Tornadoes and Prayer

Well, Pat Robertson’s at it again, apparently. With regard to the killer tornadoes that ravaged the midwest this last week, Pat said on his show;

“If enough people were praying [God] would’ve intervened, you could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you can still storms.”

  • How does he know the mind of God?
  • How does he know God would have intervened?
  • How does he know that instead, maybe enough people did pray to, oh, I don’t know, cut the severity of the storms in half, or also prevent a plague of festering boils at the same time? Phew, if so! Thanks for the prayer, warriors! I’m pretty sure I would not like festering boils!
  • What does it say for the morality of God (as we mere humans understand the word) when the lives of entire communities are dependent on a critical mass of people supplicating and pleading to a divine being for mercy that would not be otherwise forthcoming?
  • How is such a statement ever falsified? In other words, does the fact that we didn’t have killer tornadoes today suggest that today enough people were praying? How is anything like this ever open to question, to testing, to verification, to falsification?
  • Consider these calamities and others for which Robertson and just a few months ago, Barbara Bachman (and apparently “only” 40% of Americans, but up to 59% of Evangelicals) blame the behavior of mere mortals. Why do they so often target the midwest and south where the highest percentages of church-goers and religiosity are found in our country instead of those awful bastions of liberal godless sinfulness like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York City?
  • How is this substantively different from thinking we need to sacrifice a virgin to mollify the angry volcano god?
  • Besides a handful of since-debunked and fraudulent studies, what evidence is there that prayer works at all anyway, especially when Yes, No, Later and Maybe are all seen as answers to prayer? And rather, why doesn’t it work in the ways the Bible says it does and will, and with as much effectiveness as the Bible says it does and will, and as certainly as the Bible says it does and will? (see Mark 11:24, Matthew 7:7, 17:20, 18:19, 21:21, John 14:12-14, for starters). And what can we do but consider any or all the excuses nothing but theological tap-dancing for why these verses either don’t mean what they say or are taken out of context and for why none of this works as the Bible says it does and will?

I understand that people will simply brush these questions aside or rationalize them in one way or another.  This all has to be a matter of faith, perhaps.  Let me concede that point but only to ask this; If any of what he is saying is possibly less than 100% true, then where is the slightest trace of intellectual humility, of tentativeness at all, in the content and delivery of Robertson’s assertion to understand God’s specific thinking, motives and intentions on these disasters?

Pat Robertson is an easy target and easy targets like him allow the faithful to claim that he does not represent true Christians or Christianity. I have to disagree.  It’s one thing to claim Rush Limbaugh does not represent Republicans or Bill Maher Democrats because there are official organizations that really do. There is no such group for “Christianity” and so his claim to speak for God is no more or less legitimate than anyone else’s.  There is no universal or even commonly accepted standard against which to judge what he says (or what the Bible says, for those who will suggest it as the standard).  His claims and the size of his audience are rightly considered one of the fruits of his belief system. Second, Pat Robertson is only nominally the point. The easy target allows his detractors to avoid the bigger issue, on these questions on prayer and the mind of God, of which he is only one wild branch from the same bush.  So forget Robertson for a moment.  If anyone believes that the mind and plans of God can be divined, that his mind can be changed, that anything that happens in the known universe can be averted or manifest because of prayer and supplication to a divine being (rather than a result of the meditative benefits on their own), then these questions stand.

A Related Aside: Pat Robertson is getting advanced in years and his eye grows dim.  One wonders where and to whom the mantle of his oracle, of his mind-of-God knowing awesomeness will fall.  More and more I believe we have found the answer in a man who perhaps thought he might inherit the mantle of someone else altogether.

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16 thoughts on “Tornadoes and Prayer

  1. Good questions. Where IS the humility? This reminds me of when I first walked away from at least the organized part of religion. I immediately knew that I didn’t trust anyone with the title of Pastor, Priest or Reverend. Precisely because, if one had the audacity to call oneself by such a title, one was to be absolutely distrusted. How can anyone claim to KNOW shit when it comes to the mind of god? In my book, the fact that anyone claims to KNOW anything about the “spiritual” makes them an arrogant poser. Which brings up the question, do these people truly believe they know what they do or are some of them just shysters who know darn well that they are selling b.s.?

    Franklin Graham and this whole Republican, religious war to control women’s bodies scares the crap out of me! Do you ever read/listen to Frank Schaeffer, Ojo? He can be a bit verbose at times but has some great things to say about the current political climate.

  2. It embarrasses me terribly as a Christian to hear these leaders make such audacious statements…I am sure you know that there are a few of us still left with some humility and compassion, but we aren’t on national TV, and many of us don’t belong to churches because of the foolishness that goes on in them, as the previous person stated.

