My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?
President Barack Obama praying at a White House Easter event in April.
May 3rd, 2012
09:51 AM ET

My Take: Dear God: How to pray on National Day of Prayer?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Dear Deity,

In the Milky Way, on planet Earth, in the United States of America, Thursday is our National Day of Prayer, so I am writing to ask You how to pray.

Seventy eight percent or so of U.S. citizens are Christians, so should we pray today to the Christian God? This seems to be the conviction of the folks at the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which pops up first if you Google “National Day of Prayer.” (By the way, do You Google, God? And if so do you ever Google "God"?)

The NDP Task Force refers to itself as “Judeo-Christian,” but it sure looks evangelical to me. It has been chaired since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder (and evangelical stalwart) James Dobson. Its site quotes liberally from the New Testament, and one of its goals is to “foster unity within the Christian Church.”

A NDP Task Force press release begins: “Americans to Unite and Pray on Thursday, May 3rd, for the 61st Annual Observance of the National Day of Prayer." But will their sort of prayer really unite our nation?

Twenty four percent of Americans are Catholics, and God knows they don’t pray the way evangelicals do. Nearly 2% are Mormons and another 2% are Jews. And neither of those groups talks to You with the easy familiarity of born-again Christians.

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And what about American Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists?  Muslims agree with their Jewish and Christian neighbors that there is one God. But how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?

As You obviously know, the 1.6% of Americans who call themselves atheists and the 2.4% who call themselves agnostics refer to today as the National Day of Reason. On their web site, they argue that our National Day of Prayer represents an unwanted and unconstitutional intrusion of religion into the workings of the U.S. government.

In his various proclamations of the National Day of Prayer, including this year's, President Obama has referred to prayer as an important part of U.S. history. He speaks of the Continental Congress and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. being driven to their knees by the force of the tasks set before them.

But when our national icons have prayed on our behalf, they have done so in generic terms. Washington addressed “the Almighty”; Jefferson called on “that Infinite Power.” They did so because they wanted prayer to unite us, not to divide us, and they knew from the start that different Americans call You by different names.

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But addressing “Providence” in vague pieties will not satisfy everyone either. The evangelicals at the NPD Task Force reject efforts to “homogenize” America’s many different ways of praying into one common prayer.

I see their point. Like language, religion is a specific sort of thing. If you are going to speak, you need to choose a language. If you are going to pray, you need to choose a religion (and a god). So if they want to pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, more power to them.

But what happens when that particular prayer language is put forth as our collective national language? What happens when we pray, as Rick Warren did at President Obama’s inaugural, “in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus”? Then prayer turns into a wedge, dividing those who call you Christ from those who call You Krishna (or do not call on You at all).

So I return to my original question: How should we pray on this National Day of Prayer?

But while I have Your attention (do I?) I have one more.

This year the NDP Task Force has chosen for its theme “One Nation Under God” and its Bible quote is: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 33:12). Is our god You? Since 1954 we have bragged in our Pledge of Allegiance that we are "one nation under God." Are we?

All too often, it seems to me, we use You rather than following You. Democrats ask You to shill for them on tax policy and immigration. Republicans claim to speak in Your name on abortion and gay marriage. Does this annoy You — playing the pawn in our political chess games? Don't You sometimes just want to smite us?

Finally, before I let you go, I must ask You about the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. Perhaps You have more important things on your plate, but while I have Your attention (do I?) I must ask: What portion of their income should millionaires pay to the U.S. government? When President Kennedy came into office the highest income tax rate was 91%. Was that too high? Today it is 35%. Is that too low? (Just curious.)

This prayer is already too long, so I should stop. But if You are still there (are You?) maybe you could just tell me whether You follow the Roman Catholic Church. If so, could you comment on the recent fight the Vatican has been picking with American nuns? Do you think our nuns should be spending more time fighting contraception and less time caring for the poor and the sick?

And do get back to me on that how to pray thing. We’re all supposed to do it on Thursday, together.



