Friday, March 16, 2007

Doggerel #66: "I'll Pray For You!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

It's very much a cliché to point it out, but pretty much every atheist and skeptic knows it's essentially a declaration of forfeiture used by various fundies. I might as well list some of the situations where I've seen it come up:
  • Whenever someone points out the immorality in their 'holy' books, and they don't have a handy apologetic.
  • Whenever someone catches them condoning or endorsing an obvious and/or heinous crime.
  • Whenever someone points out glaring instances of hypocrisy.
  • Whenever someone points out irreconcilable contradictions in a literal interpretation of two verses.
  • Whenever someone points out the pointlessness of a "moral" law.
  • Whenever someone points out how excessive the penalties for trivial infractions are.
The first instance where I encountered this doggerel was back during my "Sort-of-Christian" days when I believed in universal salvation and that torture was wrong, hence I didn't believe in Hell, or at least not in an eternal sentence. The fundie I was up against failed to convince me that everlasting torture was okay when God was responsible for it (or if he just didn't feel like snapping his fingers to end it), so he declared he would "pray for me."

A similar instance involved a request for me to "pray for an answer," which, of course, netted no change: "God" verified that the fundie I was arguing against was wrong, and an evil, depraved person, just like I knew all along.

Here's a tip: If you want to prove a scientific claim to a skeptic, make a prediction and then test it by performing a proper experiment. If you want to make a moral claim, well, chances are you'll have to do a lot of creative reinterpretation to claim the high ground.


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Anonymous said...

Thanks a friggin' lot, Bronze. Now I have "I'll Say a Little Prayer for You" stuck in my head.

Don said...

That picture is the best thing ever.

The "I'll pray for you" thing is one of my biggest pet peeves. My religious/total woo mother is always telling me she'll pray for me. One day I told her point blank "Never say that again. I love you, but never, ever tell me again that you are going to pray for me. It is meaningless, annoying, and offensive."

She responded by saying "Fine! I won't say it! But I'll still pray..."

That was fine with me, because that downgraded the praying from useless and annoying to just useless.

Randy Kirk said...

Wow! Finally we agree on something. Totally inappropriate for a Christian to end a debate with a whithering, "I'll pray for you."

However, I have heard many folks of all kinds of religious persuasions and lack thereof be quite happy to have someone say to them in an hour of difficulty that they would pray for them.

I suppose it might go to feeling honored that the person who is offering to pray will take time out later even to think about the person's time of need. Those who are unsure of the existance of a God currently interacting in the world might feel that it couldn't hurt and might help.

Akusai, I applaud your way of dealing with your mom. When I was outside the church, I really didn't want my parents to bring it up, and they were smart enough not to.

Bronze Dog said...

I, of course, don't have any genuine malevolence or even an easily described peeve towards those who just wish me well in tough times. It may involve something useless in itself, but in that scenario, it does at least a small bit of good because it's essentially an expression for "I care."

Tom Foss said...

I think my problems with "I'll pray for you" are more intent than content. The times it really bugs me are when...
1. It's used in debate or conversation as if to say "I'm a better person than you;" sorry, your snarky tone betrays your intentions, comrade.
2. It's modified to "I'll pray about it," and assumed as a legitimate way of gathering information about some subject. That's nice, maybe you could Google it instead.
3. It's used as a substitute for action. I'm sorry, but no matter what your beliefs, going home and saying a couple of words to God about a problem isn't the same as going out and doing something to actually correct that problem, and it's disingenuous to think so.

When it's just "I wish you well" with religious connotations, I can't say I have an issue with it. But when it's assumed to be a substitute for...well, anything of substance, it grates on me.

Randy Kirk said...

There's the famous story of the guy who, when the flood reached his roof, was offered a boat ride to get away. He said that he trusted God to save him. Later, as he was perched precarioiusly on the chimney, a helicopter offered him assistance, but he sent it away with the same claim. By and by he was face to face with St. Peter. He asked why God hadn't saved him, since he had prayed for help. St Peter didn't bat an eye: "We sent you a boat and a helicopter.

Randy Kirk said...

Praying about it. I think there is are clear corollaries in the secular world. Done right, a prayer is much like purposely going into alpha, or doing personal brainstorming, or meditating over a decision. Sure, there is an added advantage according to Christians, but otherwise quite similar.

Tom Foss said...

Praying about it. I think there is are clear corollaries in the secular world. Done right, a prayer is much like purposely going into alpha, or doing personal brainstorming, or meditating over a decision. Sure, there is an added advantage according to Christians, but otherwise quite similar.

Not totally sure how "secular" meditation is in this case, but ultimately all these amount to is "I'm going to go quietly think about this for a little while."

Don said...

Like Tom, I didn't harbor animosity at my mom for the mention of prayers so much as the added intent. I wasn't having tough times or even a rough day, and it wasn't a well-wish. My mom always used it as shorthand for "You're wrong, but I'll get you into Heaven yet." It wasn't snarky and it wasn't a cop-out for action, it was just this assumption that she was old and wise and right and I was young and brash and mistaken, and the implicit arrogance (even though my mom doesn't see it that way) is what I didn't like.

Had she said "I'll pray for your business venture" or something, I'd take it in the same sense as someone who said "Good luck with your business venture." It's an honest well-wish lacking in actionable force and utility (unless you believe The Secret). That, however, is not what my mom was saying.

Randy Kirk said...

I can tell by the tender way you explained yourself, akusai, that I'm probably not offering anything new here, but be empathetic with regard to your mom's desires for you. For her it is no different than warning you not to jaywalk in heavy traffic. I don't condone her approach, because I think she would have a better shot of gaining her goal by letting you alone, but she obviously loves you a bunch.

Don said...

For her it is no different than warning you not to jaywalk in heavy traffic.

I think you're at least partially right, at least in most cases similar to mine. The thing is, my mom is...well...different. She's told me on multiple occasions that she will *shudder* believe anything (absolutely anything, no hyperbole) so long as it makes her feel good, and that reason is too limiting and stupid. And one of her beliefs is that because she is a Christian, I will, whether I ever believe or not, still go to Heaven. So she doesn't seem to think I'm in any imminent danger, at least not that she's made apparent. I'm pretty sure that it really is just a matter of older/wiser vs. younger/

I know she loves me, and despite our many disagreements, I love my mom to death. I just don't appreciate being treated like an ignorant child by someone who flatly rejects even the pretense of rationality and doesn't even make an effort to learn more about what she's talking about. I love my mom, and she's a loving and caring person, but she's not a thinking person.

Okay, I've talked too much about my mom and family life here. Out of consideration for her privacy, I think I'm done.

Randy Kirk said...


Can I adopt you? : )

Don said...

I'm a bit old for that, Randy...