July 24, 2020

Christians are Praying for You

pray: that was easy

Back in 2010, The Whore of All the Earth wrote a post that inspired an early version of this one that would eventually be revised and expanded. In it, the author described being told by a Christian friend, "You know, I've been praying for you." That's an experience I've had more times than I can count. When I hear this sort of thing, I find that there are two very different ways I can view the situation and that which one I pursue leads me to feel differently about it.

In what I find to be the best-case scenario, I reinterpret "I've been praying for you" as something closer to "I've been thinking about you." So interpreted, I can respond positively to such a statement as simply reflecting the speaker's positive sentiment. If the speaker does not know I am an atheist, I can hardly blame them for their poor word choice. I can usually manage to overlook the primitive appeal to magic.

What can be a bit harder to overlook, at least some of the time, is the fact that the original statement does suggest a certain level of Christian privilege (or perhaps a more generic form of religious privilege). Why would the person assume that I have any interest in their magic? And yes, the fact that prayer doesn't work means that the person is doing nothing to help. Still, I am generally convinced that the speaker is talking out of ignorance and not any ill intent. Of course, if they know I am an atheist and say this anyway, all bets are off.

This brings me to the second way I might view the situation, which happens to be the one in which I am most likely to get mad. If the speaker not only knows that I am an atheist but responds to my disclosure of atheism by telling me that they are praying for me, I consider that more than a little insulting and find myself tempted to respond in kind. Why? It seems like a deliberate insult. "Oh, you are an atheist? I'll pray for you." That reminds me far too much of other forms of bigotry I've observed from Christians.

How about you? Are there circumstances when you would not be at all bothered by such a statement and others where you probably would be?