Many years ago, my mother-in-law bought me The Five Love Languages. Have you heard of this? It's a Gary Chapman-authored self-help book arguing that people communicate love in different ways — and that when we know which "language" our loved ones speak, we are bound to get along better with them. It's cheesy, yes, but can be insightful. The five languages, Chapman says, are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch. I bring this up because, recently, my sister, Jen, and I were talking about prayer. (I think it's one of the more fascinating aspects of religion, frankly, so I probably talk about it too much.) Specifically, we were talking about people who offer their prayers on Facebook as a way to support their friends and family. It's a concept that rubs a lot of secular people the wrong way, and as the country becomes more secular, the more people are being wrongly rubbed.
It's not that there's anything wrong with wishing nice things will happen to good people — nonreligious types do this all the time! — but religious prayers are different. To the non-believers among us, prayers are wishes masquerading as service. They don't accomplish anything, but they are offered as if they do. And that can come across as disingenuous.
Disingenuous: not a nice quality.
But then Jen said: "For a lot of people, prayer is their love language." And she kind of blew my mind.
It's true that by bowing their head (or touching it to the floor) and quietly contemplating the trials and tribulations of others, those who pray are often expressing their love. It may not be the most direct expression of love, but then again, that's why they tell us about it, right? So that we'll know they love us and care for us and want us to be okay.
The reason that this notion struck me as profound is because if prayer is an expression of love, then to reject it (by telling people that their prayers "don't work," etc.) can come across as rejecting that person's love. And that's not very kind. In fact, it's kind of shitbag.
And, unfortunately, shitbag is not a nice quality, either.