From the Community Editorial Board: Facebook prayers

Facebook is offering a new prayer request feature tool. Your take?

People pray for many things in many places. Sports teams have a group prayer in the locker room before games. I assume they are trying to curry favor with God so that God will pick their team to win over the heathen team. No coach would allow any kind of edge by the other team, so there is undoubtedly prayer in the opposing team’s locker room as well. Not sure how or if God chooses in cases like this. It may be that God does not want to get involved and the teams have to rely on their skills and coaching.

I pray for parking spots when I am almost anywhere — downtown, Rockies games, the airport. My prayers are based on an untested theory that it is such a comparatively small request that God will just grant it in a one-off gesture — it’s easy and quick — kind of a “no skin off my nose” type of thing.

Facebook wants to make prayers part of its culture (and demographic pitch kit). They are currently testing a prayer button that says, “I prayed.” It is initially available for faith-based groups to utilize on their Facebook Groups sites. It turns out that Facebook prayer requests are not that different from sports teams’ or parking spot prayers.

I was raised Catholic. When I was 16, I went to confession before Easter and the church was packed with people waiting to confess their sins. I finally got into a confessional booth and the priest listened to my confession. I was about to leave and he whispered through the screen “will you do me a favor?” Shocked by this request, I said yes. He asked, “Will you peek out and let me know how long the line is?” I looked. “It’s really long.” The priest sighed, “I thought so.” I sometimes think that is God’s reaction to most of our prayers too.

Fern O’Brien, [email protected]

I find it very difficult to view this move by Facebook as anything more than an expansion of its ability to target, track and monetize its users personal information. To Facebook’s advertising algorithms, religious groups are just another targeted set of data to collect and sell to advertisers. It would be naïve to think there is an altruistic motive behind this added “functionality.” Sure, it is nice to ask for prayers and to let people know you are praying for them, but should that be something that is published for the world to see and then tracked and used to sell products and services? I think not. If this were truly being done because it is the right thing to do, why wouldn’t they just promote the use of a prayer emoji?

Beyond the opportunistic realities of modern digital advertising tactics, I think there are other reasons to be highly skeptical of this new feature. This data will be a virtual gold mine for those who would take advantage of people’s good intentions. Faith healers, snake oil salesmen, and pyramid-schemers of the future will find a rich trove of information to target victims, hone their message, and fleece both those asking for prayers and those granting them. In fact, using Facebook advertising data, much of the work of a faith-based scammer will now be done using predictive data analysis and weaponized using bots.

We live in a complicated world full of trouble and hardship. There are so many reasons for us to reach out to one another for support and to provide comfort in the form of prayers or well-wishes. Prayers are now a part of a data set that can be sold and leveraged. Great. How did we get here? Must everything in our lives be transactional? Can’t we ask for compassion and pray for one another without being recorded and monetized?

I will finish this editorial by asking you all to pray for me, privately. Pray that I am wrong about this new Facebook feature and money isn’t the driving force behind its introduction. Pray that the Facebook savvy scam artists are not licking their chops at the possibility of preying on the suffering of others. Pray that our future is filled with tools that prioritize the privacy of our information and communications over profit. By keeping your prayers private you will guarantee no one will contact you in the future about an excellent MLM investment opportunity.

Ted Rockwell, [email protected]

Since first I volunteered to write bi-weekly, I resolved the honor and renown would require punctuality and punctuation. My faith in the skills I’ve acquired are frequently challenged each August while at Kinhaven.

Like all institutions in New England this Chamber Music camp has its own deity as, the god saving the king always seems so busy. Ours lives in the pond.

In the midnight hour, standing knee deep in the pond to feel its power, with colleagues on the violin and trombone faculty, we discussed proselytizing strategy for imparting our spirit in the students.

In the confluence of conversation with my dearest friends and contemplating the Facebook prayer button, demonstrating my uncanny ability to savor and waste time concurrently, I thanked them for the language I would borrow for both teaching clarinet and this piece.

Faith, like the state is a proxy, allowing us to trust strangers and explain away life’s mysteries without the pedagogical fear that accompanies ignorance with, an uncanny concurrent ability to be a rational basis for ignorant behavior, particularly against, you know, them.

Facebook, like the church and Telemann have well deserved reputations but, organization ain’t all bad. Recognizing that I would never achieve the nirvana of using a complete suite of pronouns talking about the current cannon of composers, I chose to inspire my students to the empathy required for young girls to play the music of old men by invoking Kinhaven’s muse. Its name is Wally.

At Dinner, regaling ourselves with our favorite Elizabethan madrigal and, having religious experiences with butterscotch brownies, it feels like home. I wondered, could I manifest this communal experience if I just like a prayer? Doubtful.

The good news is, you don’t suffer the experience of vicarious brownies. Treat yourself to the cookbook at and in so doing, support the Nancy Bidlack Commission fund so that “she” will be the pronoun to describe the composer more often.

Shawn Coleman, [email protected]

“I am praying for you.” Generous offer or hostile diversion? In my experience, it is always a bit of both, regardless of conscious intent. But then again, I did not ask for their pious intercession. Maybe if I had their words would feel less icky. And now Facebook is making it easier for me to ask!

I try to imagine splaying my personal mental or physical health demons across the electrons of my Facebook home page so I can ask people to pray to whatever god they choose to help me out. And they respond with a thoughtful click to let me know they have interceded for me before the throne of the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent god, righteously drawing its attention away from the tumultuous multiverse of all creation to read my Facebook page for its consideration and intervention.

But even if I got hundreds of “I prayed” clicks in response to my ask, it still feels icky. I like to know that my friends are rooting for me, but that doesn’t require Facebook’s direct click-through to the deities (well not all deities: There is clearly a limited, preferred Facebook user pantheon). And just as true, the previous lack of an “I prayed” button has certainly not stopped some people in the past from telling me “I’m praying for you,” whether intended nicely or, more often, as a way to evade the threats my hard-won atheistic world view makes to their theistic one.

Facebook is getting pushback from all sides. Religious and non-religious both have noted the social behemoth’s duplicity in using piety to gather more private health information to target its ads better (and get more money for those ads). Others have pointed to the lack of efficacy of intercessory prayer in various human crises, suggesting that this Facebook move will only encourage even more people to do stupid things (looking at you, religious anti-vaxxers) and thus further rend the social fabric. But at the very least I find the continued very public encouragement of superstition over reason by a major social media platform very, very icky.

Fintan Steele, [email protected]

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