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. sbeth1

    BTW, perhaps no hears the prayers, but the call for aid was answered by the American people.

    May 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  2. sbeth1

    Silly people. Why not just be glad that more people are dead and you have something to fuss about? Look on the bright side....less medical costs and no need to pay Social Security benefits for the victims.

    Some people are just never satisfied.

    May 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  3. faith


    May 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • birch please

      lol, the nazis were christian.

      May 30, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  4. faith


    More on the futility of prayer and religion:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    dodo lives here. regardless how many thousands of times she repeats the same nonsense, she never proves anything except she is not bright; she is not a scholar, far from it.

    she is so dogmatic, she does the very things she hates religitards 4 doing

    May 30, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • nuffsaid5800

      As far as one can tell, there is no primordial slime from which evolutionist athiest posit we came from, so therefore there is no evolution either...right? Archaeologists are finding more proof all the time that the Bible is accurate. The Mesha Stele speaks of the house of David. probably the only possible evidence for Moses was the Ten Commandments or the Arck of the Covenant which was either destroyed during one of the Temple destructions or as some posit hidden by the prophet Samuel. The story of Abraham in the Bible is veary realistic, as he travels through the fertile crescent towards Egypt you can see the customs of the peoples he travels through to his destination. Recently archaelogists found the city of Ur which is where he was from.

      June 1, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • The real Tom

      nuff, I got to the end of your first sentence and wrote you off. Read what it says and see if you can figure out why.

      June 1, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  5. faith

    sam stone

    faith: jeebus is waiting for you to take your rightful place on your knees, pleasing him. it is as close as a click away

    examples of lil fatty sambo's sick mind abound. she is a perfect example of the hate-speech and threats of terror for which cnn, sambo, al qaeda, moron, etc r being sued.

    u can do your part to encourage this cnn cesspool to cease and desist their support of these pigs by boycotting their sponsors, each and everyone, and by encouraging all u no to do the same.

    May 30, 2013 at 4:21 am |
    • faith

      cnn, delete my posts as often as u like. i am thrilled noing they provoke such a defensive response from u. not 2 b confused with my posts u delete bcause your nazi god hating fascists can't debate me successfully. u shouldn't b ashamed to look ridiculous, u r ridiculous.

      a letter writing campaign has begun. we r writing to every advertiser associated with u 2 tell them simply, until they refuse 2 spend 1 more dime on u, we have no desire and will not buy a single product or service from them.

      May 30, 2013 at 4:37 am |
  6. faith

    The real Tom
    What makes you think that a god "did that"?

    yea! who do u think a god is? god?

    May 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  7. faith

    just take a look at facebook

    May 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  8. faith

    although cnn has plenty of faults, i do applaud them 4 posting everyone's thoughts, no matter how vulgar and disgusting. that;s why they have no reason to fear a lawsuit or concern themselves with the loss in advertising revenue.


    @Faith Truly

    You said, "Scientists comfirm God did that."
    B ul ls h i t.

    Care to provide some references for that nonsense?

    May 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  9. faith

    "According to Oklahoma officials, 24 people have died, many more are injured, and once-orderly streets look likes foretastes of the apocalypse"

    apocalypse? CNN is a joke

    May 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • faith

      science, please post more informative messages 4 me. i look up every reference and enjoy all the wonderful things i find in those places. so, please keep it up, only do far more of them, please. i hang on your every fascinating insight. u r so enlightened and hip

      May 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  10. tshorey2013

    "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."

    No, a prayer is asking for an act of magic from your imaginary friend up in the sky. It is asking for a magical solution to a problem or issue. That is exactly what prayer is.

    May 29, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • faith

      the pretty boys of abc, cbs and nbc, b warned, ricky tricky g don't want u sayin u r gonna keep the victims of tragedy in prayer. he might get upset if u violate his rights 4 u 2 say only what he approves

      May 29, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  11. Faith Truly

    Scientists comfirm God did that.

    May 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Faith Truly

      You said, "Scientists comfirm God did that."

      Care to provide some references for that nonsense?

      May 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Science

      And............Biggest JOKE under the SUN.................NO heaven or horn-y red devil..........never has been !

      Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

      By Dan Merica, CNN




      PS Do a simple search for Prof. Higgs.............the church hates that = True Comedy Gold !

      May 28, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Science

      Hey Faith Truly...........where was it over 250 million years ago ?

      Rock Where India Crashed Into Asia And Pushed Up The Himalayas [PHOTO]

      Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/chris-hadfield-himalaya-satellite-photo-2013-5#ixzz2UdQgGr1G


      May 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  12. Faith Truly

    Scientists proclaim God created the universe. Has God endowed you with more smarts than our worlds leading scientists?

    May 27, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Faith Truly

      You said, "Scientists proclaim God created the universe."
      No, they don't. Not in their capacity as scientists, anyway.

      You said, "Has God endowed you with more smarts than our worlds leading scientists?"
      Invalid premise, wrong question.

      May 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Doobs

      Oh please.

      May 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • UhOh

      "Scientists proclaim God created the universe."

      Hey look another lying Christian proving yet again they're a joke.

      May 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  13. faith

    wait. i made a mistake. a big one.

    dodo, sorry, my love. i just realized it is sambo science the rectum lover i love.

    i am so sorry dod, but i can't help it. her passion 4 me is just more than i can resist. 4give me dodo? please! i'll never 4 get our time together.

    May 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Science

      GOOD NEWS...............faith the peachy one......chad too.......you know all creationists too......... story = truth !


      Science books and education TRUMPS the 666 beast and the red horn-y devil !


      Have a great life and Memorial day.


