Ask pretty much any modern day atheist about “sending prayers” on Facebook, and you will almost assuredly get an eye roll and a groan. It generally follows this model: Someone posts about something bad in their life, or in need of something good as an outcome of a situation, and in the comments below are lengthy strings of people just posting “prayers!”, or “praying for you!”, or “sending prayers!” or some other such nonsense. Jesus is occasionally referenced.
Notice in this comment thread, there was ONE person that offered to actually help. And this isn’t the only example. Long threads of people offering “thoughts and prayers”, and one single person offering good advice or offering real help, has become part of an entire meme genre titled “Spot the Atheist”. Go ahead and google it.
Check out Jacob with his completely useful advice! If he hadn’t chimed in, Mr. DeWitt would have just suffered longer. But thanks to someone with a bit of real knowledge, he stands a chance of some relief.
And that’s really the point of this article. I might not have known the proper care for Mr. DeWitt’s symptoms, but it doesn’t do me any good to post some useless gesture. I wouldn’t, for example, comment “try smoking lots of cigarettes.”
But those other commenters didn’t know the right answer either, and for some god-forsaken reason thought that their answer would actually help. So in reality, they’re taking the “god of the gaps”, which is just the process of sticking god into every problem you personally don’t know the answer for, and extending that process out. The dam is leaking, and they expect that a “prayer” will plug the hole, without knowing anything at all about dam construction or structural integrity.
Now, we know prayer doesn’t work. If you ever want any proof that prayer is completely useless, you simply find a religious organization with lots of money, have them hire some researchers or scientists or doctors willing to set up a legitimate double-blind study, and then simply note the results. Yes, we have such a study, and the results are quite conclusive. Prayer is useless. It’s 2018, this study is 12 years old, and we still have to tell people that prayer is useless. I’m surprised we aren’t still drowning witches…..
But again, ignorance is the residence of god, and ignorance of how to help is the residence of prayer. If you ask the doctor about to help someone with, say, cancer, they’re going to go into a whole lot of specific stuff about biology and advanced surgical or medical techniques. Stuff I don’t understand to be sure. But they aren’t going to write “prayer” on their chart. This is because, as we noted in our study, prayer is useless.
As a non-doctor, I am powerless to help someone with cancer. And that really sucks, because it would be nice if I could help all people at all times. But I can’t. I have to be honest about what I can and can’t do. And if you have cancer, buddy, I’m recommending you to a doctor ‘cuz I’m not going to do you any good.
Now, just because I can’t cure your cancer doesn’t mean I don’t feel the need to help. And I assume the “thoughts and prayers” commenters feel the same. So they offer their useless remedy. And then, that’s it. They’re conscious is clear I guess, because they “helped.” Only they didn’t actually help at all. And since I know how worthless prayers really are, I also know that my obligation to be a good person hasn’t been fulfilled. So as an atheist, I have to do just a little more thinking and then do something that takes time and money.
Without prayer to relieve me of my duty to be humane, I resort to cooking meals for people. I help people move. I give them a hand. I loan (give) some cash. I give someone a ride. I sit down with them and let them vent and listen.
Sending prayers is a cop-out. It has become such a virus of non-action that it has entered the sphere of politics. This trend needs to be reversed. As atheists, we need to be the example of doing something real and meaningful. Also, feel free to take a jab at the “prayer” committee as long as it is appropriate. But be a good human. “Spot the Atheist” should be a universally recognized game.
The Spartan Atheist