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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. skyking

    Pray in one hand. Crap in the other. Tell me.....which one fills up the quickest?

    May 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • Dragon Slayer Lights Your Fire

      they are the same. prayers are like going SHlT.... both create crap and leaves the person feeling a lot better when they are done.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  2. Gavin Ford

    Ricky Gervais is right – don't just pray to your imaginary friend – DO SOMETHING!

    May 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Oneforall777

      The whole point of prayer is to ask that God 's Will be done, not our Will. The act of prayer is in itself doing something. Giving of money is good and helpful, however some people need more than money, they need solace, they need strength, they need peace, no human can provide that for them, only God can bring this about through prayer. Prayer is a way of communicating with God, to be close to God, for people of faith we cannot do without prayer. King David was in constant prayer, Jesus Christ was constantly praying, Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus told us to pray without ceasing. Throughout the world's history man has prayed and will always do so, it is extremely powerful.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • SK

      what are you doing?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Athy

      I've never prayed and I've never felt the need to. I'm much better off and happier than many friends that do. How do you explain that?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Then what are you doing wasting your time here?

      Oneforall777" Jesus Christ was constantly praying, Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus told us to pray without ceasing"
      Why aren't you busy praying? Isn't prayer suppose to be the most important and powerful thing a person can do? Or aren't you a real christian

      May 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
  3. of course it could all be true...

    The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

    May 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Andy

      What of those crushed under debris? Where is he?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • HeroesAre Rare

      Ricky Gervais is already fading into oblivion. He's only in America because we Brits couldn't stand him. ALL he's ever done is the Office, and that got more stupid every week.

      Isn't it just like a 5th rate wannabee comedian to need to be in the spotlight – even if only to rubbish people's freedom to pray if they wish.
      For all those praying, PLEASE carry on – it's the very BEST thing you can do for those suffering.

      Of course FATSO Gervais doesn't realise that those who pray are FAR more likely to GIVE as well.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Humanist11

      What a mean god that must be. Create all this violent weather, have people killed and other lives ruined just so people will pray to him and ask him to stop the carnage. What a ridulous fairy tale.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • ..and for the good news;there is no Satan either !

      Regardless of your insulting rant,prayer is NOT the best thing you can do,and you bleeding well know it.Your personal assessment of RG's talent means nothing in this context.Your personal assessment of anything means nothing.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  4. nematoad

    Dios es un invento de la imaginación ilusión. Orar es sentirse bien mierda

    May 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • HeroesAre Rare

      I'd SO like to be standing beside you 2 minutes after you die! Then you'd see how wrong you are.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • ..and for the good news;there is no Satan either !

      @ HERO?..So you would like to stand over a dead stranger and gloat as his family begins to mourn.I guess that makes you special and all knowing-EH?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  5. Maud L. Dilley

    When God created mankind, he gave them free agency. To believe or not to believe. There was also one in opposition to all that was created. This opposition did not want mankind to have their agency, he wanted to bring all back to God and then have God's position. The another said, "I will do what you ask and the glory be thine." He was chosen, the other was angry and left, or was cast out of God's presence. Bad things happen because of agency and so do good things. Nature is also subject to this concept. Therefore, we have believers and non-believers. Everyone has their agency. How we react to good and bad tells a lot about who we are. Don't forget there are 3 degrees of glory and outer darkness. The greatest degree of glory being the celestial, the next being terrestrial and the third, telestreal. Let us all keep those who are devastated by nature or mankind in our thoughts and prayers and be helpful wherever it is needed. Maud.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      That's hilarious.
      Telestreal?
      Please, you must define this for us.
      Something to do with teleportation? television? teletubbies?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Forgot to mention.
      My agency is my invisible pink unicorn.
      Just in case you were wondering.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow, Maud. That's a "dilly" of a theory. What have you been smoking? I want some.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      Nut nut nut. Maud's a nut nut nut.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Oneforall777

      Thank you Maud. I'm afraid you need to spell it out that the 'opposition' means Satan or originally Lucifer, some people will not understand 'opposition' to God. Thank you for your thoughts.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Julie

      Are you familiar with the term psychotic?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • Leslie

      God made everything, right? So, Gave Adam choices between all the stuff he made, right? So, God made evil as a choice, RIGHT? Or did Lucifer have the power to "create" stuff, no? Ok, this is where the story falls apart for me. Because now it is our fault that evil is in the world, and that's why terrible things happen. But, God put evil in the world...

