Say a Little Prayer for Me?

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:

  1. Has anybody ever told you that they were praying for you?
  2. If so, do you know why they were?
  3. Regardless of 2, how did this make you feel, and why?
  4. 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.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    When your boyfriend prays for your conversion, what, exactly, is he praying for — for God to show you a miracle, or for God to tamper with your "free will"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Interesting post. I'm mostly uncomfortable with it because I never know what to say in response. I'll have to ponder your statement about dislike being mostly irrational because I don't think it's doing anything anyway — that's a good point.As I try to recreate a hypothetical, "Well, I'll be praying for you" in my head, I think what strikes me is that:1) It is often (perhaps) just a phrase people say to end an awkward conversation rather than just admit that they empathize.2) I sometimes think it's so reflexive that the prayer doesn't even think as it emerges.3) They, as far as I can tell, have little to no expectation of the thing prayed for occurring4) Even if the thing prayed for does not occur, it means nothing. It's a vacuous activity that says nothing one way or the other. This doesn't even have to be about god's existence — let's assume he exists, that I'm just not convinced, and that someone prays for my belief. What does "no improvement" tell us?— that god does't want me to believe?— that god can't bring about the circumstances to lead me to belief?— that god has "a better plan" in store?— that all things are on god's time and not ours?We just can't know.I will share a humorous story… kind of. My wife and I were switching our mattress around (apparently you're supposed to rotate these things every once in a while) and as we lifted it up there was a scapular (I think that's what it was) under my side of the mattress. I asked her and she said someone suggested she put it under there. I couldn't believe it!Conversion via proximity to material thing with powers! That instance, actually, was a little bothersome to me. Covert planting of things to try and bring about some effect on me. I didn't really like that, especially from my own wife.Then again, I'll have to think about this more, as perhaps most of my objections are irrational if I'm to be consistent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Hendy:Maybe you could hide a copy of Playboy under HER side of the mattress :)

  • Iota

    Sorry to but in – just a quick "fact/doctrine" check. :-)"Conversion via proximity to material thing with powers!"I think that was the so called "Green scapular" If yes, then:- I am not sure whether it is actually an approved devotion. I tried checking even now, but I get conflicting results.- But let's charitably assume it is approved: * According to what I understand is the Catholic position, no devotion of act can be treated as "magical" (If I say/do X I will invariably get result Y just because I said or did X). See point 2111 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.* Besides, the devotion the scapular in related to, requires that the person should either daily pray for themselves or be prayed for daily. So if you badly wanted, you could call this "graces by proxy"/"conversion due to third party request" (Ms. Smith prays FOR Mr. Smith), but not conversion via proximity to material. object (solely).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    St. Augustine said, pray as if it depended solely on God and work as if it only depended on you. :)People praying for you isn't passive action. Especially as someone who struggles to remember to pray and pray consistently, it is real effort put out in favor of another person.For example, friends still in school: I cannot take their tests for them or really even help them study, outside being there with them while they are studying. However, I can provide support and pray for them (that they does well, remembers, stays calm, etc.). Prayer is very powerful and its effects may not be quantifiable, but that is no reason to discount them. People find comfort, at the very least, in prayer and the knowledge that our appeals to God are heard. Even for people who are not Catholic, I've been thanked for praying the rosary (to myself, but they noticed the beads) as "extra protection."People who pray for you want the best for you. It isn't just that they emphasizing, it's that the situation is out of their hands, so they are offering a pro-active solution by putting it in God's hands. God doesn't meddle and God's a gentleman; he's patient, and he'll wait till you call upon him. He wants to help people. He wants to be involved in their life!In terms of impersonal prayer, that is interesting. Christopher Hitchens said he was touched by all the people who prayed for him when they found out he has cancer. Prayer is an act of love, above all. Of course, there are different types of love. Your boyfriend prays for your conversion because he loves you. Your friends pray for you because they love you. I even pray for you (if I may) because I love you as a fellow human being on this journey of life. And