Does It Make Sense to Pray For Non-Believers?

There was a popular piece on CNN recently by a Rev. Robert Barron advising cathloics that their prayers on behalf of well-known atheist author Christopher Hitchens were not in vain. The responding comments were off the charts. 24 hours after the post, more than 1,000 comments have been made, with the perhaps foreseeable debate between believers and non-believers ardently going back and forth.

Certainly religion is one of those topics best not discussed in mixed company – I’ve often argued with friends that religion is a topic more fiery than politics. Within those comments are the wise, the predictable, the indignant, and the outright stupid, but I have to admit how surprising it was to see the lack of hostilities in most of the comments.

Don’t get me wrong. The spitting radicals were represented, more voluminously on the believers side, but even believers were calling for them to show their more catholic foundations.

Anyway, it seems that Mr. Hitchens was a smoker during his life, and so now has come down with a case of esophegal cancer. The initial outcry by some was evidently to point this out as a sign from god condemning the man for his non-belief, but as any rational person will probably note, there are plenty of believers out there who succumb to horrible illnesses. The Reverend Barron also makes it clear that this is probably bad form, but then he asks the question that is my true subject here: should the believers pray for the man?

While my own situation is likely not yet so dire as the situation Mr. Hitchens must now be in, I was recently diagnosed with cancer, too. In March I was informed that I have Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma, or SLL. This is apparently one of those forms of cancer that you hope for when you’re told you have cancer, and my life expectancy is pretty good – 10-15 years, and my doctor and I have decided to monitor for now rather than begin treatment.

To be clear, however, I am not an atheist. I consider myself an agnostic, where I do not outright believe that there is no god, gods, or higher power, but I see no evidence that points out that any given explanation or religion is correct. The way I see it, no matter what the outcome, a large percentage of the world’s religions are flat out wrong. If the Hindus are right, the catholics are sort of screwed, right? All the muslem radicals are going to look pretty stupid if Jehovah witnesses were right all along, aren’t they?

What I admire in a person is not their belief in any god or religion, but their values in life and how they live up to them. Honesty, integrity, and dependability are not traits only found in christians, but can be found in anyone. The opposite can be found in many people who claim to uphold the beliefs of many religions that preach for peace, honesty, and compassion. If you’ve ever been cut off on the highway by someone only to presented by their Jesus fish on their tailgate, you know exactly what I mean. Being a good Christian doesn’t seem to me to be about your ability to buy a stick-on fish, but more about the ability to be compassionate and understanding with your fellow man.

And that would mean caring enough to include others in your prayers, I would think. As an agnostic with cancer, I often tell people that I am a multi-denominational prayer recipient – bring me the prayers from muslems and buddhists, christians and baptists, and even the almighty Flying Spaghetti Monster. I will take them one and all. If your god turns out to be the one and true god, I’ll be all the gladder to have you on my side.

To give my more honest opinion, I look at prayer as being the atheist and agnostic’s version of concern. When my friends deal with strife or grief, I try to take the time to be there for them, to support and aid them, and just let them know that I care, and that I am willing to help, even if there is little or nothing I can do but listen or give them a hug.

I doubt Mr. Hitchens would mind that people were praying for him. He might think it’s a waste of their time, but at least there are good people out there in the world who care for his well-being, even if they don’t agree with his views and beliefs.

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