky" rather than thanking anyone in particular) for the fact it is sunny for your picnic, and perhaps even more so because you acknowledge that you stand just as high a chance as anyone else of getting rained on next time.

yamsareyammy Sat 15-Jun-13 12:44:05

When I was 16, I remember getting very very worried about something on the news. Possible nuclear war or something.

But I realised that me worrying, agonising etc when I was completely helpless, ie I was not in a position to talk to world leaders or anything, did no good at all to absolutely anyone.
In fact it did harm
Because, I was upset, my mum may have been a boit worried about me, my exam revision was suffering or whatever.
So, I realised I could pray, but apart from that zilch in that particular case.
And I learnt a valuable lesson.
That when things happen, if nothing at all can be done by a particular person, then it only makes the world that little bit worse, if we too ourselves get overwhelmed.

As I said before what God does is up to Him.

And what He wants me to do is up to Him.

My guess is, and I couls be wrong, is that Christians do a great deal of voluntary work around the world.
I think for instance, I am right in saying, that a lot of food banks in this country are staffed and run by Christian volunteers.

I have to go for the minute.
Will be back later.

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 12:45:15

I came on here to tell Ellie that to me rational and logical mean different things

Well, I have this odd tendency to prefer to use words with their proper meaning:

Rationality: Based on or in accordance with reason or logic

Prayer is neither rational nor logical - and it's entirely inconsistent with the idea of an omniscient god.

And, I recognise you now. Hi smile

technodad Sat 15-Jun-13 12:48:52


You make it sound like I want to become Christian. I don't and hope I never will. I could not follow in a god that allows so much wrong in the world. So even if he jumped out of a cloud and shook my hand (thus proving the first piece of genuine evidence of his existence), I would tell him to get fecked and would never desire to follow or praise him (her/it).

You can pray for me if it makes you feel better. Since there is no evidence that prayer achieves anything other than making the person doing the praying feel better, you can pray for me what you want. wink

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 12:48:56

My guess is, and I couls be wrong, is that Christians do a great deal of voluntary work around the world

And so do atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc etc.

Believe it or not, Christianity does not have the monopoly on being a decent, caring person. A point that has to be made over and over on these threads.

My local food bank is run by someone I work with - and she's an atheist. There's no handing out of evangelising leaflets there, which I understand there often is when it's Christians running the show.

Thistledew Sat 15-Jun-13 12:54:18

Yams said -

"Christians do a great deal of voluntary work around the world"

They don't do that because they are Christian though, they do that because they are nice people who like to help others. Just as people of other faiths, agnostics and atheists also do voluntary work. I don't get the point you are making.

I don't know if your post that followed mine was meant to answer it, but I don't see that it does. Of course, I don't want to harangue you into answering if you don't want to, but if you are trying to, then I am afraid to say that I don't see how your answer meets my question. Sorry about that.

yamsareyammy Sat 15-Jun-13 13:19:47

Hi Ellie. Yes, you probably do recognise me. smile
I tend to come on about once every two months on this board.

Does rationality have to be based on logic? hmm
Dont know.

omniscient. I remember know that you and I had to give up or agree to disagree on the big words that I dont understand! It is all coming flooding back smile

"Prayer is neither rational nor logical"
I agree that it is not logical, if a person does not believe. As regards rational - probably not to a non believer, definitely yes I would have said to a believer.

yamsareyammy Sat 15-Jun-13 13:20:41

thanks technodad. Your post is fine by me smile

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 13:37:11

Does rationality have to be based on logic?

Well, if it's not, then it's not rational.

omniscient. I remember know that you and I had to give up or agree to disagree on the big words that I dont understand! It is all coming flooding back

Omniscient means "knows everything" (including our thoughts and who is in hospital fighting a lung infection).

technodad Sat 15-Jun-13 14:00:33

Let me know what you are going to pray for me, and give me a timescale, and I will report back to let you know if it worked or not.

BackOnlyBriefly Sat 15-Jun-13 15:07:36

Some of the confusion about prayer might be removed if those who believe that prayer has an effect on the person being prayed for and those who don't use different phrases.

Perhaps the former could say "I'll pray for you" and the latter "I'll pray about you"

For example:
#1 "I just found out I have cancer"
"Oh that's awful I will go and pray for you to to be healed"
"Oh thank you!"

#2 "I just found out I have cancer"
"Oh that's awful I will go and pray about you so that my relationship with god will be strengthened"
".. ok... sorry you couldn't stay and help"

GoodbyeRubyTuesday Sat 15-Jun-13 15:17:30

BackOnlyBriefly I think it's a bit more complex than that. As someone who had actually been in the cancer diagnosis scenario I was grateful for anyone who offered me prayers. There was nothing practical I wanted or needed, I didn't ask their motivation for praying, but I did feel very loved knowing that my family and friends were praying for me and thinking of me. In that sense it didn't matter who they were praying to or what they were asking as I would probably have felt just as supported whether they were praying to a god or just wishing for me to feel better or thinking about me.

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 15:31:08

That's got nothing to do with Techno's question, though, Ruby. That you might feel better having people pray for you or cross their fingers for you etc is understandable. It's an expression that people care, and that's always good.

The question was aimed at the prayer - what are they hoping to achieve?

Clueing God up to the situation? He already knows.

Hoping he'll change his mind and not let that person die of cancer? If he's omnniscient then he would already know that he'll take these steps because the prayer (s) asked - so why give the cancer in the first place?