not just you- I pray for a lot of people! I pray for my family, my friends, my professors, priests and nuns, local and worldly leaders, the oppressed, the poor, the suffering, the souls in Purgatory– as Tennyson wrote, "I am a part of all whom I have met." I also pray for people who bug me, I pray for people who actively hate me, I pray for the unhappy and those who have done me wrong. This Lent, I am really working on forgiving a former employer who was unjust to me. This is hard, but if we cannot love those we dislike, we cannot love. Praying for another is a way to actively love.I hope you don't mind that I pray for you! Prayer is not an intervention or usurption of free will, but rather a hope that the other person will accept/ allow God to affect their heart and life. We still have to choose God every day. We have to choose to pray. @P. Coyle, when her boyfriend prays, I imagine he prays for just that: her conversion. If it happens, no one but the Father will know the hour. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    P. Coyle, when her boyfriend prays, I imagine he prays for just that: her conversion.What I imagine is this: that he considers it a petitionary prayer, addressed to God, that is an implied request that God take some kind of action that would result in her conversion. Her boyfriend might not have specified the action. Indeed, he might not even have considered what kind of action it could possibly be, but I listed two that immediately occurred to me: that God would show her a miracle, or that God would interfere with her internal mental processes — her "free will."If it's not a petitionary prayer for divine intervention in the affairs of the world, then what is it? A mere expression of hope, addressed to no one in particular, that something might happen? Could I, as an atheist, "pray" that you, too, might some day become an atheist?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    1) mental processes and free will are two different things2) a petition asks for help, not necessarily intervention- I could petition you to help me with something rather, for example; but we address our hopes to God, a very particular person3) yes, you can pray that I become an atheist!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    mental processes and free will are two different thingsI agree, though Christians sometimes seem to assume that they are one and the same. If I understand what you are trying to say here, then I think that we would both agree that:(1) Leah could not believe that God exists as an act of "free will."(2) The fact that Leah does not believe that God does not exist is not the result of an act of free will on her part either.(3) Assuming for the sake of argument that God exists and that he has the power to do so, he could get inside of Leah's head and convince her that he exists, without interfering with her free will. This last point is rather important given the likely counterargument that God would never do such a thing because it would interfere with Leah's free will (and because, presumably, God places a higher value on a person's free will than he does on, say, a person's "eternal salvation" and all that).a petition asks for help, not necessarily intervention- I could petition you to help me with something rather, for example; but we address our hopes to God, a very particular personIf you petition my help, how could I help you without doing something to help you?I am assuming here that, in "petitioning" me, you are explicitly or implicitly asking me to do something for you, not just to be a good listener.

  • Patrick

    I just take it as a generally good wish. But that would change drastically if they were praying for a particular thing.As far as I am concerned, someone praying for me is, in itself, unimportant. What matters is the intention and beliefs behind it. Its like someone giving you something: even if you don't like what they give you, if they gave it for a nice reason you feel appreciative. And if they gave it for a nasty reason you feel otherwise.So what would matter the most to me would be the reasoning behind it.That being said, I'd probably take a very, very dim view of someone praying for my conversion. That's very close to the line Dennett sometimes discusses, where its possible to respect someone only because you presume they haven't thought too deeply about the implications of the beliefs they profess. It might not be over the line, but its edging towards it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    I just take it as a generally good wish. But that would change drastically if they were praying for a particular thing.It seems to me that when her boyfriend prays for Leah's conversion, he is indeed praying for a particular thing, not simply expressing a "generally good wish."