Prayer Requests

I noticed this box of cards as I walked past the church down the street. It was a box of 4×8 inch prayer request cards. I took one, just in case. If I want the people at the church to pray for me, I must take a card, fill it out with name, address, phone, what I want them to pray for (or to praise). I must also check either confidential or ok to publish. Publish? Then I must slide the card into the slot to be picked up by the help.

I’m not sure why they do this, but I like it. I once heard a retired preacher of the Calvinist tradition say that prayer is more effective if the person praying has greater faith. They know stuff like that. Maybe when more people pray, it works better. Maybe when people in an interdenominational church pray, it’s better because one of the denominations may be the right one.

I remember when a thousand people filled our Catholic church to pray for a well-liked, dying old lady. She got well. They were taking credit like crazy. Then she died. Oops. But death has never stopped Catholics from praying for the repose of the soul of a deceased. It’s part of the denomination.

What I like about this is if people want to be prayed for, they can ask. Otherwise, no prayers. If I want to be prayed for, or to offer praise in my name, I’ll let them know. Otherwise, they may assume I can do my own praying. Or, assume I do not want or need to be prayed for. Or, assume I’d rather they did something else.

It’s like asking, “Would you like us to pray for you?” Nope. And if I change my mind, I know where I can stick the request card. I feel so enlightened. Amen.


Essay: Prayer is Weird

It’s really weird. Because I don’t believe in any spiritual things like gods, angels, saints, or demons (except the human sort), I stopped praying on my own years ago.

When well-meaning people say they will pray for me, I try to respectfully decline, although they never ask if I would mind, or if they may pray. It is kind of like I have no choice.

It’s not that I fear any form of harm. I’m atheist. If you want me to respect your beliefs, please reciprocate. If someone prays for me, it’s fine. But it is no favor to me. Except, I always need fodder for this blog. I know I’m pissing into the wind, but I am simply writing about how I am affected by living in a mostly believing, religious community.

The weird part of prayer is that I do usually pray when asked. I also have changed tires for strangers, hung pictures for friends, mowed lawns for neighbors, fixed boxes for cats, and (rarely) given advise when asked. The latter things all require greater effort (and get better results) than the former (praying). But I pray when asked or to keep from being a jerk (usually). Here is an excellent article on the subject.

I have held hands or waited patiently to eat while someone thanked God for everything from creation of the universe to the traffic being light on the highway, to “this fried chicken and gravy that God hath blessed us with,” as the cook bows his or her head and grits their teeth.

Recently, a retired nurse told me that pain was “a gift from God.” In my 60+ years of religion and a prayerful life (albeit, spotty), I cannot recall a single time when anyone thanked God for pain. Not for their agony or that of any of their loved ones. Good grief. Ungrateful bastards! (sarcasm) Who wants a medical provider who thinks your pain is a gift from God? (seriously)

When we were in a thunderstorm 40,000 feet above the Marianas Trench, we all thought we might crash and die that night; however, not one of our B-52 crew of seven prayed. At least four of us were quite religious. We all tightened our ejection seat and parachute straps and did our jobs, which was probably why we did not crash.

I can mentally do a flash prayer in seconds. Some call them “ejaculation” (or ejaculatory) prayers (I still giggle). I was Catholic, not Southern Baptist or Evangelical, who clearly struggle to ejaculate quickly (sarcastic humor).

If a friend asks me to pray for something reasonable, I almost always do. But I’m greedy. I’ll only pray for me to win the lottery unless we have a deal.

My views on prayer may seem hypocritical. Others may see an irreconcilable conflict if an atheist prays. I don’t care. I prayed for some sixty years with no harm (or results) to me or anyone. I am atheist. I can do what I want. We have no rules.

It does not mean I believe in any god. It does mean that I like and respect some people. It shows that I care enough about them to honor their request to petition a deity (existing or not) to help them. My atheism is about gods or spirits (other than human).

Religion is a whole other donnybrook. But feel free to ask for an ejaculatory prayer. I will most likely accommodate.

I recognize that most people disregard my request to do something besides pray for me. I don’t ever know if they actually prayed. But I must ask, who is respecting whom? And why is that?



Essay: On Praying

You can read about atheists being offended by prayer. Most of what I’ve seen was written by religious interpreters who seem to know what we think and what our motivations are. In my opinion, few skeptics find praying offensive. Anyone who comes from a religious background has probably prayed. I think it’s a waste of time. However, prayer can be troublesome.

Does It Even Make Sense?

I used to pray often. As a practicing Catholic, I was expected to pray to god’s three persons and dead people. I prayed to various saints who are dead souls in Heaven, and for those not there yet, but who are in Purgatory.

I’ve asked for things or prayed as a form of worship or self-punishment, called penance assigned by a priest after confession. I prayed for “the repose of the soul(s)” without knowing exactly what the hell that meant or why I was praying for it. I prayed without a logical thought as to exactly what I was praying for. Most often, I simply prayed to pray or because others were.

You may ask, so what? Is praying harmful? Did it do any good? Was it beneficial to me or to someone else? Was time spent in any form of prayer wasted and silly?

Ironically, I thought everything happened because a spiritual consciousness caused it. I assumed I was praying to a god responsible for everything that happened: a god who knew everything, was everywhere, and had everyone’s best interest in mind.

Yet, prayer was a crutch for me. Even today, I can hear my mind thinking, “Please don’t let this be happening…” Who or what is that plea addressed to? A god or the universe? Is prayer a habit?

“Everything happens for a reason.” That mild form of predestination doctrine is what many people say, most often regarding some undesirable event. Of course, no reason is ever given and one is seldom discovered except in some shoehorning effort to make it fit religiously.

Before I accepted my own atheism, although I prayed, I thought it was kind of dumb. However, since so many of us seemed to do it and thought it worked (all evidence to the contrary), I prayed hard and long. I gave blessings, I prayed over graves of loved ones, I prayed for sick people, for friends and enemies, and sometimes for things other people asked me to pray for, like for them or rain. Whatever I needed to do to persuade the eternal supreme entity to do differently, I gladly did. I carried a pocket notebook of things and people I wanted to pray about so I would not forget.

I no longer pray because I’m almost certain there are no gods, no saints, no spirits who care, or any receivers of my message. Additionally, if I did believe in any of that or thought it was likely, I would still not pray because it accomplishes nothing.

Do I care if other people pray?

Usually, I don’t. Sometimes I do. Prayers and praying can be annoying, especially when staged for living witnesses to see and thereby to be affected or persuaded. Prayer is especially annoying when my cooperation and/or participation is in some way socially expected.

On its own, prayer seems innocuous enough. However, even the bible (new testament) decries staged, showoff, holier than thou praying (Matthew 6:1-34). Must I wait to eat while someone prays? Why? May I talk while they talk to a god? May I take a drink of my beer? If I don’t want to hold someone’s hand while they pray, am I being rude? The act of praying does not make someone special or privileged. But it is fine if one assumes so. Just leave me out of it.

I consider people’s praying as I do when they do yoga or meditate. I consider most yoga and meditation beneficial to the person doing them. I am neither offended nor distracted by it. I simply don’t care. I don’t expect them to interrupt my evening, disturb my meal, or want to hold any of my body parts while they contemplate existence or do a downward facing dog. I’ve never heard of someone blocking an emergency exit while chanting a mantra or standing on one foot.

No one has ever said to me, “I’ll meditate for you.” And while no yoga pose has been entered for my recovery, I did appreciate when friends and family said they would be sending me healing energy and good vibes. Their sincere concern helped me feel better, and perhaps to recover. I’ve told friends that I would be thinking of them during their surgery and I hoped they would have a speedy recovery. “Get well soon.” Praying is not person to person. It invokes the will of spirits and that’s woo-woo.

When people say they will pray for me, I request, “Please don’t.” I’m not offended if they do. I just take a pass on prayers.

While I’m unconcerned with how people spend their time trying to change some god’s mind, I think it’s silly. Their intention may be good, but why can’t they accept that I reject all prayers?

What is the bigger picture?

Another problem is the package deal. Prayer is not an isolated independent action done by one person to the benefit of another. Except for children and people manipulated into it, no one is forced to pray. If nothing else changed and everyone just stopped praying, would some deity get pissed off?

Many believers think so (all evidence, etc.). It’s not so much that prayer is part of a belief in god and a person’s relationship with some god. Prayer is distinctly tied to a religion and often to a specific denomination.

On the other hand, when people have asked me to pray for them (or for rain in one case), I sometimes will. They seldom ask, but I do see or hear the occasional request. While I don’t believe in their (or any) god, that does not mean I don’t care enough about them to offer up a prayerful blurb or two. I consider saying or thinking “God help you” as praying. I am also willing to yoga up the cat pose or contemplate a nirvanic eternity, if someone were to ask me (no one has).

The problem I see with praying is the package or the bigger picture. When organized religion, personal religious beliefs, or cult-like attachments influence people, it is more than simply praying. If someone prays for me to believe in god, is it acceptable for me to pray or to wish that they stop believing in god?

Must I adapt my behavior to the praying behavior of others (holding hands, being quiet, closing my eyes)?  Does your right to practice your religion (freedom of religion) trump my right not to (freedom from religion)? If I decline an offer to pray for me, have I offended them simply because I think differently? If it is my opinion that people who pray are wasting their time, sometimes mine, and offering an opinion different than mine, is it acceptable for me to say so?

The prayer playing field is not level. It’s sloped in favor of those who pray even by some who don’t. What harm does it do? In most cases it threatens my freedom from religion. It is often staged “look at me” behavior and begs for someone to be easily offended.


Poetry: Reality Pray

objecting to your prayers feels like
I am rejecting your love,
your caring, your helping me
get past a difficult time. I am grateful
for you and that you care and that you love
or care about me.

yet, if you really care
look at me—touch me,
talk to me. a hug is okay.

but please. must I accept that you will
shoot a quick message to your almighty
who will then correct or change the cold facts
I now face? please stop denying reality
and pretending your prayers
make a difference or change anything.
they do not!

the only miracles are those events
science, money and power create.
thanks anyway.

with love and appreciation,


Does Praying Offend?

I’m not offended by people praying, but I think it’s a silly waste of time. I am also not offended by people dancing, public displays of affection (all sexual preferences/ orientations), drinking in public, religious garb, cannabis smoking, public breast feeding, most tatoos and body jewelry/hardware, the word fuck, and the list goes on. Nor do I think most of that to be wasted time. Many things that offend others may cause me to raise a brow, but I’m seldom enticed into feeling offended.

I am not offended that people practice religions, pray, dance around the fire, or believe they turn into werewolves. We all have the right to believe whatever we want, must, or were raised with, up to a point. When those beliefs impact, are forced upon, or negatively affect the rights of others, expect felt offense. And right there is the problem for religion.

I lived in a Muslim country for more than a year. Five times each day the call to prayer would echo from a too-nearby minaret loudspeaker, after a few snaps, crackles, and pops. I was annoyed, but I was not an offended infidel.

Doctors cost money, prayer is free. Prayed for children denied medical attention sometimes die. And its legal. I am supposed to be quiet to respect the prayer time of those who pray publicly, yet many believe that same prayed to god will condemn me to hell. I am not offended, yet they think I should be. They would be.

I wish people did not pray and did not believe in any god because it would be better for them and the world, but many pray to their god asking that he make me come to believe as they do. If I say prayer is useless, they are offended by my private opinion. If they offer to pray for me and I suggest they read a poem instead, they’re offended. But I am not.

If I suggest they not block the emergency exit, they say I am persecuting religious freedom. I must wait to drink my beer and eat my pizza while they pray. But I am not offended. If I watch and wait, they are offended that I do not pray. Fuck ‘em, but I’m unoffended. If they want to hold my hand as they pray, but at no other time, I am not offended. But they take offense if I decline.

I am offended by the religious beliefs of many. The privileged status of the religious combined with the hypocrisy of falsely claimed persecution is mindboggling. When Bush #1 said I was not an American citizen because I do not believe in god, I was offended. When Oprah W. said that a self-proclaimed atheist O.W. was interviewing could not be atheist, I was offended. When Falwell said freedom of religion does not also mean freedom from religion, I was offended. When Cruz said the Bible trumps the U.S. Constitution, I was offended.

When basic constitutional or human rights are denied Americans because of the religious beliefs of other Americans, I am offended. When people of religion are favored for no other reason over people who practice a different religion or none, I feel offended and ashamed by the foolishness of such favor. But I am not offended by prayer. I just think it stupid. I hope that does not offend you.

If you are, check out this offended person, religion on religion. I was not offended.


When was the last time you prayed?

About a year ago a midwestern friend asked people to pray for rain. I thought, if god exists he should make it rain there. It did! In fact, I think they’re having problems with floods now. Apparently, sometimes folks need to tell him when to stop. I also tend to pray when I’m upset. I’ve invoked deities with things like god damn it (or dad gum it), Jesus Christ (or the family version of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph), Oh, God!, good god (or good grief), god help you, god only knows, bless her (or his) heart, and so on.

My last in earnest prayer was reciting part of Mark 9:24, I believe, help my unbelief, which is an alleged quote said by a father during a scene in which Jesus performed an exorcism on the man’s son. That prayer was eight or nine years ago as I was dealing with doubts about religion and god.

Roughly five years later I openly embraced my own atheism. My only prayers since might be called sarcastic blasphemy by some. I do not seriously pray. I would not pray if I ever came to believe in some god. I do not say amen after someone else prays, but I do (for now) sit or stand quietly while they pray or say some form of grace or meal blessing. I’m not sure how much longer I will cooperate with the holding of hands since I see that as me participating in the act of prayer.

What about people who believe in gods, especially the Abrahamic one, and never pray? Are they theists, deists, or practical atheists, as the Catholic church claims?

I have always thought that what people do matters most. I have never bought into the once saved, always saved; or what people believe matters more than what they do. In my mind, it fits well into what we do matters more than what we say.

I can’t recall ever being told that it is a sin to not ever pray. Is it wrong to never physically and verbally acknowledge a god, even if you do believe in one or more?

I no longer pray because I am mostly convinced (97.7%, if you need a degree) that no gods exist, and if they did, prayer would still be nonsense. When I prayed it was because it was a big part of the religion I practiced, not because I thought it was working. I prayed for dead people to be in heaven and I prayed for sick and dying people to recover. The sick got well, the dying died anyway.

Of the 80 or 90 percent of people who claim to believe in some sort of deity or woo-woo, how many never pray, never go to church, never practice a religion, and never dance naked around the fire during a full, or new moon?