the power of prayer for cats (also doesn't work)
Reading Time: 7 minutes Something I saw on Twitter not long ago.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Happy Fourth of July! Today, I want to offer a funny palate cleanser for our holiday — something I noticed while researching the Unchurched series. In this little tidbit, you see, Lee Strobel accidentally illustrated the completely nonexistent power of prayer. I wonder if anybody in his audience even noticed? But I did, and now I’ll show you what he said.

the power of prayer for cats (also doesn't work)
Something I saw on Twitter not long ago.

In this post, I speak of asking-for-stuff prayers. Depending on what’s being asked for, Christians call these supplications, intercessions, and imprecations. There are lots of different kinds of prayers, but these in particular request an actual divine response. Just bear in mind that these aren’t the only kinds of prayers Christians claim to perform. 

A Brief Reminder About the Power of Prayer.

Out of all the claims Christians make about their religion and god, their marketing around the supposed power of prayer ranks right up there with the most erroneous.

The claim: A real live omnipotent god is standing by to hear every word you speak in prayer. In fact, the more Christians get together to ask together for something, the more he listens! At your request, this god reaches through the barrier between reality and Heaven to break the rules of physics and mathematics for you! Yes, just for YOU! Go ahead, be specific! He loves showing off for his children!

The reality: Um, you’re all literally just talking to the ceiling, LOL. Ask away — ain’t nobody listening but yourselves.

Christians receive training all their lives to prevent their noticing the dramatic difference between what they’re taught about prayer and what reality tells them about prayer.

In my own case, if my faith pool hadn’t all but emptied already over various other disappointments, chances are that this training would have kept me from becoming fully aware of that difference.

But it had, and so it didn’t, and now here we are.

Reality Always Wins Over the Power of Prayer.

That said, Christians adjust their expectations as their faith tempers in the forge of reality. For me, that tempering manifested as a distinct change to what I asked for in prayer. I wasn’t even aware that this change was happening until it was wrought. There I was, no longer asking for a cure to all cancers everywhere. Now, suddenly, I noticed I was asking for emotional strength to pass tests and help managing my emotions.

I couldn’t stop noticing.

Around then, I began noticing, as well, that my peers’ prayers ran along very similar lines. Oh, we had a few Biff-style Christians among us who got bombastic and demanded the conversions of the entire dormitory over the weekend, or for a particular world leader to spontaneously explode on camera or whatever. When they didn’t get what they’d demanded, they simply forgot that they’d ever demanded it.

But the rest of us couldn’t forget.

It felt stupid and silly to ask for stuff and not get it — even small, simple stuff. Our entire indoctrination told us that our god gave his children what they asked for, as long as the request fit into a vast number of asterisked terms and conditions. When our requests seemed like they fit completely into those T&Cs, but we didn’t get what we’d asked for, naturally that felt jarring.

And so yes, naturally we adjusted over time to take into account our experiences.

Begging the Flocks to Pretend the Marketing Is True.

But working around reality goes even further:

Christians who sense deep down that prayer doesn’t do much don’t waste a lot of time on such activity when other more lucrative activities could take up that time.

Indeed, Christian leaders must constantly implore the flocks to pray more often. The internet is filled with these requests and exhortations.

And 2000ish years after Christianity’s invention, 1700ish years after its firming-up by a committee, Christians still don’t pray much at all.

In 2017, a Christian site asked 1200 members how often they prayed. They sounded super duper impressed that 82% of their respondents claimed to pray twice a day (upon rising and sleeping), totaling “well over an hour” per week. Out of 112-ish waking hours to the week, these guys managed to eke out one hour cumulative per week to talk to a living god standing by to listen to them. And I’m sure part of that hour came from church attendance for many of them.

And that’s what they claimed. We know that Christians lie often, freely, egregiously, and constantly about their devotions. It’s almost impossible to nail down how often Christians actually pray, though hints abound in ex-Christians’ ex-timonies.

Whatever the answer is, it’s woefully inadequate considering the marketing involved. Yep. That’s  the power of prayer, right there.

Lee Strobel’s Goof.

With all this in mind, let’s turn our attention now to Lee Strobel’s hilarious goof.

The goof in question takes place in 2016, during a speech he gave to some Baptists in Texas at their annual meeting. (He lives there nowadays and works for the very ritzy Woodlands Church in Houston as a “teaching pastor.”) And he wrought one of his typically overblown emotionally-manipulative stories for his audience (source):

“What if tonight you’re alone in your room and Jesus physically appears to you. And what if he looks at you and says, ‘I am going to answer every single prayer that you prayed last week.’ If Jesus said that to you tonight, would there be anybody new in the kingdom of God tomorrow?”

