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Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?
May 21st, 2013
04:45 PM ET

Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – God may not notice the thousands of prayers tweeted for victims of Oklahoma’s devastating tornado – but Ricky Gervais sure has. And he is not pleased.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 75,000 people have used the hashtag #PrayForOklahoma, including pop starlets, pastors and politicians, according to Topsy.com, a trend-monitoring site.

For example, the White House tweeted,

But the hashtag and the sentiments it promotes prompted a fierce backlash on social media, led by Gervais, a British comedian, and other prominent nonbelievers.

And while one Oklahoma City pastor says he appreciates the Twitter prayers, some religious scholars say devout petitions require more than moving your hands across a keyboard.

"A prayer is supposed to have a consequence for you," said Elizabeth Drescher, a lecturer at Santa Clara University in California. "It's not an act of magic."

Gervais, an ardent foe of organized religion, was more caustic.

After MTV tweeted that pop stars Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry are sending their prayers to Oklahoma, Gervais responded, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”

Gervais and other atheists also kick-started a counter-trend, using the hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.

“If all people are doing is praying, it is worthless,” Hemant Mehta, an Illinois math teacher who writes the blog “Friendly Atheist,” told CNN. “If they are praying and donating to the Red Cross, that’s more like it.”

Mehta is promoting a group called Foundation Beyond Belief that aims to provide a humanist response to crises like the Oklahoma tornado.

The prayer debate spilled into other social media sites as well, with commenters on CNN’s Facebook page sparring over God’s role in Monday’s destructive whirlwind.

According to Oklahoma officials, 24 people have died, many more are injured, and once-orderly streets look likes foretastes of the apocalypse.

In response to a woman who said she was praying for the victims, Facebook commenter Peter Tongue replied, “If prayer works, there wouldn’t be a disaster like this in the first place .... so please keep your religion to yourself.”

But believers had their say as well.

“God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”

The social-media sparring over prayer and God’s will reflect a culture in which traditional notions of religion - and the places where people talk about faith - are changing faster than a Twitter feed, said Drescher, the Santa Clara lecturer.

“We’re watching people re-articulate what it means to be spiritual and religious,” she said.

Just a few years ago, for example, no one knew what a hashtag was. Now the “#PrayFor...” meme appears after almost every national and international tragedy.

But what exactly does it mean? Is the tweeting multitude really folding its hands in prayer, or is it a fleeting expression of existential angst? Or maybe just a trendy thing to say?

“It seems to express hope and anxiety, and maybe even helplessness,” Drescher said.

“At the same time, it evokes this strong response from people who see it as a cop-out, a way of claiming some kind of spiritual space that doesn’t actually have any meaning to the people who are posting the meme or the community they are addressing.”

Traditionally, prayer has required something of the pray-er: an orientation toward reverence, a readiness to act, Drescher continued. “You are meant to do something - and that something may not be an easy thing.”

Slapping a hashtag at the end of a tweet doesn’t meet that standard, the scholar said.

The Rev. David Johnson of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City said the prayerful tweets mean something to him - even if he’s been too busy to read them.

Since Monday, St. Andrew’s has become a Red Cross command post and reunion site for families to find loved ones caught in the tornado’s path. The tragedy has also touched the congregation itself, with homes, and some lives, lost on Tuesday, Johnson said.

Told of the Twitter prayers, Johnson said, “that’s awesome.”

“People feel helpless - like God called them to do something but they don’t know what. That’s where prayer comes in.”

Johnson said his church appreciates the many material donations coming its way: the generator sent by a lady from Arkansas, the food and water sent from neighboring towns. But they also solicit, and are happy to receive, the many prayers recited - or tweeted - on their behalf, he said.

“We’ve seen quite a lot of trauma in the last day,” Johnson said. “Obviously, people are going to ask why God allows tornadoes to happen. That’s just part of this world. God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen, he promises to help us get through it. That’s what prayer helps us do.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • United States

soundoff (3,515 Responses)
  1. Internet page

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    September 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  2. vrpeqmdBX

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    August 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  3. dzerres

    Why does God hate Oklahoma so much? I live in Denver, a very liberal city but we don't have the forest fires that Colorado Springs does. Colorado Springs is a very, very, very religious enclave – its the home of Focus on the Family and at least 50 other faith based organizations. And still God is bringing his wrath down on those folks, while we liberals and non-believers in Denver and Boulder are sitting pretty.

    June 29, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  4. nwabundo

    Yes prayer without action is useless and action without prayer is equally useless. But prayer does come in the first place before prayer: if you don't pray how will you get the vibrancy and motivation for charitable acts!

