Reading Time: 11 minutes Even this dude knows he's got other things he could be doing. (Renaud Camus, CC.)
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Most of us are quite familiar with one last salvo heard from Christians who’ve just experienced a catastrophically-failed attempt to persuade us of something. The phrase I’m talking about is, of course, I’ll pray for you! Alas for them, it fails on a number of fronts. I’m going to decode this phrase for you today–and show you what it says about Christians that they absolutely, positively would never, ever want us to know.

A Multi-Tool of a Phrase.

You know that saying about far-north-dwelling people having “50 words for snow?” The Washington Post sure thinks it’s true. They point out as well that the Sami people, who live way up at the north end of Scandinavia and Russia, have “as many as 1000 words for reindeer.” (The most evocative of the ones they list is busat, which is a male reindeer with a single extremely large testicle. Don’t you feel illuminated?)

Well, prayer is sort of the opposite. Christians don’t have a lot of different words for prayer, at least not in colloquial use. They’ll add modifiers to it, like intercessory or imprecatory, to indicate which of many types of prayers they’re talking about, but generally speaking they just call it all prayer. And they say I’ll pray for you in a lot of different settings, with different motivations, and in different ways.

And some of those uses are benign, or at least relatively so. Often Christians learn to deploy it as a means of consoling those who face huge losses or who are suffering. The phrase in this case means nothing; it’s just mouth-noises that people make when they can’t think of anything else to say in a terrible situation.

Often, though, it’s what Christians say when they want to look like they’re helping without actually doing anything helpful. They get the surge of happiness that comes of helping people without actually sacrificing anything of themselves. Win-win! /s

Phoebe of Friends: I wish I could help but I don't want to.
One of the real meanings of “I’ll pray for you.”

Indeed, the phrase thoughts and prayers is becoming a flashpoint in American culture right now as people rightly object to it being the only response from our government to a growing number of gun-related mass murders and spree killings. It’s being used as a substitute for more tangible–and reality-based–action, and we’re right to bristle when it’s trotted out by the very same politicians who’ve caused this mess in the first place. In these sorts of cases, I’ll pray for you is not so benign a phrase.

And often, the phrase gets used as a way of saving face after a Christian has failed utterly to persuade another person to change their mind about something.

Tactical Withdrawal. Advancing in Another Direction. RETREAT.

That’s the way Tim was using the phrase this past week in his emails to me. When he realized that he couldn’t make me afraid of that which he himself feared, he had no other tools in his evangelism toolbox. Threats were useless. They have no power over someone who knows there’s nothing to fear. (I learned the same exact thing in college when I innocently tried to evangelize pagans!)

At that point, all he could do was exit the conversation. Long forgotten were his earnest questions about exactly what I’d done during my deconversion. Instead, he fired back the salvo I had already seen coming:

Thanks for your reply. I will pray for you my friend. Best wishes, Tim
From my inbox. “Thanks for your reply. I will pray for you my friend. Best wishes, Tim.”

He didn’t say–and didn’t need to say–that the prayers would be for his imaginary friend to change my mind so I could come trotting back to Christianity.

And that’s not one of the benign uses of that phrase.

Problem 1: A Potent Reminder.

When Tim told me that he was going to pray for me, he immediately reminded me that prayer doesn’t do a thing.

See, I deconverted almost 25 years ago. Many sparks contributed to that flame, but one of the biggest was realizing that prayer doesn’t do anything magical. Tim mocked my deconversion story in his first letter by implying that I’d just been “asking for stuff” and hinted that I was simply feeling petulant about not getting my pony and my plastic rocket from the Jesus ATM.

Tim has forgotten that “asking for stuff” is exactly and precisely what Christians usually do when they pray. And they think that they get the stuff they ask for! Sometimes. Sort of. If the petitioner meets a very, very long list of conditions. Or not. Stop thinking about it. In Heaven it’ll all make sense. (We’ll ignore that the “stuff” in question was stuff like healing my then-pastor of brain cancer, because Tim sure is.)

He’s definitely forgotten that he, himself, is “asking for stuff” in demanding that his magical wizard friend change my mind.

Any time a Christian prays for something magical to happen, that is “asking for stuff.” Maybe the thing the Christian wants is material–and maybe it’s something he or she wants to see done to someone else. Maybe it’s just asking to feel happy. Maybe it’s just wanting to draw a god’s attention to a situation.

Maybe it’s crying out for something–anything–to cling to in order to maintain belief at all.

If that Christian isn’t specifically praying in worship, then every other kind of prayer is “asking for stuff” in some way. Even worship feels eerily like asking for stuff–like those doing it are just buttering up a powerful warlord or gangster in hopes that he’ll be nice to them later.

