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

Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(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. Jenna

    I think that the tornado was completely devastating and that everybody should do something to try and help out. Just like with all of the other disasters, we should all try to help.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • GOD

      Do what Gervais is doing. Send money – don't waste your time and effort praying to me; I don't listen.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  2. Madison

    This is very depressing. Living in New York we don't really experience something like this, so prayers out to Oklahoma

    May 22, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Do something useful instead of thinking you are by praying to something that doesn't exist...they need money to rebuild-donate to the Red Cross.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  3. Roisin

    My prayers go out to the victims of the Oklhoma tornado. You are strong and will make it through this tough time. Everyone is praying for you guys!

    May 22, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Nope, not everyone. Some are actually doing useful things like donating money.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • GOD

      Why are you praying to me? I've sent my tornadoes to kill before. I'll send them again. Try praying beforehand. Better yet, don't live where I send tornadoes. Oh, by the way, all that carbon dioxide you're sending into my atmosphere? Thanks! It really keeps the heat in – it makes my job of extreme weather that much easier!

      May 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  4. kevin

    My mom wants my brother to bring a lot of money for Oklahoma

    May 22, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  5. ben

    Prayers for olklahoma stay strong we will help

    May 22, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  6. MJ

    I'm giving and praying for OK. I give what I can...I pray because I can't give much.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Sincerity goes a long way. E pili mau na pomaika'i me 'oe

      May 22, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  7. theinnerhaven

    Shame on you CNN! I am in Oklahoma – I am living this first hand. This article is disrespectful to both God and the victims of this tornado. How dare you suggested it was God's will that young children die and that he is not paying attention to the suffering that is taking place but a human comedian is. Shame shame shame on CNN. Horrible and offensive article.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      You cry shame and offense! But, I think you know in your heart that your god hates you and dislikes Oklahoma and is constantly trying to sweep it clear... but you ignore him and continue to live there.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Haven, God Bless you and all in OK.

      Ecclesiastes 12

      1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

      2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

      3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

      4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

      5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

      6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

      7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

      8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all [is] vanity.

      9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, [and] set in order many proverbs.

      10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and [that which was] written [was] upright, [even] words of truth.

      11 The words of the wise [are] as goads, and as nails fastened [by] the masters of assemblies, [which] are given from one shepherd.

      12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books [there is] no end; and much study [is] a weariness of the flesh.

      13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.

      14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether [it be] good, or whether [it be] evil.

      2 Thessalonians 2:13

      But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:


      May 22, 2013 at 10:11 am |
      • theinnerhaven

        Thank you for the kind words...

        May 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      While our best wishes for a recovery from this act of nature are with you, how is it disrespectful to an imaginary being? Are prayers going to rebuild those lost homes and why the hell didn't your imaginary friend care about those 9 innocent children?

      May 22, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • HeavenSent

      2 Peter 1:4

      Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.


      May 22, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • GOD

      Hey, Innerhaven: of COURSE it was me! I control everything: I know everything. That was my tornado – plain and simple. That's what I do – I kill people. Earthquakes? Volcanoes? Tsunamis? That's me – GOD! Read my book – the Bible – if you don't believe me. I'm just a big ol' killing machine!

      May 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  8. theinnerhaven

    Really CNN? Shame on you for posting this article. How disrespectful to both God and the victims to present an article suggesting God does not listen or care but a comedian is/does. Horrible article....

    May 22, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Thanks for your asinine opinion. Too bad others disagree with you, huh?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • kp

      neither dies he care for your prayer as well, by the looks of things... if prayer works, this wouldn't have happened in the first place. maybe instead of praying to some imaginary being, you should get up off your ass and go give some actual help?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • not my chair

      this article discusses different view points on prayer. shame on you for getting offended by free speech.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  9. Smarter than yanks

    What is clear is that the USA does not have the smartes population I the northern hemisphere. I'm predicting my insult will go unnoticed due to the fact that most yanks have no idea what "hemisphere" means.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Knights Who Say...

      But our teeth look nicer than yours...