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Iota: much of what I say is in jest to poke fun at the idea. I realize that the Catholic church does not have as an official standing that material things a) can have "powers" or b) be said to always produce a given result no matter what and throw in anything else you want in there.The point is… someone advised her that placing a physical thing under my side of the mattress might increase the chances of obtaining what she wants (or what she things god wants) to happen — my re-conversion.Viewed from a third person standpoint, pardon if I don't see a tiny bit of similarity in that action compared to something like voodoo dolls or magic crystals.At least grant that it is believed that a piece of cloth sewn in a particular fashion a blessed by someone who has been ordained is thought to be more significant than the raw materials alone.If so… what's different about them? Has some "essence" been granted to the material? Or does god honor that particular material (even granted that the particular material is possessed by someone with a particular disposition and holy intention) more than the raw materials?I found it weird, regardless of whether it completely aligns with doctrine or not.It's a completely separate topic as to whether religious belief leads to these kinds of things regardless of whether doctrine supports them. I know tons of people doing annual devotions/consecrations to Mary, wearing chains around their wrists or ankles, who wear scapulars, who carry rosaries everywhere (I used to), who value items blessed by the pope more than those that are not. Sure, doctrine might have an official stance that there is nothing intrinsically special about these items… but isn't it odd to note how frequently humanity is tempted to think or act like they are?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Julie: you said:,—| Prayer is very powerful and its effects may not | be quantifiable, but that is no reason to | discount them. People find comfort, at the very | least, in prayer and the knowledge that our | appeals to God are heard. `—If prayer is not quantifiable,- how does one assign a descriptor like "powerful" to it?- go further and describe it as "very" powerful?- refer to "its effects" if they are not able to be measured in some way?- declare that the appeals are "heard" if there is no quantifiable response?It would seem that they are either quantifiable and describable… or neither.Also, you said:,—| Prayer is not an intervention or usurption of | free will, but rather a hope that the other | person will accept/ allow God to affect their | heart and life.`—Is it equivalent to simply nebulous lamentation? It would seem that it's not just 'a hope" but a desire for some response. People pray for those who are sick; I'm guessing they are hoping god will modify the course of nature to fix whatever is occurring, right?My wife was at a talk entitled, "Why god says 'No' sometimes," which focused on god's apparent denial of some prayer requests. His main point was that sometimes god wants someone to remain suffering because it will unite them more to the suffering of Jesus, which may be an integral component in their achievement of salvation.He also stated that one should only pray for that which is god's will. So… when someone has a debilitating illness or disease or horridly painful injury… do you pray for them, or not? God might actually want them to experience that pain and be more united, and to request contrary would be to contradict his will. While I know some will easily respond, "Well, I just add the suffix, 'If it be your will,' to the end of all my prayers." That's fine enough, but then why pray for what you think would be the more desirable outcome? Why not pray for them to remain injured and add, "If it be your will," to the end of that? Why do we assume that more likely than not god would want physical betterment over prolonged suffering?It seems like we can never know until after the fact and so perhaps those praying should a) stop praying, b) remain utterly detached from all outcomes and pray only, "god, do whatever you were going to do anyway" rather than using that as a suffix, or c) find a reliable source of knowledge re. god's plans for a person, and then pray according to that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @P.Coyle- I agree to the first one, but I cannot speak to the second two, seeing as I would have no way of knowing that. Part of believing in God, however, is something the will freely does, as does not believeing in God. That is a choice, even if one feels bound by the very question. Also, petitioning someone to do something does not necessarily mean that person is going to do it, let alone interfere. That being said, the act of doing something is a range. If I ask you to hold my hand because I am scared, for example, I am not asking you to explain why I am scared or make me not be scared any more, but rather, being there for me, as a comfort. That being said, I believe that God works in mysterious ways. I think the fact that we are even having this conversation is evidence of God's hand in bringing minds together that are going to challenge and ask the "big" questions. I'm not saying he directly did this, but he can work through circumstances, etc. God having a hand in things doesn't mean God made it happen. @Hendy: when I say quantifiable, I mean, if you hook me up to a machine, and tell me to pray, or do that to thousands of people, it's not going to produce results worthy of analyzation. That being said–1. prayer is part of having a relationship with God; therefore, when one humbly seeks God, the evidence of him in your life through prayer is evident. I could only give you personal experiences, including my issues of spiritual dryness, and the fruit that comes from perseverence and trust. Very powerful and life changing.2. Ha! Yes, adverbs are very good in this. ;) Countless examples; billions of people who can testify to the power of prayer. 