      PS...........by the way there has NEVER been a red horn-y devil.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Science


      May 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      faith: jeebus is waiting for you to take your rightful place on your knees, pleasing him. it is as close as a click away

      May 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  14. loki96x

    “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?” – Epicurus

    May 26, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Science

      Hey loki96x...........the legal end ?

      Learn About the Law
      Find a Lawyer
      FindLaw Answers
      Legal Forms

      Legal Pulse

      CNN logo CNN 3 weeks ago
      When Christians become a 'hated minority'
      Hey Buffy..............from Bing.

      When Christians become a 'hated minority'
      The point where religious speech becomes hate speech is difficult to define, though, scholars and activists say. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama is a nonprofit civil rights group that combats and monitors hate groups. Three years ago, it... Full Article at CNN


      Hey Vic and Chadie

      Faith-Healing Churches Linked to 2 Dozen Child Deaths

      by Vince Lattanzio posted on May 25, 2013 02:45PM GMT


      Have a great life.


      May 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • faith

      do u mean it?

      May 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Science

      GOOD NEWS...............faith the peachy one......chad too.......you know !


      Science books and education TRUMPS the 666 beast and the red horn-y devil !

      May 27, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  15. Lord Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind

    Isiah 55:9-"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

    Everything that is happening is pointing to the end of the world. God is
    coming sooner than most people believe. In His right hand is eternal
    life. if you desire to live and love existing, repent and put your faith
    in the Son of God (LORD Jesus Christ). He is our only hope. If you do
    not believe these words, that is fine. If you do believe and would like
    to learn more visit www . theeternalwisdom . com, this website will inform
    you on how to receive the free gift of salvation. May God bless you and
    may His mercy and grace be with mankind.

    Romans 5:8-"But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."
    3:16-"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only
    Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have
    eternal life."
    Matthew 5:6-"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

    ...Please choose life...

    May 26, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • Reality

      The Apostles’ Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (references used are available upon request)

      May 26, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  16. Humanity

    “God is still in control!... Everything (God) does is to get our attention"

    This sentiment implies that this was his god's doing and that those Oklahomans need to pay attention... but to what, exactly? Instead of getting attention by baffling destruction, how about making things a little more plain?

    May 25, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, you know, according to Chad, those people just weren't LISTENING. They didn't READ THE WHOLE BIBLE.

      May 25, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah, funny how their "personal" god becomes so indiscriminate when angry, striking down the innocent along with the guilty.

      May 27, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • However

      Striking down the innocent along with the guilty is the job of people who post on CNN.

      May 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  17. mama k

    Bill Moyers interviews Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, science & biology. He is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University.
    Dennett: "[not all, but for many, the dangerous thing about religion is that] it gives people a gold-plated excuse to stop thinking."

    May 25, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Science

      Agree ...............mama k

      A box does not work well for thinking.


      Hey faith/chad... and sally too........Thanks have a great life.





      Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

      By Dan Merica, CNN







      May 25, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • faith


      May 30, 2013 at 4:25 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 25, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • aldewacs

      Nothing fails as spectacularly as prayer.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted; you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      May 28, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      May 28, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  19. Rev David Johnson

    I think Ricky has more faith than he lets on. Otherwise he wouldn't donate at all. That is if he really did donate, or just said that to get a laugh.
    Prayer leads to faith. Faith requires obedience. Faithful obedience leads to God. So Ricky you are on your way to believing in God. Keep on with the giving!!!
    I would challenge Ricky to come and see faith and obedience in action at St. Andrews.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Do you really think that only church-going Christians donate money, time, and blood?

      May 24, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
    • Akira

      "Prayer leads to faith. Faith requires obedience. Faithful obedience leads to God."

      Ricky donated. Does donation lead to God? Is that what you are implying? I know many churches and televangelists who agree with you, in that case.
      I don't.

      May 24, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • Science

      Hey Chad,faith the peach and all creationists what color JELL- O you stuck IN. ? Star Dusts (chondrites) and water !

      Scientists Offer First Definitive Proof of Bacteria-Feeding Behavior in Green Algae

      May 23, 2013 — A team of researchers has captured images of green alga consuming bacteria, offering a glimpse at how early organisms dating back more than 1 billion years may have acquired free-living photosynthetic cells. This acquisition is thought to have been a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants, which, in turn, contributed to the increase in oxygen levels in Earth's atmosphere and ocean and provided one of the conditions necessary for animal evolution.



      Game over .................god(s) did NOT create US !

      NO red horn-y devil either........ NEVER has been one.!


      The DINOSAUR ?...............Chomp Chomp !...Evolution WINS hands down...time for the horn-y red devil to get the

      HELL out of the way.....................Stem Cell research !

      Allosaurus Fed More Like a Falcon Than a Crocodile: Engineering, Anatomy Work Reveals Differences in Dinosaur Feeding Styles

      May 21, 2013 — The mighty T. rex may have thrashed its massive head from side to side to dismember prey, but a new study shows that its smaller cousin Allosaurus was a more dexterous hunter and tugged at prey more like a modern-day falcon.



      May 25, 2013 at 6:18 am |
    • midwest rail


      May 25, 2013 at 6:23 am |
    • Science

      Hey faith...........Thanks have a great life.



      May 25, 2013 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |


      May 25, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • Science

      Over a 100 pages at one time...........long ago !



      May 25, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • Science



      May 25, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • Science


      May 25, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  20. Faith Truly

    Oh contraire, proof of God abounds. Consider the creation of our universe: http://www.smatteringsbooks.com/universe.html Where would we be if God had not done that?

    May 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • The real Tom

      What makes you think that a god "did that"?

      May 24, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
    • Now what

      I think Elvis did it. Now what?

      May 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • The real Tom

      It's French, sweetie. "AU CONTRAIRE," stupid fundy.

      June 1, 2013 at 8:56 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.