The meaning of prayer

I was talking to a friend today, who does not believe in god. She was making a remark that she did not like to eat with her Christian friends, because their saying grace made her feel awkward. She felt awkward because she would feel dishonest if she participated in their prayer.

There are two kinds of “active” non-believers, those who believe religion and issues of god are something are totally meaningless (could be atheists or agnostics), and those who vehemently opposed and offended by anything to do with religion (probably only atheists).

This feeling of “dishonesty” made no sense to me if you fit into one of the above two categories. If you are opposed and offended, you would find the prayer annoying. If you thought it was a bunch of meaningless ritual, then you are just reciting a bunch of nonsense, so there’s no reason to feel dishonest and not participate, as long as it was not offensive.

I’m not really sure if acting like this is offensive to Christians. I don’t mean going to church and acting like a believer; I’m talking about simple everyday things like saying a prayer before a meal. If you’re a Christian I’m interested in your opinion.

I like to think I am the former kind of non-believer, the one just sees it all as meaningless. The latter kind of non-believer, the one who finds religion offensive, are the kind that make the news. Consider the controversy over the removal of the phrase “under god” from the national anthem [of the USA]. My feeling is that it does not belong there: added not even a century ago, it is no way part of America’s history, and is a clear violation of the seperation of church and state. That said, I don’t really care to get it removed because of how much hassle it would be. Basically, I’m glad something is thinking and doing something about these things, but I’m glad I am not paying for it.

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Comments

Tieming's picture

I feel “dishonest”, yes, that’s true. But not for the “God” which I do not know whether he exists or not, but for the cuple who provide the food for me ;-).

I can tell them currently I do not believe in the God, and I can participate in this kind of gettogether.

However, what if after one or two years, I am still there, still reading Bible, still have the food, and, and still tell them I am “currently” not believing in God?

Samat's picture
However, what if after one or two years, I am still there, still reading Bible, still have the food, and, and still tell them I am “currently” not believing in God?

Do they invite you to enjoy food or to try to convert you?

I can think of two ways believers try to convert people: by living a good life, and being a good example; and by putting your head on a block and holding an axe to it. Saying that your friends are persecuting you for not believing is sort of a long shot but I hope they know that kind of strategy doesn’t work in secular, civilized countries.

influx's picture

I would just bow my head and quietly reflect. Seems to work good for everyone.

Alanna's picture

I am a Christian, and I think that nonbelievers have a very tainted view of us. The general idea of Christianity by nonbelievers is mostly obtained through the media (politics, films, tv) and bad experiences with those trying to convert by the “chopping block” method. However, the chopping block is against the very core of Christianity: the Bible. Christians are called to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. BUT DO THIS WITH GENTLENESS AND RESPECT” (1 Peter 3:15). If any of you has had such a negative experience, I most humbly apologize on behalf of all Christians, and even if it wasn’t intended as such it was a misrepresentation of the Gospel, and ineffective at that.

But that’s not the question, is it? I agree, Samat, that it does seem strange to feel dishonest about prayer if you don’t believe God is there listening, but I understand feeling dishonest toward those who are doing the praying. However, the sad fact is that there is a large population of people who “pray” and “go to church” who still don’t really believe in God. Christians are very used to being surrounded by nonbelievers, because at one point or another each of us was one as well. If it were me you were talking about eating with, I’d rather you be honest about not believing. A good Christian wouldn’t take your plate away because of that; if anything they should be grateful for your honesty, and use that opportunity to share their beliefs with you (ideally in a “gentle and respectful” way). But their “converting” you shouldn’t be the main focus of their inviting you over to dinner, they should be inviting you over to build a genuine friendship. Even if the ultimate goal is for conversion, it ain’t gonna happen if you’re not genuinely friends first because you can see right through that.

The “meaning of prayer” however is not just to give thanks before meals. That is only a miniscule part of prayer, although it is still important. Prayer is spending time with God. It’s humbling yourself before the one who created everything and has the ability to do anything. It is giving thanks for the things he has given (which we certainly did nothing to deserve), it is reflecting on the ways he has been working in every moment of our lives, it is presenting requests for continued work in our lives, and so much more.

I could go on and on in an attempt to give an accurate picture of what to be Christian is, but I probably shouldn’t right here and right now. For one there isn’t enough space, and for another I’m sure everyone would get bored and stop reading. If you have any questions, however, please e-mail me and I’ll try my best to answer them as accurately and humbly as possible (address removed).

Samat's picture
I am a Christian, and I think that nonbelievers have a very tainted view of us. The general idea of Christianity by nonbelievers is mostly obtained through the media (politics, films, tv) and bad experiences with those trying to convert by the “chopping block” method. However, the chopping block is against the very core of Christianity: the Bible.