      May 22, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Little Rabbit

      Your country is now 70 percent Muslim. Congrats on trading jesus for mohammad. Gee you are so smart.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      We're smart enough to know that it's incredibly stupid to claim that you know what most"yanks"think(or know).

      May 22, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • not my chair

      did you mean smartest population in the northern hemisphere?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • fintastic

      ...."smartes population I the northern hemisphere"

      You might want to check your incomplete spelling before you make a post about "smarter"

      May 22, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  10. Thoth

    Every time there's a tragedy it always comes to this nonsense. Gervais makes an excellent point. It's easy to say 'oh my thoughts and prayers are with the families'....yet what real good does that do? There is plenty of evidence that 'prayer' does not 'work'. So either your god is ignoring you, tormenting you, to weak to help, or doesn't exist. What was truly entertaining was CNN's Wolf Blitzer asking a woman if she thanked the 'lord'.....her response "I'm an atheist actually"..... good for her!

    May 22, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Little Rabbit

      WHY does CNN allow these hateful, bigoted, extremist athiests to preach such intolerance and hatred here?? I am a Democrat AND a Christian and I am tired of their excuses for expressing such hatred, for attacking the personal beliefs of others, and whining on and on about how clever and smart they are for it. Enough is enough! It should not be tolerated. Fundamental Athiest Extremists are preaching hatred – yes, they are preaching, evangelizing, and proselytizing right here on CNN comments. T
      his is NOT OKAY. Oh, and btw, this is a fallen world and evil exists here – DUH. Ricky Gervais is attempting to use this tragedy to promote atheism, how truly disgusting. And as for the UK – you traded Jesus for mohammad. Most athiests converts do not stay that way – we are wired to believe in God. So you are now 70 percent Muslim. Congrats.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Really? I watch a lot of CNN but I missed that particular gem. Not surprising it didn't get much replay time. Don't want to further upset all those sensitive persecuted Christians. After all they're busy praising their God for sparing all but 24 in the path of that tornado. He could have saved them all of course but ...yada yada ...mysterious ways and all that...

      May 22, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Thoth

      @Little Rabbit – Wow...rage much? So I take it you are for limiting speech when it is not in line with your ideology.

      "most atheists do not stay this way" – Really? Based on what? Your limited view? Because non-belief has been rising significantly.

      Gervais donated funds....how 'bout you? His point is accurate. 'praying does nothing'.

      I'm not spewing hate; simply making points. Sorry if you can't recognize reality. Hate would be me coming on here and simply calling people names and requesting that CNN not allow them to post because I disagree with them.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Thoth

      @Atheist Steve – Youtube baby...gotta love Youtube!

      May 22, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Little Rabbit

      So let me get this straight. It's perfectly OK to rant and rave about your religious views, praying to and praising your God in times of turmoil, but others who feel and think differently should just shut the fuck up? Way to promote freedom of speech you ignorant troll.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Thanks Thoth...I should have figured somebody would post that on YouTube.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • sam stone

      LittleRabbit: When the Christians stop trying to legislate their beliefs, let me know

      Otherwise, fvck off

      May 22, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  11. Honey Badger Don't Care!

    Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

    May 22, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  12. Cpt. Obvious

    Big, invisible sky wizard who made all things with your magic spellz, please control the weather on one planet out of trillions and trillions in such a precise and specific way that tiny specks of dust known as "people" are not harmed in any way. But don't worry about all the viruses and bacteria that you created with magic spellz; we all know that those are part of your grand master plan. So, to recap, a bit more attention to moisture and temperature, and great job with aids and cancer."

    May 22, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • GOD

      No problemo, man! It's what I do best!

      Did you see how I left out the "wash your hands after taking a crap" bit in my Bible? Not one to blow my own horn, but I thought that was a pretty good one! I've killed millions with that!

      May 22, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Hey,"Capt.Obvious",put down that crack pipe;you're losing it,dude!

      May 22, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  13. Simple prayer for all

    Dear God,

    Please do not kill any more people.


    May 22, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • GOD

      Stop killing people??? Are you NUTS??? That's what I do. Clearly you haven't read my book: the Bible? I'm the greatest m-ass-murdered ever!

