Thoughts and Prayers: Helpful or Hateful?

After any serious incident that befalls mankind, many turn to social media to show their support, whether they say “thoughts and prayers” or change their profile picture to the flag of the country in need. Both of these methods have rightly been criticized, but in one instance, I think they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is “Thoughts and Prayers” really that bad of a thing to say? Sure, someone could merely be virtue-signaling, wanting everyone to see that they somehow care about this bad event that happened to people they don’t know, but it’s highly improbable that’s the case for everyone who says it.

When someone says they were thinking about you, you interpret that within the context of your relationship to that person. Because of this, I can understand why someone would be confused by some stranger thinking about them during a hard time. The problem is that this assumes that the mere thought implies inaction. The conclusion in this assumption simply doesn’t follow.

Many on social media will scoff and mock at the idea that someone is offering thoughts and prayers to victims, but if we were to use their logic, their complaining about thoughts and prayers are just as inefficient. You can scream “help people instead of praying” as much as you want, but if you aren’t helping them yourself, what does your whining do?

Before you object, yes, I agree that thoughts and prayers from people who obviously don’t  mean it or are not religious and are just using it to virtue signal are wrong for doing so. Christian Apologist Richard Bushey makes this excellent point regarding prayers vs. legislation

If you are completely motivated by a political agenda, it might surprise you to learn that people actually appreciate being told that they are prayed for and thought of. This is true even when nothing is going on. It is a reminder that somebody is there and cares for you, even if you do not know that person well. When somebody literally loses their entire family, all of the sudden, in an act of violence, it will lead to anger, despair and loneliness. If I approach them and say, “Don’t worry; my political agenda will prevent this from happening again,” guess what? They are hardly going to be consoled. But if I tell them that I am praying for them, then they know that I am there for them.

There is also this strange idea that if prayer worked, evil acts wouldn’t happen. No discussion of theodicy needed, just a tweet with some rhetoric and assumptions about a whole system of belief. Do they think we believe in a God who is just as surprised when evil acts occur as we are? Do you really want God to be like us? As Douglas Wilson so aptly puts

The more guilt-ridden we are, the more we experience a different kind of compulsive lust—the lust to not be seen for what we actually are. This is why our leading role models and heroes now are no longer admirals, explorers, poets, and astronauts, but rather celebrities and actors. They tell lies for a living, and they represent us well.

If person X and person Y both help person Z, but person X also adds “I’m praying for you” does that make his work null? When a football player wins a Superbowl and says “All Glory belongs to God” does that mean the player didn’t work hard to win the game? Prayer has never been a way to give up personal responsibility.

They’re also some benefits to prayer that have been examined by psychology. For example, Jesse Bering, a psychologist for Queens University stated

Whether it’s a dead ancestor or God, whatever supernatural agent it is, if you think they’re watching you, your behavior is going to be affected.

PsychologyToday counts 5 reasons why prayer could be beneficial to someone. The five reasons being It can teach self-control, It could make you nicer, It could make you more forgiving, could increase trust, and can offset negative effects from stress.

So, whether you’re an edge-lord or someone who simply doesn’t get while we pray, at least see that saying prayer is “meaningless” is incoherent.

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