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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply (Choose Facebook or Standard)

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonYouTube Icon