Intercessory Prayer in a Nutshell

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The "Russell's Teapot" comic strips often presented some rather pointed critiques of Christian orthodoxy. Unfortunately, as is often the case with atheist criticisms of Christianity, the author of that comic strip conflates a critique of Christian orthodoxy with support for atheism per se, when in fact it is possible to agree with many of those criticisms without being an atheist. In any case, from a couple of years ago, here is a comic that summarizes intercessory prayer:

10 comments:

Frank said...

I think intercessory prayer is an important thing for us to do. I do think it "accomplishes" something. I'm not exactly sure what or how.

St. Augustine talks about prayer as nurturing the spark of desire. It helps the one who is doing the praying fan their desires into flames. I also think prayer opens us to God and lets God work through us or makes us aware of the channels and currents of God so that we can jump on them. Or maybe it realy does channel the energies of the universe.

The problem with that comic is that it uses basic Enlightenment categories to diss intercessory prayer, and I find that to trite. It's like people who diss the Trinity based on the simple mathematical formula that 1 can't equal 3 and that is the beginning and end of discussion for them.

Mystical Seeker said...

I have no problem with people unloading their fears and concerns about others and about the world to God through prayer. I think there is in fact great value in that.

What I do have a problem with is what I think many or most people conceive of when they engage in intercessory prayer--namely, that they are beseeching God to contravene what otherwise would have taken place through the laws of nature, by the exercise of omnipotent power. In fact, the very word "intercessory" implies that you are asking God to "intercede", which is to say intervene in the world.

As Spong likes to point out, if God's intervention in the world depends on people having plenty of Christian friends who will pray for them, then that means that the friendless and the outcasts--supposedly among those Jesus took a particular interest in--don't get prayed for and thus don't get this special divine intervention. Morally, this is hard to justify. And it points to broader questions about theodicy when you have an omnipotent God.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Cute.

If intercessory prayer is performed in place of actually doing something I think there is a major problem.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

I'm not sure I understand this part of your comment: "The problem with that comic is that it uses basic Enlightenment categories to diss intercessory prayer, and I find that to trite."

What "enlightenment categories" are you referring to?

Frank said...

Prickliest Pear,

I think the linear diagram from the comic is a good example of an Enlightenment mindset. There is something Newtonian about it, action equaling direct reaction. I find that so many of the modern criticisms of Christianity actually stem from this time period.

I have to admit you caught me using terms that I am just beginning to understand myself, but as I chew on it all more maybe I can share better later.

Perhaps it boils down to something Mystical talks about a lot--that many of the atheists out there seem to be only in opposition to a fundamentalist notion of religion and ignore any other approach. Perhaps this comic is really opposing only a fundamentalist notion of prayer...?

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

I don't know if I understand what you mean by the diagram being "Newtonian," but if, as you say, you are "just beginning to understand" it yourself, then don't worry about it.

One problem with the modern worldview, influenced by Newtonian physics, is that it conceives of the universe as a closed system of cause and effect, which is simply not how much of the universe operates.

But I don't think this comic is suggesting that there is necessarily a cause and effect relationship between the prayer of the believer on the one hand and the intervention by God on the other. There is no indication that God is compelled to act one way or the other. It is simply calling attention to the fact that some conventional beliefs about God and prayer (especially intercessory prayer) don't really mesh well with each other. And I think the comic illustrates that very nicely, actually.

A deity that (A) knows help is needed, and (B) is capable of granting that help, but (C) withholds that help unless another individual asks for that help on the other person's behalf is, let's be honest, a rather strange character. And yet all three of those beliefs are held by many if not most Christians. But logical corollary of this set of beliefs is that God is more likely to help those who are known and loved by many people than those who are unknown to and/or unloved by many people. Given Jesus's own concern for those who fell into the latter category, this is indeed a strange theology for any Christian to hold.

Frank said...

Prickliest: I think you are right in that the comic shows how absurd a cause and effect notion of intercessory prayer is, if you take it at the most literal understanding possible. That's exactly what I meant by the Newtonian perspective.

While you think we disagree I think we actually are saying the same things... maybe I'm missing something?

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

I agree with much of what you said, but I think you're reading more into the comic than is actually there -- or more, at least, than I'm reading.

色彩 said...

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CT said...

My pet gripe about claims for intercessory prayer......the people who read divine intervention into any evetn no matter what happens. Example - child is sick. Parents pray for child to get well. Child does not get well. Grandma comes over to visit sick child.

Parents claim God is teaching child patience. Parents celebrate the renewed relationship between child and Grandma.

Get it ? So no matter what outcome there is the parents claim divine intervention in response to their prayer. Some people call this faithfulness. I call it illusory and ultimately dishonest.