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. topcat

    9 million children under the age of 5 die every year. the tsunami that killed a quartermillion people is happening every 10 days exclusively to children under 5. before you can finish reading this, some few children have died in fear and agonly. and many will go to hell because god created their geographic isolation and they missed the word of jesus. so god created the crime and the penalty that they will suffer concious eternity in hell.

    let us pray for the 24 in oklahoma ?

    June 7, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • topcat

      think of the poor parents, praying for their children. and their prayers will not be heard.

      June 7, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Science

      Destiny & DNA......................World Science Festival


      June 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  2. mason

    bible nonsense (Jeremiah) say God sends tornadoes upon heads of the wicked..".bible nonsense", is not an oxymoron

    June 6, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  3. LIGHT

    The antichrist is playing with words,letters and numbers in a very high profissional way .

    I will send a small surprise for you all.

    Take a look on the CNN logo and concentrate very well,you can read it as.................. 911!!!

    June 6, 2013 at 2:00 am |
    • LinCA


      May I suggest doubling your medication? Whatever you're taking right now is not enough.

      June 6, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • LIGHT

      Even things that you can see with your eyes plain as day you dont belive in it,that is why you are an athiest.

      June 6, 2013 at 3:03 am |
    • Science

      Hey LIGHT........the truth works best........so you know NO fairy in the sky NEEDED !

      Life On Earth Shockingly Comes from out of This World


      June 6, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • LIGHT

      By the way...what is your police number?

      Again it appears.

      Believe me you are under the antichrist control.

      June 7, 2013 at 3:24 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Even things that you can see with your eyes plain as day you dont belive in it,that is why you are an athiest."
      don't*, believe*, atheist* (note the letter order, e before i).

      Actually, no. I don't try to squeeze my perception of reality into the box of my religion. It is because I can see plain as day that there isn't any reason to believe there are imaginary friends, that I'm an atheist.

      June 7, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Science

      Hey GOOD NEWS...............LIGHT............you fail no anti what ?

      No god(s) needed..........but physics is required.............and it works every time.

      Quantum Teleportation Between Atomic Systems Over Long Distances


      June 7, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • LIGHT


      what was required two or three or four or five hundreds of years ago?


      who cares if you will believe or not?

      June 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "who cares if you will believe or not?"
      I hope nobody. I also don't care what, or even whether, you believe. You are free to believe whatever nonsense you want. But, if you elect to display your ignorant beliefs here, you should expect to get called on them.

      June 7, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Magic Eye

      "Take a look on the CNN logo and concentrate very well,you can read it as.................. 911!!!"

      Look at it upside down and you'll see, "MD" - you should see one of them stat!

      June 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Science

      Hey GOOD NEWS.....................light................where it does not shine!

      Biblical Marriage Not Defined Simply As One Man, One Woman: Iowa Religious Scholars' Op-Ed


      PS By the way the bible is BS and the horn-y red beast also !

      June 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • LIGHT

      @Magic Eye
      what MD means?

      I think it means (M)onth and (D)ay,and when we read it from the other side we will read 9/11.

      June 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • LIGHT


      Sorry LinCA,i was wrong,there is somenone cares about you from the beging to the end..........your god.

      your god who created heavens and earth for you.

      your god who cereated everything for you.

      your god who will be happy if you reurn back,but if you didnt he will not be sad and will not lose anything.

      June 8, 2013 at 2:49 am |
    • LIGHT

      @Magic Eye
      a new surprise for you read it from right to lift and be ready for the shoke,you will get WTC,read the T upside down.

      June 8, 2013 at 5:54 am |
    • LinCA


      English isn't your first or primary language, is it?

      You said, "Sorry LinCA,i was wrong,there is somenone cares about you from the beging to the end..........your god."
      I don't have any imaginary friends. I do have real ones that care about me. Most don't seem to care about what, if anything, I believe.

      You said, "your god who created heavens and earth for you." and, "your god who cereated everything for you." and, "your god who will be happy if you reurn back,but if you didnt he will not be sad and will not lose anything."
      Bullshit. It's just a fairy tale.