3. Well, what's measurable- I'm not sure how my life experiences are measurable. How can one measure a life changing experience when one's prayer life suddenly flicks on the light bulb and the world seems anew?4. Not sure what you mean, sorry!It's not that people suffering expect God to suddenly cure them- but perhaps give them an inner comfort. Prayer has a lot to do with one's inner life and dialogue with God. YOu absolutely pray for a person with a fatal disease: you pray they have peace, you pray they stay close to Jesus and find meaning in his own suffering upon the cross, and pray they get final absolution. Christ gave us the example for how to suffer when it is undeserved, but that does not mean he still not do it out of love, and with compassion and dignity. Physical betterment is not the highest good; good can come out of suffering. I can witness to that.These are all really wonderful questions, Hendy! I am glad you are asking them. Perhaps we will never know. The road to God is merely the beginning, but don't you start walking or running or driving to get there faster? To find out more, talking to the people along the way, examining the scenery, and adding your contribution to the tale? We can never know God's plan for us, but that's another reason why we pray- for the understanding to accept what is not easy to accept, for wisdom to guide us in the discernment, and a steadfast love of the Lord, whose will we freely want to do, because and out of love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Part of believing in God, however, is something the will freely does, as does not believeing in God. That is a choice, even if one feels bound by the very question.OK, so you are a doxastic voluntarist. How far do you want to push that? Would you say that you could, as an act of your own free will, choose to believe that God does not exist? If so, then by all means demonstrate the truth of that proposition to yourself by believing for, say, five minutes, that God does not exist (if that particular experiment would cause you undue anxiety about putting your immortal soul in danger, then as an alternative please try, as an act of free will, believing for five minutes that your name is Barack Obama and that you are president of the United States).I understand why doxastic voluntarism is attractive to Christians, because it means that her not believing in God is something that is Leah's fault, for which it would be just and fitting that she be punished. If she is going to be punished by God for something that is not under her voluntary control, then it is reasonable to ask how one could say that God is just. Also, petitioning someone to do something does not necessarily mean that person is going to do it, let alone interfere.But petitioning for someone to do something does mean that you are asking that person to do something, right? If the prayer of Leah's boyfriend that she be converted is of a petitionary nature, then it seems to me that he is asking God to do something that would bring about her conversion. I simply ask, "What is he asking God to do?"If, on the other hand, Leah's boyfriend's prayer is not petitionary, then perhaps he is saying something like, "Hi, God, I wish Leah were Catholic. Just wanted you to know. 'Bye."I wonder which it is.

  • Iota

    "pardon if I don't see a tiny bit of similarity in that action compared to […]"I understand."At least grant that […]”I'll grant you that any time you want. You and I probably both know that kind of thing is called a sacramental in theological jargon. If anyone needs background reading: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P58.HTM"If so… what's different about them?"The general idea as I understand it (and I’m simplifying a whole lot here) is that God grants everyone access to his “budget of grace” (potentially infinite and unlimited) and each of us can influence how God grants grace. If I’m praying for someone and God decides to accept my prayers, you can say I’ve influenced the “budgeting”.One of the ways to “influence the budget” is for a priest to bless (a person, an object). God can still override the priest’s decision (and NOT grant any special graces through a blessed object if it’s used badly, the person is not properly disposed etc.), but otherwise the fact that it has been blessed may be of some importance, because the graces of the blessing are “added” to what you would normally get yourself. It’s as if the whole Church was backing you up. On the other hand, if you decide to say the rosary (prayer) on a rosary (sacramental) that has not been blessed or without using the rosary (sacramental) at all, your prayer doesn’t have to be intrinsically “bad” compared to Mrs. Smith’s prayer on a rosary blessed by, say, the Pope. After all, what matters most is HOW you pray.