False Piety and Prayer

“I’ll pray for you!”

We atheists hear that a lot. Whether it be in public or on the Internet, Christians often feel an overwhelming desire to declare there intention to pray for someone at any given opportunity. More often than not I believe that this is simply a display of piety and an attempt at letting those around know that they are “good god-fearing Christians”.

Let’s look at something the Bible has to say about prayer:

Matthew 6:6  KJV:  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Now, I know that in Acts 20:36 Paul knelt down with the body of believers and prayed quite openly,  but this is in the presence of other like minded believing people – when you are out in a public place I truly believe that the Bible commands you not to make a public show of your prayers – either by announcing your intention to do so or by making flagrant displays of prayer.

Flagrant Displays?

What is a flagrant display of prayer? In the last week I have been to about 3 sit down restaurants. At each of these restaurants there was a group of people there that would either bow their heads or even join hands in order to bless their food. I can’t imagine anything more flagrant. It was like seeing a group of people say “Look at us, we are praying because WE LOVE JESUS !!!”. It isn’t that bowing ones head is such a robust showing, but the act in and of itself reeks of false piety and the desire to look the part; simply put, everyone knows what you are doing when you bow your head and you know that everyone knows.

A couple of months ago my wife and I had a little party where a salesman comes and tries to sell  insanely expensive stuff to the party goers. Part of his demonstration was that he used the cookware he was trying to sell to cook a meal for everyone there. After he was done cooking he, without asking the hosts, asked everyone to bow their heads and pray…and he begun before I could say anything. While a few of the people were praying with him I exchanged glances with many of my friends as they anticipated what I might be about to do. I simply let him know when he was done praying that we were Atheists and that prayers weren’t necessary – he replied with,”well, Jesus loves you anyway.” I let it slide, but it was quite disrespectful.


I remember when I was a Christian, I too performed public displays of prayer. When I did this I was still a “baby christian”. My understanding of the Bible was nil and my experience was about that same. When I matured after I had spent a few years doing individual Bible study I learned that these displays were un-biblical to say the least and I began praying silently with no outward sign of it at all. I also had a quiet room in my house where I spent hours in prayer at a time. That may be a bit more extreme than many folks these days but my point is to show that there should be a recognizable difference between some young Christian that doesn’t understand his religion and those that have been in it for 30 years and more.

I’m not attempting to defend the Bible in the least; it is still a savage book unworthy of the attention it gets. Lately though I have felt the desire to begin addressing the Christian world from the former Christian now Atheist perspective. To say it simply, I want Christians to be Christians or to stop calling themselves that.


Pray all you want. I can’t stop someone for praying for my eternally damned soul. It is appreciated because I know that in general you mean well. Don’t make a show out of it or next time I and my friends might just make a show out of you. We may just quote Matt 6:6 aloud and publicly as a way to chastise your false piety – wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Do what your Bible says.


Someone made a comment on StumbleUpon about how they really didn’t agree with the part about praying in restaurants etc…I just want to say that I know not everyone does it with that in mind. I don’t think I ever did. Some do.  All I ask is that you examine your motive when you do either of the things I have talked about in this post today.

  • Korinthian

    Just use an online bible instead of begging for money for a physical one.

  • Another of my pet peeves about prayer is this: if God is all-knowing and knows the best for you, why bother praying for stuff that may not be the best for you anyway?

    Yes, the standard answer is that God still wants to hear your prayer like a parent who wants to listen to his child…but that doesn't really answer the question.

    In fact, it becomes a cop-out because if your prayer gets answered, then "hallelujah, praise the Lord" but if it doesn't get answered, then "maybe God knows that's not good for you" or that "he has a higher plan" or some other excuse.

    I believe that if you believe in God, then the only prayer you can utter is one of gratitude, because whatever is happening to you right now is the best thing that can happen to you, because God knows best. So stop complaining, whining, asking and just be thankful.

    • True story, toward the last 3 years or so that I was i the faith I stopped praying at all…really with the same idea that you have here. I felt that I could in no way pray what I needed to, so if i was not praying in tongues (you may or may not be familiar with it) then I wasn't praying at all.

      • Hmmmm… I would have assumed that one who is well versed in the occult would know better than to pray in tongues.

  • Personally I dont think that praying in public is "unbiblical" or "rude", unless yes, you are doing it with some false sense of piety or to show off. I think that is what mat 6:6 is talking about…because the Pharasees(sp?) would often do things to SHOW a false sense of piety.

