August 29, 2012

Many Christians Do Not Believe in Prayer

Prayer

With Hurricane Isaac moving into the area, I've lost count of how many references to prayer I've seen on Facebook and Twitter. There is nothing quite like a little fear to elicit delusional beliefs. And yet, it is a good reminder that many Christians - including the predominately Southern Baptist majority surrounding me - do not share Pat Robertson's conviction that natural disasters are divine punishment for whatever he considers sinful. At least, they don't share this view when they or their loved ones are the ones being threatened.

Many of the prayer references have been the standard fare you would expect (e.g., "I'm praying we don't have any damage," or "I'll be praying you make it through this okay."). I do not put much stock in these statements, as they are little more than Christianspeak. I suspect that relatively few of the people making such statements will actually pray as they describe. We could replace "praying" with "hoping," and little meaning would be lost.

What I do not see much of are efforts among local Christians to organize and publicize prayer groups (i.e., calling together a group of people for the express purpose of praying for safety in the eye of the storm). Why would I expect to see something remotely like this? Because they do it in so many other situations. They gather (and publicize the gatherings) to pray for sports teams, political favors, smiting opponents, and the like. The fact that they do not also do this for hurricanes makes me wonder whether it is just for show when they do it in other situations.

Undoubtedly, some Christians do pray in private. But I suspect the purpose of this is self-soothing. That is, they pray to make themselves feel better in the moment and not because they expect divine intervention. Prayer might be a way to gather their thoughts, reassure themselves, or calm down. They aren't really expecting their "god" to change the path of the storm.

I have suggested in post after post that most Christians probably do not truly believe much of what they claim to believe. This was not something I grew up suspecting - far from it. But the more I observe and interact with Christians, the more convinced I become that this is the case. Even when it comes to a book they describe as "holy," few seem to take it seriously.

Believe it or not, I've had quite a few Christians agree with me on this point. But it is almost always an accusation they level against others rather than one they apply to themselves. Yes, they say, there are too many "fake Christians." But they are always quick to distance themselves from those who do not really believe. And yet, their behavior suggests that they do not really believe either.

What are we to make of all this? For starters, hypocrisy seems rampant among Christians. They are quick to tell others how to live, but their own behavior betrays them again and again. They do not behave as if they believed what they claim to believe. Because of this, it is difficult to take them at their word. I have little doubt that proclaiming some of their beliefs can be useful at times, but that has little to do with what they actually believe.

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