The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Politics • Prayer • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (4,673 Responses)
  1. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    They could cover all bets and call it the National Day of Whatever.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • just sayin

      Prayer is evidence of:
      Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, usually including false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations).

      May 3, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • as;ldkfj;aksl

      re·li·gion noun \ri-'li-j?n\
      A mass human psychosis that usually results in participants believing in incredibly silly crap and acting like total retards.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • as;ldkfj;aksl

      re·li·gion noun \ri-'li-j?n\
      A mass human psychosis that usually results in participants believing in incredibly silly crap and acting like total


      delusion |diˈlo͞oZHən|
      an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as

      reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.

      Where is your little magic man in the sky?
      If there really is a god, I hope he has a good excuse for being such an a**hole

      May 3, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Jesus

      It's the National Day of Acting Really Stupid by praying to an invisible and imaginary friend who lives in the sky.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  2. STEVE

    New American Standard Bible

    Folly and Wickedness of Men.
    For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

    Psalm 14:1The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
    There is no one who does good.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • momoya

      It's nice when you get to read books that say you're smart and people who don't think like you do are dumb.. I think I've got at least two books on my bookshelf that do that. Yay!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • The Wizard of Oz

      Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  3. Rob

    It's Sad to see so many lost.....

    May 3, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Skeptic

      I'm not one of those who spent 40 year wandering in the desert, lost....

      May 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Oceans Blue

      My thoughts exactly. It's very sad to know that few will be in heaven in His presence, but many will perish because they chose to reject Christ and everlasting life.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      And you are convinced that we are going to suffer forever, while you enjoy paradise with all of the other "good" people? Forever. ... Eternity. ... You do realize that is millions upon millions upon billions of years. ... As in, incomprehensible. ... So, you claiming to understand that has to come with a degree of skepticism. Let alone the idea that I should be punished for 50 million years, after only living for 90.

      The sad thing is that you sacrifice so much in the real world, to secure your place in a made up one.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  4. pab

    God. His name is Jesus. He's real. He's alive. He loves. He answers, not always the way I want, but always for my good.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Prove it.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      He proved it 2000 years ago on the cross. Now, let's see you try to falsify the historical accounts with something other than "ECREE"

      May 3, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Scott

      The proof? Your angry.......Pab is not.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • UncleM

      The bible is not a historical account. It is a much edited, translated, and censored book of myths.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • momoya

      What, do you have video of the cross/resurrection?!? You do know that any cop will tell you that witness testimony is extrememly UNRELIABLE even a few seconds after the event in question, right?? I mean, a few seconds later people disagree about what happened.. And by the way, when you write words on paper you can make them any way you want–even if it is a bad copy/paste from about 20 other religions with mystics who were born from virgin mothers and then died and came back to life..

      May 3, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • momoya


      Are you really claiming that a person's emotional state (which you assume, I thnk) has a bearing on whether or not their statement is accurate??

      May 3, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Patrick

      Historical evidence of Jesus Christ would instantly win the Nobel Prize.

      So don't be shy, step up!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • pab

      I can't change your mind, but He can change your heart, just as He did mine.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Zeke2112

      He didn't change your heart, Pab. Your own insecurities lead you to believe that belief in what you are told to believe could make a bigger impact on your life than your own actions. You gave up. I hope you can someday regain faith in yourself. The world is awesome. Embrace your place in it.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • pab

      I know my place, it is in Christ Jesus. He allows me to take food to the hungry, visit those in prison, and go to other countries with medical help. I believe in what I've experienced in Him. I pray some day you know Him like I do!

      May 3, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Patrick

      I hope someday you will see the great harm you are doing to yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • KC

      You athiests keep saying "prove it" in reponse to the posts of the believers. Yet there is not one of you that can prove scientifically that God does not exist. Its about believing...not knowing. So a lot of you "believe" that God does not exist...Im fine with that. But you dont have to be condesending to those that do believe at the same time.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • rhismom

      @KC – not condescending? So, when people tell me I'm lost, to get out of "their" country (the one that I happen to have been born in), tell me I'm going to hell (sometimes with a happy little smile about it too) – I'm supposed to just smile and nod like an idiot? Ummm – no...