    I remember in high school I would always pray before I ate, but it wasnt to show off…I just wanted to take a moment to be thankful. I would do it in front of my non christian friends if I happend to be sitting with them , but it honestly was never to show off, and it was always a silent prayer.

    and when I tell people that Ill pray for them, its really just to say that Ill have them in my thoughts and that I care….not that theyre some dirty hell bound sinner that maybe I can pray their soul to safety. So I think youre just kind of throwing a blanket statement over the intention of anyone that prays publicly.

    I think the only thing that would ride the "disrespectful" line would be asking someone you KNOW doesnt believe to pray with you, I agree with that

    • I agree wholeheartedly and would simply add that we need to be careful – in any context – of assuming we can judge people's motives for anything. Specifically regarding people who pray publicly before meals in restaurants; unless they're speaking so loud you can't help but hear them or they're waving their arms about to get attention, I assume that they're simply giving genuine thanks for the meal they are about to eat. I do not believe that holding hands as a family and speaking in a volume so as to hear each other speak (which, depending on the environment, obviously could be audible to others in the vicinity) is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6.

      As for the "assuming" the prayer – I would always ask permission when not sure about everyone's views and would simply pray silently if denied.

      One final thought – I do pray for you, regularly – but wouldn't that be pointless I I thought your soul was already eternally damned? You know I don't buy that double predestination stuff. It's only too late when you're dead; just because you don't believe now, doesn't mean that can't change. I'm not giving up on you yet 🙂

  • "I want Christians to be Christians or to stop calling themselves that." …AMEN..the many years I spent in church, I don't think I met a handful of people that actually practiced what they preached.

  • Get a Catholic bible. It's the only one that keeps everything in (like both creation stories). Protestant bibles take out the contradictions.

    • Thanks for the input Acadia.

      However, your information isn't entirely correct. The Catholic version of the Bible only contains the Deuterocanonical books and the Apocryphal books on top of the regular 66 books of the Protestant Bible. The differences are pretty small outside of the Maccabees texts which are purely historical books, plus a few extra chapters in Daniel – The Catholic Bible still was canonized through the same process as the normal Protestant one, which went through over 2000 texts to come up with the 66 that were decided on. Both leave quite a lot out….I am going to do a separate study on Apocryphal and Gnostic texts later on, probably in private.

      and the protestant version leaves a shit ton of contradictions intact lol

      • If you want a Catholic bible, I'll donate one to you, along with a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Essential Catholic Handbook.

        I have been looking for someone to pass them along to, without propagating religion. (that's not too easy)

        If you are interested, just shoot me an email and tell me where to send it.

  • I have no problem with people sincerely and lovingly praying for me. I don't think it does anything, but it's nice to know they wish me well.

  • In the examples you showed, Jesus was admonishing the Pharisees, a super-legalistic sect of the Jews which Jesus came to save man from (the legalism of salvation). Telling someone that "I will pray for you" does not in anyway go against God's law or intent. In other parts of scripture, we are implored to pray without ceasing. Of course, we cannot do that in a closet. Of course, I assume you have not read all of the bible, only bits and pieces. So, I don't expect you knew this. It is okay. Whether you acknowledge Jesus Christ or not, you can be sure that he died for you too. It is the greatest act of love you will find at anytime in recorded history. So, I'll pray for you brother. May you one day respond to God's call so we might one day meet in eternity.

    • I've read every single page of the Bible, at least 7 times.

      I was well aware of this, as a Christian I literally did pray without ceasing, and not one person surrounding me knew it.

    • VorJack

      "the Pharisees, a super-legalistic sect of the Jews"

      So Hillel the Elder, who famously said that the entire Torah could be summed up in the line "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow," was super-legalistic? His followers in the House of Hillel, who argued that all the teaching in the Torah should lead one to the love of one's neighbor, were super-legalistic?

      Look, I see what you're trying to do, but the Pharisees were an enormously complex group of people and, ultimately, the progenitors of modern Rabbinic Judaism. You're not doing anyone any favors by turning them into a one-dimensional caricature.

  • Dax

    You assume a great deal.Pointing out the obvious B.S. in the bible,the contradictions, etc.does not mean we have read only “bits and pieces”.
    Most of us here have read and studied the bible. Unfortunately for some people we didn’t stop when we were told and went on to also study books and testaments that we weren’t supposed to. You know,the ones written around the same time as the “good ones” but they didn’t quite you know, go with the flow, dance to the same beat,etc.
    BTW Where’s eternity.

