The Trouble with “Thoughts and Prayers”

Imagine, if you will, that you receive a phone call from the hospital asking you to come by because one of your loved ones has been in an accident.

Pick your most likely reaction:

  1. Think “please, (name of deity of choice), let them be okay” while you run to the car so you can drive to the hospital.
  2. Think “I hope they’re okay” while you run to the car to make that drive.
  3. Thoughts and prayers are worthless; you drive to the hospital and immediately shove the trained team of medical professionals out of the way to tend to your relative all by yourself because only action is meaningful.
  4. You hang up the phone and go back to what you were doing because only direct action is meaningful and you don’t have the know-how to help, so why bother?
  5. You drive to the hospital in time to see your loved one make a full recovery. When you hear them thanking the nurse, the only other person in the room at that time, you immediately begin berating your loved one for the offense of thanking anyone who wasn’t the actual surgeon.
  6. Think “please, God, let them be okay” and then go back to what you were doing because you’ve done your part by praying.

If you’re a decent human being, I expect you’ll probably pick some version of one of the first two choices. (How close you come depends on factors like whether driving to the hospital is an option, not your motivation for doing so.) Which one you pick just depends on whether or not you believe in a higher power, but as far as the effort spent, those two choices are ultimately the same choice.

If you pick any of the other options…. let’s just say I’m going with Hanlon’s Razor to decide what kind of person you are. Because what many haters seem to forget is that the “thoughts and prayers” outrage was never about offering thoughts and prayers. It’s about what you are or are not doing in addition to those thoughts and/or prayers.

Apply this way of thinking to wide-scale tragedies, helping strangers, and offering those thoughts and prayers via social media, and I’ll say the same thing.

If anyone’s curious:
Options 1-4 were all created in response to complaints that prayer is a “waste of time” that’s better spent achieving whatever it is we’re praying for. Because the couple of seconds it takes to pray for help would obviously be more efficiently used to do…. what, exactly? Not shoving the doctor out of the way, that’s for certain. (Option 2 was added specifically to point out that this is not strictly a religious/prayer situation. The person who is thinking “I hope they’re okay” is taking the same action, and the same time to complete it, as the person who says “Please, God….” insofar as the notion that praying is a waste of time.)
Option 5 was in response to the outrage about people thanking God for the recovery of their loved ones. First off, there is the absolute nonsense that this outrage so often comes from total strangers who feel entitled to lambaste the very people who just went through a tragedy. Second off, in something as critical as surgery, medical professionals are trained to work as teams with each individual playing a different role; recognizing that the surgeon was not the only one to help does not mean you are ignoring what the surgeon did to help.
Option 6 is the only legitimate source of outrage against the “thoughts and prayers” scenario, because there are too many people and governments who do exactly this. They pray, they expect God to answer their prayers, but they refuse to be that answer because they think that praying is good enough.

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