Why Agnostics Hate Prayers

What people would pay for prayers, from PNAS study by Linda Thunström and Shiri Noy.

Would you pay someone to pray for you? That was the focus of a recently published study, which asked this very question to almost 500 people in the wake of Hurricane Florence. The study separated Christians from atheist/agnostic people, and presented each person with the option to pay for prayers and/or thoughts from different people. On average, Christians would pay more for prayers, and specifically from prayers from a priest, while atheists and agnostics would pay for Christians to NOT pray for them.

While we might comically imply there is a new income source for priests, the paying to not pray is disturbing and highlights two issues. First, atheists don’t believe in the power of prayer. While that’s not a surprise in itself, it does mean we (specifically Catholics) have done a terrible job advertising how prayer works. The second, and more troubling side, is it highlights that atheists and agnostics simply don’t like Christian people.

Contrary to what the media would tell you, prayer does in fact change things. The Catholic Church has been rigorously testing for miracles, and especially for medical miracles (the ones most people think of), most don’t survive scrutiny. For the Catholic Church to declare a miracle, prayers have to be offered to one Saint or person, the condition has to have no chance of healing on its own, and the condition must quickly be cured (as in, it can’t take a long time to heal). A good recent example was the miraculous curing of Dafne Gutierrez, who prayed to St. Charbel and had her sight restored.

I bring examples of these up with my friends who are agnostic, and it surprises them, which means that Catholic media is failing to promote these instances. How do we not have a repository of images, miracle stories and the like? How do we not have social media accounts pushing these stories out for the world to read? Catholic miracles are called out in our Catechism to inspire us, and yet we act like the man who buried his master’s talents. Given the prevalence of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, this is inexcusable.

Worse still is the image that agnostic people have of Christians in general. Ask an agnostic person what their image of a Christian is, and you will likely get some flinching. The media has been bashing Christianity forever, and while Christians might ignore it, the effects are playing out now. More people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, and worse, more agnostic people say they won’t associate with Christians. This, despite the fact that many of the same people know lots of good Christians that they see every day. We are, again, poorly advertising ourselves and our lives, allowing the media to make us out to be the boogey man for atheists and agnostics everywhere.

Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, can in fact die out if we don’t fight for it. The media will gladly hide our miracle stories so that prayers become nothing more than good thoughts in most people’s minds. Worse still, the media will continue to incite violence against Catholics, like the attack on St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989. It’s not enough for us to live good lives, but we must also show those that have no faith that our lives are worth living.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, the Catholic Church, or any other government or non-government agency.