      As far as your scientific proof goes – can you tell me, from the best available evidence, who is our closest common ancestor with chimps? Do you know? Do you know who Lucy is? Do you know that the earth is billions of years old? Why are there no dinosaurs in the bible?

      You want "proof" – see, the burden of proof lies on the one making the positive claim. If I told you there was a dragon in my garage you'd want proof right? Of course you would..... well, you people claim that there is this supernatural sky daddy that cares for me so deeply that he created heaven for me after I die – that is if I just believe he's there – with no evidence at all – because if I don't believe in him he created this special place for me where I'll be tortured for all eternity. Ummmm – that sounds more like an abusive spouse than a loving god.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • kris

      pab, it's great that you've done all of those wonderful things. Others, like myself, have done the same. The difference is that nobody told or "allowed" me to do it. I did it because I'm human. I don't need Jesus to be a decent human being. I simply am so because I choose it.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • itsme

      bless you pab, glad to see a brother/sister living in truth, the world hates us not because of us but because they hated Him 1st

      May 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Shawn

      Jesus dying on the cross is not proof of anything. It just means a man named Jesus died on a cross. A lot of people died that way in those times.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Zach

      Ralph Muncaster. Go look him up. A well educated atheist who set out to prove the bible was not historically accurate.

      May 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Jonsie

    Maybe we should ask why only 50% of Americans pay the tax. Does he want us 50% to work hard to provide for people who can't, don't want to work. I'm really curious, how much do you want us over to turn over to a government that then squanders it away. Please help me understand why I should get up every morning at 5:00 AM and work 9 to 10 hours to earn money so I can pay the government. Maybe God wants me to sit on the front porch and watch people going to work for me.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Come on now, we have to keep the taxes going in to enable the poor to have more children that can be indoctrinated into christianily.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Because maybe only 50% of people make enough money to pay federal taxes? If you are only making 16,000 per year, having to take out 20% or so is a big deal. You forget that those people are still paying state and local taxes.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Mark

      9 to 10 hours....God I wish I had it that good. Was up at 3 am and wont be home until 5pm again today, 7 days a week.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • cybercmdr

      A citation from politicus.com:
      The Tax Policy Center has tried to correct Fox News and the right wing media’s misuse of their research. In April 2010, Howard Glickman of the TPC wrote,

      Let me explain—repeat actually—what this means: About half of taxpayers paid no federal income tax last year. It does not mean they paid no tax at all. Many shelled out Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. In fact, only 14 percent of Americans didn’t pay either income or payroll taxes. Some paid property taxes and, it is fair to say, just about all of them paid sales taxes of one kind or another. So to say they pay no taxes is flat wrong.
      However, this class warfare-like rhetoric plays to a perception that the income tax is a chump tax: Only hard-working folks like us pay it. The welfare queens don’t. The super-rich don’t. It is a powerful emotional argument. It is also flat wrong.
      The actual number of Americans who don’t pay any taxes isn’t half, but 14%. This group of non-taxpayers of any kind is largely composed of the elderly and disabled. The people who don’t pay taxes do so because they can’t work.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Bob58

      "46.9% of people with Incomes of $250,000 – or more – pay ZERO Income Tax"

      Source ~ Conservative News Outlet Newsmax

      May 3, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • dizzylucy

      Your tax information is not correct. Cybercmdr spells it out quite nicely in their post. I wish people would stop incorrectly mentioning that 50% pay no tax thing, because it simply isn't true.

      May 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Andi

      Bob –
      Your 'source' says it all

      May 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • ormaybeitsjust

      I'll tell you why you should work those hours, because I need some abortion money! If I don't get a free abortion, I'll just get more food stamps (from YOU) to pay for my growing brood... but I won't even buy food with the food stamps, I'll by crack and before you know it I'll be in jail. Guess whose paying for that, YOU. While I'm living it up in the clink you'll be paying for my kids too, who will be in orphaniges and public schools. Yeah, what a waste for you personally, cause my kids aint going to even use that education. My kids will end up just like me, in jail, on your dime. HAHA. So that is why you need to work, to fund personally my abortions, so I can keep my partay lifestyle :).

