May 1, 2014

5 facts about prayer

May 1 is the National Day of Prayer in the U.S.

Today is the National Day of Prayer, on which presidents annually proclaim that “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” The day has spawned a rival National Day of Reason on the same day, started by opponents of the National Day of Prayer.

Here are five facts about prayer, including survey data on Americans’ prayer habits and historical instances of prayer intersecting with the government:

1The National Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952 by the Congress and President Harry S. Truman. As with the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the move came during the Cold War and was seen as a way of contrasting the more religious United States with the officially atheistic Soviet Union.

2The Freedom From Religion Foundation unsuccessfully challenged the National Day of Prayer in court. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the group, which aims to promote the separation of church and state, did not have the legal standing to challenge the law.

3For many Americans, every day is a day of prayer. More than half (55%) of Americans said they pray every day, according to a 2013 Pew Research survey, while 23% said they pray weekly or monthly and 21% seldom or never. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 21% said they pray daily. Another survey we conducted in 2012 found that 76% of Americans agreed with the statement “prayer is an important part of my daily life,” a percentage that has remained relatively stable over the last 25 years.

4A 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans specifically about the National Day of Prayer. A majority (57%) said they favored having the day of prayer, while just 5% said they opposed it. A significant share (38%) said it didn’t matter to them either way.

5This year’s National Day of Prayer comes as the town of Greece, N.Y., awaits a ruling by the Supreme Court that will decide when it is appropriate for a legislative body to open a meeting or session with a prayer. Most legislatures, including the U.S. Congress, begin their days with a prayer, and the decision could have broad implications for this practice.

Category: 5 Facts

  1. is Editor at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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41 Comments

  1. michael jude5 months ago

    I am much more comfortable with internal prayer thoughts meditations as opposed to formal recitations

    Reply
  2. Julius7 months ago

    I would agree their are many religions and many gods. If we look at Jesus teachings we notice right away he was not teaching about a religious denomination or for that matter a religious group of people. He was teaching about the Kingdom of GOD an how we can be part of that Kingdom. He was also teaching about love, mercy, compassion , graciousness, kindness, humility, trust, honor, hope, faith in something bigger than our finite minds can comprehend. Oh the depth of wisdom and knowledge. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are all Wisdom teachings written for practical application in our lives. The teachings are designed to prepare our hearts and minds for quality life here and preparation for eternity. My prayer is that I was able to extend GODs love to through our brief exchange of thought. Your Friend in Christ Jesus j

    Reply
  3. Julius7 months ago

    Mr. Silha you are not far from the Kingdom of GOD. HE is from everlasting to everlasting. Infinite.

    Reply
  4. Julius7 months ago

    Mr. Silha you are not far from the Kingdom of GOD. He is from everlasting to everlasting. Infinite. For me and my house we will serve the LORD GOD Creator of Heaven and Earth and all living things. My prayer is that GOD would reveal himself to you if he hasn’t already done so. Our world needs GODs presence in it. Enlightened thinkers illuminated by GOD himself. Born of His Spirit and Washed in the Blood of Christ.

    Reply
    1. Edward Silha7 months ago

      I am a retired engineer. I understand and accept statistics and uncertainty. I make my decisions on what concepts to accept based on the amount and quality of the evidence available, whether the evidence supports or contradicts the concept. If there is not sufficient quality evidence to make a decision, I find no problem in saying that I do not know the answer. I am always willing to change my views if new facts justify the change.
      With regard to religion, I have read the Bible through and have read widely about world religions. I have found none that is convincing. The same is true with respect to gods.

      Reply
      1. David Faux4 weeks ago

        I have been a student of the Bible for over 50 years and have discovered the real truth about a real God and a real Savior. The simplest point I can make is that Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but through me”. As you look for the truth of Christ in the Bible, consider that this is not a single book, but a library of 66 books written over a period of 1500 years. I have found no contradictions and truly believe that Christ saves us from our sins if He is in our lives. I became a Christian at the age of 13 and it just keeps getting better and better. The Scriptures are the final authority for all faith and practice to which it speaks. I pray that this will bring you to some understanding and you may enjoy the peace of God forever.
        Dave

        Reply
  5. Julius7 months ago

    Reasoning takes intellectual intercourse. One speaks another listens. Then the person who spoke listens while the others speaks. It’s called an exchange of ideas. This exchange can only occur when an individual listens.

    Reply
  6. Max T. Furr7 months ago

    The bottom line is that the government’s sanction of a religious practice is not Constitutional. The government has no authority to address religion in any way other than to prevent State and local governments from recognizing a particular religion–and no, not all religions recognize one god.