Strengthening a personal relationship with God? Selfish - and nothing to do with the prayee.

And I really, really struggle with the whole..."I see god as love" thing.

I don't see much love in child cancer, Ebola virus, genocide, a starving continent & tsunamis, I'm afraid.

If you want to thank god for the pretty butterflies, and for Aunty Dora getting over her lumbago, why aren't you thankful for all the appalling suffering in the world too? He's every bit as responsible for that as well.

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 15:35:34

Oh - and always worth a mention. The Templeton Foundation (a very rich, very religious organisation) carried out a scientific experiment to see whether prayer works. Being honest sorts, they had to conclude that it doesn't.

Not only that, the study showed that people who knew they were being prayed for did worse that those who either weren't being, or didn't know.

So - actually, the best response to, "I'll pray for you" ought to be, "I'd rather you didn't thanks".


technodad Sat 15-Jun-13 15:48:54


The need to split things into different opinions is part of my problem. In my world, I don't need to group people who think gravity goes "up" into one category, and those who think it goes "down" into another. We all know it goes down.

So if prayer works, why is there not a single explanation for how it manifest itself.

Before people say "yeah, but scientists don't agree on the Big Bang", then think again. There is evidence that something Big Bang like occurred and scientists have theories, which remain theories until there is sufficient evidence to call it fact. Scientists continue to gather and document evidence in an attempt to test and validate (or re-write) these theories. They have an open approach to challenge, because it is a fundamental of the scientific approach!

This process does not occur with prayer because it is faith based and the definition is faith is that you believe it without evidence (or even despite contrary evidence).

niminypiminy Sat 15-Jun-13 16:28:52

I see where this was all directed now -- towards a mechanistic model of intercessory prayer, in which praying for someone is supposed to achieve a particular, normally physical result.

Because none of the posters who actually answered your question believe in that simplistic and mechanistic model of prayer, you weren't interested. I can see that now you are discussing that old aunt Sally, 'whether prayer works'. People who actually pray can say till they're blue in the face what they think prayer might achieve, and what they think it is, and why they do it. But I can't see that there has been any listening going on.

How many times will people who actually pray have to say 'the primary purpose of prayer is to be in relationship with God', and 'God is not a slot machine, in which you put prayer in and get a result out', and 'intercession is not the most only or even the most important form of prayer', for some people to listen?

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 16:39:53

So, just because people aren't throwing up their hands and saying, "Ah - that makes perfect sense. Thanks so much", your own conclusion is that they are not listening?

Phrase it anyway you like, go blue and froth at the mouth - it still makes no sense.

niminypiminy Sat 15-Jun-13 16:50:41

The point is, Ellie, is that you and Technodad are discussing a form of prayer -- a mechanistic model of intercessory prayer -- that none of the people who actually pray that have posted have said they do. It's a straw man.

Contemplation and adoration may well make no send to you. Intercession as it is actually practised may make no sense to you. But they are not the same thing as you are discussing -- or, should I say, rubbishing.

And what is the point of asking people what they think if, when they tell you, you simply ignore it in favour of airing your own prejudices?

niminypiminy Sat 15-Jun-13 16:51:31

That should read 'no sense', blame the autocorrect.

Thistledew Sat 15-Jun-13 16:58:56

But a lot of Christians do say that they pray for a particular outcome to a situation, and that when you are in a difficult situation, they say "I will pray for you" in a way that insinuates that it will make a difference to the situation of the people being prayed for.

I get that there are other aspects of prayer also, but it appears to be a very common form, certainly of Christian prayer to 'pray for' something.

niminy - if you don't pray in that way, why not? A lot of Christians do believe in that form of prayer - why do you not agree with that aspect of Christian interpretation?

technodad Sat 15-Jun-13 17:03:00

So, is the African child dying from aids simply having a chit-chat with god to improve their relationship? Or begging to be saved? Niminy - what is your best guess on this one.

Since some people on this thread think prayer can generate physical results, and others think it is about strengthening a relationship with god, who is to say that begging to be saved isn't how it works? Who is right?

EllieArroway Sat 15-Jun-13 17:11:20

So when you said to me a few weeks ago, Niminy, "I'll pray for you" - you meant .... what? I'll have a chat with God about you? If you weren't expecting any particular outcome, why bother? God knows who I am - or would if he existed. Were you just planning on mentioning me in order to strengthen your relationship with him? Because you must see, that sounds a little strange.

I DO get that not all Christians take the ask-and-you-shall-receive view - but what else can "I have cancer" - "Oh no, I'll pray for you" mean if it doesn't mean, "I'll tell God and ask him to cure you?"

zulubump Sat 15-Jun-13 17:21:07

I am confused why you started this thread technodad. When I read your op you sounded genuinely interested in why people pray, which is why I took the time to answer. Several people took the time to give honest and personal reasons. Why bother to ask the question if you are so convinced it is all rubbish? It comes across as if your original question was bait to hook us in so you could then tell us why we are all so wrong. It would have been more honest to open the thread with "I think prayer is a load of rubbish and this is why..." People could then make a more informed choice as to whether they wanted to take part in that sort of a debate. If people's reasons for praying make you angry then that is fair enough, but at least be honest from the outset as to what you think.

niminypiminy Sat 15-Jun-13 17:28:42

I think, Ellie and Technodad, if you read my posts on this thread you will find out what I have to say about prayer.

Ellie, I have prayed that all will be well with you, and that you would find the answers you seek, and that the anger that was between us be healed.

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