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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
[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. Dyslexic doG

    OT, NT and koran thu-mpers are actually thu-mping the rules and codes of the ancients like King Hammurabi and the Egyptians who wrote the Book of the Dead and who did NOT need revelations from angels or mountain voices to develop needed rules of conduct for us h-o-minids.

    "Hail to thee, great God, Lord of the Two Truths. I have come unto thee, my Lord, that thou mayest bring me to see thy beauty. I know thee, I know thy name, I know the names of the 42 Gods who are with thee in this broad hall of the Two Truths . . . Behold, I am come unto thee. I have brought thee truth; I have done away with sin for thee. I have not sinned against anyone. I have not mistreated people. I have not done evil instead of righteousness . . .

    I have not reviled the God.
    I have not laid violent hands on an orphan.
    I have not done what the God abominates . . .
    I have not killed; I have not turned anyone over to a killer.
    I have not caused anyone's suffering . . .
    I have not copulated (illicitly); I have not been unchaste.
    I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the palm; I have not encroached upon the fields.
    I have not added to the balance weights; I have not tempered with the plumb bob of the balance.
    I have not taken milk from a child's mouth; I have not driven small cattle from their herbage...
    I have not stopped (the flow of) water in its seasons; I have not built a dam against flowing water.
    I have not quenched a fire in its time . . .
    I have not kept cattle away from the God's property.
    I have not blocked the God at his processions."

    "The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture's Ten Commandments were based on this earlier docu-ment, rather than vice-versa."

    And it is doubtful that Moses even existed or that there even was an Exodus

    May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  2. Selendis

    Another one of those arguments I simply don't understand. Why be hostile towards a belief system that has nothing to do with you? I have a bit of understanding when someone's belief system directly affects others, as in "being gay is a sin and you can not worship here", but when something as non intrusive as saying you will pray for someone brings up an argument, it is ridiculous. Now, I do think those that claim to be religious have kind of brought it on themselves. Historically the religious put their time and money towards helping the greater good, and now it seems the time and money go to megachurches so pastors can drive a Rolls Royce. But that is completely besides the point. Even if you do not believe that praying for someone is going to help their cause, it is certainly not going to hurt them.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Try looking at the only truly scientific study of prayer on health and reconsider your opinion...
      http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      May 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • fintastic

      What about false hope?

      May 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      Here is an answer to why you WOULD NOT want people praying for you. It's called a negative correlation. So if I get sick, please don't pray for me as it statistically lowers my chances of getting better.
      http://www.nbcnews.com/id/12082681/ns/health-heart_health/t/power-prayer-flunks-unusual-test/

      May 22, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    Many OT, NT and koran thu-mpers are actually thu-mping the rules and codes of the ancients like King Hammurabi and the Egyptians who wrote the Book of the Dead and who did NOT need revelations from angels or mountain voices to develop needed rules of conduct for us h-o-minids.

    "Hail to thee, great God, Lord of the Two Truths. I have come unto thee, my Lord, that thou mayest bring me to see thy beauty. I know thee, I know thy name, I know the names of the 42 Gods who are with thee in this broad hall of the Two Truths . . . Behold, I am come unto thee. I have brought thee truth; I have done away with sin for thee. I have not sinned against anyone. I have not mistreated people. I have not done evil instead of righteousness . . .

    I have not reviled the God.
    I have not laid violent hands on an orphan.
    I have not done what the God abominates . . .
    I have not killed; I have not turned anyone over to a killer.
    I have not caused anyone's suffering . . .
    I have not copulated (illicitly); I have not been unchaste.
    I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the palm; I have not encroached upon the fields.
    I have not added to the balance weights; I have not tempered with the plumb bob of the balance.
    I have not taken milk from a child's mouth; I have not driven small cattle from their herbage...
    I have not stopped (the flow of) water in its seasons; I have not built a dam against flowing water.
    I have not quenched a fire in its time . . .
    I have not kept cattle away from the God's property.
    I have not blocked the God at his processions."

    "The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture's Ten Commandments were based on this earlier docu-ment, rather than vice-versa."

    And it is doubtful that Moses even existed or that there even was an Exodus

    May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  4. Dyslexic doG

    The King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve. So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  5. CGAW

    People are so easily wrinkled – get a REAL life. If you gave money, said a prayer, posted a thought of sympathy, felt badly for those affected, flew out to help, etc. – You are a good caring human being and it does not matter what others say or do. People like Gervais who gave money but wagged his fingers at others – his gift was given with murmuring and pompousness which degrades his humanity to nothing. Good job Gervais at showing people NOT how to behave.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      You're missing the point. Prayer accomplishes nothing for these victims. Sending financial aid and ridiculing the people who merely claim to say a prayer is an effective way to make people realize that prayer is not only delusional, it's pointless. Gervais, using his name recognition, is raising awareness that more is needed than muttering some words to a fictional being. The victims need action, not people self-gratifying by claiming to invoke their deity into action. If prayer were usefull, the storms wouldn't have happened in the first place, would they?