  • Heather

    I believe your name is Matt…is it Matt? Anyways, sadly, I must agree with some of what you are saying. Two things…First I am an advid learner of other religions. I firmly believe in order to believe in something, you must question everything. In all aspects of your life, you must questions. So I agree with you in that aspect. Second, I agree one hundred percent that if you are going to call yourself a Christian, you had better be one. But sadly sir, we shall have to agree to disagree from this point on. It pains me that you and so many others on this site take such a personal stance against Christianity. Why must you hate it so much? Do you hate the other religions the same way? Do you go to such lengths to disprove Hinduism? I have absolutely no problem with you being an Athiest. If that is were you have your happiness, then by golly enjoy it, and have fun. But please, if you could, take it easy on Christianity. Honestly, show some love. At least do a posting on Krishna to compinsate.

    • I do absolutely hate other religions in the same way. However, none of the other religions of the world are attempting to theocracize my country in such a successful way as Christianity is today. Also, I have knowledge of many other religions but I don't have experience as a believer in any outside of Christianity. I speak from experience rather than ignorance, so Christianity will just have to be able to bear this cross.

      Also, I don't think you will find an Atheist more willing to discuss things openly and honestly than I. You will find very very few who have the experience that I have with Christianity on all levels….it should be appreciated that I draw from that experience to post the things that I do here.

  • Heather

    If you have studied other religions, you will find that many times, their gods have been just a brutal, if not more so. In ancient Mesopotamia , the gods killed each other to create the world. Now tell me that is not messed up. All I am saying is that I am just a little saddend hypocritical Atheism is. There are thousands upon thousands of religions, and you claim that you do not believe in any god, but you only try disprove one God. Whether it is Allah, God, or Jesus Christ, you only try to disprove him. Why is that? Please explain. I will be waiting.

    • You are correct…throughout history the gods have all been rather vile and angry. I suspect this is because they were all invented by men in the image themselves —men who were vile and angry.

      Rather other gods have been this way is no license for the "one true god" to be a dick as well. Just because my neighbor is a jackass doesn't mean I get to be one too now does it? (My neighbor is not a jackass, just in case he reads this!)

      Once again, I write out of my experiences, which are limited to the one god I know, YHVH the god of the Jews and Christians…he will simply have to bear this cross.

      • Heather

        Trust me he has born this cross more than once. I only wonder if you only have experiance with Christianity, how can you say that you are truly an Athiest. In my opinion you can only say that you do not believe in Christianity. How can you hate all religions when do not know the other religions. I can not say that I hate Athieism because I do not know it. I feel that it is offly hipocritical to say that you hate all gods when you have never known any.

        • That I knew one god does not mean that I ever limited my experience to that one god. I spent countless hours studying to understand other religions to the best of my ability. Of the religions I have studied the only logical conclusion that I have ever found is that they are either equally as absurd or more absurd than Christianity —which is quite a feat.

          One does not have to convert to a religion to understand it, despite what many may think. However I don't think it is possible to explore every avenue of religion in any single lifetime – which to me is a great evidence against god…or at the very least his goodness and worthiness.

          I am an atheist because I don't believe in any god…and the burden of proof is on anyone or any god who does make the claim.

  • After reading through your blog I felt I must take a little time to comment. First I am a Christian that strongly associates with your obvious existential struggle. You, like so many people, are extremely philosophical and questioning. I applaude that and also recognize the intense and inherent struggle that persons of this nature typically engage, willingly and unwillingly. The struggle extends to all facets of human life, which spirituallity is no doubt a huge part of. You seem to be oblivious to nothing except for one thing. You have shown yourself to be a zealous, evagenlical Atheist with all the annoying trimmings of an overly zealous evangelical Christian. You are the matter and the unquestioning christian is the anti-matter (or vice versa). You are polar opposites, mirror images, black and white. Is there no room for Christians to believe, yet still struggle with the ultimate why's to the big questions of life? Is there no room for the Athiest to do the same? Get out of the boxing ring with the Christians. You are only appealing to fanatics in the same way bible thumping belivers appeal to their brand of fanatics. We do need to go all in and live what we believe, but this is all just adrenaline pumping fanaticism, offering no real answers.

    Oh, I am all with you on political issues. That is how I first became aware of your site.

    Sorry if this comment is not in the right place. I just picked a recent post to leave a general comment.

  • djpray

    Ah Matt…interesting topic…prayer…public praying, etc. So the "lurking missionary" returns 🙂 Okay Matt a question for you. 1) When you were living as a Christian, did you ever see any specific answered prayers….prayers that were prayed for specific things and received specific answers? These prayers could have been prayed by either you or others within the church you were attending. If you did, then how would you explain those specific answers to specific prayers…if there is no God?
    Actually I look at answered prayer as one of the biggest proofs for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Hence that is why I ask the above question.