My notion of Christianity was that its core was Christ, not the Bible. And maybe that is the problem. Fitting it all into what I said earlier about example vs perseuction, Christ would be the ultimate example to model after, and the Bible is the cannon of persecution and death.

The Bible can be a pretty nasty book, last I read it. You can use metaphor and say god wrote it, but he didn’t: people did, people who were “inspired” by god. Other people “inspired” by god include those who fought in the crusades, murderers of Protestants, and people who fly airplanes into skyscrapers.

Putting faith in the Bible has nothing to do in god. You’re not believing in god, you’re believing in the testimony that the people who wrote it were actually “inspired” by god. The New Testament, all we know of Jesus, was selectively created by the Catholic church, whose past of blood, conspiracy, and hypocrisy can be found in any history book. Why are we believing them?

P.S. I removed your e-mail address from your posting. If you want people to contact you, please enter the URL for your website.

SG's picture

When I read this entry I was wondering why people who do not believe in God are still worried about how their lack of faith might appear to believers. Would we similarly worry about how we treat a child’s faith in the tooth fairy? Why is believing in God any different than believing in the tooth fairy? Why do people who have no qualms in eating free pizza at ACM suddenly worry about the free food they consume at these religious meetings?

It is sad fact of life that religion is so ingrained all around us that we never even question why religious beliefs are considered sacrosanct. Religion has always been the worst nightmare for mankind. From holding back science in the dark ages to the great cruelties that the Christian missionaries inflicted on indigenous population nothing has causes mankind more harm than this delusional belief that there some God who has created this life and there is a heaven or hell to go to when this life is over. Qualitatively there is no difference between the perpetrators of 9/11 and people who bomb abortion clinics. This belief in God allows man to commit intolerable cruelties to his fellow men as long as they have been sanctioned by God. People are already on the slippery slope to dogma once they accept as fact something which has no evidence. Once this first step is done it is not long before you can be convinced to kill in the name of God.

For agnostics who want to sit on the sidelines of this debate I cannot but point to this poem by of all people a Priest

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.

If you believe that someone else should take up the cudgels and fight the religious right while you safely pursue your selfish interests thinks again. What would happen if everyone thought like you? This country is already perilously close to becoming a theological state. We are surrounded on all sides by these evangelical Christians, who believe in unabashed proselytizing. If we do not take some steps soon we would no longer have the luxury of disbelief.

Samat's picture
It is sad fact of life that religion is so ingrained all around us that we never even question why religious beliefs are considered sacrosanct. Religion has always been the worst nightmare for mankind. From holding back science in the dark ages to the great cruelties that the Christian missionaries inflicted on indigenous population nothing has causes mankind more harm than this delusional belief that there some God who has created this life and there is a heaven or hell to go to when this life is over. Qualitatively there is no difference between the perpetrators of 9/11 and people who bomb abortion clinics. This belief in God allows man to commit intolerable cruelties to his fellow men as long as they have been sanctioned by God. People are already on the slippery slope to dogma once they accept as fact something which has no evidence. Once this first step is done it is not long before you can be convinced to kill in the name of God.

I pretty much agree. In the context of history, the number one killer in the animal world is disease. In the world of man, the number one killer is differences in faith.

Kristen's picture

I agree that it’s odd to feel “dishonest” to sit quietly through a prayer if you’re not Christian. My feelings about prayer vary from day to day, as do my feelings about religion. Still, all humans need to eat, regardless of their religious orientation. If a family observes a moment to say grace, let them. My understanding is that one person’s spoken prayer covers everyone in the room, so unless you’re volunteered to say the prayer, you’re good to go. If it’s a silent moment of thanks, just reflect on how nice it is to have food to eat and friends to eat it with. No big whoop.

Alanna's picture

As a rule, Christians do not in the least reflect Christianity. We are a group of self-professed sinners who (should) try our best to defeat our sin. Jesus Christ is the model we strive to emulate, but our sin keeps us from achieving that; only his death on the cross makes it possible for us to have hope of salvation, as God sent him as a human sacrifice, flawless in every way, to take our place in death that we might be saved.

So yes, Samat, Christ is the center of Christianity, but the Bible is the only way we can know about him and understand what he did. The Bible is not in the least a nasty book, it’s a book entirely about how we as humans have utterly failed God and yet he still loves us so much that he sent his son to die in our place; it is a book about love that we don’t deserve.

Christians very often do un-Christian things in the name of religion. It’s our attempt to do what is “right”, but it all too often goes to the extreme and ends up doing the exact opposite of what we were intending to do. That’s the fault of the Christians (sinful people), not Christianity, and is the result of us letting our sinful nature and self-centeredness take over. People doing things in the “name of Christianity” should never be mistaken for Christianity itself, as there’s no way any person can sufficiently reflect Christianity, we can only try (and fail miserably).