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. Knights Who Say...

    ARTHUR: O, Knights of Nee, we have brought you your shrubbery. May we
    go now?
    HEAD KNIGHT: It is a good shrubbery. I like the laurels particularly.
    But there is one small problem.
    ARTHUR: What is that?
    HEAD KNIGHT: We are now... no longer the Knights Who Say Nee.
    RANDOM: Nee!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Shh shh. We are now the Knights Who Say Ecky-ecky-ecky-
    RANDOM: Nee!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Therefore, we must give you a test.
    ARTHUR: What is this test, O Knights of– Knights Who 'Til Recently
    Said Nee?
    HEAD KNIGHT: Firstly, you must find... another shrubbery!
    [dramatic chord]
    ARTHUR: Not another shrubbery!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must place
    it here beside this shrubbery, only slightly higher so you get a
    two-level effect with a little path running down the middle.
    RANDOM: A path! A path! Nee!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must cut
    down the mightiest tree in the forest... with... a herring!
    [dramatic chord]
    ARTHUR: We shall do no such thing!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Oh, please!
    ARTHUR: Cut down a tree with a herring? It can't be done.
    KNIGHTS: Aaaaugh! Aaaugh!
    HEAD KNIGHT: Don't say that word.
    ARTHUR: What word?
    HEAD KNIGHT: I cannot tell, suffice to say is one of the words
    the Knights of Nee cannot hear.
    ARTHUR: How can we not say the word if you don't tell us what it is?
    KNIGHTS: Aaaaugh! Aaaugh!
    ARTHUR: What, `is'?
    HEAD KNIGHT: No, not `is' - we couldn't get vary far in life not
    saying `is'.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      We are all aware of how electing GW appeased the English.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth

      What is your QUEST?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • fintastic

      "what is your favorite color?"

      May 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. Bob

    "I'll pray for you" is just another way of saying, "I care enough to open my mouth but not enough to get off my @ss."

    May 22, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  3. The Second Amendment

    I prayed that your prayers won't be answers. #winner

    May 22, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  4. BA

    This article is pointless. Any praying believer is well-familiarized with the book of James – which basically says, "By your actions, your faith is revealed" - it even gives the specific example of how useless it is for someone to pray for someone else to have food/clothes, but then not actually act to provide it. So the Bible, one of the things being slandered on these forums, entirely supports the notion that prayer or faith without action is dead. #TheMoreYouKnow

    May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Christie Johnson

      Agreed 100%!!! Anyone who takes the time to actually STUDY the word of God knows that as believers we are called to serve...there are some who cannot do anything to help. I am one of those, but I offered up my office as a drop-off location for doanted items that a local charity is sending to Oklahoma victims. There are many things that can be done to help, even if you cannot afford ot give monetarily or materially. I have many friends, of many backgrounds and beliefs, and they know that if something is going on where someone needs help, they are going to get bombarded with my "nudges" to get off their duffs and do something.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  5. JOE

    It's called faith. If you have it fine, if you don't that's ok too. The only ones that know for sure are those that have died and they're not talking. I attend mass, I pray and ask for forgiveness, I ask for help for others. I'll find out when I die, while I'm here I will continue to do what I do and hope that it helps bring some measure of comfort to others in a time if difficulty.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth

      They ain't talking cause they are DEAD dude.

      Dead is dead, dead is forever and always.

      You live, then you die, them you rot, and finally you are forgotten.

      Deal with it.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Have pity on the spiritually impoverished, for you will be judged upon how you treat the poor.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  6. June

    When I pray, it is for God to help the victims by giving them faith, strength and knowledge on how to get through their adversities. I pray for others to help these victims whether it is by volunteering or giving money. God does have a plan and we cannot change it by praying.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Bob

      So, by your own admission, prayer is useless. I agree.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • PushingBack

      So agreed that prayer is useless. But my question to you then becomes...why does God need a plan?

      May 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  7. John P. Tarver

    Thank you Lord for sparing so many, the rest is just stuff. Prayer is the least you can do.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Bob

      You're right. Prayer is EXACTLY the least you can do, because it is exactly equal to doing nothing at all.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • PushingBack

      Wow, so God spared so many? And yet the rest randomly had to die? Sounds more like the classic interpretation of the Devil if you ask me.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  8. AJR

    "Destructive weather is God's wrath? There must be A LOT of gay sinners on the planet Jupiter"

    May 22, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • SDCinNS

      ??? How many lives have ever been lost on Jupiter? (Did the lobotomy hurt much?)

      May 22, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • the light

      Well that's proof enough for me there are aliens out there...they might just be gay aliens...

      May 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  9. BC

    I'm confused – didn't god cause the tornado? So why now pray to him???

    May 22, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Hof

      Read Revelations 16 and try again.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • SDCinNS

      Cause.. you might be next!