    As for prayer itself, it effects nothing but the person praying. See new.exchristian.net/2014/02/god-…

    Reply
  7. Max T. Furr7 months ago

    Prayer does not make any difference to what will happen. It only makes the prayer feel good. I’ve researched this thoroughly and wrote an article at new.exchristian.net/2014/02/god-…

    Reply
    1. David Faux4 weeks ago

      You have never experienced true answered prayer. The truth of the matter is that pray does bring about solution to things that are impossible except through Godly intervention

      Reply
  8. Julius7 months ago

    Here is a thought: for something to evolve it must first exist, for something to exist it must be created or made, for something to be created or made there must be a creator or maker, if there is a creator or maker, who is he? What is his name? Ask me and I’ll tell you. Better yet ask him and he will reveal himself to you personally. He does not want that any of his children be lost. His name is I AM. The self existent one. Creator of heaven and earth, and all living things.

    Reply
    1. Edward Silha7 months ago

      Julius wrote: ”… for something to exist, it must be created or made, for something to be created or made there must be a creator or maker…”

      Taking this assertion to its logical conclusion leads to the solution that there is a creator, there is a creator of the creator, there is a creator of the creator of the creator … ad infinitum.

      Reply
      1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

        Very good. When I was in college studying world religions, I made the comment in one class that there is no need for a god, particularly if we live in one of an infinite number of universes, with energy manifesting differently in virtually every one, but the permutations of variables of energy is, on an infinite level, finite.

        The professor replied that that notion is considered by philosophers to be the fallacy of Reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd). I responded that the same would be true of an eternal god. But using Occam’s razor, we know there is an energy field, it is the electromagnetic spectrum, and we are a part of it. We do not know there is a god.

        Reply
  9. Julius7 months ago

    Isaiah 1:18 yes they should have their day of reasoning. I’m all for it and GOD would love to reason with them.

    Reply
    1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

      It appears that your god is taking his own sweet time in speaking “reason.”

      Reply
  10. Rich Mariner7 months ago

    It’s a day of prayer. If you want to pray, pray to whatever you like. If you don’t want to pray don’t. As long as you aren’t told you must pray and for whom to pray this isn’t a problem.

    Reply
    1. Wayne Kelley7 months ago

      Amen

      Reply
    2. Edward Silha7 months ago

      The Supreme court has interpreted the First Amendment as requiring the government to be neutral with respect to religion, neither promoting nor inhibiting an individual from practicing any particular belief that does not violate other laws (e.g., human sacrifice). Atheists assert (statement of conscience) that there is no god and that prayer is a useless exercise. By declaring an official day of prayer, the government is taking the position that the conclusions of atheists on metaphysical issues is not valid by implying there is a god and prayer is effective.

      Reply
      1. Morgan7 months ago

        Atheists do not assert there is no God. That’s just as much a claim as to assert there is one. Atheists do not believe in the claim that God(s) exist(s), because the claim has not met its burden of proof. An atheist would change his/her mind about this claim, if it would meet its burden of proof.

        Reply
        1. Edward Silha7 months ago

          I agree with most you have stated. However, the definition you provided is that of an agnostic. Agnostics assert that whether god or gods exist is unknowable based on existing evidence. Atheists assert there is no credible evidence, so there is no god.

          Reply
          1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

            Not quite. Very few people, I think, would say that they are certain there is no god. Take a look at the Spectrum of Theistic Probabilities, where:

            1) Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”

            2) De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”

            3) Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”

            4)Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.

            5) Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”

            6) De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

            7) Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

            I, and I suspect most atheists, would be a “6.” Charles Dawkins, who created this spectrum, is a “6.”

  11. Nathaniel Hall7 months ago

    @Edward- The Supreme Court is notoriously wishy-washy about using the Lemon test. It does not really want to view it as binding on its future decisions because it considers religion to be a “special category” of cases. Thus, there are other tests that they use such as neutrality, oppression, etc.

    In reality, it’s practical motivations that move the Court in most establishment clause cases. When the 9th Circuit ruled that “under God” in the pledge of allegiance was unconstitutional a few years ago, half of the country and Congress was ready to impeach the lot of them. The Supremes saved them by throwing out that case on standing.

    Reply
    1. Edward Silha7 months ago

      The court may have bent the test in some cases, but the test is still supported by the majority of the justices. Scalia and Thomas (the most conservative, maybe even extreme justices) are the primary critics. From a practical point, why do you find the Lemon test objectionable? History has an overwhelming number of examples of civil strive caused by government sanctioned sectarianism. That is what the first amendment and the Lemon test help to prevent.