“Sure, doctrine might have an official stance that there is nothing intrinsically special about these items…’There ARE differences between sacramentals and non-sacramentals (see above, for some of them). There even ARE limited differences between things blessed by different priests (look up indulgences, if you are interested). The way understand this second distinction it is that the Church decided to honour something additionally and believes God will grant the extra graces because the Church asks Him. Not because He has to but because He can and He specifically gave the Church the right to make those “grace budget proposals”. It's as if I said I'm going to pray for all the guests at my birthday party – you COULD probably ask why God should honour my birthday guest list, but since I am allowed to choose what I pray for, He presumably may honour my choices if He wishes…‘but isn't it odd to note how frequently humanity is tempted to think or act like they are?”First – without knowing the disposition of the people you wrote about, I would not dare judge if what they are doing is within Catholic orthodoxy or not. That said, I don’t find doctrinally unsound ideas about religion “odd” Isn’t it odd that people do something like THIS about scientific reports (parody warning? http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1174Well, I don’t find THAT odd either.We’re human. We misconstrue, we simplify, we fail to pay attention to details wedon't care about because we think they “aren’t important” and then mess up because the “unimportant detail” was important to someone else or to reality in general. We’re flawed compared to our high standards of rationality and precision in thinking, as well as compared to the complexity of the reality around us and we have to live with that. This includes the failings of all people who are religious and who misinterpret their religion, without bad intent (assuming it has a stable set of doctrines). Though it may be good to bear in mind that we have only limited access to what people really feel and think. Not everyone can explain things in detail or in a way that helps me understand what they mean, but I probably should not say that if they can’t explain themselves in a convincing way, they can’t hold good or convincing views. Observer bias comes to mind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Do people choose to be athiests? I guess that's a question I have. I'm compelled to believe in Christianity because of all the proof I see stacked up around me, focusing specifically on the historical fact of the resurrection and incarnation. Second question: Does anyone not have control over their beliefs? I don't think I understand how someone would not. In terms of the pursuit of truth, I find Catholicism to be the most true and, ergo, I believe.In terms of Leah being "fittingly punished" or whatever, we have no comprehension of the depths of God's mercy. Only God can see into people's hearts and only God can judge the state of a person's soul. I am not going to comment on that. Also, a third question: why does it matter what Leah's boyfriend pray and petition for? That's his prerogative! **sorry, wanted to clarify a thought. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Iota: thanks for the response.@Julie: same to you for the above, though I think I disagree about the quantifiable part. Without knowing what would have happened with prayer removed, we can't know whether prayer is having an effect or not. Does that make sense? Your response is attempting to "quantify" a cause by only examining effects that could well have been caused by something else.In any case, I mainly wanted to answer your most recent question: I do not think belief has much to do with choice, whatsoever. In fact, I would gander that you believed in Christianity before or in spite of whatever your opinions about the historical reliability of the resurrection are.I have and still would describe my non-belief as a "state", not the result of a choice. In fact, P. Coyle said it perfectly here: ,—| Leah could not believe that God exists as an act of "free will."`—I would simply say, "I couldn't believe even if I wanted to." Whatever I did to try and "believe" would only be external. Inside… I'm just not convinced and that's that. I actually find this area absolutely fascinating. I am absolutely perplexed by the fact that two individuals can sit down, look at the same texts and each conclude that they are both a) inspired by a divine being and b) laughable as being divinely inspired.My current working theory is that belief in what the texts say probably has little to do with the texts themselves. I could be absolutely wrong. I think there's a strong case for this in the fact that religions are so utterly localized and cultural. If god really authored only one of the holy books floating around, I just can't get it through my head that adoption of that one book would only happen to occur in areas where that belief already predominantly exists.I think I'd be a little embarrassed as a believer that someone could take the book I revere and toss it aside in favor of the belief that Jesus teleported to Utah post-resurrection or that we contain thetan spirits in need of liberation.That was a big side track… anyway, no, I don't experience my nonbelief as having much choice about it whatsoever. I can't say in the slightest what would bring belief back about. I think I'd need satisfactory answers to all the objections I have (work in progress).