A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: prayer

11 Dec 2009
In your article on prayer, you say:

The most common use of the word "prayer" is asking an SB for some favor or entreating an invisible force or energy to fulfill one's desire. This type of prayer is called intercessory prayer (IP) because it is done to ask an SB or energy to intercede on behalf of oneself or someone else.

I believe this definition is incorrect, as can be found in any reference source.

Intercessory prayer is not prayer for oneself. It is only used to mean prayer for someone else.

It is "intercessory" because you are interceding on behalf on someone else; praying to God on another person's behalf.

Prayer for oneself is called "petitionary."

The whole discussion of prayer that follows seems based on this erroneous definition, on the mistaken idea that the expression "intercessory prayer" is about asking the Supernatural Being to intervene.

Of course both petitionary prayer and intercessory prayer are indeed asking the being to intervene (while other prayers, like the prayer of praise, are not asking for anything.) But that's not the meaning of "intercessory."

The interceder is the person praying for someone else, interposing him- or herself between the other person and God.

I hope this rather fundamental error in the article can be fixed!

Christine Whittemore

reply: I believe it can.


07 Mar 2002
Hello, I'm a recent visitor to your skepdic.com web site, and the following statement from the page about prayer really caught my interest: "Some religions require parents to ignore medical treatment for their children, even if to do so is likely to prove fatal, in favor of prayer, e.g., Congregants of Church of Christ, Scientist, the Followers of Christ Church, and the General Assembly and Church of the First Born." A link to a "Time" magazine article on the subject is also provided. I'm writing to share a few thoughts with you about this subject.

I don't believe that your statement is a correct characterization of the teachings of Christian Science. For instance, in another article from "Time" called "Faith or Healing? Why the law can't do a thing about the infant-mortality rate of an Oregon sect" (August 31, 1998), a Christian Science Church spokesman has stated: "If one form of treatment is not working, parents have an obligation to investigate other alternatives, 'including doctors or hospitals'." This is not a new policy for the church. Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), the founder of Christian Science, has written in her book: "If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 443). The church respects the right of individuals to make their own choices regarding health care treatment.

I'm certainly in favor of healthy skepticism, providing that it serves to uncover truth. I know that there are plenty of books and articles containing various opinions about Christian Science, but I find that the best way to know what it actually teaches about a given subject is to consult with the primary source, "Science and Health." I'd appreciate it if you would consider amending your statement about this subject, and please don't hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

Rick Sawdon

reply: Thank you for taking the time to write and inform me of your views on Christian Science regarding seeking medical treatment. I can see where some readers might interpret what I write as meaning that 'Christian Scientists are forbidden to ever seek medical help' or that 'Christian Scientists never seek medical help'. However, that was not my point. My point is that prayer is preferred and chosen by parents as a means of healing their child, even though at times this approach proves fatal to the child. I do not believe the parents in such cases want their children to die or are malicious, but I believe there have been sufficient court cases dealing with this type of child abuse to warrant saying what I say. Whether it is the Church's policy to allow members to seek medical help when prayer isn't working is not my concern. Sometimes the child dies too quickly and the parents don't have time to seek proper medical care.

If I am wrong about this, I would like to be corrected. In any case, I have added a parenthetical comment to the entry on prayer and I hope this clarifies my claim so that the views and practices of these religions are not misrepresented.


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