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

Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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. Ashlee

    DO ANY OF YOU LIVE HERE? NO? THEN SHUT UP. Whether you are an atheist or believer, just shut up. I live in Oklahoma, this happened to my people, this happened to my home. The last thing we want is for a bunch of IDIOTS causing more harm than good with this baloney. Stop policing what others do whether they pray or not. Are you lifting a finger to help whether that be prayers or otherwise? Are you just sitting on your ass with the rest of the prayer mongers policing twitter? Atheists, believers and those in between- YOU'RE ALL HYPOCRITES.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • E

      lol. I grew up in Moore and that's exactly what those bible thumpers need to here. We Okies need to actually get up and DO SOMETHING, not wait for the divine powerful god to fix everything and pay all our bills and pretend like drowning children is a blessing. Maybe if we spent more time on education and other related things our people would make enough money to build proper shelters. Instead we're having kids at age 15 and hair school is most girls' biggest accomplishment.

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

      its spelled 'bologna'

      May 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • jason

      I am not donating even a penny towards Ok's because you guys opposed any aid given to the sandy victims which was a real hurricane.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • mykroft

      Ashlee, the point being made was that prayer works to make the pray-er (or twit on Twitter) feel better, but does nothing for the victims. Actually doing something (sending money to involved charities, putting in time to search for survivors, etc.) does make a difference. Religion in this country has become more an act of showmanship (to get elected, public approval, cash flow for blogs), rather than any act of real piety.

      To quote Jesus: "And when you pray, you shall 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."

      We have become a nation of the hypocrites Jesus warned against; the hashtag is just one example of this.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  2. 303

    The implicaiton of "God is still in control!” is that god wanted those kids dead. If you're happy worshipping a being who kills children, more power to ya.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  3. Jason

    Personally I do believe prayer changes things, I have witnessed it. Why great tragedies like these take place I can't say.
    I do agree that "I will pray for you" has become an empty gesture, even the Bible tells us that "faith without works is dead[religion]." To those with faith in God, pray and serve through tangible means. Those without belief in God, serve to the best of your ability. It is the people suffering that should be our primary focus not a front for disagreements in the midst of it all.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • SDFrankie

      Your proposition is that the same God who didn't prevent the tornado in the first place is now going to help the suffering because you ask him to. That's insane. You don't just get to shrug your shoulders and claim not to understand your own irrational thinking.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  4. benji

    I don't question why God lets things happen because that is not my place to do that.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jack

      Stupid answer. Of course you should question god when humanity behaves inhumane. Otherwise you are in DENIAL and will continue the cycle that caused it.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ah the ultimate tyrant then

      May 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      "I don't question"

      The christians biggest issue is not questioning. If your imaginary friend was so wonderfully good why the hell did it allow for 9 innocent children to die, 15 additional families to lose loved ones and numerous others to suffer horrible loss?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Patrick

      If God fixed everything you asked him to, why bother with Earth? He could simply keep everyone in Heaven. The answer is, he doesn't interfere, and the problems of Earth require us to react in a christlike manner. That's the test. He doesn't cause good or bad things to happen. Stuff just happens, and we have to deal with it in the correct way. If we do well, we get rewarded. If not.... If god caused natural disasters, I could not believe in him – I don't believe anyone who calls themselves "good" would do that.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'If God fixed everything you asked him to, why bother with Earth?'

      why bother anyway? if god knows everything that has, is, and will happen then whats the point of living a life on Earth? Why would he need to test anything if he already knows how you will react to it? Whats the point of having a system whereby you need to live in order to determine where you go when you die? Whats the end game?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Cyx

    I prayed for the folks in OK. Phew! now I don't have to send them money cause I eliminated all of my guilt about not actually caring. (Sarc)

    Seriously folks... Money is the only thing that will actually help these people right now. Those that can pump cash into this disater are awesome, but for the poor people (like me) I only wish I could have extra to give to aid them.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  6. saudiwoof

    Giving physical aid such as money, clothing , food is a good thing as it shows charity and compassion but prayer is also needed. Realize that during that horrible moment there were many prayers whether they had faith or not. As a wise man once said there are no atheists in a foxhole.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Martin

      Don't kid yourself. There are plenty of atheists in a foxhole.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Anna

      That's actually just not true. There are atheists in foxholes. I know one who remained steadfast as he died. But I think whether a person is religious or not, the good feeling that people who pray for others create is real and has an effect. Whether it's through God or not, I am not the person to say, but people caring for others and wanting them to be okay, has an effect, even if it cannot change the ultimate outcome.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Which God?

      saudiwoof; wiseman wasn't to wise or smart. There were plenty of us in foxholes and rice paddies. Bullschitt statement..

