Every so so often, someone I know will post, on Facebook, about something that's happening in his or her life; something bad -- or something that could wind up badly. Usually, a ton of friends will respond. Some will say: "I'll say a prayer for you." Others will offer "positive thoughts." Either way, the gesture is well-taken: they want things to turn out well for their friend.
But, it does strike me as a little funny. People who do not believe in the Divine still feel the need to do something "supernatural" for a suffering friend. They "send positive thoughts."
Out of the people who do this, some truly believe in the power. I have heard numerous atheists defend "the power of positive thought." I don't know about you, but I have never seen a stitch of empirical proof that positive thought does anything to help matters. Still, some who think it is foolish to believe in prayer think it makes perfect sense to believe in the power of thinking as some kind of positive incantation.
Inconsistent? Uh, yeah.
In truth, they might as well say, "Sending you a cloud-box full of fiddle-playing gremlins." Right? What good does it do?
Well, one thing that offering either prayers or "positive thoughts" can accomplish is to make the recipient feel better. That's a start. I remember, when I was in the middle of my own little battle with cancer, that when the priest at Mass would mention my name (submitted, no doubt, by my mother, the choir director) and everyone would pray for me (and for others), it was a profound feeling.
Granted, this can all be metaphoric. It's moving the way a poem can be moving. It helps that I do, in fact, believe in God -- not that I am foolish enough think I can really understand or that I can speak for Him the way a lot of people seem to. So, I see prayer as more than a gesture or a metaphor. But the gesture part is nice, too.
What I find odd, though, is that we all seem to be reaching up, no matter how we might want to hide it. Believers and non-believers alike, we all seem to tend toward an instinctual belief in some kind of higher power: the power of prayer; the power of positive thought; the power of cheering up a sick person with a concerted effort of positive statements.
I've mentioned before that I find is strange and even alarming that a species that has, since the earliest times, seemed to need to believe and to worship is, all of a sudden, so enlightened that this need is instantly, in our lifetime, disappearing. I have also said that people seem to be worshipping science and politics in much the same way people have worshipped God (or the gods) for centuries.
We all want to believe in something. Maybe some of us aren't as "enlightened" as we think. After all, if prayer is silly, so is "positive thought."