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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.


Italiangreyhound Wed 26-Jun-13 22:21:45

Thistledew - I suggest that anyone who believes that there is no God is misleading themselves, because there is.

But we won't get ourselves very far on this track as I know we will disagree, which is fine of course. grin

I was using the word covenant in the religious sense but also in the sense of a marriage as a commitment that people enter into together.

I completely understand that others who have different beliefs hold them as dearly as I hold mine. I am sorry if my post came across as arogent. that was not my intention but I realise thinking about that it may have sounded that way and I apologise.

It seems that accusing God and Christians of being mysogenistic, gay-bashing or child beating are used a lot on Mumsnet and I know that there are a few people out there who hold such views. I am not one of them. I am a feminist, inclusive and detest cruelty to children or anyone. I know very well the fact that some people have different views to me as Christians is and whatever others views I hate cruelty of any kind so have no desire to defend it.

I think all I could really say is that the spiritual is very real to some people and we who are interested in knowing God are trying to understand what that means. I do not think our desire to understand God and the spiritual should be allowed to cause others misery and as I have said before I think those of us who are Christians but not fundamentalists would want to be a force for good in the Church. When criticising the 'church' or Christians it is also important to note that many Christians have done great things, opened schools and worked for charity, for the poor and oppresed etc. So I would like to acknoledge the full depth of what it is to be a Christian, our history is checkered with bad things done in the name of God, but also good things.

If you want to pursue the image of the father or mother to all the kids in the street maybe you could also include the fact that people in the church often see each other as sisters and brothers, and feel a close and warm relationship to God, like a human parent, not like a person who only send a Christmas card once a year.

Once again, I am sorry if my post sounded rude or arrogent, I did not mean it to.

Thistledew Wed 26-Jun-13 14:30:20

Italian - I suggest that anyone who believes that they have a relationship with god is misleading themselves, because there is no god to have a relationship with.

However, if there were to be a god, then it would be the god that is doing the misleading. People who call themselves Christians and go aground persecuting gay people, holding misogynistic views and beating daemons out of small children and people with mental health problems believe as fervently as you do that they are 'proper' Christians and that they are following god's will. When they pray, they feel every bit as much as you do that they are communicating with god and are in a relationship with god. That feeling is as real to them as it is to you.

It is not clear to me whether you use the word 'covenant' in a religious sense or not, but yes, anyone who calls themselves Christian, Muslim or Jewish believes just as strongly as you do that they have a covenant with (the same) god. And just as you have, they have reached this belief by the same process of due diligence - reading their religious book, and praying to god.

But god (if there is one) does not chose to make it clear which of these relationships are genuine. It is as if he has given you and half a dozen other women a marriage certificate, and you have no reason not to believe it is a genuine document but you feel quite strongly that some or all of the documents are fakes. But there are no registry offices against which you can check your document, the only person who can tell you whether you are holding a genuine or fake document is god, but for some reason he choses not to tell anyone. He allows the people with the fake documents to go on believing that they have the real thing.

So yes, it is the god, who supposedly being omnipotent could chose to make it clear who has the genuine relationship, but choses not to, and so misleads millions of people who have a genuine belief that they have the real deal.

Don't get too hung up on the analogy I have made with a bigamous marriage. I do know that Christians like to characterise their relationship with god as a parent child one, but there is no neat analogy to describe this sort of parent/child relationship. It would be like all the children in your street having the same father's name on their birth certificate, but he can't actually live with any of you so you speak to him on the phone. You know that you are loved because you share these conversations and he sends you presents at christmas and birthdays. However, it is only one child on the street who actually speaks to their real father, and everyone else gets the calls and presents from their uncle Bob.

Italiangreyhound Wed 26-Jun-13 12:54:42

The convenant God made in the Old testament is with a group of people, which as Christians we believe has been expanded to include anyone who wants to know him, but there is in the Bible a route, through Jesus. I am not sure if you are saying about Christians disagreeing, or people of other faiths. I was talking about people of other faiths, that people of different faiths have different beliefs. So if someone believed they were married to my husband, but were not, that would not make my husband bigamous.

If you are talking about Christians disagreeing then yes we do, but we are all joined by this big convenant with God and we have to work it out, but rather than a bigamous husband the Bible pictures God as parent, father or in some cases mother. Are you suggesting a mother can only love one child, or one child who gets it all right?

Sorry if my answer is confused I was not sure if you were talking about Christians of different denominations or people of different faiths.

Thanks smile

Italiangreyhound Wed 26-Jun-13 12:50:41

Thistledew I am not sure why you think God is like a bigamous husband. That would suggest he had made a covenant with every person of faith? Surely you know people of faith agree on some things and disagree on others. You are suggesting God has misled them all? Or could people just be misled themselves. How are you blaming God for that?

Mad yes, those who voted against women bishops are wrong!

Us two agree so .....

