10/29/2010 | Share this article:By ThinkTank ~
“Is it all right if we pray for you?”
A year ago, we found the courage to tell our families that after 40 years, we were no longer christians.
Now my spouse lays unresponsive in the hospital with spinal meningitis. We do not know the pathogen. A common bacterium will be readily treatable. An antibiotic resistant super bug could prove fatal. I send a message to let our still very Christian family know that we are in the hospital.
My pastor brother respectfully responds, “Is it all right if we pray for you?”
My loving, supportive sister texts me, “I’m praying for you even though I know you don’t like it.”
I know my brother and sister love us. I know they feel awkward with our deconversion and don’t have the right words to say.
I don’t have the right words to say either.
I wonder how I should answer the question, “Is it all right if we pray for you?”
I want to say. “No, it’s not all right! The god you are praying to is not real. Prayer does not work. I don’t want be forced into implying that prayer is valuable or that it could change things!”
Instead I choose the diplomatic route. “You can pray if you want. We won’t turn away well wishes.”
“Fair enough.” He replies.
The Irrationality of Prayer
But I fume.
If my spouse gets better after a week of constant medical attention, our Christian family will say god answered their prayers and provided healing. I want to point out that such a god could have, but didn’t, prevent the infection in the first place.
If my spouse has an untreatable super-bug and dies of a brain infection, the Christians will say, "God answered with ‘no,’" or "We can’t understand God’s ways," or "God has a greater good in mind.". Other, darker shades of Christian, will say, "It’s not our place to question God," or "It is God’s punishment for your unbelief."
With or without prayer, there are two options. Getting better or not getting better.
So why bother to pray?
The Prayer Meme
I text our friends and word gets out. Everyone we know sends their support and offers to help. The love and concern feel good. The majority of them say something along the lines of, “You are in our thoughts and prayers. Let me know if you need any help.”
I say, “Thank you,” but I want to say, “Don’t pray for us. There is no one listening. It will not change anything.”
What are people trying to express when they say, “I’m praying for you?” Truthfully, I know most of them will not actually pray. In fact, most of the people expressing these sentiments do not even lead religious lives, so what is going on here?
“I’m praying for you” is a social meme that means, “I’m sorry you’re suffering. I hope you recover. I hope you resume your former life. Life is fragile. Death may happen unexpectedly. Bad things cannot always be prevented. I wish I could make it better.”
But still…even saying ‘thank you’ implies my acceptance of prayer in some way. It doesn’t feel authentic.
I want to be truthful but I don’t want to offend the people who are obviously trying to express their love for us.
So I try to figure out how to respond to: “You are in our thoughts and prayers. Let me know if you need any help.”
Do I affirm the positive and ignore the delusion by deliberately not mentioning the offer of prayer? Something like, “Thank you for thinking about me and offering to help.”
Do I step out a bit and say with kindness, “There’s no need to pray, but we really appreciate that you are thinking about us and offering to help.”
I don’t know. What is your advice?
Do you think the average person can handle a truthful response in a rote social exchange?
Does ‘I’ll pray for you’ mean nothing in the same way that ‘How are you?’ means nothing?
If no one is willing to say the emperor has no clothes, how will group lies be exposed?
If truth is not given a chance, how will humans move toward meaningful and accurate speech?
If people are not brave, how will humans find the strength to accept our own fragility and mortality?