      May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'As a wise man once said there are no atheists in a foxhole'

      he wasnt that wise as its not true.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Been in a few of those foxholes... praying to your god is a useless endeavor... I love it when civilians say stupid stuff like that...

      May 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  7. Suzie

    Every prayer is heard and God has the perfect answer & the perfect timing which is not always according to our will. I felt prayers were answered when I learned the death toll was not in the 50's but a smaller number. That was a blessing. It's sad some people don't see that.r

    May 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      So your god heard the prayers of the people hiding in their homes with the tornado bearing down on them and just said "Ha ha F you!"

      Your god is a sick fvck.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      No the numbers were off due to the chaos at the time, that is not a miracle-it is pure luck. Prayer doesn't work...it only appeases a lazy persons mind.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'I felt prayers were answered when I learned the death toll was not in the 50's but a smaller number. '

      and that comment sums up the thought processes of the average believer.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Which God?

      Suzie, if you are that stupid, please don't have children.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  8. Dingleberry Jackson

    If God kills babies for no reason, then why are people so against abortion? God doesn't seem to have any problems committing abortions during the 47th trimester. Why should we?

    May 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Joey

      Because Gods original creation was without sickness or death or suffering. Mankind brought those onto ourselves when we decided to sin and disobey God. Gods love is displayed through not making this suffering a permanent fixture, he provided a way out.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Why did god create something so easily fvcked up? God could have created a universe/world that was unbreakable, but he didn't, he created it to be easily broken. If I design and build cars, should I design them to blow up twenty city blocks when the person forgets to put oil in the engine one time?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Because Gods original creation was without sickness or death or suffering. Mankind brought those onto ourselves when we decided to sin and disobey God'

      but god knew this was going to happen surely? an all powerful all knowing god didnt know that putting a tree in the garden and saying 'now dont eat the fruit from this tree that i am leaving here for no obvious reason at all' was going to cause problems?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  9. This is for sure...

    So many people on these blogs say stuff like "if there was a God, he wouldn't let something like this happen". The mere fact that a 2 mile wide monster tornado blew through OK and only a handful of people perished relative to the population affected. That in itself shows the mercy and divine providence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • sam

      So because not everyone was killed, that's your proof? Are you serious??

      The 24 who died would likely not agree with you.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Martin

      Sam forgot to mention all the folks who were injured, all those who cared for the 24 who perished, all those whose homes are kindling-in someone else's yard. Fatalities are not the only bad things that come out of a disaster.

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

      I bet if they are in heaven they'll agree.

      The anti-religion hate on here is very troubling. What happened to respecting others? Apparently that's not taught in the atheist bible.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "The mere fact that a 2 mile wide monster tornado blew through OK and only a handful of people perished relative to the population affected. That in itself shows the mercy and divine providence of our Lord Jesus Christ." I have to give you some credit... it takes some effort to be that blind to reality. The sheep are too stupid to realize they are being led to slaughter...

      May 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Joey

      Yet some people are so blind they are voluntarily walking to there slaughter. My God is my Shepherd and my protector. You may ask where these people's protection was. Our Gods protection isn't always a physical one, he sees much more then we do.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Anna

      Rob, you're right. I come from a family of atheists and agnostics and they would never act in such a manner. They always respect the beliefs of others. And to all you atheists on here acting like jerks, way to prove to those who believe that without religion, you have no ethics. Come on, guys. How does it hurt you that some people can grip on to faith in a moment of tragedy or crisis? I'm so glad that they can. Thank goodness they are able to believe they will see their loved ones again one day or that God is taking care of things and will keep them strong. Why such anger and cruetly towards these people?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'I bet if they are in heaven they'll agree.'

      if i was a parent of one of those children i know what i would prefer right now. dont you dare lecture about respecting religion.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @joey Their not there.... I assume that "some people" jibe was meant for me... but it was for naught

      May 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  10. mrzntejas

    The anger of those who refuse to believe in Jesus is itself evidence that they are recognizing something in Jesus that is divinely provocative and powerful!!!!!

    May 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • sam

      Lots of exclamation points makes it super true!!!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Smarter than U

      Thanks for that gibberish.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Ricky Bobby

      We're recognizing you are off your meds again! #prayForShakeAndBake

      May 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      thats rather bizarre logic mrzntejas. Using that thought process means that therefore those that rage against muslims must do so because they know islam is right?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Prayer can work for health and comfort (reduction in stress) supporting happiness the same way meditation does.

