Why do we pray?

Simple enough question, huh? But I can’t come to any good answer. Here are some reasons I have for why people pray:

  1. your religious book commands you to. If that’s the case, I would say that your book tells you to do a lot of things, many of which aren’t used in practice today. No one has sacrificed animals in the Jewish religion since 70 AD. You’re now allowed to eat meat on Friday. Religion changes and some things get left behind. So doing it because a book told you still doesn’t answer the basic question of why it’s done.

  2. God has commanded you to. This one doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t you want to pray? Why must God command you to do it? Why should anyone pray to a God that requires you pray to Him? Seriously, I find the idea a little egocentric for God. Any God that needs us to remind him he’s God doesn’t seem like that great of a God.

  3. A moral compass. You pray to God because God is good and you must align yourself to the path of goodness. Fair enough. But the more times we spend alligning, the less time we spend living. Praying to Mecca 5 times a day, spending 1-2 hours a day in synagogue for morning and evening services. The problem is that praying is, IMO, a neutral event. You aren’t out doing evil, but you never have the chance to do good while you’re stuck there praying. If God wants us to do good in the world, why doesn’t He allow us more time to do it?

  4. A sense of understanding. To pray is to help understand the world. But what are we understanding? We already know that God is good. Do we need a 400 page book that tells us that again and again for sentence after sentence, page after page? I enjoy the Torah, if only for the stories within. Whether they’re true or not, historically accurate or not, is irrelevant. They contain morals to help us learn and that I can accept. But then I open up the prayer book and see 500 adjectives for “good” as pertaining to God and I ask “what am I learning?” I can’t come to an answer

  5. a sense of community. This seems, to me at least, the best answer I can come up with. This is why we pray. To share ourselves with the rest of the congregation. But then why do we pray silently? Why do we pray alone in our houses? Doesn’t God know what we’re feeling? He’s God, right? Why do we feel it a chore to come to religious services and why do we feel it is bad to talk to our neighbor during the service? If we can pray on our own, why do we have religious temples?

So…why do we pray?



People pray because they’re ignorant/stupid/ haven’t given it much thought. Virtually every learned theologian has dismissed the viability of petitionary prayer. Or, as George Carlin put it:

I’ve often thought people treat God rather rudely, don’t you? Asking trillions and trillions of prayers every day. Asking and pleading and begging for favors. Do this, gimme that, I need a new car, I want a better job. And most of this praying takes place on Sunday His day off. It’s not nice. And it’s no way to treat a friend.

But people do pray, and they pray for a lot of different things, you know, your sister needs an operation on her crotch, your brother was arrested for defecating in a mall. But most of all, you’d really like to fuck that hot little redhead down at the convenience store. You know, the one with the eyepatch and the clubfoot? Can you pray for that? I think you’d have to. And I say, fine. Pray for anything you want. Pray for anything, but what about the Divine Plan?

Remember that? The Divine Plan. Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Will suppose the thing you want isn’t in God’s Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn’t it seem a little arrogant? It’s a Divine Plan. What’s the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and fuck up Your Plan?

And here’s something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? “Well, it’s God’s will.” “Thy Will Be Done.” Fine, but if it’s God’s will, and He’s going to do what He wants to anyway, why the fuck bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It’s all very confusing.

Opus1, I happen to be Christian, and I DO NOT pray because I’m ignorant. That seems to be a rather petty assumption on your part.

When I pray (and I don’t do it often) I ask for guidance. I ask for help for people, or to show me how I can help them. I tell God what’s bothering me. That’s about it. It usually doesn’t take me any more than 5 minutes and I feel better afterward. Almost like talking to a good friend.

That said, whether someone prays incessantly or more seldom than I do doesn’t really matter to me. Prayer is a personal thing to me, whatever deity you believe in, and that is why I do NOT support public prayer. It often breeds unfairness (every religion is not represented) and narrow-mindedness.

*Originally posted by Opus1 *

Cite, please. As the Catholic Church, for one, includes petitionary prayers in their liturgy, and the Catholic Church is chock full of “learned theologians”, I really think you are ass-speaking on this one.