      May 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  6. Scott

    That 4% is making a strong showing on this site........Why does the 4% care if someone prays? Your problem is not with the people that pray it is with the God they pray to.......take it up with Him.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      No, its the 78% of the US that makes policy here and it is irrational, unreasonable and delusional.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • *facepalm*

      When people pray instead of doing something it can affect us all. Think of parents who pray for their child to be cured in lieu of medical treatment. When that child dies, society suffers.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Bill the Cat


      Unreasonable to who? Why do you get to be the "voice of reason"? Who died and made your opinion the truth?

      May 3, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Scott

      facepalm-I would call them nuts then.......that is very rare. If you have never enjoyed the peace that comes from a loving relationship with God then you have only a one-sided arguement and opinion. I have seen both sides. Still we can agree to disagree.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Joan

      Scott, As an atheist, I do not care at all if you pray, to whom or what you pray, when you pray, etc. What I object to is assumptions that I also should pray (or that everyone prays), and official, government sponsored prayer.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • *facepalm*

      @Scott – but why are they nuts? They're really just doing what the bible says to – have faith and trust in god.

      And yes, it's an extreme example, but anyone who prays instead of doing does a disservice to at least themselves.

      fwiw – I used to be a believer, so my argument is not one-sided. I find that meditation is more fulfilling than praying in my experience.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Bob58

      Voice of "Reason" – We live a Democracy ... Majority Rules .... 78% TO 4% ..... Deal with it.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Scott

      Joan-I respect your right not to pray but how does it really affect you if people do pray? Why would that be so offensive. I'm sure you have a moral code you live your live by? I would imagine its not much different than the people that offend you by praying. If you are a good and decent person which I'm sure you are, you're mostly liking following the teachings of Jesus. Silly huh?

      May 3, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Scott

      Facepalm-My father in law two weeks ago had open heart surgery and is a Christian. The most impressive thing I saw was the entire medical team praying with my father in law before the surgery. Funny how the Doctors also asked for peace and guidence. Feel free to make further comments.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Voice of Reason


      We are going to take that 4% and slowly and steadily wipe out the evil perpetuated by religion and belief in god.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Patrick

      Because we do not believe he exists, it is not possible to "take it up with him" any more than you could take the fact the your are going to suffer for eternity up with Allah.

      Speaking for myself, I don't have issue with prayer. I just have issue with parents who teach their kids what to believe, instead of how to decide what to believe for themselves.

      I also have issue with bringing theological issues into the public forum. I guess I have always been with JC on this one: faith should be kept private and personal.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • *facepalm*


      studies have shown that patients who know that they are being prayed for statistically have a worse experience than people who do not. I'm sorry, the number don't lie. Prayer in that case has shown to be harmful.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • scott

      *FacePalm* Stats have also shown that you are in the minority with your belief.........LOL Furthermore, who actually keeps stats on whether someone has prayed before or has been prayed for during surgery-You?? You're reaching........in the wrong direction.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Erik

      Keep all religions out of government. Christans and mormons are bad enough. Imagine adding muslim and budist and all the other religions in our melting pot to the mix. Every day will have to be a holiday.

      May 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • D

      I can't speak for everyone, Scott, but most non-theists I know don't really care if you are religious or not. In fact, most fully support your right to live and think as you wish. The issue arises when such belief tries to be intertwined with politics, law, and regulation. At that point, the believers are trying to hold sway over nonbelievers. That is my issue with it. When someone tries to limit my rights and freedoms in the name of a religion I don't agree with, there is a problem.

      Furthermore, many evangelicals today (and catholic leaders are starting to follow suit) have a tendency to cherry-pick the bible to support their cause, and misrepresent history for their benefit to FURTHER the abuse of religion over nonreligious/other-religious. If people could simply live their lives and let others do the same, this would be a non-issue.