Strobel challenged ministers to apply this principle by asking each member of their congregation to pray for one lost person for one minute at 1 p.m. every day.

Ah, there’s that “challenge” word again that I love so much. Remember what “challenge” means? — “Since you can’t be motivated to do this thing just cuz you should be doing it anyway, then do it as a sort of weird dare-ya to yourself!” He’s chiding the flocks because he knows they don’t pray often for heathens, of course, but he’s also daring them to start doing so — and in the most manipulative and hamfisted way possible.

But he must do it this way, because Christian leaders can’t force anybody to act like their marketing is true. And he must spin these disastrously-off-base images for them, because the real image wouldn’t do anything to persuade them of the power of prayer.

Unfortunately, these images would only have startled me as a Christian into realizing just how different reality looked from my indoctrination about it.

Spot the Differences.

Let’s look at that quote above to see just how different our universe looks from Christian claims.

  • Jesus doesn’t appear to anybody, physically or not. When I was little, I thought he did — but I was quickly disabused of this notion. In fact, he doesn’t engage in any tangible way with his followers.
  • This god already promised to answer every single prayer his followers pray. In fact, he promised that repeatedly and unequivocally. (Relink for Bible verses and sources.) It wasn’t for many decades if not centuries after his supposed life and death that Christians added all their asterisks — when it became obvious those promises never came true.
  • Christians already pray for their god to strong-arm heathens into believing in their claims. It already doesn’t work. Good job reminding them of that, King Lee. So no, I don’t think there would be “anybody new” in your tribe.
  • LOL yes, this god cares enormously about specific times like that. It’s not just Lee Strobel’s ego begging for some narcissistic supply.
  • One minute per day equals about .1% of a normal waking day. (1 min/960 total mins in a 16-hour day) Considering the stakes these guys think are involved, I don’t know whether to laugh or sigh over that display of above-and-beyond ministering to the supposedly-lost. I guess I’ll go with both.

Then Strobel told them all to Jesus harder and make utter pests of themselves, because they never know who’s overhearing their attempt to trample another person’s boundaries. (I’m sure the person in that anecdote absolutely exists and is still a Christian to this very day. Yup yup. Also, I have sparklers in my butt.)

The Power of Prayer, Redux.

Here’s the truth, the reality, of prayer.

If prayer did anything tangibly-miraculous at all, Christians wouldn’t need to exhort each other to do it.

Nobody would have any questions about the matter. The answers would speak for themselves. With millions upon millions of Christians praying for miracles — or at least divine intervention on some small scale — we’d see constant streams of those miracles attesting to the power of prayer.

And Christians definitely wouldn’t need to tell anybody at all that they were praying. Ever. Jesus’ command to pray in their closets would be much easier to follow, because the results of those prayers would tell everyone around them that yes, here was a true PRAYER WARRIOR FOR JESUS.

But reality doesn’t look anything like that.

If a Prayer Gets Uttered in a Closet and Nobody Hears It…

Christians know that they need to announce that they’re praying. They know perfectly well that nothing else will tip off their intended marks and victims to the fact that prayer is occurring. If Christians don’t mention that praying is happening, then nobody will ever know it is. And then the effort’s wasted! Gyahh, what’s even the point then?

Just before the quote I offered you above, Lee Strobel told a story from the Gospels about Jesus praying for the “lost” right up to the moment of his own death. He asked his audience,

“In light of that, how can we justify not praying consistently and fervently and expectantly for lost people in our lives?”

Maybe I can help him out with an answer.

Helping Lee Strobel Out.

Because no gods are listening to these prayers, Lee. They’re wasted time. Y’all are just talking to the ceiling and working yourselves up for a euphoric rush. These prayers will help you and your followers feel superior to your targets, but they don’t actually help with recruitment at all. They never did.

You know what actually works great to recruit people to your religion, Lee? Coercion. Fire. The Sword. Cultural dominance giving your tribe the power to viciously retaliate against any critics and dissenters.

And you don’t have those anymore, Lee. In fact, you’re unlikely to ever regain any of them. Freedom of religion might flicker, might falter, but ultimately it wins against the tyranny of zealots. We’ll never go back. Talk to the ceiling all you want. It won’t change your tribe’s new normal.

Progress and human rights are your real enemy, Lee, not your flocks’ inability to talk to the ceiling long enough every day or about the correct topics. But sure, tell them to do more of it and harder. It’ll keep them busy, at least.

HTH, Lee.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

NEXT UP: I’ll show you ‘the rest of the story’ regarding a favorite evangelical mascot from years past — and what inevitably happens when a fundagelical tries to legislate his warped view of morality. 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,...