Please don’t pray for me. I know you’d really like to. It would make you feel better because you believe your god might work some god-magic and improve my situation. I get it. But the thing is, this situation isn’t about you. It’s about me and whatever is happening to me. More than that, it’s actually quite disrespectful and even insulting for you to pray for me. I know you’ve probably never thought about it that way before, but let me try to help you understand.
First, I don’t believe in prayer. I’ve read the science. It’s quite clear. Prayer doesn’t work. I’ve also looked at the world around me. I’ve seen people pray for just about anything you can think of. Most of the world’s population has prayed at some point or another, and here’s the kick in the teeth: There is nothing we’ve ever measured in which people who pray for things score better than random chance in getting them. What “answers” I’ve seen can all be explained by medical science or just plain mathematics. No real miracles happen. No amputated limbs grow back. Once the brain dies, death is final. No prayer has ever helped. So when you say you’ll pray for me, what I hear is, “I won’t do anything that will help you.” And really, you could just go on your way without telling me that.
You’ve probably heard someone say something like that before, and it didn’t convince you to stop praying. After all, what if I’m wrong and you’re right? What if praying for me will help, despite my protestations?
Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea, either. You see, I know all about your god and what you believe. I know you think he knows everything. You believe that anywhere from 14 billion to 6,000 years ago, he whispered magic words and the universe came into being, and all along, he’s known everything there is to know. He knew five hundred years ago that this bad thing was going to happen to me, and he knows how it’s going to end. For you to believe that you have a part in changing the plan of the divine? It’s kind of… well… I don’t know how else to say it. It’s really narcissistic.
It also feels like it’s about votes, not the greater good. Is it good for things to improve for me? If so, why doesn’t your god just go ahead and do it? Why does he need your vote? It feels like I’m on an episode of American Idol, and if I get enough audience votes, my cancer will go into remission, or I’ll get the big job, or my kid will get his act together and pull an A for the semester. I’d prefer not to live in a world where my success or failure, my sickness or health, and even my very life is a matter of whether or not you like me enough to vote for me.
What does it say about your god if he refuses to cure my illness because you were too busy at the church softball league, and forgot to think a few words on my behalf? Do you really, truly believe that you are so important to your god that he’s actually going to change his mind because you think he should? Do you have that much hubris!? I don’t want a part of that god’s universe. I don’t want to think that he is so whimsical, so petty, and so vain as to refuse to do the right thing unless enough people beg him.
When you say you’ll pray for me, you’re telling me that this isn’t about me, it’s about you. You’re suggesting that of all the things you could do, the one that will make the most difference is casting a vote for me in the Heavenly Miracle Lottery. You’re making this about your little religion, not what I’m going through. You’re tapping into a kind of hubris I can’t muster by suggesting that of all the thousands of gods and religions, yours is the correct one, and you’re in so good with your god that you’re actually going to change his mind. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t want you in charge of what’s good and evil in the universe. You’re not all that and a Diet Sprite. If you actually are in charge, I still don’t want to know. I prefer my ignorance.
Finally, here’s one reason you shouldn’t pray for me: I don’t want you to. If you offered to bring lunch to my house, and I told you emphatically that I didn’t want you to do it, you’d be rude and inconsiderate to show up anyway. Why are you any less rude when I tell you I don’t want you to pray? Do you respect me so little that you ignore my wishes in my time of great need? When you insist on praying, you’re telling me you don’t care what I want. That really doesn’t make me think well of you as a person.
Instead of praying, maybe you could do something that has been proven to work a billion times over when someone is in need: Ask me what you can do to help, and then do it. I probably have a better idea of what I need than anyone else. I’m a great source of information, and it would mean a lot to me if you attended to things you can definitely do. It’s not lost on me that praying takes almost no effort on your part. It would mean a lot more if you went out of your way to do something that would immediately make things better for me — especially if you cared enough to ask me, rather than just guess.
If you do insist on praying, can I at least talk you into doing it the way your own Bible instructs you?
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6″But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
If you pray in secret, without telling me, I can keep the illusion that you don’t believe in a god who performs miracles by lottery. I won’t know that you think yourself so important that your magic words will affect my life or death. That’s not a small thing, and it really might determine whether I want to hang out with you once this is all over. It really does insult me when you say you’ll pray for me, and that’s not yours to feel. It’s mine. You see, I read that passage about praying in secret, and I saw that it promises rewards for you. And that doesn’t make me feel like it’s about me, either.
So please. Don’t pray. If there is a god, and it wants things to get better for me, I trust that it’s a good enough being to do the right thing without your advice. And there are a lot of things you could do instead of praying that would help a lot more. Think about me in my time of need, okay? Not you.