New International Version (©2011)
"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven."

OK, I know it is not that simple! I agree, we need to be very careful when saying God tells us stuff, and often it is about us, I think, that we feel God telling us stuff, not about others! Or at least it should be IMHO.

Headinhands you said.... More evidence we don't need religion to live good moral lives because christians are ultimately doing what anyone else is, using their logic. I don't know who has suggested we need religion to live good moral lives, knowing God is about a lot more than morals. This thread is talking about prayer, which is communication.

Italiangreyhound Wed 26-Jun-13 12:44:44

Techno you are very hung up about things 'working' IMHO wink. Do you think it is like science experiment that it either works or doesn't work? Or the bunson burner goes out!

headinhands Wed 26-Jun-13 12:21:33

Right, so god doesn't want to, or can't affect our opinions, not even when those people are about to vote on something he might care about? Furthermore who gets to decide what is peripheral and what is central? Again it all comes down to your own thinking. More evidence we don't need religion to live good moral lives because christians are ultimately doing what anyone else is, using their logic.

madhairday Tue 25-Jun-13 11:55:32

Thistledew, to me it's much more a parent and children analogy - as I posted above, the infinite love to go round all the children. smile

Hih - that's easy - those who voted against women bishops are just wrong grin - but seriously, yes, people in the same faith system have different and sometimes polarised opinions. Such is humanity. I'm naturally suspicious of anyone who claims 'God told me such and such' - I think that people can say that their conscience tells them something, or that they have studied something in great depth and feel that this is the right answer, but in the end, there will always be views in opposition. I always say that if views differ on central tenets of the Christian faith then something is wrong. The peripheral stuff....well, it would be tedious if we all had to think exactly the same about something.

However, if 'God told me...' is used to oppress/condemn/in any way put someone down then no God did not. Jesus said love God and love your neighbour - all that we as Christians practise and speak should be within these boundaries.

Clear as mud, am I not.

Thistledew Mon 24-Jun-13 19:28:26

It seems to me that the best analogy for god and family relationships is a bigamous husband who claims to each of his families that they are truly the one he loves and that all the others are nothing to do with him at all!

technodad Mon 24-Jun-13 19:07:18

Well, apparently Mandela isn't even Christian, he is a JW, so presumably that prayers won't work because a slightly different version of god is being asked the question! wink

Italiangreyhound Mon 24-Jun-13 15:55:20

Why we are not praying for Prince Philip is maybe because he was not a unifying force in our country and also maybe South Africa has more people who are 'religious'/'Christian'. Just an idea, no idea if it is correct!

Italiangreyhound Mon 24-Jun-13 15:54:05

honesty and integrity are a good start indeed. I hope I have them too! wink

headinhands Mon 24-Jun-13 14:13:49

Sorry Madhair, have forgotten what religion you are, if you're not Chrisitan there will no doubt be similar examples of a divided opinion amongst your own believers.

headinhands Mon 24-Jun-13 14:12:09

Hi madhair smile

I don't think you understand what I was getting at. Take the vote on women bishops for example. Some who voted felt strongly that it was not what god wanted. I assume these individuals would have prayed about it and would feel that having 'bought the matter before god' how they felt about the issue was god working on them and letting them know his wishes? And then you have those who felt it was very much what god wanted and they also would have 'seeked god' about it. Doesn't that just illustrate how, at the end of the day, what we say we think god thinks is actually what we think, otherwise how else can people from the same denomination claim opposing opinions. How would you explain that? Why does god lead them to think different things? Why not tell them all the same thing?

madhairday Mon 24-Jun-13 11:49:34

Hello hih smile

Hmm. I don't think all religions lead to God, I think that devalues faith and puts it in some kind of wishy washy relativistic melting pot. It's more complex and more difficult at the same time. I don't think that merely relying on 'trust/feelings' is a healthy way either. I do believe, as a Christian, in central tenets of faith and the bible as God's <not literal> word. I think that if people do things in the name of any given faith, ascribe it to God and yet their faith/book cannot support it, then they are being at best disingenuous and at worst toxic and deluded. <yes, middle-ages-church, I'm looking at you>

As for how God can be speaking to billions at once, well, there's a thing. I can see it sounds utterly daft, but then again, so does Jesus raised from the dead and the idea of God in general. Might as well go the whole hog, as it were grin I suppose it's like we feel about our dc, though. When we have our PFB it's hard to imagine how we could love another the same, how we could have any more love than this overwhelming love we feel. No2 comes along, and we find that we have this overwhelming love for him too, without losing any of the power of the PFB love. And No3, No4, and so on and so forth. Love is not finite, God is not finite. In the way that God has never ending love for each of us, God is able to be in relationship with each of us.