      I may be a minority, but that doesn't mean my rights are less important. Mob-rule is not a good thing. Fairness and equality are. Would you want politicians/government running your church? No? Well those who don't believe as you don't want the church running our government. Continue being a believer, continue praying, and appreciate with the fact that you are free to do so...then pass that freedom along to others of different/no faith when you are voting.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Reasonable response

      Sorry I am late to the conversation but for those are have a loving and open relationship with "god" fell that they nee to go to the forums and try to point out thier logical falicies to unbelievers and tell them they are going to hell. Also if you have an open and loving relationship with "god" why do 99% of us have some conflict with our own families and friends and human brothers and sisters. If you relationship with "god" is as great as it is why do you have to defend it? does not the text we unbelievers get shoved down our throats from you bible address this in that you are going to go somewhere already for believing. Do you have to fight and use "god" as your reason to be ignorant of science and others beliefs or absence there of. Can you show you love and the love you "god" has for you by showing some intelligence and uplifting the ideas of those who do not? But alass I digress you cannot and fell that as an unbeliever I should be more accepting of your views while I get reminded that my unbelief is because I have wickeness in my heart despite being a loving father and contribute to the community through community service.

      May 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • scott

      Reasonable-Please show up in any of my posts where I have "shoved God" on anyone. The important part is this-I ask that you show me the same respect for my beliefs that I showed an earlier poster. Read the posts above and tell me who is being more intolerate? Is it not clear with some the hateful posts that Christians and their values are under attack? As for families and home life-I have almost lost my family due to my wn sinful ways and I would be lying if I did not say I have my own personal struggles just like anyone else. Being a Christian is not easy in a world that is full of temptations around very corner and yes I fail often. Show me a person that is a Christian that thinks they are high and mighty and I will show you a liar. For me God is a source of personal strength and I have felt his love in many situations in my life. It is ok if you laugh at that -it does not bother me in the least. Best or God Bless you-whichever you accept.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      Scott – the percentage of people who lack a belief has absolutely nothing to do with the efficacy of prayer. And do you really think that no one has studied the impact of prayer? Really? No, I don't just make stats up. Here – see for yourself. Don't take my word for it: read for yourself – http://www.mjainmd.com/spirituality/STEP.pdf

      The study was well conducted, rigorously following all necessary protocols to ensure a lack of bias. One of the more interesting results is that people who knew they were being prayed for actually had more complications. Some hypothesis this as performance anxiety.

      So yes, prayer can hurt. Sorry if you find the numbers inconvenient.

      May 4, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  7. Rob

    This country was founded on Prayer! decisions were made that way, Back in the Day, God was a very important part of this country, Unfortunately there are more non-believers out there making sure their non-beliefs are seen in the WH and in Congress. That is why this Country is having the troubles we are in. Take God out of it and see if we can do it without him. Not gonna happen.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      So, I guess you wouldn't vote for an atheist president?

      May 3, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      It is so sad that you think God is running the show in the US. If that is the case, he is no God I want to worship. Bunch of lying crooks and they are supposed to be representing God?

      May 3, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Surely, you must be joking. There is one atheist in congress, and somehow he is responsible for America going down the crapper? HIlarious. Enjoy your kool-aid.

      Getting God out of government where he belongs – look up Jefferson if you doubt that – will start us on the path to healing our country.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • just sayin

      Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, usually including false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations). ....

      May 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Ricky

      This country made congress work during Christmas for 70 years before they started observing it as a holiday. We were founded with the idea of separating church and state. People now want to mix it and that is new, and dangerous for our country.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • ormaybeitsjust

      Except for the fact the founding fathers were mostly athiests that wrote up all that stuff about separation of church and state, and freedom of religion and being a secular nation... you are totally right.

      May 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  8. Voice of Reason

    Are any tax dollars being spent on this?

