How Should We React to Their Prayers?


Mar. 17, 2010

President Obama's 2011 budget calls for a big change of course for NASA. As one of my blog's readers, Ben, put it:

The new proposal has the potential to put a lot of people out of work, depending on how the budget is implemented. This would affect not just NASA employees but people working in the service and other industries around NASA if our NASA center [in Houston] down-sizes.

One local church has chosen to deal with this situation…by praying about it.

Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is collecting 500 prayer requests. (Because if they only get 499, God won't listen…?) Here's the kicker–Pastor Steve Oglesbee said this about the prayer requests (from an article in Ultimate Clear Lake):

"We wanted to do something to help the community."

Prayer was an obvious choice, and gathering specific prayer requests requires congregants to reach out in a practical way.

"We want to connect with what people's real and specific needs are," he said. "We want to know what people are really worried about."

Of course, the prayers aren't going to get any jobs back. And no one is listening to the prayers.

But it's a nice gesture, right?

Or does it just make you mad when you hear that this is the recourse people are taking? (Got a problem? Let's pray about it.)

If that didn't do it for you, what about this?

Christian blogger/author Jon Acuff organized a 24-hour prayer marathon this past weekend. He had a list of people who would be praying each hour. (Because if you only have three people praying between the hours of 4:00 am and 5:00 am, God just says, "Screw that," and goes to sleep?)

Again, their intentions are wonderful: they want to help people dealing with all sorts of tough situations. That's commendable.

But their solution is to pray.

I can't decide whether to just let it go because that's their coping mechanism.

Or to laugh.

Or to *facepalm*.

Or to tilt my head a bit to the side with a confused look on my face as if I'm looking at an exotic animal.

For what it's worth, I am aware of studies that show people do indeed get better if they know people are praying for them–but it works for the same reason that you get better if you know your loved ones are thinking about you. You feel cared for, and that changes you.

But the people doing the praying aren't thinking that. We know that. They think a god is going to act on their prayers. That's just silly.

Despite my thinking that this is all just an attempt to make those who are praying feel like they're actually making a difference (when they're not), I have no desire to make them stop doing it. I don't want to go on their websites and let them know that God isn't listening. If I met the people who are praying, I wouldn't waste my time telling them it's all useless. They sound like good people who (mistakenly) think they're helping.

Because of that, I can't find a catchall way to deal with their prayer attempts.


Hemant Mehta is the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Board of Directors. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry and also is an SSA representative to the Secular Coalition for America. Hemant received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the "eBay Atheist." Hemant's blog can be read at, and his book, I Sold My Soul on eBay, (WaterBrook Press) is now available on He currently works as a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.