  • I think I would be disgusted if I saw people praying openly like that blessing food in a public eating place. I'd want to dump my mudslide over their head. Not that I actually would, but I'd want to!!

    • super common around here. Handholding and all.

  • OH and as for studying the bible I think that's a wonderful idea. I'll be looking forward to your findings!!

    You've probably never used Gaia online. It's a forum site where you get to dress up your avatar, LOL. But surprisingly some smart people debate there in the extended discussion forum sometimes. There's one thread in paticular that I love written by a really intelligent open minded Christian. And after studying languages AND the bible he wrote a thread showing that the bible does not condemn homosexuality or abortion and that adam and eve were not the only people on earth at their time. It's definitely worth reading if you like reading long posts and are interested in religious studies.


    • Actually i signed up for gaia ages ago…and never did anything with it…it is so freaking huge I get lost. I will check this out though

  • Matt,
    It has been a while. : ) I do hope you and yours are well.

    My comment about prayer is this… I truly believe prayer is what keeps the lines of communication open between a believer and GOD. I know for me, I talk to HIM all day about everything. HE is my everything.

    I do believe that if a situation arises and prayer is needed (even in public) GOD will honor that heart if it is meant with true intentions. Other than that I believe we all should be in a private place to pray.

    When the pastor calls for an invitation to go to the alter to pray, I usually do not. It feels to rushed, and then all those people waiting until you are done. Actually, it makes me feel uncomfortable, but there have been times when I really needed to go, but it was because my focus was on the matter at hand. (An emergency) Other than that, I stay to myself or with my fellow believers as you stated in your post.

    I love GOD with all my heart and I know HE truly loves me…And you too…whether you believe or not. : )

    Matt, you have always shown me great respect, I have always appreciated that. I will always show it to you as well.

    Here is another Christian saying that you probably hear a lot, but I really mean it…GOD bless you!

  • djpray

    My grades in math at Dodge County High School were low. I can't count higher than "1" 🙂 hehehe…. Anyway, more will follow…sometime. Prayer (specifically answered prayer) is one of my favorite topics.


  • a believer in God

    Matt, when I die, I would rather have God in my heart, than not have him at all. When you die, satan will be waiting for you. Your his angel here on earth.

    • If there is no god to have in your heart why would even bother to make this comment?I am down with Satan btw, he was the good guy in Genesis.On Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 10:20 AM, Matt Oxley <revoxley501@gmail.com> wrote: approve

  • Guess I'll start with thanking you for the link to my Doggerel entry in the picture. Was checking my site traffic and noticed the click over. (Note to the Christians here: I'm one of those 'firebrand atheists,' so be warned that I can be rather sharp-tongued in any posts you might read from my site. I can usually be calm and civil if you comment in that manner, though.)

    Prayer was one of the things that confused me as a kid: If God's all knowing, why do you need to pray? Can't he just read your mind? Why go through the ritual of clapping your hands together and mumbling?

    That sort of ritualism turned me off. The same thing happened with one person's speech on baptism. It didn't help that at the time, I was learning about all sorts of corrupt televangelists, faith healers who deceived their way to fame, people who used religion as a refuge for their crimes, and so on. I ended up forming a general rule: A person's morality is inversely proportional to their displays of piety. As a result, when I read Matthew 6:6, it had a large resonance with me. It still does, even as an atheist. There are better ways to display your loyalty and good character.

    ..Kind of reminds me of the "loyalty oaths" I read about in history, and the current slew of radical neocons wrapping themselves in the flag and carrying crosses.

    I can deal with someone quietly putting their hands together in an honest expression of gratitude, so long as they aren't being disruptive or excessively demanding that everyone join in. About the worst I'd feel is mild annoyance on par with that I experience with some cell phone discourtesy.

    Similar thought: Bill O'Reilly's war on Christmas. I, as an atheist, (including many of my 'blogfathers') was perfectly fine with "Merry Christmas." When I saw a store saying "Happy Holidays," I only saw a more generic form of the phrase that would include non-Christians who have something to celebrate in winter. When Bill O'Reilly and many of his similar friends started the war, acting as if a slightly more generic form of wishing someone an enjoyable celebration was horrible, I started to find many, many people saying "Merry Christmas" in a very insincere form, much like "I'll pray for you," after a heated argument. That's why I now refer to "Decemberween" in Homestar Runner fashion.

    I sincerely hope that someday I'll see all the Christians who can say "Merry Christmas" with heartfelt love and generosity rise up against the venomous wingnuts who insist on using it in a bigoted fashion that reeks of entitlement.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. Might return the link love soon in another post.

  • hd

    you say when you were a christian,
    I think that you will find that you were never really a Christian.