In today’s economy, everything has a dollar value. Even thoughts and prayers.
And it turns out, economists have determined that prayers from a priest are worth about the same amount as a combo meal at McDonald’s.
The recent study on the value of thoughts and prayers appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s big find is that Christians would pay, on average, $7.17 to receive a prayer from a priest.
However, the value drops precipitously when the prayer is only from a religious stranger, and not a faith leader. Prayers from a religious stranger are worth only $4.36. And thoughts? Thoughts have a going rate of $3.27.
Pricing the Priceless
How did they calculate the value of something so abstract? The study’s authors, economist Linda Thunström and sociologist Shiri Noy, recruited Christians and atheists from North Carolina shortly after Hurricane Florence devastated the state. The study’s participants were given $5 and asked to determine how much they’d be willing to part with to receive thoughts and prayers from a stranger. The researchers then used statistical models to determine how much people would be willing to pay beyond the $5 initially given.
When a participant paid for thoughts and prayers from a stranger, the stranger received a note describing the person they were praying for. They also received a description of their recent hardships.
The study found that prayers only held any value for Christians. For atheists, prayers actually have a negative value: Atheist participants actually paid money to avoid being prayed for. On average, atheists and agnostics were willing to pay $1.66 to avoid prayers from a priest and $3.54 to avoid prayers from a Christian stranger.
But that aversion to ‘the other side’ seems to go both ways. The study also found that Christians will pay $1.52 to avoid thoughts from a secular stranger.
Thoughts and Prayers: Helpful or Hollow?
The entire concept of ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ has been a lightning rod for criticism in recent years. There are some who view thoughts and prayers as a hollow gesture of slacktivism, particularly in response to gun violence.
The study’s author Linda Thunström said that secular disillusionment over the saying “may reflect the political climate we’re in.” She noted that some of the study’s respondents “might feel they hear the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ all the time, and perhaps it provokes something in them.”
But, as evidenced by the study, for many Christians thoughts and prayers remain a legitimate response when tragedy strikes. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary defended ‘thoughts and prayers’ as part of the “common spiritual language of the American people” and that prayer “comes as naturally as a child with a need goes to a loving parent.”
Thunström believes that offering prayers in response to a hardship comes down to knowing your audience. “What our results show is that they have real value to some people, but not to others. These gestures need to be more targeted. If you are talking to a population that is more dominated by nonbelievers, you might not want to suggest a national prayer day.”
What do you think? Are thoughts and prayers a good response to a disaster, or just an empty gesture? Would you pay $7 to receive a prayer?