Prayers are, of course, sometimes petitions. They may be calls to a supernatural being for healing, guidance, or even a bit of rain to drench a drought-ridden field. Some prayers of petition are meant to kill. In the Shellac song above, the singer Steve Albini calls on God to kill two people, a woman and a man. As listeners, we suspect that it may have something to do with infidelity, or perhaps a selfish emotional desire for revenge over a relationship that went sour. This sentiment isn’t relegated to the fictions within post-punk songs. An acquaintance who suffered abuse from an alcoholic father once told me that, as a child, he prayed for God to kill his dad. And in some religious narratives about prayer—specifically those found among certain kinds of evangelicals who practice spiritual warfare—God may respond by choosing to kill someone, regardless of whether the human who made the prayer wished such an outcome.
Sean McCloud is an associate professor of religious studies at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He writes and teaches about American religions and religion and culture. He is the author of Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993,and Divine Hierarchies: Class in American Religion and Religious Studies. His third single-authored work, tentatively titled American Possessions: Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in fall 2014.