    Many of us are still “peacemakers” as Jesus taught we should be, and we don’t believe that God favors America over other countries. This nationalist gospel is not true, and it is sickening to listen to.

    The capitalist gospel is also offensive to some of us. Unfortunately, many churches have become highly profitable business ventures, their leaders are salesman, and the product they are selling is Jesus. It makes me angry, because Christ was nothing like many of these who are claiming to represent Him. Gandhi said it so well: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

    I can only humbly apologize for the arrogance, greed and corruption in the name of religion that has gone on for centuries. It is obvious that is has nothing to do with Christ or His teachings.

    I appreciate the honesty in your expressions, and wish you well.

  3. Once again thank you for your honesty as usual. I have the same questions myself and I consider myself a believer in God. I love the questions you have asked and would love to have the answers myself. Probably won’t ever get them. I don’t understand that. Some “Christians” will come at you and talk about how the bible says “it rains on the just and the unjust” but I think that is bullshit. When is it going to rain on an ass like Pat Robertson? When is it going to rain on the “just”? I would love God to answer those questions for me. As usual I have more questions than answers these days. Hell, I am trying to figure out at the age of 41 how to tell my family of “Christians” that I am going to move in with my girlfriend and maybe get married someday and maybe not. I don’t believe in marriage (I am twice divorced) as the church and requires it and it’s going to be an interesting next few weeks. Anyway, didn’t really mean to make this about me. I hurt for those people that suffered during these horrible storms and are still picking up the pieces. Fucksticks like Pat Robertson should have to go through what they are going through.

  4. Pat Robertson couldn’t possibly represent all of Christendom, just as Bin Laden didn’t represent all Muslims. Christianity has become so fragmented, with Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant believers, not to mention all of the various denominations and sub-denominations. If you sat ten Christians together at one table, they would disagree on doctrine and liturgy and probably an assortment of other things. It’s sad to say, but true. So Robertson cannot speak for all believers. Some of us have removed ourselves completely from the whole program, and we express our faith without the labels or the legalism.

    With all due respect to Hitchens, I daresay he didn’t represent the entire world of free thinkers either. You should read the article about him called “He Knew He was Right” about the instability of his opinions which shifted all the time, and yet he was always right because he could talk and debate better than most people. Orators and debaters don’t impress me that much.

    I saw the article about the fellow who walked away from Christianity, and I found his arguments to be pretty shallow, but he is entitled to express them nonetheless. I don’t try to convince anyone to share my beliefs, but I do think we all must teach tolerance.
    We should promote mutual dignity and respect, and this world would be more of a loving and peaceful place. Isn’t that what we all really want?

    I really do appreciate you addressing the issues that you bring up on this blog, and I mean no disrespect to you or your very well-written posts.

    • I think that’s right. There are plenty of serious denominations who have proper hierarchies and would reject Robertson’s self-aggrandising and unsubstantiated claims.

      But nevertheless, the same points stand because the vast majority believe in the power of prayer one way or another. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re talking about tornadoes, parking spaces, or just having a nice feeling – the same principles apply.

      • Most sensible believers acknowledge that God is not Santa Claus, and doesn’t give us everything we ask for, so it is ludicrous for Robertson to say what he did.

        Many of us don’t identify with these high-profile leaders and their attitudes in any way, because they seem to lack humility, as another blogger pointed out.

        Prayer is not a magic wand. We pray because Christ prayed and He instructed us to do the same, regardless of the outcome.

        We don’t pray to ask God for everything we want, but in order to strengthen our own character and our focus, so that we can treat people better and detach ourselves from the selfish worldly system.

        I understand why so many people have misconceptions based on listening to these people on TV, and I feel bad about that.

        I do appreciate your message and your concerns.

      • If that was a mainstream understanding of prayer, I’d be much happier, because I think that sort of meditational approach is valuable regardless of your beliefs or the truth of them. But you can’t just duck the question of petitionary prayer. This isn’t about prayer being a magic wand, but whether you believe God ever intervenes.

        In the CofE, hardly a bastion of extreme conservative theology, it’s a set part of the liturgy to ask God to do intervene in the world. Christians ask God to intervene all the time, and it’s nonsense to imply that they do this without any hope or expectation that God will answer. They generally do it differently, and have woolly theological justifications for why God might not act, but the principle is the same.

        If you disagree that God might intervene, you’re putting yourself on the extreme fringes of Christianity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you can’t say a non-interventionist God is mainstream Christian theology, because it’s not. In fact, it’s distinctly heterodox.

      • Your knowledge of theology is rather impressive for a recovering agnostic! Great blogger name, by the way.

        Of course, I also believe in petitioning God because Christ commanded us to do it. But to suggest we know why He doesn’t always do our bidding, as if we can know that, is a different story altogether. There are those who will say that if a man is poor and hungry, he must have sinned in some way or not prayed hard enough. I don’t buy into that kind of cheap theology, that has a pat answer for everything. Christ said the poor would always be with us. I would call the prosperity doctrine and the nationalist doctrine forms of heresy, because they diminish important issues of social justice and suffering and they don’t reflect what Christ taught.

        But the real question here was whether it is fair to say Robertson represents all believers. Most bigotry starts with generalizations and stereotypes about groups of people. All I am asking is not to be stereotyped. And there are others who feel as I do about these topics.

        I really admire the people on this blog for raising these important issues, that need to be discussed.

  5. Interesting that I discovered this blog at the same time as our church (yes, sorry, I’m one of ‘those people’) is studying the book of Job. Struggling with doubts while self-assured oracles present theories as fact is nothing new.

    Regarding the main topic (petitionary prayer) I must confess that I’ve never quite been comfortable asking God for ‘things’ — even things like healing from minor ailments — no less outright miracles. “Your will be done” is sufficient.

    I (think I) agree with Recovering Agnostic in that the theology surrounding prayer may be fuzzy, but the notion of a God who does not intervene in the affairs of men leads to naturalism, or maybe cold deism. I choose not to go there.

    • So much for not jumping in….. Matt, I’ve always been more of the “crap happens” to everybody whether you pray or don’t. Always makes me uneasy when people survive a shooting or plane crash and say “God shielded me from X” or “God must have a purpose for me to have kept me from X”, like the people who did die weren’t Christian enough or God didn’t really have special plans for them, so they were allowed to die in the shooting/crash/tornando. The reason I personally pray is that I derive comfort from believing that God will listen me and will help me go through whatever comes my way. He’s not a candy dispenser, but he’s not disinterested either. Again, my faith can’t be proved so I could just be mumbling nonsense to nobody, but I see my God as the strong silent type who isn’t into granting wishes but doesn’t ignoring me either.

      • Without a combative thought in my head, let me disagree a bit. Perhaps not with your thinking as much as with your wording.
        I rarely (if ever) say “God shielded me from X” because to me it goes without saying. (‘In him we live and move and have our being’ and all that.) But I wouldn’t assume that when somebody else says something like that, they are implying that they are somehow ‘more special’ than others. Perhaps, if they were among the casualties in that hypothetical event you allude to, they would say “God has numbered my days, and my number is up.” I wouldn’t assume they were implying that they are ‘special’ in God’s sight.
        And if they were implying that, I’d suggest they revisit what Jesus said in re: the Tower of Siloam.

  6. Ojo, found this blog while googling Branded (Still one of my favorite CD’s). Not going to jump in the discussion just yet, better to listen than to speak, but am fascinated that a site exists where the flame throwing on both sides is at a minimum. Will be back often.

  7. I’m always amazed that every time a tragedy hits, there is always a reporter shoving a microphone in the face of some poor person who’s just lost his house, family, livelihood. This person invariably says, “Well, my house is gone. My wife and children are dead. I know I shouldn’t still believe in God, but I do.” And I always think, WHY? And why does the mainstream media always find believers to put on TV? To date, I’ve never seen anyone interviewing an atheist or agnostic. We are constantly bombarded with supposedly uplifting, feel-good stories promoting Christianity (yes, they don’t ever interview Muslims or Jews). Why doesn’t anyone ever question this?

  8. Pat Robertson is an easy target and easy targets like him allow the faithful to claim that he does not represent true Christians or Christianity. I have to disagree. It’s one thing to claim Rush Limbaugh does not represent Republicans or Bill Maher Democrats because there are official organizations that really do. There is no such group for “Christianity” and so his claim to speak for God is no more or less legitimate than anyone else’s. There is no universal or even commonly accepted standard against which to judge what he says (or what the Bible says, for those who will suggest it as the standard). ”

    Good point. You could take the advice we’ve all heard before – judge Christianity by Christ alone. Which is still wrong (or incomplete) because I don’t believe from my reading of the Gospels, that Jesus was at all interested in starting a religion. And yet, there is a kernel of truth in that, and I’m genuinely sorry that it’s typically used as an excuse.
    Sigh. I wish that “being a Christian” didn’t exist. By that I simply mean, people stopped referring to themselves as such, and if their life and the way they lived and loved others reminded us of Jesus, then OTHERS could say so.
    I understand that it’s theology, and therefore something you don’t recognize as “true” but this whole “what would Jesus do?” fiasco hasn’t helped. It’s simply made people compare their behavior with whatever they or their various sect determines is “what Jesus would do.” Instead of dying to ourselves.
    So now, we have become bad actors instead of spritual evolutionary products.
    I hope that my ramble makes some sort of sense. 🙂
    Have a great day!

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