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Do people choose to be athiests? I guess that's a question I have. I'm compelled to believe in Christianity because of all the proof I see stacked up around me, focusing specifically on the historical fact of the resurrection and incarnation.Second question: Does anyone not have control over their beliefs? I don't think I understand how someone would not. In terms of the pursuit of truth, I find Catholicism to be the most true and, ergo, I believe.Julie, I can't make up my mind whether to characterize your position here as "charmingly naive" or "breathtakingly arrogant." Perhaps a little of both?How is it possible for you to say, in consecutive sentences, (1) "I'm compelled to believe in Christianity because of all the proof I see stacked up around me…," and then immediately thereafter ask (2) "Does anyone not have control not have control over their own beliefs? I don't think I understand how someone would not." Are you incapable of seeing the blatant contradiction here?What I don't think I understand is how you can say that you were "compelled" to believe in Christianity, and then to assert that what you, or anyone else, believes is somehow totally a matter of free choice. If you think that what you believe is a matter of free choice, I have already suggested to you an experiment that can verify or falsify that position: Although you are "compelled" to believe in Christianity, you ought nevertheless to be able to freely choose to believe that Christianity is false. Therefore, do it. For the next five minutes, release your inner atheist and believe that there is no God. I suspect that you will find that you are unable to do this — but if you are, then I would have to conclude that your psychology is very different than mine.In terms of Leah being "fittingly punished" or whatever, we have no comprehension of the depths of God's mercy. Only God can see into people's hearts and only God can judge the state of a person's soul. I am not going to comment on that.The question on the table is whether Leah would be eligible for salvation even if she lives her entire life as, and dies as, an atheist. The Catholic Church seems to be ever so slightly uncertain about it. However, there is no question that the Church asserts that "Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin [mortal?] against the virtue of religion." More specifically, it says that "Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the first commandment" (which suggests to me that the Church is somewhat unfamiliar with the actual wording of the first commandment). And finally, the Church asserts that "Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time."Shall we put you down as "undecided" on this question?why does it matter what Leah's boyfriend pray and petition for? That's his prerogative!And it is my prerogative, and Leah's, to ask what his prayer means. Is it a request for a miracle (meaning "divine intervention in the affairs of the world"), or is it idle chit-chat with the Deity? I gather than Leah feels that her boyfriend was praying for a miracle. I think that's why she said that his prayers "felt like an assault — an attempt to change my mind without convincing me and without my consent." She thinks he was asking God to get inside her head and alter with her thought processes. Maybe he was.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    On occasion, I've debated apologists who, when challenged on one point or another, will say things like, "I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm just going to pray that God shows you the truth" – or worse, "I don't know the answer to that question, but I know my beliefs are true because God tells me so."To me, that's what's offensive about prayer. It's not that I feel in any way upset or threatened by people saying they intend to pray for me; I don't think prayer has any effect whatsoever, so that doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the attitude that people don't need to debate or examine the evidence, don't need to engage in the ordinary process of investigating what the truth is, because they have a shortcut that lets them skip all that hard work. I find that attitude both irrational and arrogant – that they don't need to win me over with reason because they think their own subjective inner feelings are a more accurate guide to the nature of reality.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @P.Coyle- you forgot a third option: "just curious." I don't make generalizing presumptions about things I don't know/ understand, which is why I asked. My apologies.My train of thought: if God doesn't exist, who cares? Why talk about the imaginary pie man in the sky? Ergo, if people pray, who cares?I used "compelled" not as a forced act, but more, I see the evidence, and I am moved in mind and heart to believe. That's all. Nothing forced, and I freely choose.I'll repeat another Church teaching: no human person can judge another person's soul. Yes, athiesm is a serious matter. We as believers take it very seriously. But in terms of salvation, we can only share the truth and word of God. The rest is up to the individual.