On the ethics of “praying for someone”

I recently submitted my “hello folks” post to the forum. I am an an atheist, and I suffixed my post with an explicit request not to be told if readers wanted to “pray” for me. The response was rather inevitable – I was prayed for.

The whole point of including this suffix was a contrived segue into my first forum – the ethics of praying for someone, who has explicitly asked not to to be prayed for.

So – this begs the question – when it is ethical to do something that is explicitly requested NOT to be done?

My understanding is that people pray for me for a few reasons.
1. they want me to be “saved” – and not be doomed to eternal condemnation – whatever form that comes in (depending on which Christianity you subscribe to)
2. they want me to be “happy” – which presupposes that the pray-er considers either that I am unhappy now, or if I AM happy now, that the pray-er feels that I could be even happier. The happiness may be delivered in a variety of mechanisms, but they all have a similar ultimate manifestation.
There might be others, so feel free to point any out.

Regarding being saved (I’m not going to talk about being happ(y/ier) – it’s not a parameter that has an accessible metric):
The important point here, the ramifications of which may not be obvious to many is that god, God or gods are outside our ability to comprehend or understand. Importantly, they are not uniquely intangible. Unlike a rock, it is not possible to simply reach out and physically touch a god at whim. Gods are by definition, intangible for at least part of the time, and usually when we wish they were not.
This means that god,God,gods are un-testable (i.e. they cannot be verified, or falsified). In the case of christianity – god explicitly requests to be tested (to verify his promises of what appears to be his conditional faith: Malachi 3:10) and also explicitly forbids testing (Matthew 4:7I)
Moreover, the god that bob smith chooses to follow may not be the same god as Zhing Zhao follows, yet both will declare that their god is the only true god. Therefore, the way we understand gods are also subjective. Note I’m making the distinction here between a “real” god, and one that we assert exists. This is the same as a difference between an “absolute” and a “perceived” truth.

So Is “saving” someone against their request and in any case, ethical?
A more tangible and immediately obvious example of “being saved” may be if I were to stand on the end of a cliff, and announce that I was about to step off it – and that no-one should worry because I didn’t think I was going to come to any harm. Any decent person would try their darnedest to pull me back from the cliff, explain to me how and why it’s dangerous – someone might even try to detail to me, the conversion of potential into kinetic energy, and then into splat.
In this case, my question becomes less ambiguous – do you have a right to prevent someone from doing something to themselves that you KNOW (and can prove) is harmful, but they insist is not?

I maintain that you have a duty to explain clearly and logically to them how their actions are harmful, but you have no right at all to force them to do (or not do), something they do want to do (or don’t want to – the caveat is that they involving only themselves of course). Our role as thinking, tolerant humans is not to enforce our particular way of life or our philosophies, but merely to present our case as logically and factually as possible. If that person chooses to reject the logic, then we must explicitly respect their wish to do so – even if we “know” it will cause them harm – the other caveat here is that the person is demonstrably of sound mind and being, and have a means to intelligently process and critically analyse the information that we give them. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. the percieved sanity of the people we purport to save – importantly too – their perception of our sanity.

In the context of a religion, the matter becomes more clear in some areas, and more opaque in others. It’s not clear to me why a god would require humans to convey what to us, is an entirely abstract and intangible, yet apparently so crucial point to others, but I think the above conclusion still holds – once the case has been put factually, logically and clearly, then it is up to the listener to decide where to move, with that information in hand.

Given the necessarily unquantifiable nature of god,God,gods and religion, the matter is made even more nebulous: Religion is not a fact. This is why “faith” is so important. Faith operates in the absence of fact and indeed, faith DEMANDS that fact be absent. Without fact, arguments cannot be logically supported, which would tend to undermine completely the conclusion above – where a case must be presented logically – before intervention can be regarded as ethical.

From a completely humanistic point of view however, I think the case is cut and dried. Before you pray for someone to join your religion – I think the question must be asked, how might you feel, if someone prayed for YOU to become part of a different religion?