      June 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  4. 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

    just a shot away

    June 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • faith

      don't forget the goo on your face lil fatty sambo

      June 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • faith

      where r dodo's defenders? golly, girls, seems like u done gone and abandoned that fool who calls herself a scholar. if dodo is a scholar, lil fatty sambo is the pope! u b the pope, lil fatty sambo? lol

      June 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Science

      Hey chadie look what Isabell found ..............chad is the king and queen of trolls and faith the beast

      An 'Extinct' Frog Makes a Comeback in Israel

      June 4, 2013 — The first amphibian to have been officially declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been rediscovered in the north of Israel after some 60 years and turns out to be a unique "living fossil," without close relatives among other living frogs.


      June 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      faith is still blathering on like a little diseased gash....

      come on troll, bark

      June 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      how is that lawsuit coming, gash? on the way to the supreme court?

      June 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  5. Science

    So RB.....chadie too..........truth is best told to children is it not ?


    June 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

    Never has been a red horn-y devil and that is the truth !

    June 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • 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

      June 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • 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

      thanks 4 proof

      June 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  6. Science

    Chomp on that bone...................creationists/ID believers. chadie too..................evolution at its best the old croc.

    Time for the horn-y beast to get the hell out of the bedVroooom !!!

    Fourteen Closely Related Crocodiles Existed Around 5 Million Years Ago

    May 21, 2013 — Today, the most diverse species of crocodile are found in northern South America and Southeast Asia: As many as six species of alligator and four true crocodiles exist, although no more than two or three ever live alongside one another at the same time. It was a different story nine to about five million years ago, however, when a total of 14 different crocodile species existed and at least seven of them occupied the same area at the same time, as an international team headed by paleontologists Marcelo Sánchez and Torsten Scheyer from the University of Zurich is now able to reveal.



    Hey faithy seems like you have not been weaned yet sort of like chadie .............reminds me of a 5 year old ?

    Monkey Teeth Help Reveal Neanderthal Weaning

    May 24, 2013 — Most modern human mothers wean their babies much earlier than our closest primate relatives. But what about our extinct relatives, the Neanderthals?


    Current search on Bing chadie ..........bookmark update chad........3rd one from top of page.

    RDFRS: When Christians become a 'hated minority'


    11,000,000 results Any time


    Scientists Find Oldest Dinosaur – Or Closest Relative Yet

    Dec. 5, 2012 — Researchers have discovered what may be the earliest dinosaur, a creature the size of a Labrador retriever, but with a five foot-long tail, that walked the Earth about 10 million years before more familiar dinosaurs like the small, swift-footed Eoraptor and Herrerasaurus.


    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.



    COMEDY GOLD................it is THE PEARLY GATES !.............what a JOKE !

    Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

    By Dan Merica, CNN


    Splat Chad/lol??...................the trolls

    June 4, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  7. 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

    thanks to each and every nazi god hating fascist 4 giving lil fatty sambo heck 4 being the degenerate animal and terrorist, the filthy evil deviant pervert she is. really think u r swell.

    June 2, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Science

      You to the peachy one...................No red horn-y devil !

      Earth’s timeline ................chad remember this long ago..........L4H but me on the list for this.

      Trace our planet's geological and biological ages............better than the bibles timeline.


      Church Refuses to Host Troops Over Scouts' New Gay Policy
      NBC News·16 hours ago

      See also: More stories ·
      Top stories

      Big circle here chadie...................

      look what shows up on Bing 16 hours ago

      June 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Science

      Hey peachy !

      From Bing 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.

      June 3, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  8. Colin

    Vic, yo usaid "For the benefit of everyone, look up the Dead Sea Scrolls which have also been authenticated by state of the art technology!"

    So what? That doesn't mean their content is worth a damn. It just validates their age.

    June 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Colin

    Daqcute, your point would have merit if gays were trying to get the internal rules of the Southern Baptists changed, but they are not. In fact, I have never heard of a group of gays trying to deny Southern Baptist couples the right to marry, Southern Baptists the right to serve in the millitary or generally tell little Southern Baptist children they are "morally degenerate."

    No my friend, the gays have the moar (and intellectual) high ground on this one.

    June 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  10. visitor

    How about "Good Wishes" for Oklahoma. Seriously most of us think of it as the same thing. Some atheists really can simmer down.

    June 2, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • James

      Good wishes, like prayers only make you feel better. They do nothing for the victims. So instead of putting money in the basket at church sent it to the victims.

