I’ll Never Understand This

Christopher Hitchens

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, it is time for me, once again, to put on my “naive religious person” hat and wonder why on earth people get offended over the stupidest things.

It has nothing to do with the recent decision to ban cross memorials for fallen state troopers in Utah because it allegedly is Christian proselytization forced on innocent motorists driving down the highway. That was a bit outrageous, and those judges should have their heads examined. The cross isn’t a Mormon symbol, and both the folks who erected the monuments and the troopers to whom the monuments were dedicated were Mormons. The cross has come to mean “grave marker” just as much as it symbolizes Christianity. For more information on that, see the related links below.

No, the subject of this post is one of far greater concern to me. Vjack of Atheist Revolution has written a post decrying prayers being offered for Christopher Hitchens’s recovery from cancer. He discusses why prayer, in this specific case, is offensive, then treats the broader issue of why prayer in general is offensive.

Obviously, Vjack and I disagree strongly on the efficacy of prayer. I don’t want this post to turn to that subject. Joshua Rasmussen, who has offered some assistance with my project to update answers to Why Won’t God Heal Amputees and God is Imaginary, is busy researching that very topic and it will be addressed in detail shortly.

Instead, let’s focus on what prayer is to the Christian. Prayer is a two-way communication between the Christian and God. Admittedly, many times it appears ineffective when applied to the circumstances surrounding one’s life and only seems effective at centering one’s priorities and (in many cases) altering brain chemistry to speed healing. Since it’s a two-way street, it is equally useful for discerning God’s will for the life of the penitent.

Additionally, God wants us to pray. The example of prayer is the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gives us in Matthew 6:9-14. In this template, the penitent only asks for what he needs, not what he wants. This indicates, as do other verses on prayer, that God happily grants what we need. However, God sparingly (if at all) grants what we want.

Need and want are very important to distinguish from one another. My two-and-a-half year old daughter can make this distinction. Whenever she’s doing something she’s not supposed to do, once I catch her, she informs me that she “needs” to do it. If my two-and-a-half year old can make this distinction, then I would assume adults trying to critique prayer can, too.

That means I was disappointed when I first read proof #1 over at GII, since the anonymous author (Marshall Brain?) fails in making that distinction, taking verses on prayer and misusing them to turn prayer into a free-for-all, ask-for-anything-and-God-grants-it strawman argument.

None of this precludes asking God for what we want. God may not grant our every desire, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to ask for it. Intimate relationships require a certain vulnerability. We should open all of our hearts to God when we pray, and that means asking for what we desire.

If enough people are praying, how could God refuse?

That said, why can’t the atheist think of this prayer as a peace offering? Prayer is important and central to the Christian’s spiritual life. Hitchens is a very outspoken critic of all things religious. Religious people, especially the Christians he repeatedly derides, are praying to God for mercy for Hitchens. We are praying that he live longer. He might convert to Christianity, he might now. Personally, I think he is being used by God mightily right where he is. His criticisms force believers to think critically about their Christian faith, and undoubtedly edifies as many (or more) believers as he wrests away from the faith.

Taking offense to this reveals that atheists seem to have a bit of a grudge. Why the bitter axe? We believe we are helping Hitchens, whether the atheist believes this or not. We are trying to show him the charity he lacks in dealing with us–that is, we’re living out our faith and praying for the healing of one of the faith’s greatest enemies. If it is offensive, perhaps it’s because this example of “turn the other cheek” flies in the face of the usual atheist claims of Christian hypocrisy. They believe that Christians are hypocrites who don’t really believe what we claim or ever practice what we preach. When this shining counterexample surfaces, they express as much outrage as they do when an example of Christian hypocrisy surfaces.

We’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Atheists constantly point out when we don’t live out our faith–and they seem to take perverse pleasure in doing so. But, when we do live out our faith (Mt 5:44), they take deep offense.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on August 25, 2010, in God, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Oneness Shows You Heaven Is Now!

    I sat with the Great Master one night, and He taught me of wrong and He taught me of right.

    His words were like an arrow straight to my heart, I knew then I had nothing to fear, cause He would never, ever part.

    He told me He Loved me in so many ways; That if I tried to explain it to you it would appear a verbal maze.

    I will try to tell you of the FEELING He gave; When He told me of His Love and how it was made.

    “Love began as One”, He said and that’s the way it stayed; Until we “thought” and forgot we had it made; Not to worry and not to fret, the Great Master continued, “God” would never gamble nor “God” never bet.

    “God” would never take a chance on losing His only son. So always remember we have always been One…………………………………………………………………………………………..

    When you first SEE “God” you realize something unexplainable and yet true, the more you seek the “Love Devine”, the more you realize that everything yours is mine!” (and Visa versa)

    When you can (and you must to understand) accept that we are all One in concept you will then begin a transformation that for every step you take toward “God within”, ”God” takes TEN steps toward you. You need to agree at least in concept that we are all One. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad and all other Master’s of the “Inner-World” or “Heaven” have told us we are all One.

    OK, Now you want to take the concept and make it real in your life. Because a concept is only a concept in the mind until it has been proven to be Reality. You can prove that we are all One when, we begin to See everyone as the Christ consciousness and treat them accordingly. Start by looking at everyone without thought or judgement, even some one you think you know really well.

    When you do not judge anyone you will SEE them with the eyes Christ told us about.

    It only gets better brothers and sisters;

    “God” tells us “SEEK and YOU will FIND!”

    Always Love,

    I C U in Me,


    More to follow….

  2. Hmm. Didn’t Hitchens say himself he doesn’t mind people praying? (even if he doesn’t believe it accomplishes anything).

  3. Well, I don’t understand the offense either…I never mind people telling me they will pray for me, it actually shows that they care…and I heard Christopher Hitchens saying he doesn’t mind prayers in an interview (if it makes people feel better), but I guess that’s not the subject of the post, it’s about Vjack getting offended FOR the man…

  4. While I am not surprised at vjack’s feeling of offense at prayer for Hitchens, I am also not surprise at Hitchens’ lack of it. Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter Hitchens, is a Christian. No doubt, his own brother is praying for him.

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