    June 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • Doobs

      Are you kidding me? I don't need to pray in order to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. That's just being a decent human, no god required.

      June 19, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
  5. Robert

    But I thought that was what Christianity was all about-Talking the talk without having to walk the walk. Most Christians are just posers-judgmental, hateful posers.

    June 19, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  6. Daniel R Hernandez

    PsalAm 83.-13. YEHWEH CAME TO EARTH TRIMLBE EDGE BUILDING A STORM FROM HEAVENS TO SHOW PEOPLE HE DOES EXIST BURKE, GOD HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD TO PAY ALL WAGES OF SIN ,, PEOPLE LOST HOPE MANY YEARS AGO WHEN ALL THEY CARED ABOUT WAS CHRISTMAS GIFTS AND DINNER ALL THE MAN MADE HOLIDAYS DID WE FORGET THE ONLY FORGOTTON SON JESUS CHRIST YES WE DID HIS BIRTHDAY HIS RESURICION,," GO IN THE BIBLE AND READ PSALAM83-13/88-19 YOU WILL FIND THE TRUTH" HE IS SENDING ALL THE PEOPLE A MESSAGE TELLING THEM TO LEAVE THAT CITY LEAVE IT AT ITS CROPS HE DOES NOT WANT PEOPLE IN THE CITIES WHERE THERE IS ALWAYS TORNADOES WHY DO YOU CITY KEEP BUILDING BUISNESS AND HOMES IF YOU KNOW THE DISASTERS HE HAS GIVING ALOT OF HOPE TO DIFFRENT CITIES.... THAT MEANS THAT NORMAN MOORE AND ALL THE COUNTIES THAT WERE STRUCK BY LIGHTING AND WICKED STORMS YOU SHOULD BE AFFRAID AND RUN FAR AWAY . LEAVE THE CITY HE SAYS I WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING TO ITS CROPS,,,, wHY DO PEOPLE BLAME GOD WHY???? IF IT HAPPENED ONCE TWICE THREE TIMES PLEASE LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD AND MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE DONT BE LEFT BEHIND REMEMBER THIS IS HIS LAND HE CREATED IT AND WE BUILT IT AND TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ALL OBSTICLES IN LIFE AND BEGAN A GOVERNMENT THAT WAS NEVER HEARD OF MANY 1000"S YEARS AGO WHO SHOULD BE BLAME I THINK ITS OBVIOUS

    June 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Daniel R Hernandez

      Get a fucking clue. Your imaginary friend is nothing more than that, imaginary. And learn how to turn off the goddamned caps lock.

      June 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  7. N&W 1000

    WHO HEARS THESE PRAYERS??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    Well, if you are on the phone, apparently Obama and the NSA does; so, make sure you don't tell God anything that could offend Obama.

    June 16, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • sam stone

      way to make it political

      June 17, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  8. TheRationale

    Nobody out of earshot (if you even say them). Duh.

    June 13, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  9. light

    For Christians please read this:
    If you as a father or mother has to choose one of the below two choices, please tell me which one you will choose:
    1-all your kids are to die.
    Or
    2-You'll be beaten to death.
    Normally and logically all of you will choose the second one.
    Why that choice? Because dying for one time is better than dying every day.
    Those who lost their kids are dying every day to the rest of their life.
    Also Those who are sick with dangerous diseases are dying every day.
    Those who lost their wives or husbands or beloveds are dying every day.
    And too many others are suffering and dying every hour because of the pain of the soul not the body.
    Actually the suffering body is nothing comparing with the suffering soul.
    Actually That concept destroying your faith from the base……………how?
    We can ask for how many hours the Christ suffered? Two hours? three hours? ten hours?
    Actually If he was sick for many years, or if he lost his family or if he lost much of his beloveds and dears or if he passed all these things then we can say that he suffered for the human kind.
    But suffering by beaten for few hours for all the human kind for all the time a little child can not believe it.
    That is why you can find too much atheists in your sociaty because what they found in Christianity is against the logic and the brain.
    If the forgiveness is by beaten, then what a cheap price for forgiveness.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • moriyamug

      Assuming there's even a shred of truth to the whole crucifiction story (not that there's any rational reason for doing so), Jesus (for whose existence there is absolutely no historical evidence) basically had a spectacularly lousy weekend for your sins. Dead for three days, then went on to rule a celestial Disneyland. Some sacrifice.

      You don't seriously BELIEVE any of this nonsense, do you?

      June 15, 2013 at 1:21 am |
    • light

      @moriyamug

      the christ is there but he didnt die,and he will come again.

      but most of the bible is fake,this is not the real bible.

      because of that we find too much atheists in the christian socities.

      try to read about Islam and dont care about what they are saying in the media.

