While some people may think the sentiment “I’m praying for you” might be a nice gesture, researchers have found that when it comes to ‘thoughts and prayers,’ some atheists would pay money to avoid them.
The study was conducted by Linda Thunström of the University of Wyoming and Laramie and Shiri Noy of Denison University, and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The study surveyed people in the wake of Hurricane Florence that hit North Carolina last year. The survey respondents, which included religious participants who identified as Christian and believed in God, and nonreligious participants who identified as either atheist or agnostic, were given $5 to be used for the project. In sum, participants could use the cash to receive “thoughts” from a random Christian or a random atheist, or “prayers” from a random Christian or a priest. Unsurprisingly, Christians put more value in prayers offered by a priest than another random Christian, but atheists were willing to pay to avoid the thoughts and prayers of Christians — $1.66 to avoid prayer from a priest, and $3.54 to avoid prayer from a random Christian.
Speaking to The Guardian, Thunström said that the results may be a reflection of the “political climate we are in.”
“Some of these people might feel they hear the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ all the time, and perhaps it provokes something in them,” she said.
According to the Friendly Atheist‘s Hemant Mehta, the study is a good indicator of how to offer your condolences to people affected by tragedy.
“…don’t just offer victims thoughts or prayers as if those words will be taken as a heartfelt gesture by everyone,” Mehta writes. “Think about who you’re talking to. Find out what they actually need. Stop reflexively saying that phrase.”
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