Here is a disclaimer:
I am an atheist, but I haven’t come here to flame, or ridicule, harrass or abuse anyone. I am here to try to learn about what christians think, and how and why you think it. IF I have written anything that you regard as profane, insulting, contemptuous or insensitive, then it’s probable that I haven’t been careful enough in the tone of my text – please let me know and I’ll try to reshape it.
My understanding of christians is probably very limited, so my apologies if I’ve said things that are incorrect or inapplicable – I would appreciate it if you point these out too. Many thanks.

What do YOU think?



  1. warrior daughter says:

    What are you afraid of em?….Are you afraid that your knowledge will be as dust that can be quickly blown away by a puff of wind???

    I am staying out of this for the reason that he came to us & we did not go looking for him & it will be revealed why he showed up here…

    • anonymous-em says:

      Hello warrior daughter.

      I’m not sure what gave you the impression that I’m afraid of anything WD. What might have given you that impression?

      If your god wants to make himself obvious to me, and irrefutable, then I’ll immediately accept him, but as yet, he has not done so, and in the interim, I will continue to use my logic and reason (that he gave me).

      I’m not too sure what you mean by you “staying out of it” – and yet you leave a comment? That seems contradictory to me.

  2. Timothy Luke says:

    The whole point of including this suffix was a contrived segue into my first forum – the ethics of praying for someone, who has explicitly asked not to to be prayed for.

    So – this begs the question – when it is ethical to do something that is explicitly requested NOT to be done?

    Seeing as I was the one who transgressed here. Let me repeat what I posted elsewhere.

    I gave the rationale for why I was going to pray. I assumed you would understand and make allowance for that. I see that you did not have the flexibility to do that, so I apologized to you.

    As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness. Once a person repents, we accept it, and move on as though the offense had not occurred. (repentance meaning a sincere confession of a transgression coupled with the promise to not repeat it)

    I also pointed out that my prayer was not that you would become a Christian, but that you would simply see the spiritual things I see. Being that you are all about wanting to know about Christianity, I thought the only way to fulfill your stated purpose for being on the boards was to have the one you are seeking information about, give you the spiriitual dimension that alone can unlock the realm of understanding you stated you came to seek.

    Ethically speaking, is it wrong for me to do all I know to do to grant your stated wish to understand Christians?

    I liken it to someone saying, help me, I am drowning, but I will be offended if you bring toss a smelly life ring to me. Do I risk offending them by tossing a smelly life ring, or do I respect their wish and start throwing a rope with no weight to get it out to where they are?

    • anonymous-em says:

      For your post and your honesty.

      Of course I wasn’t REALLY annoyed by your prayer for me, but I was trying to make a point.

      I’ll re-iterate that while I understand your wish for me to see things as you do, conformity is not really the most beneificial thing for humanity anyhow. If I tell you that I am very happy doing what I do, and being who I am, even after you insist that I could be “happier”, etc. Then I think we should collectlvely regard that as a strength of humanity – that we can diverge in multiple directions and still arrive at the same end-point.

      I suppose my real concern is the implicit wish by you for me to be the same as you. I wish I could assure you that I am extremly happy being who I am, and that, if my happiness is your motivation, then there is no need for your prayer.

  3. Most Christians that I have met became believers because of irrevocable proof and most none believers think that to believe in Christianity you have to walk off the edge the cliff first like a blind man. Most of us are so wrapped up in our ‘ways’ that the last thing we want to do is change our way of life even if we do believe in God, it’s usually in a half hearted way, ‘yeah I believe that there is a God and then carry watching the latest violent movie’. Even though we are to chase God, He chased me and I ran away for years until cornered and then captured. I loved my ‘previous’ life and never thought of changing until He grabbed me and shook me around until I sub mitted and now I am so glad that I did as now I have a mission in life, a real purpose. You are so missing out, I will not pray for you at your request because God has given you the decision to believe in him or not, that is why there is evil on this Earth, so you have a choice. God does not want to force you into anything and neither do I and you will never change unless something very drastic happens to you and the finger of God knocks you down. I am jealous of the people that became believers out of blind faith. The joy of Heaven awaits with the promise of eternal life but not everyone that says Lord, Lord etc etc etc. Hope that I have not offended you in any way and I hope that God kicks you up the backside just like He did with me. Oh this is of no consequence to you but since my initial miracle of God grabbing me I have had so many other testimonies.