Every time I hear about a Christian talking about asking for anything through prayer, all it does is remind me that prayers aren’t magical at all. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard people asking their god(s) for stuff through the years. I was even married to an aspiring preacher who did love crowd-surfing a good rowdy Pentecostal altar call, so you can bet I heard a lot of prayers for all kinds of stuff.

Not one of those prayers resulted in anything whatsoever that anybody reasonable would consider miraculous.

Not one.

Not even a little.

Even this dude knows he’s got other things he could be doing. (Renaud Camus, CC.)

Motivated Reasoning.

Sometimes, if a Christian crosses their eyes and tilts their head just so, they can spot the sailboat in the “Magic Eye” poster of their prayers: something that sorta-kinda looks like one of their “asking for stuff” prayers got answered. But it takes some motivated reasoning to arrive at that conclusion. They have to really stretch a lot of meanings and distort a lot of events in their minds to get there.

That’s how all the weaseling around prayer began–and why it’s only gotten more and more complex over the years.

When I was Christian, we evolved a complicated series of conditions that had to be met in order for a prayer to be answered. Some of these conditions pertained to the person doing the praying–like that person had to be right with God1 as well as free of all doubts that the request would be granted. Some of them pertained to the request itself–it had to be totally in line with what our god wanted to do anyway, and not something that we’d asked for out of selfishness or anger or other suspect motives. If even one condition wasn’t met, then the prayer wouldn’t be granted–unless that was just how our god wanted to proceed that day, of course.

In a very real way we were like the teenagers imprisoned in the House of Stairs in the super-creepy young adult novel of that name. We had no earthly idea what our god really wanted out of us or what the rules for prayer really were, but we learned to perform an increasingly intricate “dance” to get anything that came close to a result for anything we prayed about. All that dance did, however, was give us more excuses for why nothing miraculous was happening as a result of our prayers.

Faced with that crushing truth, we had only one option: to resist any and all efforts to put prayer to any serious test, and to demonize anybody who did. Nothing’s changed since those days, I see.

So yes: in one breath, Tim could express derision toward me for “asking for stuff” in one letter, and in the very next he could also assure me that he’s totally going to ask his god to do something to me–with the implied expectation that he thought his god would totally listen to him, where clearly that god wasn’t listening to me.

It gets even worse! As he stated in his opening letter, he thinks that if I would only really truly pray super-hard, then I would get renewed faith in Christianity.

Which means that this guy had the clanging brass hardware to send me a letter lambasting me for losing faith after “asking for stuff,” only to advise me a few sentences later to “ask for stuff” so I could believe again.

Don’t try to make sense out of Christianity. You’ll just give yourself whiplash trying to keep track of it all.

Problem 2: Free Will and Coercion.

Most Christians don’t believe that their god wants to literally force someone to believe in him. They’re happy to use threats to coerce compliance and conversion out of terror, but they shy away from their god actually using his magical powers to artificially instill belief in people.

Calvinists are the exceptions: nasty asshats who think that their version of this god can and does force belief on someone. That said, this link here, which outlines the reasons and process they think is involved in this violation, certainly doesn’t give any room for it to happen at the behest of someone issuing a prayer. It’s more just part of their god’s ineffable plan. If he wants a person in Heaven, then it’s going to happen either way and there’s nothing at all that that anybody–not even a smug Christian git–can do about it. So I don’t think Tim was a Calvinist.

But even Christians who like to think of their god as “a gentleman,” as one frequently hears them put it, will come out with nonsense like “I’ll pray for you” as a salvo–as a threat–leveled at people they themselves have failed to persuade or coerce into agreement with them over anything. To borrow one commenter’s mockery, it’s like Tim–having been rebuffed–was now totally gonna tell on me to his magical invisible wizard friend. Oooh, I’m shivering in my booties.

Don’t get me wrong. If their god actually existed, that’d be something to fear. Imagine having your most cherished perceptions, your personality, your entire worldview, just blotted out and rewritten at the whim of a totalitarian cosmic overlord! And that’s what we’re talking about here. To accept Christianity as the truth again, I’d have to stop caring about evidence or in believing only true things. I’d have to decide somehow that I could totally believe something I know is not true. I’d have to forget all the things I’ve learned, or else see them as untrue without any good reason to do so. I’d have to become once again that kind of person who is swayed by threats. Tim’s talking about asking his villainous master to rewrite the essential me, and he’s threatening to do this without my consent.