Just don't ask me how, hey? grin

technodad Mon 24-Jun-13 08:21:02

Further more, on the news this morning they quoted Zuma as saying the he wanted the world to pray for Mandela to have a strength to continue living. So he seems to think that prayer can heal!

technodad Mon 24-Jun-13 07:29:42

Italian said Techno did you agree with my comment that praying for Mandela might be a way to draw the country together, and what is the atheist equivalent to that?

Sorry for the delay in replying Italian, I had a day when I didn't get a chance to read the thread and it grew so big I couldn't catch up with it.

You may be right, it might be a way of bringing people together, but it assumes that everyone is religious (and potentially of the same religion). The reality is, that not everyone is religious.

Many years ago, before mass travel and better education, when people lived in big clusters of the same religion, this would likely have the desired effect. However, nowadays, with the mix of culture, and the fact that far fewer people are actually religious, I suspect it might have the opposite effect.

If the british government kept telling us all to pray for Prince Philip when he goes into hospital, I suspect they would have lots of people telling them to get stuffed! It would not draw the country together.

What do athiests have that is equivalent to prayer - well, honesty and integrity is a good start.

headinhands Sun 23-Jun-13 21:07:06

* It's like your relationship with your OH - if you ignore him/her, and don't speak, you quickly lose touch and things slide downhill, you forget how to be together and how to love each other. Communication is the key - and the same in prayer, I think.*

That sounds all lovely but this supposed 'OH' is also married to millions of other people and he doesn't tell them all the same stuff does he. He tells some of his spouses? the opposite of what he tells his other spouses. How do you explain that beyond the well worn 'we have to trust/feel, all religions lead to god etc'?

madhairday Sun 23-Jun-13 14:12:42

Prayer's a funny old thing isn't it.

It's certainly not all about asking and expecting God to do your bidding. It's a whole load more. It's about conversation, about relationship and listening. It's like your relationship with your OH - if you ignore him/her, and don't speak, you quickly lose touch and things slide downhill, you forget how to be together and how to love each other. Communication is the key - and the same in prayer, I think.

There is an asking aspect. Jesus told us to ask. It is incredibly difficult to get our head round what this actually means. Stripped down to the basic, it's 'give us this day our daily bread', 'deliver us from evil'. Most Christians pray and expect 'answers', but I think that 'answers' aren't always what we would expect. It's a whole paradox, I think God does work in response to prayer, and think that God doesn't always give what is asked. We could go in to a whole discussion on predestination and free will, but in the end we're still left with that gaping question: Why? Why does God seem to answer some prayers and not others? Why some healed and not others, why some children starving and others provided for? Why?

I don't know.

But I do know God is good. There's a way of looking at it that has always resonated with me - that of 'the now and the not yet.' Some things happen that reflect the not yet in the now - that are a precursor almost of what life looks like in God's kingdom, in the world as it should be - when my friend was healed of deafness in one ear this is the way I looked at it - that in the way things should be, he was whole. And yet, I have never been healed of my lung condition, never experienced the not yet in the now of this. I do not think that God loves me less because of this, or that I don't have enough faith, or have sinned or similar crap that is spouted by certain sectors representing my faith. I think that sometimes God breaks in, and I think sometimes God doesn't.

This doesn't answer any questions, or give any reasons why I shouldn't agree that if there was a God then God is not good. It would be lovely if it could be wrapped up nicely, wouldn't it. All I can say is that my experience bears out a loving God who gives fulness of life, a life filled with hope and richness and meaning. I pray because I am loved by God and I love God, and beyond that is almost secondary.

Here endeth the waffle.

Italiangreyhound Sun 23-Jun-13 09:51:08

Techno did you agree with my comment that praying for Mandela might be a way to draw the country together, and what is the atheist equivalent to that?


MrsRickyMartin Fri 21-Jun-13 21:53:37

I did not pray for Mandela, but when I pray I do it because it makes me feel better and when I pray for other people I usually don't tell them. But you do not ask for people getting better like other posters said, I usually thank God for the good things in my life and ask for strength for the other things that are not so good.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 21:26:08


Italiangreyhound Fri 21-Jun-13 21:23:51

In all fairness I don't think people always practise 'pick what you like' they may feel drawn to 'pick what you feel is right.'

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 21:23:11

Not entirely what I was getting at!

yamsareyammy Fri 21-Jun-13 21:08:56

I agree that faith isnt remotely complicated.
People with special needs often have a great deal of faith.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Fri 21-Jun-13 20:13:22

That was the point. wink

I agree Christians learn more. I think everyone does.

But in my experience, faith is very simple. Tenets of faith and statements of faith might be very complicated, and theology can be very complicated. But faith itself isn't an intellectual challenge, nor is it something you can sit down and learn, and then say 'yes, great, now I have a degree in 'faith' so I'm a better Christian than you'.

Have you come across the concept of the 'Holy Fool' or 'Fool for Christ'? The Orthodox Church is particularly good on this, IME. Also on kenosis. I find these useful ways to think about whether or not faith is complicated or simple.

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