      And my grandma always told me, "God don't make to junk."

      May 21, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  6. Errday

    When death is on the line, don't ask a Christian for help. They will run away to pray in their laz-y-boys.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • JM

      Or they will spend their vacation time and money helping.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  7. Divdar

    Faith without works is dead.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Errday

      faith is worthless no matter how you dress it up

      May 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • Humanist11

      Faith is a cop-out for people who don't want to do the hard work to find the truth or who want to keep lying to themselves.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  8. crossbreed

    Proverbs 10-21 the lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for want of wisdom.
    Proverbs 15-2 the tongue of the wise uses knowledge right, but the mouths of fools pours out foolishness.
    Ecclesiastes 10-12,13,14. The words of a wise man mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself..
    13. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness and the end of his talk is mischievous madness..
    14. A fool also is full of words ,a man cannot tell what shall be and what shall be after him.. who can tell him?

    May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Chris

      Should I quote Lord of the Rings at you? Bible quotes – the ravings of ignorant Arab goat herders.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • crossbreed

      See ...you're all full of words... And that's all you are...

      May 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Unicorns 6-23: and lo the poop did foam from his mouth and it was a miracle and so he shared it with everyone

      May 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • crossbreed

      Aww .. now you mad cause you know its talkin about you..All you got to do is let go of that anger and you'll be set free..Come on , you can do it ..

      May 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Wellman

      Great compilation!

      May 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  9. Chris

    Wow! What a negative article! Why do you theists feel so attacked when people don't go along with your self deluded beliefs?

    All he said was that he sent money instead of prayers, the rest you are reading in to this. I guess you know that prayers are nothing more than BS and he makes you feel like the uncaring cur you really are. So much easier to say I'll pray for you.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Divdar

      Read it again. He is making fun of those who pray.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      His point being, why send prayers to the SOB who sent the damn tornado in the first place. It IS idiotic.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  10. Jeebusss

    God is killing school children to "get our attention" huh? This god of yours is one sick demented f***er.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • SK

      You are a dick....

      May 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  11. Name*penguin

    I believe in the power of prayer, but not in the sense that I expect God to answer or otherwise act on my prayer. I use prayer to remind me to think about a person, issue, or problem. My daughter, a devout atheist, does not pray- instead she "sends good thoughts". I guess that is an atheists form of "prayer."

    May 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  12. Age of Reason

    ...if "GOD" existed, there would never have been any innocent loss of life! And as for this "JESUS CHRIST" , many theologians are stating that "JESUS" never existed! Thomas Jefferson and Paine, Napoleon, Sir Edward Gibbon, Bertrand
    Russell, Sigmund Freud et al stated that "jesus" never existed, therefore, HE did not exist!!! Do not believe in him!

    May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Athy

      Even if jeebus did exist once, he doesn't exist now. And he ain't ever coming back. Ever, ever. You religies just have to get used to that.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • ?

      Well if 'they' and you say he doesn't exist, it must be true. =>

      May 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • crossbreed

      All because Napoleon said so.. Hahahahahahaha... Well Charles Manson said he was Jesus so I guess he does exist

      May 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      1 John 2:18

      Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. .

      Amen.

      P.S. Age of nonsense, Thomas Jefferson wrote his own bible.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • David Adams

      Yes. Thomas Jefferson did write his own bible; well, he edited his own version of a translated version. You should read it. You'd probably be uncomfortable with what he left out of his bible. Specifically any mention of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  13. J. Alexander

    .....The bombs could be in the air the end of mankind and with your last breath, still debating if there is or is not a God, you just don't know so how can you discuss something you know nothing about. Faith is a powerful tool to some people, it gets them through the day, and not believing gets some through their day, The question will be answered in both one day, either they will turn to dust and return to the ground, meet at the pearly gates, or have a warm reception waiting for them.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  14. Truenyc

    Atheism is the religion of the trolls.

    May 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Saying "atheism is the religion..." is like saying "the absence of religion is the religion...".

