June 13, 2014

Praying for the Trivial

Hemant Mehta with Victoria OsteenWhen Christians pray to their god, what do they say? I suspect the answers are quite diverse. Ask 20 Christians, and you'll probably get 20 different answers. But it is an interesting question because how an individual Christian answers probably reveals something about how he or she views the god in which he or she claims to believe.

I have had Christians angrily insist that they would never dare to pray for trivial things. "God is not some sort of genie," they exclaim. "Prayer doesn't work like that!" Some really seem to take offense at the idea that they might pray for things that were not earth-shattering in importance.

And yet, this refusal to pray to trivial things (or at least to admit that one prays for trivial things) is not universal. Some Christians, it seems, are perfectly willing to admit that they ask their god for all sorts of trivial things. Perhaps some Christians are comfortable with the god-as-genie notion after all.

Michael Stone (Progressive Secular Humanist) brings us the story of Victoria Osteen, wife of famous Christian evangelist Joel Osteen, and how she prays for help finding a parking space. Stone highlights one of the central problems with this sort of prayer by explaining that parking is a "zero-sum game" in the sense that one person parking in a space means that someone else will be unable to do so.
First, in the zero-sum game of high stakes parking, praying for a great parking spot is the same as praying that another will fail to find that great parking spot; i.e.: “Lord help me find a great parking spot” really means “Lord make someone else walk further.” And while praying for another to fail may be human, all too human, a charitable reading of Christ’s teachings would most probably frown upon such a prayer.
This is the same problem that plagues athletes who pray for victory; it is equivalent to praying that the other team loses. Praying for the defeat of someone else doesn't seem very "Jesusy."

Stone also notes that there is something troubling about well-to-do Christians praying for such silly things while so many people throughout the world face genuine pain and suffering. He characterizes this sort of prayer as "mind-boggling in its simpleminded selfishness." He's got a point. Does anybody really want a god that helps wealthy White women find parking spaces while ignoring starvation, malaria, genocide, clergy abuse, HIV/AIDS, and countless other forms of suffering?

Still, I can't help being at least a little impressed that Victoria Osteen actually admitted to doing this. I've long been convinced that many Christians do this sort of thing, and it is validating for one to finally admit to it.

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