On thoughts and prayers

November 9, 2017

I am really surprised and dismayed to see so many people who ought to know better jumping on the enough-of-your-prayers bandwagon. When an atheist says “if God existed he would have prevented this, so prayer is useless,” I strongly disagree with that, but at least it makes some logical sense. But when people whom I know do believe in prayer, come out against it in the wake of an atrocity, I find that regrettable.

“But no,” they explain, “I’m not against prayer at all. I’m against prayer as a substitute for action.”

Really? Let do a thought experiment. A few years ago, people were praying for the plight of the Yazidis who were being slaughtered by ISIS. Why only pray? Why not demand action? Why not demand a US invasion to rescue the Yazidis? No, we can’t support that action, it would be expensive, ineffective, and/or counterproductive.


In fact, “thoughts and prayers” are not a substitute for action, nor are they intended as such. They are an appropriate response for the believer, independent of whether he or she thinks any particular policy is wise. Unfortunately, prayer has become politicized as a proxy for a policy debate, and people who should know better have joined in.