@Ebonmuse- that's an interesting approach to prayer, to be sure! Just remember: prayer doesn't replace thinking. It is, nonetheless, one way to reach knowledge if one humbly seeks the wisdom from God. Not really in the mood to elaborate, more food for thought. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @ Julie I used "compelled" not as a forced act, but more, I see the evidence, and I am moved in mind and heart to believe. That's all. Nothing forced, and I freely choose.You "freely choose" to believe what evidence "compels" you to believe? Pardon me if I continue to express bafflement at your whole mode of expression here, but you seem to be using the word "choose" in some manner that is entirely foreign to my understanding of that same word.Look, the evidence of my senses tells me that right now I am sitting my desk in front of a computer screen, typing this message and sipping on a Coke. I am "compelled" — "forced" — by that sensory evidence to believe that this is what I am actually doing. I cannot "freely choose" to believe that I am actually lying on the beach at Cancun, reading a good book and sipping on a margarita.When you ask whether people "choose" to be atheists, your question seems to imply that you have some difficulty grasping the notion that atheists could possibly find the reasons for atheism to be as compelling as your reasons for being a Catholic. After all, since the reasons for being a Catholic are truly compelling, the reasons for being an atheist must not be compelling. Therefore, an atheist must be a person who gets out of bed some morning and just "chooses" not to believe in God, in disregard of that "compelling" evidence that points straight towards Catholicism. Right?I'll repeat another Church teaching: no human person can judge another person's soul.OK, so let's leave Leah out of it. Instead of asking whether "Leah" would be eligible for salvation if she lives her entire life and dies as an atheist, we let us substitute "an atheist" for "Leah".I quote from the Catechism: "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since 'without faith it is impossible to please [God]' and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"So I ask you: Could "an atheist" — one who lives and dies "without faith" — obtain eternal life? Or will he (or she) be among "those who die in a state of mortal sin [and] descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire.' The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs"?Just curious.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Julie: I agree with P. Coyle re. belief being chosen or not. Really, do read my POST about belief. That conversation really did happen and your statements about freely choosing remind me very much of my former small group leader's response to my inquiry about "choosing" to believe the sky is green.My hunch is that in a frenzy to force me to be culpable for my non-belief, he insisted that he could absolutely choose to believe that the sky is green.I think belief more like this:sensory input+ present knowledge/background info+ bias/genetic/environmentally-instilled filtering———-belief

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @Hendy: That was a wonderful anecdote in your post. It seems to me that one of the following must have been true:(1) The guy was flat-out lying.(2) The guy was so totally unself-aware that he didn't even know how his own mental processes worked.(3) True Believers really can make themselves believe anything that they choose to believe.What should I choose to believe, (1), (2), or (3)?I can think of all kinds of snappy comebacks to his claim, but this, so far, is my favorite:"Oh, so you mean that Jesus' disciples might not actually have witnessed any miracles, they just chose to believe that they had? Maybe they just chose to believe that he rose from the dead, even though he didn't."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @P. Coyle: yes, it was pretty incredible. My vote is on #2 to be charitable. I see absolutely no reason to vote for #3 unless someone can respond successfully to your challenge to Julie: spend the next 5min as a complete atheist.In general, the guy baffled me. His wife suggested that he would be a good one to talk to when I first began doubting since he was a philosophy major. But then over dinner at a restaurant he asked me to prove on the spot that god didn't exist. I said I couldn't and he responded, "Then he exists." I said, "Excuse me?" He repeated and said, "If you can't prove he doesn't exists, he exists."Thankfully I had the wit about me to immediately respond, "Then so do leprechauns, fairies, and unicorns."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Thankfully I had the wit about me to immediately respond, "Then so do leprechauns, fairies, and unicorns."Good response. You might also have asked him to prove that there did not exist a signed contract in which he had agreed to pick up your check for the meal. Then you could have gotten up from the table and walked away.I think he needed to change his major.P. "Majored in Philosophy Myself" Coyle

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @P. Coyle — that would have been even better!


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