      June 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  11. STOP-THE-FILTH-stop-gays

    Send the gays and gay lovers to IRAN

    June 2, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Keep this in mind

      You and your message are so insane that everyone is ignoring you. Personally I am only responding because I am off work for illness and very bored so I thought I'd take the time to let you know that your one of the ones that I'd ignore as just absolutely insane with nothing worth saying. You know that person that you blow past with a sigh of exhaspiration..your it.
      For the record I am straight, and not even a faith hater. Just an average reader. Keep that in mind next time you post.

      June 4, 2013 at 8:27 am |
  12. Ron D-

    It seems to me that many people think of prayer as a way to place an order for action with God. It's never seemed that way to me. Rather it's a process of finding quiet understanding deep in my soul, and I pray that in some way others so affected are led to that same place too. There are no guarantees, but if something good is going to come in response, that's where it will be found.

    June 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Matt

      //IIt seems to me that many people think of prayer as a way to place an order for action with God. It's never seemed that way to me//

      Says this is in the bible.

      //Rather it's a process of finding quiet understanding deep in my soul, and I pray that in some way others so affected are led to that same place too//

      How do you know this? Are you making this up? What is a soul – define it please?

      //There are no guarantees, but if something good is going to come in response, that's where it will be found//

      So, how about things that are bad? You pray and it doesn't happen or something bad happens? Not found there right?

      June 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  13. ed dugan

    Every day zillions of prayers are sent up to heaven. They are all given a number and thrown into a huge bowl. At exactly 4 pm Pacific Standard Time an angel is designated to pull ONE ticket out and that is the prayer that is answered. The rest are discarded until the next day. Maybe Oklahoma will get lucky and win that heavenly lottery.

    June 1, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  14. faith

    who was jesus christ?

    June 1, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  15. faith

    sam stone
    ooooohhhhh......demons.....pretty scary, for the inbred mother mounters who believe in that tripe.
    one click, filth, you can be with jeebus


    June 1, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  16. Science

    Hey all creationists ...........chadie too....the truth below !

    The fairy in the sky DID NOT create US !

    Ancient life...............3.5 billion years ago.............NO god(s) or horn-y red devil (666 the beast) never has been

    Disappearance of Stromatolites, Earliest Visible Manifestation of Life: Ancient Enigma Solved?

    May 28, 2013 — The widespread disappearance of stromatolites, the earliest visible manifestation of life on Earth, may have been driven by single-celled organisms called foraminifera.



    The University of Sydney.........................geology..............the dirt guys.

    Precious opal veinlets in a sandstone from central Australia.


    Answer to opal mystery shows Red Centre's links to Red Planet

    31 May 2013

    The dramatic geological events that created opal, Australia's national gemstone, have been described for the first time by a University of Sydney researcher.


    + the damn fossils ..............works better than the BIBLE !

    Scientists Recover Wooly Mammoth Blood ..................cloning could happen maybe

    Posted by Soulskill on Wednesday May 29, 2013 @01:52PM
    from the wooly-mammoth-vampires-very-excited dept.


    New study restores famed fossil to "bird" branch

    Wednesday May 29, 2013 | Alicia Chang for The Associated Press


    AND chadie has a link on Bing

    Quarterback's next play: Going long with the Bible – CNN Belief ...


    Feb 01, 2013 · Since we've got Chad buybull ... Jurassic Park came out. Now that it has been found, ... You have nothing but a 2000 year old stone age book written ...

    June 1, 2013 at 7:30 am |
  17. Maelstrom

    I appreciate the sentiment, but maybe future hastags should read #prayandactfor(insertdisasterarea). After all, there is a whole book in the Bible called Acts, about how the Church was the tool to fulfill many prayers.

    May 31, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  18. 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

    told ya

    May 31, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  19. 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

    May 31, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  20. Science

    BUZZ OFF fake science poster.and chadie/faith/Austin/toothless and L$H saw you somewhere today........the cats !

    all creationists !

    Changing Gut Bacteria Through Diet Affects Brain Function

    May 28, 2013 — UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria known as probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function, both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.



    Have a great life if you can crawl out of the green slim you are in.

    May 30, 2013 at 4:50 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.