      May 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  6. jake

    truelife.org is a website that has evidence and proof for many things in the christian faith.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Jake: That web site is full of nonsense. Mainstream science has proven most of the crap on that site to be well, crap. Using the Bible as "proof" of anything is NOT evidence. Nice fail.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      Thanks for the link. Now when I need to point someone to another repository of useless, easily rebutted, christian apologetics, I'll have another place to send them. The beauty of these sites is that, when someone actually visits them and considers their contents, their arguments for their positions, etc., it makes the reasoned choice to not believe that much easier. BTW, any site that partners with Answers in Genesis is begging to be ridiculed 🙂 – as well they should be.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  7. Beej

    If you are a non-believer then you believe prayer does not help. If you are a Christian, then you do believe that prayer helps. Christians are going to pray and many are going to send money as well as donate their time but they are going to pray because they believe in prayer. Non-believers are going to send money as well as donate their time but they are not going to pray. Both believers and non-believers respond and try to help, but we Christians also call on the God we believe in to provide for these people. Believers & non-believers are not going to agree on prayer. So let's respect everyone's right to believe or not believe and quit trying to convince each other of our belief system or lack of a belief system. Bottom line, help one another.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • gorp

      Sure, help one another. Donating money helps in a measurable way. Praying doesn't.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      How about you keep your religion out of public life?

      May 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      I respect your right to believe whatever you want. You must also respect my right to ridicule the unreasonable beliefs you have. As long as we have that understanding, and you don't try to, in any way whatsoever, push your beliefs on me or mine, we're cool. But you're still delusional, if you think that prayer accomplishes anything, and I think deep down you know it.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  8. Dyslexic doG

    JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

    Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

    Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers (to include Camping) of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

    So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

    May 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  9. MCFx

    I need to brush off my "Shut Up And Act", "Shut Up And Sing", and (my all time favorite) "Shut Up Become Irrelavent Already" bumper stickers (roseanne barr, rosie o'donell, janeane garofalo have all headed the latter).

    Since when should American be taking advice from actors, comedians, and entertainers who only have a platform because they turned their ADHD into a career. Being funny (if that's what you call what Gervais does) hardly qualifies you to give advice on how to carry out humanitarianism. And when did a British comedian have say in a domestic affair. How about the has tag @ActuallyGoBackHome?

    May 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      He could be from mars, he's still speaking the truth.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Pole dancing for Jesus

      Didn't have a problem with an american b-actor having opinions domestically or internationally though.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  10. Bob

    I'd say the prayin' fools have some serious answering to do.

    Result of prayer: Nil. Death and destruction to innocents happened anyway.

    Either your god is a jerk, or he doesn't exist.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • JJH

      Really guys?! Most of the help will come from people who are also praying. And even if prayer is all someone is offering, how is that a bad thing? It is empathy, condolences and general good vibes. I would never take offense to someone of another religion offering a prayer or a blessing to me.

      To me there is no difference between Anti-religious groups who buy billboards attacking Christianity and the Westborough church burning Koran's outside a new Mosque. It is intolerance plain and simple.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  11. Just Me

    Really CNN? You had to put out an article debating religion? Can't you just let it be? Let those who believe, believe and those who don't, don't. If faith helps some cope with life, then by all means, have faith and leave them alone. At this terrible time, whatever helps sustain people is a good thing and you did not need to exploit it with this silly article.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Rochester

      If the debate bothers you so, why are you reading related articles and then posting a comment?

      May 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Why would CNN put an article about religious stuff on a page called "Belief Blog" What's next? A page with World news on the "World News" page? A page with US news on a "National Page" OMG, stop this madness!

      May 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • fintastic

      @science..... LOL

      May 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Oh, sorry Just Me;
      I just realized you probably watch Fox news and think all those nutty opion shows are "news". So you naturally thought this page was equivalent to any other CNN page like "World" or "National" and that it therefore was a "newsy" article like all that Fox content.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  12. Phil

    Why can't you religious folk just do one MEGA PRAYER to prevent stuff from ever happening again, instead of praying after it happens?

    May 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Paul

      That'd give the scam away.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Phil: Because as the great philosopher/poet and musician, Ian Anderson put it, they think they have to wind him up every Sunday.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  13. palintwit

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    It's true that tornados always seem to be attracted to trailer parks. That's because that's where all the teabaggers are.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      My dentist claims it's the bowling trophies that attracts the tornadoes.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • BlueDogMS

      Your truly are a twit.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Bob

      Hey, did you know it helps bowling somewhat if you are really obese? Stabilizes your motions relative to the ball. Beer and a beer gut help too.

      Great game (won't call it a sport) for fat evangelicals and teabaggers. Suits them to a 't".

