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Church of England's #PrayForDawkins Campaign Garners Mixed Reactions

Church of England's #PrayForDawkins Campaign Garners Mixed Reactions

Well-known atheist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins speaks to supporters during the "Rock Beyond Belief" festival at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina, March 31, 2012. | (Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane)

More Christians are participating in social media's #PrayForDawkins campaign after famed atheist Richard Dawkins suffered a stroke last week.

Christians have been using the hashtag to offer their condolences and prayers to the public figure after the Church of England called on followers to do so. Some then criticized the church for being insensitive or sarcastic.

"It's a strange world where the Church of England has to 'defend' praying for someone," Chris Kilgour, a self-identified member of the Church of England, tweeted on February 13.

"#prayfordawkins - Not trolling, not trying to be funny. Being Christian," another Twitter user added.

The Church of England received criticism by some on Sunday when it called on social media users to "Pray for Prof. Dawkins and his family."

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Some accused the church's tweet of being an insincere trolling tactic, as Dawkins is known for heavily criticizing the church.

The Rev. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishops' Council, then sought to defend the tweet in a blog post, arguing that critics have misinterpreted the purpose of prayer.

"Some of the twitter reaction assumed that Christians only pray for other Christians. In fact Christians pray for all kinds of people. They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community," he wrote.

"They pray for the government (of whatever persuasion). They pray for terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers. They pray for criminals as well as giving thanks for saints. Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray. And they love," Arora added.

Nikki Sinclaire, a former Great Britain politician, called the church's tweet "sarcastic and ignorant," while former Anglican bishop Stephen Holme called the invocation "cheap and nasty."

Dawkins and the Church of England have had public disagreements on several issues, with Dawkins going so far as to engage in a debate with the Anglican Bishop Rowan Williams at Cambridge University in 2013.

But Dawkins has also defended the church, arguing last December that a commercial promoting the church and the Lord's Prayer should be permitted in British movie theaters, saying he "strongly [objects] to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might 'offend' people. If anybody is 'offended' by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended."

Archbishop Rowan Williams has praised Dawkins' personality, saying in 2007: "There's something about his swashbuckling side which is endearing," adding that he finds Dawkins and his wife, Lalla, to be "absolutely delightful."

Dawkins confirmed his stroke in an audio recording posted to SoundCloud.

"What happened was that on Friday the fifth of February I was alone at home and I suddenly became aware that my left arm was not behaving properly — I couldn't coordinate properly. When I tried to stand up I staggered about in a rather alarming way. I must have fallen because I later discovered a large bruise on my elbow," he said in the message.

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