    May 3, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  9. wAKE UP

    Dobson and his dopey wife are vile individuals whose mindset is to suggest that all that do not bow to their way of thinking are worthless.
    If prayer is so valuable and important to them why do we need a day? Let everyone who believes in mumbling to themselves, mumble to themselves. God can hear you just fine. You dont need to impose your nonsense on everyone else, you phonies.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Rob

      quit crying about it. keep looking the other way, and see where it lands u in the hereafter, better wear loose clothing

      May 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      I'd rather listen to Dr. Dobson than Rachel Madow any day.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • momoya

      Rob, many atheists just don't respond to terroristic threats from a being that's never once been verified by a single fact as real.. I mean, I might comply with a terroristic threat if I knew the terrorist and the threat were valid, but if neither can be proved?!?!? Puh-lease!!

      Why would you even worship a being that gets off on torturing his enemies forever?? Yucky!! That's disgusting / disturbing!!!!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  10. maine liberal

    Christ taught us to pray in private:

    The author of the Gospel of Matthew contrasted public and private prayer. He recorded Jesus as saying:

    Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."

    The reference to go into thy closet has been translated in other versions of the Bible as "go into your inner room." "go away by yourself," "all alone," "your [most] private room," "enter into thy chamber," and "go into your room."

    Two of the largest Jewish religious movements in 1st century Judea were the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus is recorded as having repeatedly criticized both - often with rather hateful and vicious language. Much of Jesus' anger may have been motivated by their prayer methods which were very public.

    Matthew 6:6 literally. Jesus believed that prayers are to be an intensely personal event between a person and God; no one else should be present. Prayer to him was a private matter. Jesus condemns prayers in situations where other people are present. For example, in terms of today's culture, this would include:

    In religious settings like churches or synagogues,

    In a private or public school,

    In a legislature or municipal government meeting, or

    In the street or other public place.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Rob

      you got that from a Revised, rewritten "Book" not the KJV..... try again

      May 3, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      What do you think the KJV is? It's King James interpretation of the Bible.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Patrick

      No, he is pretty much spot on. Public displays of one's faith are discouraged in the NT. Even the King James' version.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • rhismom

      Rob – you do know why it's called the KJV right? Because it was REWRITTEN AND REVISED BY KING JAMES...seriously – do you think your paticular version of the bible was just dropped out of heaven, written in modern English?

      How's that kool aid taste?

      May 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • WickedInnocent

      @ Rob...Once again, please open a history text. KJV...lol. Do you know anything at all about King James? Do you know why he commissioned a version of the Bible? If not, I recommend finding out.

      Try going back the oldest known texts (you know, the one's in the Vatican library...the one's that were originally voted on at the Council of Nicea (and just a side note, there were no Biblical texts/Gospels written about Jesus during his lifetime. All of the New Testament texts were written at least a century after his execution), not the ones rewritten a thousand times over just to appease political upheaval.

      Study the history of the religion you so fervertly cling to. Knowledge is power, no matter what side of the debate you fall on.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  11. Jada

    Why is this even an issue? For those who pray it's a very personal thing and doesn't need to be discussed.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      This is being endorsed by our government, no place for the supernatural BS.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  12. Voice of Reason

    Can we have a National Do Not Pray Day or There Is No God Day?

    May 3, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • jdubz

      no but you can celebrate "do not cry over spilled milk day" which is on february 11th

      May 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • nathandf

      Haven't you been paying attention? EVERY OTHER DAY – besides today is 'Do Not Pray Day' and 'There Is No God Day'. Atheists and Agnostics and Congress all the way down to township government get 355 days of the year for observance of "No God or Religion Days" and that's not enough!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Voice of Reason


      One day of your gibberish gives me diarrhea.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      That's hilarious nathan. Please tell me how anybody else has taken away your right to believe in God or to pray. I would be very interested to know.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Patrick

      There is a move to create a national Day of Reason in response to the Day of Prayer.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • sortakinda

      Is it possible that the noise you hear in your head is NOT "the voice of reason" but possibly the sound of garbage can covers being smacked together by 1.6% of the population?

      May 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  13. JAy.