      Please try thinking for a change.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • Chris

      Atheism is not a religion, a religion is a form of worship which embodies a faith. Since I don't have any need for faith, because I go for truth rather than fairy tales, I don't need a form of worship to embody my lack of delusion. Theists just don't get it. It's like not being interested in sports, that doesn't mean you have to follow another sport.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • topcat

      i dont know what i am yet. but what do i have to do to subscribe to the atheist religion?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • SK

      atheism = no hope. What a lousy way to live life.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Chris (cough Tommy Tom) go spew your babble to the supreme court that states atheism is a religion.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • The real Tom

      HS, you are a bonehead. I just got home from work, idiot. Chris is someone else. There are many people who think you're a nutcase, not just one or two.

      May 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
    • Leslie

      Saying atheism is a religion is like saying "off" is a TV station.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  15. Moon_watcher53

    Pray that this god will breath life into the 24 victims and all the
    material damage will be instantly forgiven ! It can be done
    cause god's son did it in the bible, or doesn't that count anymore ??
    Let his manisfestations be seen in Moore this evening and
    everyone in Oklahoma will be more than happy !! (I'm an Okie !! )

    May 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  16. Agape

    Ranting about religion isn't doing anything for Oklahoma. Just sayin'...

    May 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Your soul is forfeit

      How is anything you say doing anything to help starving children in India?
      How is posting a comment proving your religion is anything but lies?
      Explain why your post isn't providing direct assistance to any children being tortured to death by Muslims.
      Show us how your religion is helping all those victims of your Catholic pedo-priests?
      Explain how arguing with atheists using lies is proving anything true?

      May 21, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  17. prayer & helping > whining & complaining

    Christians praying and helping much better than atheist complaining.

    May 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Jason

      The key word you use is "helping". Many people praying are not helping at all. They do so because it does nothing more than make them feel better.

      "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – James 2:26"

      And will quote it over and over again to those who don't seem to get the point.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  18. Jason

    ATTENTION CHRISTIANS –

    It's not praying that ruffles people's feathers. It's the people who do it that think they are making a difference, so it makes them feel better. Religion is a complicated thing, even to the most religious people. I am not a religious person myself, but the pastor I happen to know openly admits that he is continuously learning about Christianity and changes his opinions on individual matters on almost a daily basis.

    I'll quote a bible verse for you,

    "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – James 2:26"

    If praying makes the victims feel better, then so be it. But sending prayers via social media to people who will never read it and doing so without giving to them or working to help them is frivolous. In fact, many, like Gervais, view it as downright selfish and I can totally understand that.

    May 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • crossbreed

      Is gervais out here in oklahoma helping us.??didnt see him anywhere.. And by the way where are you at???

      May 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Tully

      So what's it to you, mr self appointed speaker for others ? Who gives a crap what u think. If we wanna pray, we will, and you can just lump it. No amount of your opinion is going to change our minds, so shut up about it and mind your own business.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  19. splassher6

    Trust CNN to carry the anti-Christian message

    May 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Jason

      "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – James 2:26"

      May 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  20. topcat

    9 million children die before the age of 5 each year. the tsunami in asia that killed a quarter million, is happening every 10 days to children under 5. let us pray?

    May 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      And what do you so called intelligent atheists suggest we should do? One thing that i'm sure of is you won't do a damn thing. You and you losers like you will either stay in your parents basement and spend your nights and days annoying people on CNN blogs about how intelligent you are. but you won't give a damn about those 9 million children who died, and sure ain't going to do anything to help other than probably going over there bragging your proud atheists flag in front of those who will be there bringing helps to those in needs, something you losers can't do.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Name*stephen420

      You call it faith....

      We call it knowledge....

      May 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      @Hadnuf

      You really don't want to meet me, trust me. You're not the first atheist i came face to face with. I know you too well, you're nothing, nothing at all.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • John Sharp

      @Hadnuf,
      No, you are nothing at all. Just the fact that you typed that anonymously in a op ed piece tell us all we need to know about you.

      There is no god. We can deduce that from simple observation. Save your childish belief system for the uneducated and stupid, which is where religion always flourishes.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Hadnuf

      Oh, I don't want to meet you. I was just trollin. You need to calm down and relax. Hey, I don't even own a gun. No worries.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • AtheistsMorons

      @Hadnuf

      You're the one who really need to calm down, and i'm not worrying one bit, don't worry.

      May 21, 2013 at 8:44 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.