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Hi and welcome back! Recently, Facebook introduced users to its official ‘prayer’ tool (which can only be accessed in Facebook groups, not by normies on their walls). But prayer on Facebook existed long, long before this. In that vein, yesterday Adam Lee wrote a great post about the progression of COVID prayers on La Book of Faces, which reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a while: Christians always go through a distinct progression of prayers in times of stress and sickness, and indeed they must. And today, I’ll show you the three stages of prayers Christians offer — and more importantly, why these stages exist.

for all the good prayers do
(Olivia Snow.)

The Great Importance of Prayer.

When Christians pray, they imagine that a real live god takes at least passing interest in whatever they’re whispering, bellowing, or mumbling. The more fervent they are, the more interested they imagine this god is. Most Christians believe that their prayers can affect their fates and futures — in every and any way imaginable.

Trusted Christian adults teach the young children in their care to ask this god for absolutely everything they need and want. The reasons vary; sometimes, he just likes to hear them ask, while at others, his mind is made up but can be changed. (Oh, that is such theologically thorny ground — but it’s a common enough Low Christian belief.)

The Bible offers Christians a whole suite of promises about prayer. These are almost all unequivocal and absolute — at least, until we get to the later-written books of the Bible, when early Christians realized the truth that later Christians forgot.

To put the matter as kindly as I possibly can, none of these beliefs is objectively true. One might as well address one’s prayers to a milk jug or Joe Pesci, to use two famous examples. It doesn’t matter, because nobody divine is really listening.

The Central Mechanism of Prayers is Missing.

Long ago, Jesus directly ordered his followers never to pray bombastically in public. In his weird, fanatical cosmology, his god could and did hear prayers made in private — and even respected them more.

However, today’s evangelicals always pray bombastically in public despite this direct order, and they also always make sure the people they pray for know it’s being done. If they don’t make sure someone real hears their prayers, why even do it?

Why indeed…?

Naturally, Jesus (or at least, his ghostwriters) taught that prayer worked grandly. He died well before he could learn the disappointing truth about prayer. Besides, it seems clear to me that whatever real man might lurk beneath the Gospels’ mythmaking, that fellow was certain that the world was ending literally Any Moment Now™.

However, Christians today know a truth Jesus didn’t even know. They know it deep down, admitting it only in fleeting sidelong ways. Cold reality has taught them, just as it has taught generations of Christians since Jesus’ supposed lifetime.

There’s a hole in the central mechanism of prayers.

And that hole contains the truth: Nobody is listening to Christians’ prayers except real people (and animals).

Whatever happens after Christians pray, it happens because chance or effort makes it happen. Whatever effects their prayers might have, they are all perfectly natural in nature. 

The 3 Stages of Christian COVID Prayers.

To find our Facebook prayers, I used this quick search routine. Interestingly, you’ll notice a lot of copy-and-paste prayers. Apparently, the Christian god also no longer minds canned and mindlessly-repeated prayers.

Very quickly, we see three stages to the prayers written out and copy-pasted into Facebook:

  1. ‘Lord, protect us.’ Nobody’s sick yet, and they probably aren’t taking any real precautions against the virus. They feel a little invulnerable still.
  2. ‘Lord, heal us.’ Uh oh. Someone’s sick. The request for protection didn’t work. They’re probably really very sick, too, since unvaccinated people overwhelmingly get hit harder, more often, and longer by COVID, and there’s a goodly Venn-diagram overlap between COVID denialists and the kind of Christians who sincerely type out prayers on Facebook.
  3. ‘Lord, comfort us.’ No healing happened, either. But for sure, this time their god will come through with comfort for the mourning loved ones of whoever just died. At least with “comfort,” there’s no tangible end-game in sight — so it’s much easier to say it’s happened.

It is so beyond sad.

The goalposts just keep getting moved as this imaginary god just keeps not doing whatever his followers keep asking him to do.

Worse, Christians are trained not to notice themselves constantly moving these goalposts.

A God Who Needs Social Media Prayers.

This is heartbreaking stuff. I’m talking about posts like this Facebook prayer request, which I’m keeping anonymous:

Last night, I asked for prayer for this lady. She has been battling CoVid and yesterday her oxygen saturation worsened. We brought her to the ER at [redacted] and she was diagnosed with bilateral CoVid pneumonia. As you all know, this is a very serious diagnosis. [. . .]

At the end of the day though, we know that God is in control. I have loved his word since I was a child and it has always brought me Hope and comfort. James 5:16 says “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” That is why we ask you to pray for healing for this special lady. She means the world to us. Thank you.

I truly hope she does recover. But if she does, it will not be because of prayers shared through Facebook that roused a lazy, inept god to make himself useful at last. It’ll be because of advanced medicine and luck and her own ability to fight the virus off, same as for everyone in her condition.

Maybe the sheer commonality of the human situation is, in the end, The Big Problem Here for the Christians who share their prayers on social media.

Whatever the case, any recovery any Christian makes from COVID sure as hell won’t require any thanks made to a god so weak or so callous that he must have his followers scrabble to type out prayers to him on an aging social-media site that constantly faces serious privacy-violation and mass-misinformation campaign concerns.

Y’all, that is the least divine prayer transmission method I can possibly imagine.

Learning the Truth About Christian Prayers.

I learned the truth about prayers many years ago, after one of my first church’s pastors died of cancer. Today’s Christians are learning it through almost all of the same diseases we feared then, plus COVID.

It’s still the same discovery waiting to be made, though. I hope at least a few Christians do make it for themselves.

It’s not a fun realization to make, of course. I wouldn’t wish my deconversion night on my worst enemy. But it’s usually necessary, especially if one has spent a lifetime mistakenly thinking that a god breathlessly awaits all their calls.

Even if someone remains a Christian after realizing that prayer doesn’t do anything miraculous, at least they won’t come off as so stunningly unappreciative of this world and its amazing progress in so many spheres. And at least they won’t make their religion look so strikingly immoral to the rest of us through sheer thoughtless chirping about prayer.

As I’ve said many times: the truth about prayers — that nothing about them is supernatural — actually represents the best-case scenario for Christians. The way prayers, miracles, and divine outpourings operate in their cosmology now, the god involved would absolutely have to be incompetent or evil. 

NEXT UP: Our 1st-Century Friday series focuses — for the first time — on a woman! See you tomorrow!

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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,...