I'll Pray For You

My dad wrote this last year.  One of my favorites.

There are legitimate times when people say “I’ll pray for you”, such as when you have a major calamity in your life.  A simple “I appreciate your thoughts and your concern” suffices in the face of these sincere expressions of care and concern.

However, there are times when “I’ll pray for you” is spat at you with a sneering curl of the lip and no sincerity whatsoever.  Usually, this happens during–and typically at the end of– a debate.  I mean, you have just spent 45 minutes showing some dim bulb that he has neither evidence, facts, logic, nor reason with which to support his side of the issue, and like a boxer on the ropes with his last gasp he takes a wild roundhouse swing, “I’ll pray for you!” 

And it is always done with condescending arrogance designed to make you feel inferior that says, “Not only am I right and you are wrong, but I am a better person than you” or “You obviously can’t take care of (fill in the blank) yourself, and God won’t help you on his own, so I’ll ask since he listens to me more.”  It is a Christian’s passive-aggressive way (or a passive-aggressive Christian’s way) of putting you down. It can mean, “You’re such a wretched specimen of humanity that you need divine intervention in order to avoid your just punishment of eternal torment by fire.”

When someone is being mean or hurtful to you and not acting in a Christian manner, yet then stares you in the face and says “But I’ll Pray for You”….how do you react? It seems sad to me that as Christians sometimes “I’ll Pray for you” is used as a jab. It is just another tool to be pulled out when lies, misinformation, bluster, appeals to emotion, and fearmongering haven’t carried the day for them.  It’s like a drive-by praying, you know?  It isn’t as if the magic won’t work if the fact that a prayer is coming remains undisclosed.

It is, in my opinion, often a phrase used to get the last word in and more often than not to add insult to injury disguised behind a phrase that is actually meant to be used as a progressive thing.  It is a dismissal tinged with a suggestion of smug superiority.  It isn’t used in this instance for any of the reasons that are sensitive or compassionate, as “I’ll pray for you” implies.  It is essentially a declaration of forfeiture on the topic at hand, instead of the integrity to admit “You have shown that my arguments on this issue just plain suck.”  “I’ll pray for you” may be perceived as a pious dismissal, a quick and convenient way to cease a discussion in which the other party is becoming too increasingly challenged—or even uncomfortable—to reflect beyond their comfort zone or to be open to learning something new and unique.  It is a condescending last-word-getter.

And it is always disingenuous; I have never believed the other party actually did make good on their word and really prayed for me….unless they were praying for an agonizing and lingering death for me starting immediately.  What makes them think their prayer will benefit me if they’re only really praying for me to be “saved” or, more likely, that I’ll see things their way—my understanding of legitimate prayer is it doesn’t work that way. It is driven by love and compassion and a desire to be of service; not as a selfish device to placate one’s own motives.

Saying you’ll pray for someone for the purpose of making them feel bad and making yourself feel superior, well that comes uncomfortably close to violating the spirit of the commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain, at least as I understand it. I have no  patience for that kind of nonsense and I resent the fact that some people feel justified and safe harassing others in that manner.  Especially when they know you are an atheist and that their prayer won’t mean diddly doo to you.

So, what to say?  Herewith a list of possibilities I have plagiarized on the internet, which is also where I obtained most of the above verbiage.  Please add  your favorites.

You’ll pray for me?  I’ll rub my lucky rabbits foot for you (or wish on a star, or throw a penny in the fountain,or toss some salt over my shoulder).

You’ll pray for me?  That might not be enough.  Can you sacrifice a goat or make a burnt offering?

Well, If you’ll pray for me, then I’ll think for both of us.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Thank you for caring! And if praying for me makes you  feel better, at least it’s doing one of us some good

YUCK!! Get it off me! It buuuuuurrrrrrrrrnnnnnnnssssss!! Now I need to go wash.Eeeewwwwww!

Thanks! I’ll volunteer two hours of my precious time at a soup kitchen for you

Cool… and since you’re already talking to him, can you see if he’ll throw in a large, deep-dish pepperoni and mushroom?

I don’t want the prayers of someone who is so blatantly mean-spirited, and I am fully capable of praying for myself if I feel so led.

Far be it from me to encourage you to ask for help on my behalf before the thousands of people who will starve to death while you’re praying get fed. If your god can’t help the hundreds of millions of people who are far worse off than I am, I don’t think there’s anything he can do for me. But if talking to your walls makes you feel better about yourself, you go right ahead.

I should watch.  Well….?

You are not praying hard enough. Pray harder because it’s not working. . Maybe you are not doing it right?

To this “prayer” nonsense, I have only this to say:
It’s like rubbing your dick against a tree. Sure, it feels good for you, but it does absolutely nothing for the tree, and it puts people off.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.