Recently the subject of Imprecatory Prayer has come up, as called for by Southern Baptist Minister Wiley Drake. My cohort James F. Elliott is doing a stellar job debating Rhology on this topic in the Religious Idiots and Fringe and Mainstream threads; I'm busy and James obviously needs no help from me anyway.
But I wanted to write briefly about Imprecatory Prayer itself. An imprecatory prayer is essentially a curse, a prayer for suffering, calamity and death to befall the victim of the prayer.
Even someone indifferent to Christian theology as myself knows Christians don't believe they can command Jehovah to curse someone, but there is ample evidence in their scripture to "justify" the belief that he can be persuaded. At least in terms of intent and state of mind, an imprecatory prayer is a threat. The only reason it isn't considered criminal assault under secular law is the recognition that such prayer is ineffective, at least supernaturally.
Furthermore, it shows a general indifference to human life and well-being in general. The implication seems to be that the believer does not directly value the life of others; he values it only because God has happened to not have commanded him—at least not yet—to take it. This does not seem a good way to establish mutual trust: "Good night, Wesley, I'll most likely kill you in the morning."
Imprecatory prayer offends my humanist sensibilities. At the very least, it indicates that the believer desires and would be pleased by the suffering and death of another human being. I find such an attitude very offensive. Even worse, it indicates an intent (however ineffectual) to actually cause (by persuasion) the suffering and death of another. It is, in legal terms, a declaration of mens rea, i.e. criminal intent; again, only the preposterous ineffectuality of the means shields the believer from prosecution.
There is, however, an even more sinister implication to the call for imprecatory prayer: A coded incitement to perform an actual criminal act. Again, even the most cursory examination of Christian scripture shows that Jehovah often delegates his dirty work to mortals through an intermediary religious authority, sometimes contrary to civil, secular law. Jesus himself was executed by the legitimate governmental authorities for sedition and subversion.
It is not too much of a stretch to believe that some believer might feel himself commanded by God to perform this act, and not consider it murder or mayhem (note that assault and battery is not condemned in either version of the Ten Commandments). Since any action has—to the believer's mind—been both commanded by God and sanctioned by a religious authority, he might well rationalize the act as ethically permissible.
This is not idle or paranoid suspicion. One has only to look at Paul Jennings Hill, Timothy McVeigh, Christian militias and hate groups, as well as the growing Dominionist movement.