Oh, I’m sorry, you did give us a cite to a learned theologian. My bad :rolleyes:

Ever think that some prayers aren’t petitionary?

I can see that your knowledge of religion is about up there with your respect for religious belief. The large majority of religions in the world, even the large majority of Christian religions, do not believe in predestination. Hence, most religious people do not think there is a Divine plan to “fuck up”.

I’m sure it’s confusing to you. If I go to my boss and say, “can I have a raise?”, he is likely to say “no”. But he might say “yes”.
If I don’t ask, I definitely won’t get the raise.

Full disclosure: I’m an atheist.


just as a side note. I have studied in many sects. Prayer is used for a wide variety of purposes. Take the Orthodox for example. They pray in repetitive verses. Repetition is used to train the mind. In order to focus. Similar to meditation. I just thought I’d add another littel fact about prayer. I don’t have time to go into it fully. Maybe tomarrow.

Sorry if my comment was a incendiary/ vague. I was specifically referring to petitionary prayer in my comment. If people pray because it makes them feel good, or gives them a sense of well-being, that’s fine–no different then meditation. But petitionary prayer–the belief that an all knowing deity can be affected by requests that he knew would be made before he even created the universe–is generally held in low esteem in the philosophical community:

(Footnote 38 reads: It is important to keep in mind that this composite portrait of God does not necessarily match in every component that of any particular religious philosopher such as Aquinas or Scotus or even Royce, though many philosophers, including the three mentioned, affirm substantial portions of the portrait. Aquinas, for instance, affirms divine timelessness, but rejects impersonality.]

Results from the Jesus seminar voting (yes, I know they’re liberal as Hell):

God intervenes in history in response to petitionary prayer.
Fellows: .06 BLACK Associates: .22 BLACK

I admit this is a far cry from my original statement. For that, I apologize, and will now retract it. I can’t seem to find any information on the general views of the theological community on petitionary prayer, except that one article which affirms that the general “philosopher’s god” is immune to it. Perhaps I mistook the Jesus Seminar survey for one of the general theological community.

However, I will defend the position that petitionary prayer is absurd if one accepts an omnipotent, omniscient deity. Calvinistic predestination has nothing to do with it. Any omnipotent, omniscient deity knows ahead of time (if God even exists within time) what will happen next minute, tomorrow, or 10 billion years from now. He knows perfectly well whether your sister will recover from her cancer well before you pray, before she gets cancer, or even before the universe was created. Of course, this gets into another problem with such theism, that of free will. The only real way out of this is to argue that God, in giving man free will, intentionally curtails his omnipotence/ omnipotence. This creates even more problems, such as whether a being could reinstitute omnipotence after losing it. And, in asserting this type of deity, we would be moving away from my definition of the god that most western theists believe in (and for whom I assert petitionary prayer is worthless), the omnimax variety.

Fortunately, in this great age of social science, we can stop the philosophy and actually look at the data. Several studies have shown that petitionary prayer for unknown strangers has no beneficial effect. Thus we are left believing that if God does answer prayers, he does so in a manner that is indistinguishable from him not doing so. How helpful.

“I am important,” cried the speck of dust.

Fair enough, let’s drop predesitination. With an omnipotent, omniscient deity, you can validly amend your sentence to read "He knows perfectly well whether your sister will recover from her cancer because you prayed for her recovery well before you pray, before she gets cancer, or even before the universe was created.

I doubt these studies can prove the unprovable.
First, how do you get a control group, if the people being prayed for are “unknown strangers”? You can’t identify who’s being prayed for and who isn’t.
Second, if you were somehow able to create a control group, how can you be certain that people other than those whose prayers you are actually studying outside are not praying for the control group or the variable group.
Third, how do you rate the power and effectiveness of the prayer? Sincerity? Volume?
Fourth, how can you be aware of the results, or lack thereof? In a mass disaster, how can you know of, much less be able to determine whether it was caused by prayer or not, that that one slab of concrete that should have collapsed didn’t, thus sparing a family?
IOW, as prayer and its effects are outside the ability to science to test, I’d say these studies you refer to were done by quacks.

If you have faith, then the possibility that petitionary prayer is effective exists, so you pray.
If you don’t have faith, the the possibility doesn’t exist.

Me, I don’t have faith. I have no means of proving that my faithful friends are wrong.


I myself have often found it difficult to pray. My experiences have been that my prayers haven’t often been directly answered the way I wanted. But though I have been in some seemingly hopeless situations I always have survived, and I have been blessed in ways I never asked for. Christians pray for many different reasons and someone said there are no unbelievers when confronted with imminent diaster. Around 64 AD, just prior to his final imprisonment in Rome, Paul writes to his young protege and pastor Timothy at Ephesus and provides the following insight for the role of the Christian in a predominantly heathen and anti-Christian world.

I believe there is a mystery as to the ultimate purpose of prayer as there is to the purpose of Christ’s crucifixion. A purely logical approach would suggest that neither is neccessary for a just and omnipotent God. My faith however suggests to me that prayer is a way that trains us Christians to participate in God’s work for the ultimate salvation and future administration and economy of all mankind where we will share in his power and glory and He will be “all in all”

Well said, grienspace. The efficacy of prayer is indeed a matter of faith. Attempts to prove prayer does or doesn’t work are impossible.

(I figgered it was only right to compliment you, seeing as how I started a Pit thread about yas. ;))


Nice touch Sua :slight_smile:

Centering and generalizing my opinion on Catholic Christians, my main contact with religion, my opinion is: people pray to take away the blame for all the bad things that happen and get some confort out of it. To me it shows some personal weakness but if their faith works to make them happier well that’s great. It’s my belief (for lack of better word) that prayers increase as quality of life decreases, for a believer. How many people remember to thank for the good things? Even if you do, don’t you pray more often when things go wrong?

I also think many people are not intelectualy strong enough to break the bond with the religion that was imposed upon them as children. I was baptised and needless to say I’m an atheist. And sincerely I must be one of the firmest detracters of organized religion. “Bible-quoters” never fail to scare me.

Regards and I beg your pardon for not delivering my little diatribe in a more elegant manner,


not and X-tian, nor an atheist here, just sort of a young vague spiritualist.

 The thought that initially occurs to me about this (and I hope it is relavalnt and not a total hijack) is, isn't art (particularly performance) a form a prayer? At very least the origins of performance (music, theatre, etc) can be traced to rain dances and other religious appeals to various deities, so  the remaining question is what is the difference now?
 My sense that the two are rather inextricably linked leads me to find the earlier assertion that people prey because they are conditioned to and because they are ignorant sort of vulgar. Prayer, IMHO, is best thought of not necessarily as sucking up to god or asking him favors, but as a form or trancendance. Its all about removing focus from the physical and searching for a connection to a greater purpose or consiousness. And (also IMHO) so is the artistic experience, both has an artist and as an observer of art.
 I also find the idea of "if I ask this out loud, maybe god will cure my cancer" sort of absurd, but I don't think ritual in our society is a bad thing. and I think the idea of some sort of internal discipline and a willingness to aknowledge a greater truth than onesself thru ritual (music or religion) is a good thing.

just my $.02

-Yes, it does. It does not make me a hypocrite to decide to follow this advice and not that of Leviticus. God commanded the wandering Hebrew Jews to sacrifice animals and the like. I am not wandering, nor Hebrew, not a Jew. God asks Christians to pray. I am one, so I do.

-Please cite where in the Christian faith God COMMANDS someone to pray. I disagree that God has given us an ultimatum.

-Your argument is comparable to saying that going to school is not worthwhile because you are neither making money nor improving the world or that sleep is ludricous. Prayer is spiritual regeneration, just as education is mental regeneration and sleep is physical. Prayer helps one discern what is good.

-Cite again. I thought prayer was to discern the will of God, to praise Him for all He has given, or to ask intercession on behalf of another. I don’t pray to understand the World. I go to school for that.

-This argument relies on there being a sole reason for prayer. We pray in groups to strengthen each other. We don’t NEED to, but it is an added bonus. God wants us to surrender all our burdens to Him. Sometimes, we are alone, so we pray that way.

<climbs off of soapbox>

Anyway, I know how annoying “witnessing” can be, so I won’t do it here. :stuck_out_tongue:

Hope this clears some things up. I realize that there is no way to PROVE God exists. I, however, firmly believe He does.

I don’t pray often, I’m not a religious person at all.

But when I do, it’s more like how Nocturne does it, it gives me some time to talk things out, even if I’m speaking to someone invisible.

Also, I do believe that there is an element of meditation and calm in praying. The power of suggestion can do a LOT and produce good results from praying.

For those wondering why I haven’t responded yet, it’s because I haven’t had much to say. I know that this is GD, but I said what I wanted to in the OP and I wanted to hear what others had to say on the subject.

LaurAnge, and others that feel this way, who do you pray to? Does it matter if you believe in God or not? For those that are doing it merely as a meditation, does God even have to be listening for you to feel that your prayers are worthwhile?

Soup_du_jour perhaps you misunderstood me. I wasn’t giving proof that God had actually commanded us to pray. I’m not even sure if that is a commandment other than “There shall be no other Gods before Me.” What I was stating was that if you do believe that God has commanded you to pray, here is my argument against you. When you ask for a cite, I don’t have one to offer. I cannot guarantee that people pray for a sense of understanding, or as a moral compass, or for any other reason. What I was doing is saying that IF you used that as a rationale, here are my arguments against you. For that, I can offer no cite but myself.
My belief in whether or not God exists is more complicated than a yes or no answer. My understanding in prayer is tied into that belief and further complicates the issue. My point in this debate is not to tell anyone they’re wrong to pray, but to understand why it is that they do. Maybe others will learn they don’t fully understand it themselves.

I have heard this before, but have not yet seen any hard data. Opus1, do you, or for that matter, anyone else, have information on where those studies might be found? I would be very interested in reading them.


Enderw24 asks why people pray and lists five possible reasons, all of which may be at least in part responsible for why a given individual may feel compelled to participate in prayer. One reason I haven’t seen mentioned is that prayer, particularly petitionary prayer, gives us an opportunity to at least feel that we can do something in situations that are otherwise out of our control.

As an example–I cannot, on my own, do anything about the fact that my mother has a orange-sized tumor in her right lung–a metastasis from uterine cancer–and that she therefore faces yet another surgery that may result in the removal of up to half of her lung and that meanwhile she suffers from anemia, shortness of breath, and chronic cough. However, I can petition God to a)help her go through the surgery well; b)provide peace of mind to her, myself, my sister, and most of all my father; and c)grant that this is the end of this cancer and that it has NOT spread to other tissues. YMMV on whether or not this will actually do anything, but it does give ME at least some peace of mind. And prayer (both her own and knowledge that others were doing so on her behalf) has been a key factor in allowing my mother to overcome (at least psychologically) two breast cancer surgeries (a lumpectomy and a radical mastectomy), chemo, radiation, a hysterectomy for uterine cancer, more radiation, and a bowel resection to correct an adhesion caused by said radiation…and she nearly always has a positive, upbeat attitude about everything.

IMHO, prayer is one of those things, like the Sabbath (eg “a day off”) that was instituted/recommended by God not for His own sake, but for our own. No, I don’t think God needs to hear our petitions or hear our praises, for that matter, but I think maybe we need to be able to express them.



The main reason why I pray is to directly communicate with my Father with an open heart and mind. It is a communion of spirit.

Of all that you mentioned, this one may be sought during prayer. I don’t live less because of prayer and I am not stuck in a time warp while I’m in prayer. More time is not needed to do good. We only need to be mindful of each moment and not waste them. Every thought, every word spoken, every action taken demonstrates either good or evil choices of our soul.


I am so sorry to learn of your mother’s battle against cancer. I understand what you and your family are going through and will keep all of you included in my prayers. I recently lost my little grandson following his year battle against brain cancer.

And, yes, I agree on your point stated. :slight_smile: