Prayers and “good vibes” for the sick and injured: a complete fucking waste of time

Disaster-relief

A much loved and very popular friend of mine recently got into a terrible accident while travelling abroad. He remains in a critical state in a foreign hospital. Distressing as the news was, I couldn’t help but feel further dismayed when some of his otherwise intelligent and secular friends took to Facebook to call for prayers and “positive vibes” to be sent to him.

“Dear God,” one proclaimed, “[He] is in Your Generous and Capable hands. Please take care of him and bring him back to safety.” Further demands on Facebook went out to, “Please pray for his recovery and send good vibes his way.” As more people found out, a common FB response was: “Shit! Will send some positivity and prayers his way!”

A few days later, as his condition stabilized thanks purely to the ingeniousness of medicine, another friend concluded: “All this love going his way really helped.” And: “Please keep those positive thoughts coming. This progress couldn’t have happened without them.”

I’ve never used this abbreviation before, but I think this makes for an appropriate first time: WTF?!

I find the appeal to God in the midst of all this—God who, if you believe in him, is not only capable of patching up our friend, but is also ultimately responsible for our friend’s accident—very strange. Imagine if a judge framed your friend for murder and took him to court. It would be very curious to then appeal to that same judge to have your friend acquitted.[*]

True, God did not “frame” my friend in that sense of the word. But as the presumed controller of everything, this accident was surely part of his scheme. A very unpleasant scheme, I might add.

So, really, all these Facebook updates should be stating: “Dear God, you’ve fucked up my friend pretty badly even though he’s an awesome, decent person. Thanks for nothing, asshole.”

This has not been the case, so far.

Yes, it’s possible that part of God’s scheme is to see how many prayers a patient will receive and, depending on the intensity of prayers, the outcome may be swayed by God accordingly.

Now that should sound like a very insulting understanding of God. Yet that is surely what people who resort to prayer in such circumstances actually believe: there is this idea that—while there may be other factors involved, such as fate, the proficiency of the doctors and so on—ultimately, if we could just amass sufficient prayers, it might influence the outcome. Otherwise, why would they bother praying at all?

In other words, they believe that God is so capricious about the fate of loved ones that he can let what is ultimately a popularity contest influence his decision. The implication is that, on some level or other, God actually notes how many prayers and from how many people his victim has accumulated before deciding the outcome.

Again, imagine a judge who rules on someone’s fate (even partially) by counting how many people are cheering for the defendant outside the court, rather than based on what is fair, right or relevant.

The point of all this is that, if you insist on believing in God, do yourself a favour and upgrade him to something a little less whimsical than one of those bitchy judges on the X-Factor.

“It’s all about the vibes ya man”

Praying to God aside, the Facebook updates I noted suggest that there is this idea that we can somehow transmit vibes (or vibrations/positivity/love, or whatever you want to call it) to remote people using the power of our thoughts alone.

This presumably means that something at least vaguely tangible is actually transferred from a mind holding a positive thought of someone to that someone. Somehow, the minute electro-chemical changes that set off a pattern of neurons in your brain to fire, thereby leading to a specific thought or feeling, has a direct effect far beyond the confines of one’s skull.

Never mind that study after meta-study have shown that attempts at “distance healing” are as futile as trying to kill a mosquito by farting on it. (Tried it — doesn’t work.) And never mind that the pressure of being told that others are sending you good vibes may even be harmful to your recovery, as suggested by this study. Never mind all that. What I want to know is how female porn stars manage to go through their day at all.

According to the view that our thoughts can send “vibes” to someone far away, a female super porn star should be under the constant bombardment of an overwhelming “sexual vibe” as thousands of men around the world jerk off everyday to the very intense, highly focused, almost meditative thought of boning her. True, I’ve never interviewed a porn star before, but I imagine they go about their lives quite normally and without feeling like they are drowning in what I can only describe as the spiritual jizz of distant masturbators.

More importantly, if the vibes we send others can impact their health, then why haven’t people like Bashar Al-Assad dropped dead yet? Here is a man that hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis mentally and vocally curse and actively visualise being killed with the rabid focus that only sheer indignation can muster.

In fact, why do the most deeply hated dictators — i.e. those people who’ve received the greatest bundle of negative vibes — very often live long, healthy lives? Hosni Mubarak must have had at least 10 million people on a daily basis for weeks on end transmitting the most negative vibes imaginable towards him. Yet the 85 year old is still smirking away. I truly cannot think of a better example of how our thoughts on their own have absolutely zero impact on the health of another human being. We have Hosni Mubarak to thank for demonstrating that.

If "vibes" impact people's health, how is this man still alive?

If “vibes” impact people’s health, how is this man still alive?

 

The purpose of this rant

Folks with a more superficially sophisticated approach to theology may find my ranting about prayers and vibes insensitive. They might say: “We both know that the person doing the praying can feel a little bit less helpless in such distressing circumstances through the act of praying. The illusion that there’s something they might be able to do by praying or wishing others well can give them comfort and solace in such difficult times. Don’t take that away from them.”

This is a very condescending argument, as it suggests that the person making it thinks that they are somehow emotionally superior to the “lesser beings” who need delusions to get by in life. It’s arrogance disguised as empathy.

The real issue here is that there is a minor risk that by feeling you are vaguely contributing to a crisis (i.e. by sending some vibes or praying/partaking in a God-administered popularity contest), you will feel slightly less compelled to do anything that’s actually useful. This is particularly relevant in the case of natural disasters that injure thousands and leave them homeless. I suspect prayer and vibes all too often substitute for actual contribution in such circumstances.

This minor risk aside, ultimately, if you believe in God, I like to think you’d agree that this view of him as some kind of prayer-counter is quite belittling and insulting to your conception of ultimate wisdom. On the other hand, if you believe that “vibes” impact health and the outcome of things, well, it’s time to wake up and smell the complete lack of evidence for that as well.



[*] Unless of course that judge is an omnipotent tyrant, and there is nothing else you can to do but appeal to him in the hope of changing his mind. And this is precisely what’s going on here: there is this unarticulated acceptance that God does whatever he wills, and we can only hope to sway his decisions by begging, just like a good subject does with a despotic king. This implicit view of God as simultaneously tyrannical and strangely whimsical, yet somehow also inherently merciful and benevolent, is a recurring theme in The Thirty-Third Marriage of Donia Nour.