      May 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Monika

      All the sufferings and pain in this world is the result of sin. If there was no sin there would be no pain. The consequences of sin can affect anyone, it doesn't have to be the sinner – that's how the evil works. God doesn't create destruction, but he may allow it – not because he is some old grumpy guy, but because he respects our choices. As a result of sin all of us must die. And that is actually a blessing, as death means the end of suffering, and better life (if you choose God that is, if you do not, I already feel sorry for you)

      May 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Erica

      Monika, I feel sorry for you, since you are so stupid. And if you believe that life is so much better after death, well, then you know exactly what you should do immediately to make your life better (and save us from having to read more of your idiotic posts).

      May 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  10. Snowflakes

    This is still a free country, people are still allowed to pray publicly, those who don't like it should just observe their rights to ignore it. What's wrong with you people, do you honestly think the only rights we should have are the ones in agreement with you? If people want to pray, it's absolutely none of your business! Get over it, prayer will stay long after you are gone and by the way, prayers are answered by the living GOD!

    May 22, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth


      Pray in private, and keep your ridiculous Bronze Age nonsense out of our schools, our military, our government and our foreign policy.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Bob

      Yep. And if people want to call out you religious idiots on your nonsense, then that is part of a free country, too. So take your own advise, crawl back to your cave, and continue to pray to your non-existant sky fairy. The rest of us will actually be doing something.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Snowflakes, Yet when it comes to education, law, society, etc. you think the only rights we should have are the ones in agreement with your religion.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Eric

      You have the right to pray in public and thats fine but I dont have to ignore it. If you have the right to pray in public I have the right to ridicule your prayer, if you dont like it just ignore my ridicule. I respect your right to pray but I dont respect your prayer.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • PushingBack

      The same right that allows you to pray publicly allows us to criticize you for doing it.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  11. AJR

    "God loves you sooo much.....that he created hell just in case you don't love him back."

    May 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth

      God as stalker!

      Plus what's his issue with trailers?

      Jeebus seems to REALLY like busting up trailer parks.

      Strange sense of humor olde Jeebus has!

      May 22, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • June

      That is not true. God wants us to learn lessons so we can become better people. God does not put us in hell. We put ourselves in hell when we do not want to grow and learn. Even sinners go to Heaven.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      June, What evidence do you have to support your delusion?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • SDCinNS

      And if you're dumb enough to refuse.. don't you deserve it?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • AJR

      What if I'm already a good person (i.e., a contributing member of my community, live my life by the "golden rule," raise loving, caring children and don't do harm unto others....but I simply choose not to believe in "God." Does that mean I deserve hell? If so, why?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • AJR

      And June, your statement is ridiculous. You're like a company that really doesn't have anything to sell or offer...you just use a lot of "buzz words" and hope that bs carries you through the presentation.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • PushingBack

      June –

      "That is not true. God wants us to learn lessons so we can become better people. God does not put us in hell. We put ourselves in hell when we do not want to grow and learn. Even sinners go to Heaven."

      Why would a loving and good God create a place of eternal torment? WOuldn't just wiping us out of existence be punishment enough? Let's say you are the worst person alive. If you do evil for 70 years, are you due hellfire for all eternity?

      May 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  12. PushingBack

    This defies all logic!! So if "God" is all knowing and all powerful, then he knew this would happen and certainly could have stopped it. Just like any natural disaster. But he doesn't. So the conclusion to be drawn is that this is in his plan or "God's will" as some folks like to say. If it is his will, then praying is not going to stop it. Praying after the event is absurd because it already happened. Are you then praying to make the victims lives easier in some way? Because the irony there is that God apparently wanted them to have misery.

    On the other side of the coin is that God wanted to help but could not. In which case he is not all powerful.

    And people wonder why atheism is growing so rapidly??

    May 22, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • MACT

      To quote Epicurus:

      Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Brooklyn Boy

      You want logic? With religion? I don't see how they can co-exist. You can't argue about facts and logic with the religious. They are not interested in either. Whether it makes any sense or not – their NEED to believe is paramount. That's why it is useless to try and reason with them.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Hof

      So, being the expert, you can, of course, point to the passage in The Bible that describes "God as sugar daddy," right?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Just Me

      Right!!! Let's see, christianity in a NUTSHELL: (a) god sent his son to die a HORRIBLE death on the cross (2) as a FINAL sacrifice to atone/save us from our sin, (3) sin that entered the world when a woman talked a guy into eating an apple. RIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • SDCinNS

      You assume it should be God's will to always make you happy and comfortable. You're looking for a genie in a bottle – not God.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • PushingBack

      SDCinNS – I don't need "comfort." I'd just be happy if God could have created a universe (that he built specifically for humans) that was less hard on our fragile bodies. If he was omnipotent certainly he had a way of making a planet that doesn't smash, drown, burn or starve us!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  13. Kevin

    Ask Ricky if he believes in karma, and he'll probably wiggle out of answering it.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • Bob

      Why would he need to wiggle? He can simply say it doesn't exist, just like God.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • OUVan59

      Or he'll answer truthfully with a laugh and a resounding "No."

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  14. Chris H

    One very brave teacher said she prayed as she lay on a bunch of kids to keep them as safe as possible. Commenters on her statement have said that it's "proof that prayer works". I guess those people (including kids) who are dead and badly injured didn't pray enough, or prayed to the wrong god. Nice going, god...you're a saint.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • John Sharp

      That is the obvious truth behind this magical religion people believe in. They prayed and god saved them.

