Thoughts and Prayers FTW!….?

At each tragedy — disasters and mass murders and the random horrors of life, people offer thoughts and prayers.  In personal matters, in the exchange of affection and support between one person and the next, it’s what you say; it’s what I’ve said at hard times:  I’m thinking of you; I’m thinking about your family; it’s hard…I hope you’re ok.  Plenty of people have said the same to me.

But then there are the thoughts and prayers that get spoken of ritually after the big ones, the losses that become statistics, like many here, perhaps, I see red:  the Norman Vincent Peale blandness of positive thinker elevates my bile, and the cloying, promise of prayers that always sound — to my ears alone, maybe — like someone saying to those who are suffering that the pain is somehow good for them, part of the divine plan.

Well, now there’s a scientific investigation into what thoughts and prayers actually do in times of broadcast sorrow.  Here’s the question the researchers tried to answer, and a couple of possible answers:

…for those who think and pray, what are the actual effects of thoughts and prayers?

Here’s one speculation: Because thoughts and especially prayers focus people on human suffering, they spur concrete action. They’re not pathetic at all.

Here’s another speculation: Thoughts and prayers turn out to be a substitute for concrete action. They give people a sense that they have done something significant when they actually haven’t — and therefore make them unlikely to do anything else.

So, which is it?

Well, as far as thoughts go, neither, really.  But when it came to prayer…

Under the baseline condition, the average donation was $1.87, with slightly higher numbers for religious participants ($1.98) than for atheists and agnostics ($1.75).

In the prayer condition, the average donation was $1.23. That’s a statistically significant reduction from $1.98. In Thunstrom’s view, “the act of praying crowds out monetary donations.”

That same effect held through a second test:

In a follow-up experiment limited to Christian participants who said that they believed in God, Thunstrom replicated her finding when asking about Hurricane Florence, which caused serious destruction in the Carolinas in September. In the baseline treatment, participants donated an average of $2.06. In the prayer condition, they donated significantly less: an average of $1.51.

Caveats of course:  this is one study, or rather a write up of one study by Cass Sunstein.  It’s in behavioral economics, which is a very tricky field in which to design good experiments.  The number of participants ain’t huge, and so on.

But  heck, or rather, hell…this may well be another case of what happens a lot in econ:  a formal validation of social wisdom we already knew.  The notion that  the loud crowd with their hotline to heaven might be much more hat than cattle in the game of doing actual good in the world is not exactly a new thought.  But still, it’s always satisfying when SCIENCE confirms that the worst we think of our neighbors is actually so.

And with that:  open thread!

Titian: St. Jeromebetween 1570 and 1575.  Not a great reproduction of this amazing painting, and perhaps not fair to conflate this saint w. present day ostentatious religion-peddlars, but I have long had particular affection for this version of Jerome’s kitty cat.



Open Thread: Happy Hanukkah!

Well, give them points for staying on theme — relentlessly!

And with the dark and cold enshrouding, who can say no to candles, friends, fried latkes and jelly donuts?



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Happy Diwali!

Best wishes to our Indian-American jackals, and all who observe the holiday:

One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.” During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated. The preparations, and rituals, for the festival typically last five days, with the climax occurring on the third day coinciding with the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika…

In the lead-up to Diwali, celebrants will prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces. During the climax, revellers adorn themselves in their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas (oil lamps or candles), offer puja (worship) to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, light fireworks, and partake in family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindu and Jain diaspora from the Indian subcontinent…

Fireworks, feasting, sweets, and prayers to the Goddess of Prosperity — I think we can all use a little of that right about now!

Per Pinkvilla:

While there is no fixed time to offer your prayers to the goddess, those who have staunch belief in the mahurat, here’s something for you. The auspicious timing for conducting Laxmi Puja this year is between 5.57 pm and 7.53 pm. Post that, gifts and sweets will be exchanged by everyone…

According to legends, Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, also the wife of lord Vishnu, visits her devotees and bestows gifts and blessings upon each of them on this day. To welcome the goddess, devotees clean their houses, decorate them with finery and lights and prepare sweet treats and delicacies as offerings. It is believed that if the goddess is left impressed, she bestows you with wealth and prosperity.



Fight the Crazed Bigots: Support HIAS



GOP: How Can You Call Us Anti-Semites When We’re So Careful Not to Use the K-Word?

Editor of the National Review, promoter of Sarah Palin, Rich “Sparklepants” Lowry:


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Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Lone Star of Mind

I owe one of you a hat tip for this NYTimes article, “Beto O’Rourke May Benefit From an Unlikely Support Group: White Evangelical Women”:

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

To Democrats nationwide, who have largely written off white evangelical voters, it also sends a signal — not just for the midterms but also for the 2020 presidential campaign — that there are female, religious voters who are open to some of their party’s candidates.

The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border. When an older white evangelical man recently told her that she couldn’t be a Christian and vote for Mr. O’Rourke, Ms. Clarke was outraged.

“I keep going back to who Jesus was when he walked on earth,” she said. “This is about proximity to people in pain.”…

Trump has been a true catalyst for America’s Evangelicals, and not just in Texas. The chemical reaction to his terrible, un-Christian sins and the general GOP piety-mouthing about ‘forgiveness’ has precipitated notice of the disconnect between those who actually believe in the tenets of Jesus, and those who just use His words as tribal markers for their own insular, mean-spirited band of bigots. Don’t know how much it can help Beto O’Rourke… but if I were a professional Christian, I’d be very worried about the next decade and beyond.

From a columnist at the Houston Chronicle:


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Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Battles

Another place, another time, from the Washington Post:

Anthony Torres was on his way to see family. He was ready to forget about the last few weeks.

He was also about to become an instant Internet sensation, the subject of unsparing insults and pitiless social media posts. In the three days to come, his story would reveal the basest instincts of the online era — and then, later, the best.

But riding a train out of New York City bound for his brother Thomas’s house in Atco, N.J., Torres didn’t know any of that yet.

He just knew he needed a shave.

So the 56-year-old took out a razor and cream and shaved his face right there in his seat on the Northeast Corridor train Thursday evening.

Unbeknown to Torres, a fellow passenger took out his phone and filmed Torres grooming. He then posted it to Twitter that night. Likes, retweets and responses ensued — tens of thousands of them.

The online condemnation of Torres was swift and cruel. He was called “an animal,” “nasty” and “a gross person.” One New Jersey media outlet tweeted, “A guy was caught shaving on an @NJTransit train and we can’t look away.”…

In the weeks before that train ride, Torres had bounced between Atlantic City and Manhattan. He slept in homeless shelters and beneath bridges. In both cities, he said, he was mugged and robbed. The shelter in New York didn’t have enough room for him, so on Thursday, he decided to go someplace that felt like home…

He said he phoned another brother for help, and his sibling sent Torres money for a train ticket.

On the New Jersey Transit train out of Penn Station, Torres said he felt the weight of a couple of tough weeks, the latest in a hard life. He was hungry. He hadn’t had a chance to shower, and he hadn’t shaved in days.

He wanted to look good for his brother’s family, he said, he wanted to look “presentable.” That impulse, a few strokes of the razor and a flick of shaving cream onto the floor were enough to vault Torres into Internet infamy…

On Monday, after the Associated Press first reported on the man behind the meme, some who shared the video expressed regret for spreading the derision without understanding Torres’s experience…

Even the passenger who filmed Torres expressed regret for the post that started it all… On Tuesday, Bentivegna posted a message that said he had licensed the video and planned to donate all proceeds to Torres and his family.

But the biggest show of support came from Jordan Uhl and the GoFundMe page he set up after seeing the video and reading the Associated Press story. As of Tuesday evening, the fundraiser, titled “Anthony Torres Assistance Fund,” had raised more than $20,000 toward a $25,000 goal. Uhl, who works at the Washington-based advocacy firm MoveOn.org, said he’s in contact with the Torres family…

Thomas Torres said he and his four other siblings have tried to help their brother his whole life. He has health problems that stem from two strokes, and he has had trouble keeping a steady job. But, in a strange twist, Thomas Torres said, this moment — which could have been painfully embarrassing for his brother — may change Anthony’s life.

“He’s gone through hell his whole life,” Thomas Torres told The Washington Post. “I think this is an eye-opener for him, to see that so many people care about him.”…

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there / They have to take you in… “

May we always have the strength, and the luck, to be on the right side of the battles.