Unanswered prayers and atheism

This message was left as a comment on one of my posts. I replied directly to the poster via e-mail.

My 21 year old son is an atheist. We had him in a christian school for four years, we went to church every sunday. When his grandfather died in our driveway on Christmas and my husband and I prayed for him to live our son was so upset that God did not answer the prayer that my Dad would live and our son has been disbelieving in Jesus ever since. Any advice would be welcome. Thank you! I will print this out for our son.

I am very sorry to hear about your loss on Christmas. This sounds like a terrible tragedy, and I can imagine it was emotionally difficult for the entire family for a number of reasons.

You asked for my advice regarding your son who began to disbelieve in Jesus after your prayers did not save his grandfather from death. Since I am an atheist, I wouldn’t expect prayers to result in a miracle, but I do have a few things I’d like you to pass along to your son. The remainder of this message is for him.

First and foremost, I would say that a prayer not being answered isn’t sufficient reason to become an atheist. I don’t know what your family’s specific religious beliefs are, but I know of no Christian religion that teaches that every prayer will be answered, or that even the most wonderful individual is immune to tragedy. The death of your grandfather might give you doubts about your family’s religion, but unless their religion teaches that sincere wishes prayed for are always granted, rejection of a prayer is not evidence that the religion is wrong, only that you do not understand (or disagree with) God’s actions.

If you have doubts about your family’s religion, I encourage you to seek clarification from both religious and non-religious sources before making up your mind. You should be open about these doubts with your parents, and invite them to help you seek answers. If they are strong in their religious beliefs, then they are confident that you will not have any questions that cannot be answered and should have no fear of intelligent inquiry. If you do decide that atheism makes more sense than theism, set your mind toward building a strong, rational moral system, both for yourself and to reassure your parents that atheism and immorality are not at all the same thing.

Finally, I would like to say something about prayer from an atheist’s perspective. While it is true that prayer did not save your grandfather’s life, that does not mean that prayer is without meaning. For many religious people, prayer is a very important part of dealing with grief or tragedy. I don’t believe that there is a God listening to prayers, but I know that for many people praying is a way of finding comfort during strife. If your parents’ prayers did help them get through the death of your grandfather — one of your parent’s father — then in a sense you might say that their prayers were answered.

I am going to post this e-mail on my blog so that my readers may comment if they like. If you would like me to comment further, please feel free to write.

Posted on August 29, 2010 at 9:25 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: About atheism, Help, Personal account

4 Responses

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  1. Written by trepto
    on September 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Beautifully put.

  2. Written by Susan
    on September 11, 2010 at 1:42 am
    Reply · Permalink

    This is wonderfully compassionate and logical and uncompromising, all at once. I truly hope it was helpful for the entire family. Good job!

  3. Written by boy wonder
    on September 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    people, may have to understand, don’t give your kid to much of anything, because when something fails, they will deine what failed them belive me, im a child, with a single mother, and 3 brothers and i myself don’t practice in religious activity’s, but i don’t look at the world with open mindedness, if you have problems, don’t make anyone feel like the victim

  4. Written by Jeanne Regan
    on October 15, 2010 at 6:17 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I like that reply. It showed empathy, logic, and sincerity.

    : )

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