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Prayer Requests

Even though it is pretty well established that I am an atheist, I still get e-mails for “Prayers” or to join “Prayer Chains.” On social networking sites I also see these stupid things. How ought an atheist respond to such things?

For starters, I have to figure out what these people are hoping to accomplish with their prayer requests. Fundamentalists of course believe that prayers might change God’s divine plan or something, but moderate believers use them simply as a way of showing some sort of support for their friends and family.

When someone is sick or hurt, I understand that people want to help even when there is no real help that they can do. So I get that prayer requests can in some cases be simply a way to ask for some support from friends and family. Some, atheists let people know that they are “thinking of them” or that we will “keep them in our thoughts.” These are good ways to deal with the whole prayer request thing, but still they don’t seem like they are any more rational than prayers.

So I am wondering what ideas people have which convey that we are there for our friends and family without resorting to these less rational alternatives? One possible thing that we can say in response to a prayer request from someone we know is that we can offer to help out if they or those closest to them need anything or just need someone to talk to.

Maybe we can come up with some social convention which can take the place of the “prayer request” like maybe a comfort request or a compassion request. Just some thoughts, let me know your ideas.

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