    • anonymous-em says:

      Hi Cubits.
      thanks for your post.

      I’ll simply point out that the concept of “irrevocable” proof is probably flawed in this context – of course, were it irrevocable, then it would be immediately apparent to ALL humans, regardless of faith.

      Clearly, the proof is not irrevocable, since some people, in fact most people, dispute it.

      “God has given you the decision to believe in him or not, that is why there is evil on this Earth”
      Actually this is more than a little offensive – and if you don’t mind, stupid too. Lack of god does not generate evil. Nor does a belief in god eliminate it. People are evil regardless of faith, or lack thereof – ipsofacto, people are “good” regardless of faith or lack thereof.

      religion simply has nothing to do with it.

  4. lookinforacity says:

    Hi em

    I offer these verses, in evidence for what we as Christians deem to be Ethical, in our understanding, mans’ ethics do not bear any weight when they are placed along side the ethical behavior we are ourselves are held to, and required to demonstrate to this world. Gods’ ethics supersede mans ethics.

    So you will understand , v. 24 gives the list of those who were commanding, v.28 is the command, v. 29 the response.
    The name they were teaching in was Jesus.

    Act 5:24
    Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.

    Act 5:28
    Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.
    Act 5:29
    Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

    You have said at least three times to let you know if you do anything that we could construe as offensive to us. Just to inform you at the beginning, please use a capital G when you are referring to the God you know we worship, any other gods are lowercase g. Please do not misconstrue my close as a prayer, I will do that privately as per your request, my close is not a prayer, but a declaration. The same as someone saying have a good day, which I am sure you yourself have used from time to time, unless you ethically would not want someone to inadvertently have a good day{:>).

    Be Blessed

    • anonymous-em says:

      Hi Jim,
      I think you’ll find that I did, actually explicitly captialize the g. I also presented other options, to highlight the point that christianity includes only a minority of humans on the planet, and that it is but one of many. I use it in the general sense, exactly as you require, to ALSO include, but not to the exclusion of all others, YOUR God.

  5. My friend you may not understand this but even if you dont believe you still are praying to some one or something.I had a good friend that was an athiest and he said he never would pray to a god he cant see.Well one day hunting out in the deep woods he was pouring his heart out because his wife died a year before of cancer,so I said why do you do that,pour your heart out to what hesaid because it brings relief.See he was pouring his heart out to nature and wanting nature to comfort him.So heres my point wheather youcan see or hear people praying,people are prayiong all the time around you.I heard several people say to their computer I am begging of youto run faster and when it does they get excitted see people arealways praying the question is are they praying to a loveing and liveing God or are the praying to a god that has no ears,and has no heart and has no compassion.Just keep reading things on this web sight and you will see that no one is judgeing you.

    • anonymous-em says:

      Hi tim, I’m more than confused by your example.

      You claim that even if I’m not praying, I’m praying. Then you provide an anecdote about an atheist that you find praying, who justifies it because it brings relief?

      You seem to suggest that even the act of anthropomorphizing an object is still prayer?

      I’m not sure I agree or follow you – if I shout at my computer, I certainly don’t regard that as prayer..

  6. There are very few things which we can "know" without first accepting some philosophical assumptions. You, for example, cannot KNOW for sure that you were not created by an alien 5 minutes ago, complete with a set of false memories. But it doesn't seem LIKELY.

    What is at issue in epistomology is "Whose rules for knowing are valid?" In the minds of many atheists, the rules of the current philosophy of science constitute the only valid rules for really deciding if we "know" something. But who decides that these philosophical rules are universal in their scope? And on what authority? Indeed, if the minds of atheists are nothing but complex biological flukes, who is to say that what passes through them should be trusted as somehow representing "the real truth" about anything?

