​Prof: ‘Welfare of atheists/agnostics is reduced” by prayers of others

The study found that Christians were willing to pay for thoughts and prayers from both religious and nonreligious strangers, while nonreligious people were willing to pay people not to pray or think about them.

A recent study out of the University of Wyoming used several victims of Hurricane Florence to determine the effective monetary value of a “thought” or a “prayer” in times of crisis

A professor at the University of Wyoming recently used hurricane victims to help her figure out just how much money “thoughts and prayers” are worth as part of a research initiative. She warns that Americans should be “selective” with prayers because the “welfare” of atheists and agnostics “is reduced” by prayer. 

Economics professor Linda Thunstrom led a study during which she directed victims of Hurricane Florence, along with other individuals in North Carolina who had experienced other hardships, to assign a monetary value to the concept of “thoughts and prayers.” She and her research partner Denison University professor Shiri Noy asked 482 Christian, agnostic, and atheist victims how much they would be willing to pay for thoughts and prayers from various sources. 

The study was conducted by rounding up various victims “shortly following Hurricane Florence” and giving them each their standard pay plus $5. Participants were then given the option of paying to receive or not receive thoughts and prayers from Christian strangers, non-Christian strangers, and a priest.

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“The net effect on recipient welfare from thoughts and prayers depends on how recipients perceive to benefit from such intercessory gestures,” Thunstrom explained, according to the University of Wyoming news release.

Christian participants questioned were willing to pay $4.36 on average for a prayer from a Christian stranger, while they were willing to pay $7.17 for a prayer from a priest. But the “nonreligious” group containing atheists and agnostics were actually willing to pay people not to pray for them, $3.54 for a Christian stranger not to pray and $1.66 for a priest not to pray.

Nonreligious people would pay $0.33 for a “thought” from a nonreligious stranger but were willing to pay $2.02 for a Christian stranger to keep them out of their thoughts. Conversely, Christians valued thoughts from Christian strangers at an average rate of $3.27. But the study authors do not stop with the data, instead concluding that this disparity suggests that thoughts and prayers could harm nonreligious people.

Thunstrom and Noy assert that their findings suggest that “thoughts and prayers for others should ideally be employed selectively” because “while Christians value such gestures from fellow believers, nonreligious people negatively value such gestures from Christians and are indifferent to receiving them from other nonreligious people.”

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Thunstrom says in the news release that these findings prove that Christians “benefit from” prayers from others but that “the welfare of atheists/agnostics is reduced by such gestures.”

”A deeper understanding of the values and beliefs of different groups with respect to thoughts and prayers may, however, reduce some of the animosity surrounding thoughts and prayers in the public debate,” Thunstrom added.

Thunstrom told Campus Reform that if you are a stranger considering offering thoughts and prayers to a victim of a crisis, “you may want to adjust your response to people’s hardships depending on their religious affiliation.”

She emphasized that since the study focuses on the thoughts and prayers of strangers, “If you are that stranger, and want to support others in hardship, e.g., in the wake of a hurricane, our results imply that you may want to learn about the religious identity of those you aim to support in order to ensure that your gestures are perceived as helpful.”

“If they identify primarily as religious Christians, your prayers are appropriate and will be appreciated. If they identify primarily as atheists or agnostics, you might want to express your sympathy in other ways, as they do not appreciate prayers from strangers in support of their hardship,” she explained.

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