      So I guess your god hated those other people?

      What a stupid religion.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth


      I bet half those teachers were "laying on little kids" as a regular course of business!

      I wonder why we never hear about the ones who buried themselves in little meat sacks, so they might survive and sing their own praises?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • Just Me

      RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!! A doctor herded everyone in the medical center into the center of the building and covered them with mattresses. News quote: "She ... says it's difficult to take credit." " "It's Jesus that helped us and saved us, and I know that he was with us." Well, I just get so mad when people say this!!!!!! 9-yr olds trapped in a school basement DROWNED! In Bible-Belt-Buckle Oklahoma, most were likely from christian homes. So jesus saved the folks at the hospital, but chose NOT to do so for the little kids?????? Stupid people–give god/jesus the credit for good things but never the responsibility for bad things. (or blame the devil). I have come to the conclusion, after my child died, that god does not have ANYthing to do with good or bad things that happen, if there really IS a god.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • SDCinNS

      If I was a parent of one of those kids.. I'd certainly be glad she believed in prayer.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  15. WIlliam Demuth

    Apparently God does

    Why just the other day I was praying that they got nailed, and Voila!, they got nailed!

    Why I prayed New Orleaners got drowned like rats in a burlap sack, and next think I knew they were human sushi!

    I guess God prefers me to you, as well as me to them?

    Seems self evident.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Ajay

      And I prayed to God for the government to sit by and do nothing. God replied, "Stop wasting prayers!"

      May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  16. ShawnDH

    Well it's pretty obvious "God" isn't going to do squat to help Oklahoma recover...but the federal government will.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • MACT

      Not if the State's senators and Congressmen are honest people. They voted against aid for Sandy, so now they should be ethically consistent and refuse aid for the tornado.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  17. Cranston Lamont

    Ricky Gervais and twenty-five cents add up to about a quarter in US currency. I think that's about sixteen pence in the UK.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • mike

      How much money did you send?

      May 22, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • John Sharp

      Maybe so but it is nice to hear some people speak rationally instead of crying for help from their imaginary friend in the sky.

      God ain't coming except in your minds. The rational people down here will get to work and help out. I will let the crazy people go and dance around a fire chanting for rain.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      Cranston Lamont and a dollar add up to about a quarter in US currency. Go figure.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  18. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Just an observation... but if you build a town in the middle of an area called Tornado Alley... and said tornados have crushed said town on a few previous occasions... but yet, you still build and rebuild there after every calamity... maybe it's time you start believing in natural selection and you're the species being pruned...

    May 22, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • WIlliam Demuth

      Perhaps they should rename the town "Hey, Dipstick, do NOT build here!"

      May 22, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Darwin

      That's not natural selection.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • IsaacKoss

      Natural Selection refers to Animals and Humans selecting a mate based on "attractive" features. What you mean is Survival Of The Fittest. Selection is "Selecting" a mate.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • mike

      Wrong, Isaac.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      natural selection is defined as:
      The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • MACT

      Oh dear Isaac: if you are going to make statements like that, at least get your facts straight first.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • lowut

      It's funny how many people quote or argue against natural selection, survival of the fitness, evolution... and have no idea, at all, what they mean and their differences...

      Natural selection is when a biological trait that has an affect on how individuals within a population breed. It can be negative or positive. Best example: Giraffes... "god" didn't make them have long necks, the one with longer necks were able to reach higher trees and survive, gradually EVOLVING into having longer necks.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I was going to write an addendum correcting my wording, but after some minimal research, I have determined that I used the term 'natural selection' correctly, so I shall not...

      May 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  19. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    LET's Religiosity Law #2 – If you use words and phrases like: “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.” Then you are definitely mentally retarded.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • HeavenSent

      ET, any bells going off for you?

      Revelation 13:8  

      And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.


      May 22, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • HeavenSent

      My god is such a loving god....

      Genesis 4:8;

      Because God liked Abel's animal sacrifice more than Cain's vegetables, Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of religious jealousy.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • fintastic

      @Headstench....... Still believe in mythology? fairy tales?....... looks like it.... sorry for you..

      May 22, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @HS – "ET, any bells going off for you?" Sometimes my ears ring from a mortar that landed a little too close to me.... but no bells...

      May 22, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • ShawnDH

      @ Heaven Sent:

      Mindlessly cutting and pasting ancient Middle Eastern scribblings really means nothing. Try again.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • John Sharp

      Hilarious.... Printing quotes from a book written in 200AD.

      Sorry those quotes only work for those not capable of dealing with the world around them like an adult.

      I don't need an imaginary friend to believe in. I am smarter than that.

      May 22, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  20. Genesis

    I feel really bad for the people in Oklahoma they didn't deserve this. I hope they can recover soon and get better.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Who would "deserve" this?

      A community that has already experienced an EF5 tornado, then does nothing about providing adequate storm shelters for elementary school children is tempting fate.

      Lightning really does strike twice – and so can tornadoes. Arguably they literally did reap the whirlwind.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:30 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.