    Faith does not rely on the absense of facts. You probably got that from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" – you know the one in which "God" says "proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing", and so God promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. Bad logic, and bad misquote of the Bible also. It actually says of human beings, "If I have not love I am nothing".

    Faith, as defined in Christianity, is personal confidence in the spiritual revelations given by God. They may or may not be supported by physical evidence. There was plenty of physical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the grave was empty, for example. But the evidence for that evident is more legal in nature – trusted eyewitnesses who died for their convictions stated that they saw Christ alive. In any case, once we see God's answers to prayer, and past miracles, these constitute evidence that the Person who claims to be revealing Himself is indeed trustworthy.

    I'll leave it at that just for now, I'm not sure how much time I am going to have free to answer your questions. I hope this post is somewhat helpful to you in your process of discovery and analysis.

    • anonymous-em says:

      hi michael,
      thanks for your post.

      There are a few points you raise –

      1. the validity of logic as a “tool”. ( I think this is what you’re driving at)
      2. Faith

      let’s see if I can respond:
      I’m often confronted with the question regarding the validity of logic. It’s simple to demonstrate it’s “validity”, but harder to assert it’s absolute utility – quite simply, logic works. It’s the best tool we know about – does that mean it’s absolutely the best? not at all – it’s just the best we have on hand. It’s demonstrably more useful than prayer, for example, in providing medical care, agriculture, communications and transport.

      Faith –
      you define it as personal confidence in revelations by god. I’ll point out that this is circular – you first have to have confidence in the existence of god and the only way to do this is to have confidence in his revelations – ergo: circular.

      I haven’t drawn my description of faith from HHGTTG, but from a generalized description from the dictionary:
      from webster: firm belief in something for which there is no proof

      indeed, if that something had “proof” then “faith” and “belief” are redundant, since “know” is sufficient.
      I don’t have “faith” in the sky being blue, nor to I “believe” it to be blue. It just is – regardless of my faith, belief or anything else.

      Faith operates in the absence of proof, because were there proof, “knowledge” would supplant “faith”.

  7. You write:

    "From a completely humanistic point of view however, I think the case is cut and dried. Before you pray for someone to join your religion – I think the question must be asked, how might you feel, if someone prayed for YOU to become part of a different religion?"


    Christians should not be operating from a humanistic point of view. We pray for God's kingdom to come, not merely for the world to be a nicer place for us. From our point of view, people should turn to God because it is the right thing to do, and God deserves it for many reasons, not because it will necessarily make you happier in this life (though it might).


    No one can pray you into the Kingdom against your will. What prayer CAN do, is disable the demonic powers which hold your mind locked in certain thought patterns you would not normally be ABLE to break out of.

    When your mind is held by dark powers promoting an antichrist philosophy such as atheism, you just won't be open to certain thoughts.

    The human mind is an uncertain reference point for absolute truth.

    • anonymous-em says:

      I think it’s time for a little mathematics:

      let’s define a something in numbers : 1.
      an anti something, therefore, is -1

      but what is neither something, nor antisomething? does it exist? of course, it’s zero.

      You’ve mounted a false dichotomy – essentially you’ve said that since I don’t blindly assert the existence of your god, then I have demons in my head that advocate that nothing is an anti-something.

      You’ll understand if I find this more than a little illogical.

      Firstly, demons in my head are something that you need to prove exist – and if you can only use a bible to do so, then you’ll excuse me if I point out that you’re not presenting a sensible or logical, let alone intellecutally robust case.

      Secondly, I don’t maintain an “anti-god” philosophy – at least, the demons you say live in my head don’t. I maintain a no belief philosophy. This neither accepts nor rejects your god.

      I HAVE broken out of the inadequate thought patterns that are the dogma of religion. I’ll contend, and I can probably prove it, that I am far more open, far more accepting, far more informed on most matters, religious or not-religious, than you claim to be.

