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You know how every week or so in the US there’s a new mass shooting, and how we could easily prevent these shootings if our politicians cared to beef up our gun control but they don’t because they get a lot of money from the NRA and money is more important to them then human lives? And you know how they have to say something when the shootings happen but they can’t just say “I’m not going to do anything about this,” so instead they say “thoughts and prayers”? It’s gotten to the point where I’m pretty sure even Christians are annoyed about that, even the Christians who believe thoughts and prayers do something. As an atheist it makes me furious — I mean, obviously the politician is lying. They’re not going to church and fervently praying for the souls of the dead, or for God to magic away all the guns. They’re just typing “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter and then diving back into their money vault like Scrooge McDuck.
But even if they were praying, as an atheist I don’t think that is actually going to do anything because I think that praying is just a fancy way to meditate or talk to yourself. No one is actually listening, let alone doing what you want like He’s a fucking genie. So I personally think that time would be better spent with positive action, like, you know, enacting gun control, for this example.
But would I pay good money to stop a person from praying for a person in need? I wouldn’t think so, but a new study published in my favorite journal, PNAS, found that atheists were willing to pay up to $3.54 to make sure a Christian does not pray for them. I know. It’s…weird.
Two scientists, one an economist at University of Wyoming and the other a sociologist at Denison University, surveyed people in North Carolina following Hurricane Florence in September of 2018. They gave them $5 and asked them how much they would pay for four different conditions:
1.) A Christian prays for them
2.) A priest prays for them
3.) A Christian keeps them in their thoughts
4.) A nonbeliever keeps them in their thoughts
They found that Christian subjects were willing to pay $4.36 for prayers from a fellow Christian, and a whopping $7.17 for a priest (they got to values higher than $5 using statistical modeling that I’m not smart enough to understand). Those same Christians were willing to pay $3.27 for thoughts from another Christian.
Atheists, though, showed literally the opposite response: they were willing to pay $1.66 to make sure a priest did not pray for them, and $3.54 to make sure a regular Christian nobody didn’t pray for them, too. They’d pay $2.02 to make sure a Christian didn’t even THINK about them, and they didn’t care about thoughts from a fellow atheist.
The atheists weren’t the only ones who were willing to pay for someone to not think about them: it was only weakly significant but Christians were willing to pay $1.51 to make sure an atheist didn’t think about them.
The study authors don’t spend much time discussing their results besides to say, basically, “Yeah, nonreligious people really, really don’t want your thoughts and prayers so maybe consider your audience when offering them.” But it’s still insane to me that people were willing to spend any amount of money to prevent it. Like, you have to be really angry to offer someone $3 to not pray for you.
I get told all the time that someone is praying for me, personally, because I am a heathen who is going to hell, and honestly I do not care. Private individuals can say they’re praying for me and it’s fine because there’s nothing else that they could be doing with that time that would benefit me all that much.
I would, however, happily donate $3 to the campaign of any politician who says, “I’m not going to pray for my constituents. I’m going to actually help them with my actions.” And I think that’s more the takeaway here — I doubt any atheist would seriously offer someone money to not pray for them. This was within the confines of a study, using a free $5 the subjects got from the researchers. No atheist is going to set up a program where, say, their local church deducts $3 from their paycheck every week to ensure no one prays for them. But, like me, they would probably appreciate it if Christians would understand their values a little better. Yes, we atheists have values, and as a humanist that means I value real action to better the lives of others. Or in the case of politicians just, you know, doing their fucking jobs.
All that said, this study has inspired me to update my Patreon. I’ve added a new level of support just for Christians who either want to support my videos (I mean, they’re not all skeptical of religion!) or who simply do not, under any circumstances, want this particular atheist to keep them in her thoughts. For $1.51, I promise that I will not think of you at all. I will never thank you, I will never mention you in my videos, I will not even look at the list of names of people supporting me at that level.
It also occurs to me that I am, in fact, a priest. I was ordained by the First Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic (“We Don’t Know and We Don’t Care”) in order to perform weddings. So good news! For $7.17, I will pray for you once per month. Hell, you can even send me something you’d like me to pray about. But be careful! Past studies have suggested that praying for someone who is sick can make them sicker, but only if they’re aware you’re praying for them. So choose wisely. You don’t want my atheist prayers making you sicker. No refunds.