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Study: Atheists, agnostics dislike prayers from Christians so much they're willing to pay money to avoid them

'Why care if you don't believe in the gesture?'

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Atheists and agnostics are so averse to prayers from Christians that they're willing to pay money to avoid them, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

More from the study:

Offering "thoughts and prayers" has become a standard response from both U.S. policy makers and the public to major catastrophes — including hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings, and disease outbreaks. Despite the frequent usage of these gestures on behalf of people experiencing hardship, the value of thoughts and prayers to recipients remains unknown. In the United States, this knowledge vacuum exacerbates public debate about the value of thoughts and prayers. Critics argue that these gestures are meaningless and can reduce material help or structural reforms aimed at mitigating natural and social disasters. However, studies show that people often find emotional comfort in social support. Christians frequently seek others' prayers during difficult times, believing they may have healing powers. Less is known about the perceived value of receiving supportive thoughts.

What are the details of the study?

"The value of thoughts and prayers" was published Monday and was based on responses from 482 North Carolina residents — who identified as Christians or atheists or agnostics — after Hurricane Florence hit the region last year.

The researchers gave $5 to each participant, and they could exchange the money for supportive thoughts from a Christian stranger, thoughts from an atheist stranger, prayers from a Christian stranger, or prayers from a priest.

What were the results?

"We find that Christians value thoughts and prayers from religious strangers and priests, while atheists and agnostics are 'prayer averse' — willing to pay to avoid receiving prayers," the study concluded. "Furthermore, while indifferent to receiving thoughts from other secular people, they negatively value thoughts from Christians."

Monetarily speaking, the study said Christians value prayers from a priest at $7.17 and prayers from a Christian stranger at $4.36 — but the nonreligious are willing to pay $3.54 for a Christian stranger not to pray for them and are willing to pay a priest $1.66 not to pray for them.

'Why care if you don't believe in the gesture?'

"The last result is surprising because one might expect that atheists/agnostics would be indifferent to people praying for them — why care if you don't believe in the gesture?" Linda Thunström, a University of Wyoming economist who co-authored the study, noted to CNN. "But that is not what we find — atheists and agnostics are averse to prayers, to the extent that they are willing to [give up] money in order to ensure not to get a prayer from a Christian stranger. Hence, it is important to think about who the target person is when sending thoughts and prayers in the wake of hardship."

One last thing…
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