I believe in positive thinking. Now, before you skeptics lose your bloody minds, let me explain what I mean. I think that excessive negativity can have a real and lasting effect on your real life. You can use negativity to talk yourself out of reaching goals, getting things done and into generally being a quitter. If you tell yourself you can’t do the thing enough times, you’re going to believe you can’t do the thing. You’re going to go into the thing believing you can’t do the thing and so, what point is there in trying very hard to do the thing? So, you don’t try to do the thing, and wouldn’t you know it? You’re right! You can’t do the thing. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not quite as easy as talking yourself out of something, but talking yourself into something can work the same way. Belief in yourself and your own ability often translates into real, tangible effort and effort can turn into success. In this respect, I believe in positive thinking.
I don’t believe you can picture a million dollars in your bank account and your thoughts help that manifest in reality. I don’t believe you can think the traffic light into turning green. I don’t think you can glitter-and-rainbows your way out of cancer.
As such, thoughts and prayers, to me, are useless self-soothing tricks that offer no real value in the real world. Even though some people define “thoughts and prayers” as a way to send some sort of positive thinking someone else’s way, they’re empty words. Utterly meaningless like “at one with the Universe” and “keep stillness inside of you” and pretty much everything else that slithers out of Deepak Chopra’s mouth. Sure, offering thoughts and prayers can give you a moment’s relief when you’re stuck in that awkward no man’s land after having heard bad news where you don’t know what to say. That’s it, though. That’s really all that can be gained from offering thoughts and prayers. You cannot “think positively” for someone else.
About a week ago I had an atheist write to me. She explained that she’d recently been in a discussion with a believer and offered the believer her thoughts and prayers. The religious person knew our friend was an atheist and took exception to her offering thoughts and prayers. So, my reader asked,
“I am wondering… Can I say “Thoughts and prayers” to a Christian even though I am an atheist?”
Now, given what you know about my position on thoughts and prayers, you’d be right in guessing that my first instinct is to tell my reader that no, there is no point in saying thoughts and prayers. I want to tell her that there is nothing to be gained from it; that they are vacuous, self-serving words and she shouldn’t use them as someone who doesn’t believe in god.
Part of me definitely wanted to say that, but it wouldn’t be honest. It wouldn’t be the truth.
The best thing about being an atheist is the true freedom of thought it affords an individual. You get to decide for yourself what’s okay and not okay. You can draw your reasoning from anywhere you like: Humanism, nihilism, Buddhism, science, your daily experiences, etc. I cannot tell you how to behave as an atheist because there is no atheist doctrine to refer to; there is no atheist authority to follow.
All of that means that the honest answer to your question is, yes. Yes, you can say “thoughts and prayers” to a Christian if it suits you. If you’re worried about being polite, all you need to do is question your own motives. Are you offering your thoughts and prayers to be sarcastic? Then don’t say it. Are you offering your thoughts and prayers because you genuinely believe it will give them some relief? Then give it a shot.
Deciding whether or not you can say “thoughts and prayers” to a believer is entirely up to you – no other atheist can tell you if it’s the right thing to do or not. What’s more, even if you wanted to actually pray for someone, you are free to do so, and no one is going to take your atheist card away. You can go to church if the mood strikes; you can love the Bible; you can even get yourself baptized and still be an atheist.
All that is required for you to be an atheist is that you have no active belief in a god. The only thing you could do that would be unbecoming of an atheist is believe in the big guy upstairs.
Myself, I have never needed or had the desire to offer thoughts and prayers to anyone, and I doubt I ever will with any seriousness. I don’t pray and the only real “positive thinking” I believe in is being positive about myself. I can’t send thoughts. I can’t send prayers.
Of course, I grew up without religion, so these words are very unnatural to me. For some atheists who left their religion behind, these words might come easier, but for me, it’s like saying, “I need to shave my beard” or “I sure hope I get picked for the next NASA mission”. They are absurd, meaningless, empty words that get us nowhere.
I want to know what you think. How would you respond to this reader? Let me know in the comments!
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay