Why do Atheists Object when Christians Say They'll Pray for You?

Atheists Should Accept Christians' Prayers and God's Love Without Objecting

It's not unusual for me to get emails from people who say that they intend to pray for me — but as often as I hear such things, I continue to have trouble understanding why people would do so and, if they must pray, why they would feel the need to tell me about it. Neither seems to make much sense and I frequently find myself saying so to the Christian in question — explaining that whatever their reasons or intentions behind praying for me, none could be furthered by announcing it.

Both engaging in prayers and announcing that "I'll pray for you" only serve as a weak substitute for real action that would provide real assistance. If a loved one is sick, the proper course of action is to care for them or take them to a doctor — not to pray for better health. As Robert G. Ingersoll said, "The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray." If a Christian sees that I need help, then announcing that they will pray for me rather than doing anything substantive and useful merely reinforces to me the fact that they aren't interested in doing anything that could genuinely help me.

Prayer vs. God's Will

To begin with, actually praying for me doesn't make much sense because presumably the person praying believes that their god not only already knows what it will do, but in fact has probably known for a long time (if not forever) and isn't going to change its mind simply because they ask.

Thus, whatever their god is going to end up doing or not doing, their praying about it won't have any effect on the ultimate course of actions.

At most, it might make sense for them to hope that one thing happens instead of another, but even that is debatable because it might put them in the position of hoping for the opposite of what their god wills.

Isn't that wrong? The only firmly defensible course of action is to hope and pray that God's will be done — which of course it will, since nothing can thwart God's will.

This means that religious theists can do nothing more than hope and pray that whatever will happen, will happen. Such an approach won't provide any sort of emotional or psychological comfort, though, which may be why actual prayers often contradict fundamental theological premises which every believer should hold dear. It's one case among many of religious theists believing and acting in ways contrary to how they should.

Announcing Prayer Accomplishes Nothing

A further problem lies in the fact that telling me that they are praying doesn't make much sense because there's simply nothing that can be accomplished by it. I can't imagine that they think that anything will change for me simply because I happen to know about these prayers. If someone is praying that I become a theist or a Christian, then telling me is about the same as telling me that they wish I would change their mind — but I already get that, so what is added by the prayers?

Atheists obviously don't believe in the power of prayer, but even the theist who does can't also believe that prayer will be more effective for having announced it.

So why do it? Why say anything at all? I frankly don't care if people spend their time praying for me, even though they could be doing something genuinely useful with that time like feeding the hungry. But, assuming that a person is going to be praying, isn't that something that's supposed to be done silently and privately? What possible reason could there be for making a point of writing to me and telling me that I am being prayed for?

Prayer as a Passive-Aggressive Tactic

One way or another, the theist who makes a point that they will be praying for me appears to be trying to express their own superiority in a passive-aggressive manner that atheists may legitimately interpret as rude, arrogant, and condescending. Thus it's not the mere act of praying for an atheist that causes the person to be annoyed, though that may also be the case to some degree, but rather the fact that the theist makes a point of announcing that they are praying for the atheist.

There must be some reason for the announcement that one will be praying for m, some purpose that the Christian has beyond the prayer itself. Although it's conceivable that the reason could be fair, just, and acceptable, it's difficult to come up with such a reason and Christians themselves seem unable to provide one. So why should atheists be put on the spot and have to justify why we get annoyed by this repeatedly happening, over and over?

One possible response to an announcement that one will be praying for you is to say "If you think it's appropriate to announce that I need you pray for me, would you mind if I announced that you need someone to do your thinking for you?" Not many will fail to find that arrogant, condescending, and offensive — but it's not much different from just announcing prayers for a stranger. I'm not sure how many Christians will exercise the moral imagination to recognize the similarities and thereby gain some insight into how their behavior looks to outsiders, but it might help in a few cases.