CL of The Warfare is Mental posed a couple of questions about being prayed for this week, and, since my opinions on the matter have changed substantially in the past few years, I want to have a crack at them. He asked:
- Has anybody ever told you that they were praying for you?
- If so, do you know why they were?
- Regardless of 2, how did this make you feel, and why?
- What do you think of people who tell other people they were praying for them? Is your opinion always X or Y, or, does your opinion change given circumstances and context?
To the best of my knowledge, no one ever prayed for me before I went to college and became friends with practising Christians. My default feeling, if someone had prayed for me would have been mildly to fairly aggrieved, depending on the circumstances.
I know my boyfriend prays for my conversion, and the first time we discussed it, I felt angry. To me, prayer felt like an assault — an attempt to change my mind without convincing me and without my consent. It felt like cheating.
It’s a fairly illogical thing to think, since, as an atheist, I don’t believe prayer works. It’s about as silly as the time I found out a friend was praying for me not to be bisexual, and I briefly wondered whether I should have my liberal Christian friends counter-pray on my behalf.
I’m less bothered by it now, at least when I’m being prayed for by close friends. I trust my friends to want the best for me, and I know they don’t hold back from trying to help me just because we disagree about how to reach that goal. Those disagreements aren’t limited to my religious friends; I frequently disagree with secular friends about actions I should take or attitudes I should cultivate — disagreements which are often sparked by my attachment to virtue ethics or my general prissiness.
I’m not (or shouldn’t be, anyway) angry at any of them for disagreeing with me and trying to convince me I’m wrong. I can’t logically be angry at them for trying to effect the change they seek. And I recognize that religious folk see miraculous change as less autonomy-crushing than I do.
I only really get teed off about two kinds of prayer: prayer that is offered in lieu of action and prayer that is offered by people who don’t know me. Prayer is a poor substitute for practical action and hard conversations, and if my friends think I’m going wrong, I’d prefer they do me the courtesy of explaining why and making a pitch, rather that just praying for God to intervene.
I distrust impersonal prayer because I don’t trust the person praying to intervene in my life. I wouldn’t want a stranger to try to change my personal beliefs or choices without getting to know me and trying to understand my position. I’m not more ok with their too-familiar intervention just because it takes the form of prayer.