      June 16, 2013 at 6:11 am |
  10. Seek the Giver of life before you face the reality of death

    These catastrophic events are due to mankind's sins. We wanted to take everything into our own hands and be a self-ruled world. We did not want God's ways nor did we want to be ruled by Him. Now when mankind sees they are not in control and never will be, they want to play the blaming game. Point the finger at God when He allowed what the world has been begging for, for Him to stay out the lives of humans. Salvation is indeed offered through grace to all of mankind, but very few actually accept this free gift of love. God will not and cannot accept someone who with their freewill chooses to reject Him. He does not force anyone to love Him, nor will He grant eternal life to those who are in love with death. God is life and the Creator of it, the opposite of Him is death. God is a just God PERFECT in His judgments. YOU weep what YOU sow. www . theeternalwisdom . com visit this website if you truly desire to learn truth and who God is.

    June 9, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Robin

      "Salvation is indeed offered through grace to all of mankind, but very few actually accept this free gift of love."

      Everyone already knows the story of who your god is, but, as you've pointed out, fewer and fewer people find it believable. Thank goodness.

      June 10, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • sam stone

      Your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck

      June 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • sam stone

      "God will not and cannot accept someone who with their freewill chooses to reject Him."

      How can freewill exist in the same reality as an omniscient god?

      As far as you proxy threats go, go fvck yourself

      June 11, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • moriyamug

      Please cite your scriptural reference for believing in free will.

      June 15, 2013 at 1:13 am |
  11. mason

    Christians just can't seem to remember they were told NOT to pray in public, but to go into their closets

    June 9, 2013 at 1:13 am |
  12. Science

    The Nasty e word wins all the time .......too funny creationists !

    June 8, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • Science

      The Light...is...Science Wins God Loses | Facebook................from the little blue box.........think outside the box.

      https://www.facebook.com/ScienceWinsGodLoses

      "Creationists make it sound like a ‘theory’ is something you ... are all over it. ... that says I must submit to him or suffer agonizing punishment for all time?

      8,000,000 results Any time

      June 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  13. LIGHT

    The world now is ruling by the antichrist but no one wants to believe.

    Especially US is completely under the antichrist control because he is ruling the world thru it.

    CNN is one of his official channels which through he can control the brains and concepts of people.

    He planned for the 9/11 attacks and they said Muslims did it, and as usual people believe whatever they are saying.

    See now how he can play with your brains and eyes using numbers,letters and words to know what is going on and what CNN is:

    Take a look on the CNN logo and read it upside and down you will get............. MD.......it means (M)onth and (D)ay.

    Read it from left to right you will get.............. 911.

    Read it from right to left and be ready for the shoke as you will get...............WTC......... read the T upside down.

    Please tell those who are sleeping to awake before it is too late.

    June 8, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Hard Facts

      Most of the folks who comment here don't even bother to read the articles. Off Topic is de rigueur (like your post is).

      Watch out for Lex Luthor, as well as your "antichrist", bud.

      June 9, 2013 at 1:30 am |
  14. Chloe

    Christians should do something beyond just "praying" or not be calling themselves Christians

    June 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  15. faith

    9 Since considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous because the fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 “Men, I can see the voyage is going to end in disaster and great loss not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion was more convinced by the captain and the ship’s owner than by what Paul said. 12 Because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there. They hoped that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. 13 When a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they could carry out their purpose, so they weighed anchor and sailed close along the coast of Crete. 14 Not long after this, a hurricane-force wind called the northeaster blew down from the island. 15 When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we ran under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were able with difficulty to get the ship’s boat under control. 17 After the crew had hoisted it aboard, they used supports to undergird the ship. Fearing they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor, thus letting themselves be driven along. 18 The next day, because we were violently battered by the storm, they began throwing the cargo overboard, 19 and on the third day they threw the ship’s gear overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and a violent storm continued to batter us, we finally abandoned all hope of being saved. 21 Since many of them had no desire to eat, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss. 22 And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

    27 When the fourteenth night had come, while we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected they were approaching some land. 28 They took soundings and found the water was twenty fathoms deep; when they had sailed a little farther they took soundings again and found it was fifteen fathoms deep. 29 Because they were afraid that we would run aground on the rocky coast, they threw out four anchors from the stern and wished for day to appear. 30 Then when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and were lowering the ship’s boat into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it drift away. 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have been in suspense and have gone without food; you have eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for this is important for your survival. For not one of you will lose a hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, Paul took bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all, broke it, and began to eat. 36 So all of them were encouraged and took food themselves.

    bonehead, proof god sent them to hell. thanks babe

    June 7, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.