Monday, April 28, 2014

If Prayer Is Silly, So Are "Positive Thoughts"

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.

The other half of the people who do this are to be commended: they do not believe in either the power of prayer or the power of positive thought, but they want to offer something to help combat a problem they have no ability to alter (in their own opinions).  "Sending positive thoughts your way..." they write.

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."


  1. Depends on the intent I suppose. Praying for someone implicitly means they think that praying has validity. Sending someone positive thoughts, I think, is more to just say "I care." According to a survey I took last night, positive thoughts can help arthritis.

    I'm being intentionally antithetical, but I think the difference is that prayer is superstition yet prosocial, while "positive thoughts" are only prosocial.

    Of course, not to be sycophantic, if someone as insightful as you relies on prayer, then there are things to reconsider (although I reject conflating worship of a god with "worship" of science).

    1. Always glad to hear varying views, Alexis. You make some good points, but I think my distinction between, the prosocial and the pro-social/faith people is the same as yours. The distinction does, in fact exist: some send positive thoughts as a superstitious wish, others as a simple "I care" statement.

      And thanks for the kind words -- but, I have to say, I see prayer as a strong weapon in the arsonal against bad stuff and in thanks for good stuff, but to rely completely on it would be a mistake, too. I think the Dalai Lama has spoken quite a lot on this idea -- but it also exists in the old cliche: God helps those who help themselves. Anyway, that's my take on it. But I see religion as a very internal thing -- always have, by instinct.

      Also -- did you get my email about the lyrics? I did send them awhile ago -- maybe I am goin into spam?

    2. I think it just speaks to the fact that we, as humans, are hopeful beings. The superstitious and the rational are so intertwined that it'll be nigh impossible to completely let go of one or the other -- some people still look to Charles Manson for either kicks or inspiration.

      Unfortunately I didn't get your email, and my spam folder is empty. I'll send you another email and double check that it's the right address; if you want to do the same, it's

      Hopefully it works this time.