      May 22, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  14. laststonecarver

    – Perception of the Environment –

    It is sad that folks have passed, due to a natural disaster, but –
    Peceive that environment – it is a Giant Tornado Alley –
    Don't build there – or build something that can sustain an F5 –
    A god had nothing to do with it –
    Those who do not learn from history, will be forced to repeat it –

    May 22, 2013 at 6:57 am |
  15. ronvan

    This article does have some merit! The vast majority, I think, of us, still retain some compassion & sorrow for those involved in these tragedies? During an interview with the mayor or Gov., forget which, the question was asked as to why the schools did not have some kind of underground protection? The answer was MONEY!! While I understand this, WHY, after this town has been hit 3 times now by tornados, did the "leaders" , NOT realize that after the 1st and 2nd ones, something "extra" needed to be done? WHAT are they going to do now? IF they just rebuild the same way then money is not the answer! HOWEVER, if people donate monies, and they get to the right place, then maybe, just maybe, at least our children could be protected!

    May 22, 2013 at 6:56 am |
  16. saggyroy

    Ricky is my co-pilot.

    May 22, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • GOD

      Yeah, Gervais was one of my better efforts – funny, smart. Want to know a secret? Just to mess with him, I also gave him a great big schlong! But then I made him impotent! Ha!

      Gee – no wonder he's all anti-religious.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  17. Bostontola

    "“Everything (God) does is to get our attention."

    24 killed, 9 children. Nice god you have there.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:08 am |
    • not my chair

      its like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. not going to pay attention to me!? fine i am going to cause a ruckus.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  18. Mike

    So what? Even Non-Christians pray. There are a great many Pagans that also pray for the victims. I may have to ask some of my fellow witches if they've done their share on the matter. While I find Government sponsorship of Christianity reprehensible when it happens, there IS a difference between a State message and a Personal message from someone who happens to be a head of state.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:44 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      You can waste your time praying while the rest do something that actually is beneficial. Prayer has never been proven to do anything more than appease the lazy person's mind. If you truly want to make a difference, text a donation to the RED CROSS...they need the money to rebuild more than they need your useless prayers.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:19 am |
  19. tornado in the womb

    There's about 200 times as many die each day, just as violently and painful in the USA. If you go worldwide, it's about one dies every second from the internal tornados... just as deadly. And their parents don't care about them, or ask people to send money to help, or pray for them, or talk on twitter to rally support. No comedians care either, no tears as they're thrown away at the dump.

    How can you care about someone you can't see being ripped to shreds?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:48 am |
    • tornado in the womb

      It's a legal tornado, hits them just as hard, unending until it's over. It's in the law so it's OK, because nobody cares when they can't see them.

      You didn't see the kids in OK either, you want to help them, but you don't want to help the more helpless that never got to attend grade school.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:01 am |
    • tornado in the womb

      The one in the womb is about an EF29 (End Fetus 29), much more powerful.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:35 am |
    • The real Tom

      You're clueless.

      Read some statistics. Learn something.

      Fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until very late in pregnancy. The vast majority of abortions occur long before that. And not a single one of them are any of your business.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      T.I.T.W: You are an idiot!
      Just because you have no comprehension skills of what happened doesn't mean you get to bring your ignorance of abortion in to the situation.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:17 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Really? The abortion issue? Again?
      A fertilized egg is only as important as the parents who created it decide. Anything else is a travesty.
      Face it. You lose....it's already been decided and much like the growth of gay marriage the law is not on your side. History will record how your backward views were eradicated.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • HeavenSent

      James 1:15

      Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

      James 4:2

      Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

      2 Peter 1:4

      Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

      2 Peter 2:10

      But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous [are they], selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

      1 John 2:16

      For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.


      May 22, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  20. GodFreeNow

    Prayer is what people do, when they don't feel like doing anything real, but still want to feel like they did.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:33 am |
    • lol??

      The Master of prayer:

      "Luk 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

      May 22, 2013 at 1:55 am |
    • Master Po

      Yes! They will gladly talk to their invisible superbuddydaddy if they aren't trying to chew at the same time, or walk.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:01 am |
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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.