      Reply
  12. Don Cameron7 months ago

    Unfortunately it leaves out the one salient fact. Prayer is less effective than wishful thinking.

    Reply
    1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

      Actually, I think prayer IS wishful thinking.

      Reply
  13. Edward Silha7 months ago

    Lemon Test
    1. The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose.
    2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion.
    3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.
    How does the national day of prayer pass this test given that prayer is a religious ritual and the national day of prayer is intended to promote this religious ritual?

    Reply
    1. Marie Herr7 months ago

      The Lemon Test is only used to determine if a STATUTE violates the 1st Amendment.

      Not to mention, it’s rather paradoxical (read hypocritical) that the political Left rarely objects to Lawmakers exploiting the teachings of Jesus when it suits their purposes, i.e. equating TAXES with CHARITY.

      Reply
      1. Edward Silha7 months ago

        My point was that under the Lemon test, the legislation instituting the national day of prayer seems to violate the first amendment.

        With regard to politicians quoting Jesus, the Bible, or any other religious tenant, both sides do so. Whether any particular reference is rational can only be decided on a case by case basis.

        Reply
  14. Jose Abreu7 months ago

    Thank you for drafting me in fantasy.

    Reply
  15. Diana Robinson7 months ago

    The issue in Greece, N.Y. is not that they start with prayer, but that they start with a Christian prayer and ignore other religions.

    Reply
    1. Zebra7 months ago

      Diana Robinson:
      To what religion should we NOT ignore?

      Reply
  16. skeptic43217 months ago

    Other tidbits
    1 ) There is no good evidence for the effectiveness of Intercessory prayer (in fact, the STEP Trial showed a trend towards adverse effects for those who knew they were being prayed for)
    2) If there is any benefit from prayer, it is likely similar to the benefits of meditation
    3) According to Madison’s notes, there was no group prayer at the Constitutional Convention for at least a month – it was brought up for a vote just before the 4th of July weekend but there was no vote before adjournment – prayer just snuck its way in and has been in Congress since – doesn’t mean it’s right
    4) More people advocating prayer in public should read Matthew 6

    Reply
    1. Marie Herr7 months ago

      1) Other studies reveal the opposite “trend”, but prayer itself is highly subjective.
      2) So what’s the big deal? Semantics?
      3) Doesn’t mean it’s not Constitutional
      4) More people who are advocating “freedom FROM religion” should start reading the Federalist Papers.

      Reply
      1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

        Better yet, read Thomas Jefferson, three paragraph Virginia Act for the establishment of Religious Freedom. This is the document from which the Establishment Clause was fashioned and it lays down the INTENT of the Establishment Clause. You can find it here: religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.ed…

        Reply
  17. Franklin Otis Carroll7 months ago

    Prayer is a way of acknowledging The Lord in all our comings and goings. Prayer need not end though prayer does center the mind and invite the Spirit to ill image the way forward. ITNOJC,A

    Reply
  18. S. Keegan7 months ago

    National Day of Reason on the same day as the National Day of Prayer? Fine by me! My faith and reason are in no conflict, so I’m perfectly capable of exercising both simultaneously.

    Reply
    1. Max T. Furr7 months ago

      If you are a Christian, I submit that there is more conflict than your unconscious mind will allow you to admit.

      Reply
  19. Daniel R. Winder7 months ago

    Here’s a story about a man who started praying in his late 30’s.

    lds.org/media-library/video/2009…

    Reply
  20. Henry Jay Karp7 months ago

    While I usually value highly the reports I receive from Pew, I found this report to be disappointing. It presents itself as offering 5 facts about prayer, when in fact the majority of the facts that it shares are about the National Day of Prayer rather than the state of prayer practice in America. I cannot believe that the folks at Pew sincerely equate the observance of the National Day of Prayer with the nature and practice of prayer in America.

    Reply
  21. Lamanilena7 months ago

    To the outsider, Americans appear to flaunt their public piety, and for elected officials it is a required exhibition skill. This invocation of God is repugnant to many of us who feel that it is more for display and manipulative purposes – (like “patriotism” during wartime.)

    Prayer is internal and requires true humility – little of which is revealed in these mass demonstrations of piety.

    Reply
  22. Rev. John F Yeaman7 months ago

    RE: 5 facts about prayer; I wonder how many prayers are “gimme” prayers, how many contemplative or centering prayer.

    Reply