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.

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.

  • teh_faust

    That phrase is right up their with “I’m feeling sorry for you” on my list.

  • plutosdad

    Christians even say this to each other. Have a disagreement during a church board meeting, or planning a christian event, and the losing side will say either “I’ll pray for you” or “pray about it and then we’ll talk again”. Oh it would drive me crazy when I was a Christian.
    Are they passive aggressive? or just sneaky and underhanded jerks?

  • Steerpike

    How about “I’ll return the favor by donating to medical research to find a cure for mental illness”?

    I’ve always liked “Don’t pray in my school and I won’t think in your church.”

  • anteprepro

    I believe I’ve read elsewhere, on a few different occasions, that “I’ll pray for you” and a few other choice phrases are The Good Christian equivalent to “fuck you”. Isn’t it nice to be that two-faced?

  • Hein

    Once, many years ago at a friend’s 21st birthday party, a friend of a friend was denouncing my “hedonistic lifestyle” (I wasn’t even that much of a hedonist) as evil and unchristian, warning me that I would burn in hell unless I changed my ways. I responded that as an atheist I did not believe in hell and that I did not intend to deny myself pleasure in this life so that I might be happy in some (non-existent) afterlife. Of course, she then decided that she needed to “save” me.

    I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in being saved, so she said she’d pray for me. Given the nature of the conversation I decided to reply with “Fine, I’ll smoke, drink and party for you!” She was furious and would have physically attacked me if other friends hadn’t held her back. She shot back that she would pray that some awful tragedy befell me or my family, so that I might see the error of my ways, and be sorry for mocking God.

    I always think of that incident whenever someone tells me they’ll pray for me. I think that is what they all secretly mean, when they say “I’ll pray for you”. Nowadays, I just respond with “suit yourself” or “please don’t bother”.

  • seadeatea

    Go ahead, but your prayer will only give more evidence to the fact that prayer is ineffective.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Pray back: “Oh Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, extend Your Noodly Appendage into [this person's] brain, and override his puny mortal will by forcibly restructuring his thoughts into helpless submission to your own mighty unknowableness – just as Yahveh hardened the pharoah’s heart so he could slay all the firstborns!”

    They hate having mirrors held up to them – even more so when they realize (most have to be told) that’s what you’re doing.

  • MayanFootballer

    Good post. It summarizes a lot of the views I have. My favorite response to “I’ll pray for you” is to ask for an animal sacrifice, but I’m sure they’ve never done it, just like I don’t think they’ve ever really prayed for me.

  • Crommunist

    My favourite is the suggestion to “pray harder”. It leads to fun trolling: “Oh my god it’s WORKING! I can feel the Holy Spirit! Naw, I’m just kidding – you’re a douche.”

  • Blueaussi

    I tell ‘em “Feel free to waste your time anyway that makes you happy.”

    I’ve often thought we need some sort of Godwin corollary to toss back at them, but the flocks of clueless darken the skies in these later days; and, for the most part, you get Stupid Face when you mention Godwin’s Law

  • TomZ, a miasma of incandescent plasma

    I say back “… and I’ll do something that’s actually productive for you.”

  • http://www.livingonsteak.com/ LivingOnSteak

    On the rare occasions when the person is sincere, I use
    “I appreciate the sentiment, even if I disagree with the action.”
    This is the one I used when I came out to my family.

  • geocatherder

    My response to the sincere version of “I’ll pray for you”, which itself comes up because of some crisis in my life, is a simple “Thank you.” Usually when such conversations come up, I appreciate the thought and I’m not in any condition to argue against their religion. If they think it helps, fine. We all waste time on something.

    My response to the passive-aggressive version is a knowing smile and “You do that.” It’s my polite way of acknowledging that they’re full of it.

  • San Ban

    What will you be praying for, specifically? I only ask so I can get back to you on whether it works or not.

  • kennypo65

    If the person is sincere, then my response is always,”thank you”. However if it is meant as being snarky or passive-aggressive, I use Hitch’s response, “And I’ll think for you.” When someone says,I’ll pray for you, in the face of some kind of crisis I happen to be going through at the time, I take it for what it’s worth. They are saying,”I care about you and I want you to be happy.” Sometimes people offer to pray for you because they love you. The only correct response in that circumstance is to love them right back. They mean well and we should be kind.

  • Anonymous

    Is anyone else offering religious conversion in exchange for a large deepdish pepperoni and mushroom? That’s literally all it would take to win me over right now.

  • Sevn21

    “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.”

    Well stated.

    I also agree that there are people use “I’ll pray for you” as a jab.

    I would like to add that a put down is a put down, regardless of who or what is being said. That goes for both sides of the spectrum.

  • http://themidwestatheist.blogspot.com Leo Buzalsky

    Great post. To add insult to injury, I have a “Grace Prayer” advertisement on my load of this post.

  • Random Mutant

    I just tell them not to bother, and pull a card out of my wallet quoting Mark 3:29- whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will never be forgiven, he is guilty of eternal sin. I then proceed to blaspheme with relish and point out to the person that their prayer now can NEVER be effective. I damn myself in front of them, smile and walk away.

  • Murray Arty

    My usual response to “I’ll pray for you” is:

    “And I’ll pray for you, that satan takes your immortal soul after you die and tortures it for eternity.”

    It really gets their goat because

    (a) it’s what they are actually wishing would happen to me, an atheist;
    (b) it mocks them and their belief;
    (c) saying it terrifies them in their religious delusion; and
    (d) I’m an atheist, so I know it will never happen and he knows it’s not a “threat”.

    They’ve got no reason to get ticked about it, but you’ll see them go into a slow burn or immediately flip their lid. Use at your own personal risk.

  • Janis Mattox

    You’re so lucky to have a Dad this cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13603889 briangonynor

    My favorite response to “I’ll pray for you,” has always been “That and two bucks will get me a cup of coffee.”

  • speedwell

    Anon@16, I’m feeling bored and perverse this morning… and for the price of a pizza, you propose an amusing psychological experiment. After you convert (I’ll let you know which religion I have selected after you agree), I’ll have fun practicing how to deconvert you again. Later, rinse, repeat, and pizza is part of every experimental cycle. How could you refuse? :)

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