      Now, we can validate this later if you like, but for now, which do you regard as more intelligent – a philsophy that is reasoned, considered, rationalised from amongst a wide variety of options – or one that is limited, narrow and dogmatic?
      when you’ve answered that, we can get onto describing why atheism is the former, and christianity is the latter.

      • michael says:

        I'm not actually very interested in your atheism. I am talking about things I have personal experience with. You are talking about logical reasons you think you have that prove that my philosophy is wrong. You actually bore me.

        • anonymous-em says:

          Hello michael.

          If you’re not interested, then don’t continue to reply. I don’t need to know you’re not interested. I can assume it to be the case if you simply don’t reply.

          In any case – you were talking about “demons”. Specifically, you mentioned that a mind that is being “locked” in thought patterns such as atheism, i.e. my mind, it’s demons that are doing it.
          Now hope you can understand if someone describes my VERY carefully considered philosophy as antichrist, dark-power and demon-controlled., that I’m going to push back – exactly the way you just did by protesting that I used “logic to try to prove your philosophy wrong”.

          Instead of taking offence, let’s dispense with the slanging match – unless I still bore you, how about you detail your accusation? Exactly what is a demon? They’re mentioned often in the bible, but never described to any useful level. Is a demon something with physical representation? is it a cognitive “thing”? how do I get them, where do I get them from, and more to the point, why? Do they simply manifest only as a antichrist thought – or are there other ways to detect them?

          For the sake of argument, I’ll re-introduce my favourite non-christian, Mahatma Ghandi – as one of the most genuine, selfless and beautiful people that ever existed. He was also not-christian, exactly as I am. Would you claim that he was also held by demons (admittedly not of the atheist type, but certainly of the “not-christian” type). If so, why was he so incredibly generous, and in every other way, a model human being?

          As for logical reasons that I think prove your philosophy wrong – no, I certainly don’t have that. However I DO have logical reasons that prove your philosophy is not logical.
          Being “wrong” and being “illogical” are not always the same thing.

      • Timothy Luke says:

        I maintain a no belief philosophy. This neither accepts nor rejects your god. 

        Congratulations! You believe in no belief! How silly! (I hope my pointing out the obvious contradiction of logic, would not be termed 'flaming')

        em, there are things in life that simply are, or are not. They are "one way" or "the other". "Neither" is a non-option. I am either pregnant, or I am not pregnant is one of those things. I either have eternal life, or I do not. I either accept the existance of God, or I do not.

        Since God is. Period. One either accepts Him for who He is, or defacto, the non acceptance is a rejection. You are in denial of your rejection, which is the absence of your acceptance.

        As for morally good people. Paul the apostle took note of such. The judgment seat of Christ is to be handled by Himself. If you color God's judgment black, you run the scenario and then condemn God for your vain imagination of being whatever you have imagined Him.

        We are telling you clearly, and you cannot receive it. God is not a mystery to us. He is real. He lives and moves and has His being in us. Love is not an intellectual discussion for me.

        I believed in God and He answered my faith with healing and deliverance. You cannot see that for what it is. I have no choice but to hold fast to the truth delivered to me. I cannot sell it to you for a bag of theories and ponderings anymore than you can sell your family (presupposing you love your family and they love you) to someone who believes the worst about them.

        This conversation ends here. You cannot believe in what I cherish. I cannot abandon what I cherish for someone who worships his mind and ignores the God who gave it to him.

        • anonymous-em says:

          Hi tim,
          you’ve artificially terminated the conversation, AFTER you made a bit of a bungle:

          me: ” maintain a no belief philosophy.”
          you: Congratulations! You believe in no belief!

          Yet you say this immediately AFTER I told you I have no belief?

          tim, I already told you you I have no belief, yet you insist I do, then claim it’s a logical contradiction?

          no, not a logical contradiction, just a bit of a failure on your behalf, to read what I wrote clearly.

          Now I hope I’ve corrected you, and you can undersatnd that your entire post which was derived from your error is not really valid – however if you want to discontiue, then that’s your perogative.

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