    Maybe, if Steve is so interested in the National Day of Prayer, he should just pray. If he is worried about offending someone, go in his closet and pray (as the Bible actually recommends). Spend less time worrying and mocking the NDP, and actually pray. Or if he doesn't think there is a God to listen, go out to the street corner and give the homeless guy a fiver (although Christians are for more likely to do so than atheists, just saying). Or sit on your butt quietly. Religion is personal, and even reading the Bible makes this obvious. Worry more about yourself and less about what words the person or group next to you uses.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • myweightinwords

      I have a pretty mixed bag of friends: Christian (and multiple flavors of Christian), Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan (and multiple flavors of Pagan), Agnostic, Atheist...as well as those still searching. In my personal experience my Pagan friends give the most to those in positions of need, often giving their last dollar to help another. The Atheists and Christians come in a close second, though admittedly I don't really know the Hindus and Buddhists well enough to really know their giving habits.

      The differences I see is that Pagans and Atheists tend to do their giving directly, while Christians and others seem to give to organizations. Of course, this is all anecdotal, but it is something I pay attention to.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  14. Voice of Reason

    Pray? Pray to what? Where is the what? Why is the what? What is the why? Why pray?

    This has to be one of the most ridiculous public displays of stupidity created by man.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Mark

      You choosing not to believe is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Hpw can you be surrounded by Gods love yet so stupid and blind and uneducated not to see it. I will pray for you, your a sad lost soul.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Voice of Reason


      Uh, no Mark. YOU are delusional and lost. I'm sane and live in reality.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Patrick

      Yeah. Comments like Mark's are what always concern me. Personal faith is one thing, but too often I see people who seem to have suffered indoctrination at a young age and are unable to break from it for their own health.

      It makes me sad.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  15. Juggling Squirrel-Jesus

    I'd recommend putting as much effort into praying as god apparently does into responding – nothing.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  16. bizziel

    oh almighty Jebuse, its me ( delusional person), please make everything in my life better. I will do nothing while I await your blessed answer....

    Lol it blows my mind that full grown adults who laugh at the possibilities of life on other planets believe in this out right stupid religious garbage. Science is based in fact. Facts are truth. The truth is no god exists and all religions are human delusions. Deal with it. No god who hears your unless prayers.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Guitarchitect

      Bizzel – let's see what some of the World's most endeared scientists have to say on the matter:

      "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use...Both the Holy Scriptures and Nature proceed from the Divine Word, the former as the saying of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the most observant executrix or God's orders."

      Johannes Kepler
      "Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God."
      "I believe only and alone in the service of Jesus Christ. In him is all refuge and solace."

      Isaac Newton
      "No sciences are better attested to than the science of the Bible." "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.... This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God."

      Michael Faraday
      "Speculations, man, I have none. I have certainties. I thank God that I don't rest my dying head upon speculations for 'I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day.'"

      Alexander Polyakov
      "We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because God created it."

      Blaise Pascal
      "There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart."
      "But by Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ, we prove God and teach doctrine and morals. Jesus Christ, then, is the true God of men."

      Stephen Hawking
      "In fact, if one considers the possible constants and laws that could have emerged, the odds against a universe that produced life like ours are immense."

      Straight from your source of truth. I'll leave you with this from the Truth of the Word:

      "Wisdom begins with respect for the LORD. Knowledge of the Holy One leads to understanding." ~Proverbs 9:10

      May 3, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Patrick

      Stephen Hawking:

      "We shouldn't be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There's not much personal about the laws of physics."

      Pascal's Wager: the philosophical notion that, given all possible outcomes, the wise man chooses to be Muslim.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  17. Dennis

    One pair of hands working to solve a problem, prototype an invention, or repair something does more good than millions of pairs of hands clasped in prayer.

    Get off your knees, get off your butts, and do some work to help someone instead of praying. America will be better for it.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Luis Rubet

      work is prayer ...thats what i feel when i work...no god required

      May 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  18. momoya

    How about we turn this around.. If nobody can PROVE god is talking to them or PROVE that anybody is listening to prayers–we give up on the idea?? I mean, we gave it the ole' college try for a 6-pack of millennia, right?