      May 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Paul

      Bob: LMFAO.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  14. sheilaenglehart

    Reblogged this on Sheila Englehart and commented:
    To each his own.
    Scientists have done studies on prayer and have found it promotes health in plants.
    Whether you believe in a deity or not, having good thoughts for your fellow man in hard times can't hurt. But I do agree with sending more "physical" aid as well. The Red Cross has been a "godsend" for many, including myself. But that doesn't mean God actually sent them.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      I call BS! What kind of psudoscience journal are YOU reading? Study after study on intercessory prayer has yielded only NEGATIVE correlation between prayer and the person/thing prayed for. Do some research before you type this drivel.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  15. { ! }

    Christians have been laughed at for waiting 2000 years for Jesus' return. But to widen out perspective: in individual time, 2 millenia is awhile. In evolutionary time it is chump change; in cosmic time, 2000 years is the blink of an eye. In eternal time, 2000 years doesn't exist.

    But while Christians have spent 2000 years waiting for His return, the atheists have spent 2000 years trying to get Him to leave.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Phil

      We don't "want him to leave", we don't believe he exists – and we believe in the separation of "religion" from the state – and we don't want you shoving it down our throats every 3 seconds. That's a big difference.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      So basically what you're saying is that it's fine with you that you and your sheeple friends will be laughed at for another 2 millenia, right? He isn't coming back, dude – he was never here in the first place. And it will probably only take another century or so before your religion goes into the dustbin of history like the thousands before it, so take heart – you're one of the last of your kind 🙂

      May 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  16. shawn l

    He's right. Prayer and talk is cheap. Actions have meaning.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    Hysterical Christians really need to read the article. He just suggested we send money because prayer does nothing.

    If prayer did anything then the sheer volume of prayer would have resurrected the dead, healed the injured and fixed all the buildings. None of that happened!

    Prayer does nothing so send money which is more practical. Sheesh!!!

    May 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • catholic engineer

      Well said. In fact, Jesus himself said to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned, etc. Matthew 25.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  18. mike

    If you want to send money, send money, if you want to send prayers, send prayers. If you want to point a finger at yourself and say "Look at me" become a Gervais.

    There is nothing wrong with people letting others know they are thinking of them during troubled times and they have the right to do so in their own way without someone being self-righteous and telling them they have to do more.

    Noone who truly believes has to have proof and no amount of proof with change the mind of someone who doesn't.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      "Noone who truly believes has to have proof " ... that is the basis of this whole delusion.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • jus*sayin

      Well Mike. Being as you were around back then, and YOU certainly wouldn't have been capable of raising from the dead can I ask you a question? Don't you STINK by now ? !! lol.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Phil

      The burden of proof is on you sir. And you have ZERO proof. One cannot prove something which doesn't exist. Also, Ricky sent money. Not inane mumblings.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Yes, proof of a god would change minds. Got any?

      May 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Bells B.

      If you had proof of God (the way you think of scientific proof), you would be a slave to God. Who would or could doubt him if we knew for certain he existed? It's called 'faith' dumb-dumbs. I think choosing a belief in God via free will as a result of introspection using our hearts and minds is better than feeling forced to do so. As I've mentioned before, it's childish to just wait for evidence of God to appear on your newsfeed, and disbelieve until somebody tells you God exists.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Jose

      "no amount of proof with change the mind of someone who doesn't." Actually, with enough proof, most of us will change our mind. No proof, no reason to believe it.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      "Noone who truly believes has to have proof"

      These are the kinds of statements that make people like you look verrrrrry foolish, Mike.
      A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.

      Richard Dawkins

      May 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  19. Dyslexic doG

    You hys terical Christians really need to read the article. He just suggested we send money because prayer does nothing.

    If prayer did anything then the sheer volume of prayer would have resurrected the dead, healed the injured and fixed all the buildings. None of that happened!

    Prayer does nothing so send money which is more practical. Sheesh!!!

    May 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Theresa Phan

      Well put. Only humans can help other humans.

      May 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • wjleigh

      Often, we replace a check for real consideration and compassion. You haven't done much if you just write a check and call it good. Prayer isn't about asking god to solve a problem for you, it's about asking god to help you understand how to deal with a situation (or if you are an atheist, to ask yourself). Maybe it spurs you to make a change in your life or to take an action (like sending money) but the first step is to pause and consider the situation and what you can do about it. That's what prayer does, whether you call it prayer, meditation, a smoke break, etc.

      I've always had a problem with the phrase "I'm praying for you." You're not praying for them, you're praying for yourself. Hopefully, something useful comes out of that process that is beneficial to the third party, but it would be better to wait and tell them what you'll actually do for them rather just telling them you're giving a shout out to god on their behalf and moving on.

      Bad things happen, as hard as that is, we wouldn't understand good things without understanding and experiencing the bad. It's important to understand the bad so you be a force for the good, and to enjoy the good in life more fully.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  20. toothball

    @ sam stone

    Then maybe he's only the son of god?

    May 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
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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.