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 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.