    May 3, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • James

      How about this: prove that nobody is hearing anything, that nobody is listening to these prayers. Men of science must always consider the opposite of their assumptions to have any kind of external validity, and that kind of analysis seems to escape a lot of people willing to denounce God as a phantom or an idea.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Juggling Squirrel-Jesus

      James – do you need to consider the possibility that there are unicorns, leprechauns, mermaids, and an.al proboing space aliens before dismissing such claims?


      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • *facepalm*

      "prove that nobody is hearing anything, that nobody is listening to these prayers. Men of science must always consider the opposite of their assumptions to have any kind of external validity, and that kind of analysis seems to escape a lot of people willing to denounce God as a phantom or an idea."

      Prayer has already been shown to have no statistical significant impact. So, even if someone is listening, no one's doing anything about it.

      Do you denouce krishna as a phantom or idea? Zeus? Ra? Based on your reasoning, you must consider all of these deities equally valid, along with many thousands of others.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • momoya


      I'm only suggesting that we treat all the gods according to their behavior so far.. Believers all over the world have different ideas about god's will and nature, and god never steps in to help clear up the matter.. God either doesn't exist or he's pretending to not exist.. Otherwise, he'd do something about the fact that we all agree on math and chemistry but we don't have the first clue about god..

      If your god wants to be treated as more than a phantom or idea then he should do something about that–like be as obvious as gravity–or at least algebra or molecules.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Patrick

      "Men of science must always consider the opposite of their assumptions to have any kind of external validity..."

      That is patently false. Assertions made with out evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Human

      Speak for yourself. I died for 7 minutes...I saw a sea of inexcapable despair and torment, and everyone telling me it's not too late, tell them, tell them all. No, it wasnt the large amounts of DMT my brain was releasing, for I know exactly how that feels. Im just going to say for all those that want proof, look for it.. It's better to know more about what you are arguing against anyway. I wont shove anything down your throats, but I promise you there is so much more to this reality than our 5 limited senses can intake.

      May 4, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  19. lunchbreaker

    Prayer troll in 5, 4, 3, ...

    May 3, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  20. William Demuth

    Here is a better idea

    Forget prayer.

    Educate yourself and make an effort to contribute.

    Pick up some trash, Train someone in a skill, Sweep in front of your house, Plant a tree, support a small buisness, feed someone who is hungry.

    The list of good things one can do is endless.

    Alas, prayer still remains a wate of time

    May 3, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      You make too much sense! Stop it!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • bestthumper

      How much to religions contribute compared to the 1.6% athiests and 2.4% agnostics? Religion is an individual experience that is sometimes shared but in unique to the individual. How and who you pray to is up to you. I find it odd that people want to bash religion when so much good comes out of it. Yes there are bad things like religious wars but as far as a moral compass it is far better than the survival of the fittest. Most of the wars based on religion were fought because someone threatend the religion. Who is right? Who knows. If the athiests are right oh well you die and nothing happens, if the christians are right, sucks to athiest or agnostic.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • hurray

      Ccouldn't have said it better

      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Zeke2112

      "How much to religions contribute compared to the 1.6% athiests and 2.4% agnostics?"

      The country's biggest philanthropist – one Bill Gates – is...wait for it...an atheist. Do you REALLY want to have this conversation?

      We donate a lot more as a percentage of income than the religious do, mostly because we're not funding lawsuits against priests or missionary work to convert people. We do it because we want to help people – not because we're trying to get into heaven.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • JC

      @bestthumper says "...if the christians are right, sucks to athiest or agnostic."

      You've just proven that fear is the primary reason why believers exist. Why not hedge your bets and "play the game" so that you won't burn in hell forever in the so-called "afterlife"?

      May 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Ray


      Even the liberal NYT disagrees with you there...

      May 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Zeke2112

      Gee, Ray – I don't see a single reference to atheists or nonbelievers in the OPINION you linked. Want to try again?

      May 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Ray


      etc., etc....

      May 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Troy Symons

      Its interesting I spent a good portion of my childhood serving this so called evil god by going to poverty stricken towns rebuilding and feeding the poor..... ask your self what did you do today.Arrogance is bliss and you will be condemned for it.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:15 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.