And if it were possible for Christians to do this to other people, they would, absolutely and without any hesitation whatsoever. They’d do it in a heartbeat because they would be positive that this was in our best interests and that we’d thank them when we all got to Heaven.

Thankfully, their god isn’t real, so they can squint and mutter at the ceiling all they like. Nothing supernatural is going to happen to my opinions or thoughts as a result.

Instead, all they’ve got is threats.

This is why Christians never, ever ask you if they have your consent to pray for you. It’s not about what you want. It’s about what they want. Predators don’t ask permission. They know the answer will be a resounding no.

If all I knew of Christianity was what Tim has written to me, I’d have every single reason anybody would ever need to reject the religion and to work against it in every single way I could find.

But that brings us to the main and most pressing problem with the I’ll pray for yoooooooou! salvo.

The Ultimate Problem: Why Does Tim Need to Tell Me He’s Praying?

Christians know perfectly well that their prayers are pointless and useless.

That is why they have to tell us they’re doing it. See, otherwise we’d never know. There’d never be any sign of it happening–except for that verbal assertion that it was.

If a Christian has to tell you that they’re praying for you, they are conceding that they are aware that you won’t ever find out they’re doing it unless they say so. Otherwise they’d be spending all that time muttering and squinting for absolutely no good reason.

And gang, the Bible might be big on praying in private, but in reality, evangelism-minded Christians need that external validation of their perceived superiority and specialness.

Christians know that threatening their enemies with prayer is just a virtue-signaling exercise–just something they do and talk about to show other people that they are in the bestest, most powerful tribe around. It’s a way to save face after they’ve suffered a catastrophic loss. It’s a way to comfort themselves and soothe their bruised egos with visions of a future victory one day at their vanquishers’ expense. In their newly-revised version of events, they actually won–the victory will just take a while longer to materialize.

I want to be clear about something: The mindset I’m talking about is not loving, which is something else the Bible’s kinda big on. But Christianity seems far easier to bend toward hate than toward love, going by the religion’s followers in the main.

And Another To Keep Your Toes Warm.

Here’s one last glassful for ya, matey, as we part ways for now: another way to tell that Christians are well aware that their prayers are really not effective is that they waste time on picayune nonsense instead of curing every person in the world who has a serious disease. Or making deserts into jungles. Or ending terrorism of all kinds, including the kind their most fervent religious bunkmates commit upon others. Or finding a forever home for every animal and child who needs one.

Instead, they pray for their acne to clear. To find their car keys. For their everyday car journeys to end without an accident. For an extra $120 to pay the deluxe-package cable bill. And, of course, to magically change the mind of some little bitty religion blogger flailing away tippy-tapping out megaposts three (or four) times a week.

Every time a Christian uses I’ll prey pray fer yoooooooou! as a salvo like Tim did, it reminds me of their bizarrely out-of-whack priorities. And I mean, I get it. I was there too. I wrote about it at length, even. But I wasn’t like that when I first converted to fundagelicalism. I felt like I was like Cyclops from the X-Men, having to be careful about how I used the earth-changing power I wielded as the daughter of a living god.

Oh, that changed quickly. It changes for every Christian. It changed for me, and it obviously changed for Tim. That’s why Christians really don’t pray often, for all their preening statements about it. Their leaders are constantly admonishing them to pray more–and complaining about how seldom their flocks listen to these admonishments. If they really had the power to bind things on earth as they bind them in heaven, then they’d be using it–and they’d be making this whole world into the dystopian hellhole they crave most.

One of the things that we can be most thankful for is that there is only mortal venom in Christians’ words. There is only normal, everyday, average ole narcissism. Christians have only the power that we grant them. And that is fading quickly.

and here's MY last salvo

Next week, we’ve got a brief examination of the Lawrence Krauss denial letter as it applies to the principles of power in broken systems, and then we’re plunging into Christian Delusions–starting with the Israel Boner. It’s going to be a busy time! See you then! <3

1 “Right with God.” Christianese phrase meaning, generally, to have confessed one’s sins recently and to be committing no new ones. However: all people are always inherently sinful no matter what. So being “right with God” meant just being as sin-free as possible. Except all our attempts at righteousness were “as filthy rags” to our god, who already knew we weren’t perfect and forgave us anyway. So any prayer not answered can always be punted with “Well, obviously you had sin in your heart and that’s why Jesus didn’t heal your grandma after that drunk driver hit her on her way to church.” It blows my mind now that I ever bought into something this purely irrational and crazymaking.

Endnote: Here are the four letters in order, in case anybody needs them: Tim 1, Cas 1, Tim 2, Cas 2.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...