    But I guess we don't mock meditation because meditation is like, exotic and not American-y and stuff.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Smarter than U

      Perhaps a meditative form of prayer can help the individual's well being but try praying for a lottery win or for the people who died in OK and see what the results are. Last week, 100 million people prayed to win the Powerball. Many of them good and decent. Many of them religeous beliievers. Many of them devout and deserving. Only 1 person one and we don't know if prayer was even involved but we do know a lot prayers sure went unaswered that day.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Anna

      Maybe not so much smarter: I think you failed to understand the post. The poster wasn't saying prayer will help a person obtain precisely what they are requesting, if anything, but that, much like meditation, it promotes a feeling of well being. What is so wrong with that?

      May 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Smarter than U

      Sorry Anna, I clicked on Report abuse. I thought i was clicking on reply. Nothing wrong with finding a feeling of well being in any way you can , even smoking pot. But to suggest you can somehow change the outcome of events with you mind or thru speaking to a man in the sky is just lunacy.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  12. Patrish

    I'm thinking if there was a God he won't let these disaster happen and 'his' religious folks would all be spared loss. People always make excuses for God all the time. Something good: .God spared them. Something bad: someone you love dies, then it's 'God wanted them or they are in a better place'. And then there is the most comforting thought: We must accept God's will. I find it interesting that so called intelligence folks run around praying to a deity that now one can prove exists. If you want to 'pray or send good thought' that's fine, but even a $10.00 donation to the one of the rescue funds would do a lot more. You can't exist on good thought or prayers alone.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • What

      Well said, make a donation stop pray BS

      May 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  13. relmfoxdale

    There's nothing wrong with praying (or hoping) in a disaster, but the seemingly empty hashtag-based sentiments are obnoxious. They're either done with no effort at all or with too much, resulting in glurge (which is even worse!). During the Boston "situation" (what some people call the Happening), #PrayforBoston trended. Then #PrayforMIT or some other place, I don't recall. When it spread to that next town over, I tweeted that I fully expected #PrayforWatertown to trend next, and just to annoy me, it didn't. How many of those people were really praying for Boston? What did the hashtag actually achieve? I envision people adding it to their tweets to make it look like they care when they don't, or to get more followers. It's ugly. It's like when people apparently expected their "Save Darfur" t-shirt to save someone...

    May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  14. Heidi Taylor

    I am so glad to see our prayers being answered. Thank you everyone in praying for help. The money is coming in, people are opening their hearts and wallets to help these victims. Thank you so much for your prayers. Praise God that they have been answered. To God be the glory.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Patrish

      Money could have come in without prayers. American's are very generous in that way. Here we are 3,000 years later and still praying to something we can't see. Pretending that something bigger exists does give people comforter because then they don't have to take responsibility for their lives.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Praise God that they have been answered.'

      havent seen any of these kids come back to life so not sure you can claim that.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  15. MB

    Deus vult

    May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  16. Truth Prevails :-)

    Idiocy at its best. Evolution has nothing to do with weather patterns! Since you don't seem to have even the slightest grasp on it, this might help: http://evolution-for-kids.blogspot.ca/

    May 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      meant as a reply to SDCinNS

      May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  17. Like a BOSS

    This explains it:

    "Something happened a long time ago in OK (Louisiana Purchase), and people might not want to talk about it," Robertson said. "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'"

    "True story," he continued. "And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."

    May 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  18. Jack

    Don't get this behavior "offering prayer". Why didn't you pray b4 it happened and if you did, what happened? Apparently your prayer was not heard or you didn't pray b4. Praying after the damage I done just shows you are afflicted with SP syndrome which is only acquired through audio contact with the stupid.

    *sarah palin

    May 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • What

      hhahahah, well well said loving it, stupid it is

      May 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • therestlessreformed

      The only reason this is questioned is because most of the time, it is seen by unbelievers that most prayers are not acted upon by believers. We say this and that, and most of the time, we don't act on it or follow it up. To say something is one thing. To act/follow it up, is completely different. Our actions must back our words.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  19. SDCinNS

    "And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:2-3

    May 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  20. Steve Hanson

    As I said with the Sandy Hook shooting, now is not the time for Atheists to spread their hate and hubris.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • sam

      Whatever. Stop looking for trouble, and you won't find it.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      But it's OK for Christians to say this was God's will, that sin caused the devastation ? You have an interesting sense of outrage.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      And now is not the time for christians to preach about how good and loving their god is. We'd like to educate the morons who failed basic science and have no comprehension of what causes natural disasters.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Patrish

      At least when atheist donate or give time, they don't to it to impress others or some supposed 'god'.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Kevin H

      Patrish, your faith in the superiority of atheists is laughable. "they don't to it to impress others or some supposed 'god'." That may be true...using a certain definition...from a certian perspective...but, the atheists I know do have a god and someone that they are always trying to impress....themselves. (and generally by extension others...but they usually don't recognize that need for external recognition in themselves.)
      Everybody is screwed up in this world. And everyone is the hero of their own story.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:40 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.