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(Post 21 of 33 in my 16-hour shift for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.)

6:00 pm EDT

If it serves to focus the mind and crystallize intentions, prayer can be a good thing. Meditation is just as good for those, of course, and you don’t have to pretend someone has picked up on the other end.

But prayer can also provide the amazing illusion of having done something when in fact you’ve done absolutely nothing. That’s not good.

When someone asked Humanist Rabbi Adam Chalom to pray for a friend who had breast cancer, Adam said, “I have a better idea — give me her phone number and I’ll call her. Talking to her to lift her spirits and make her feel less alone and more cared for will do much more for her than talking to anything else.”

This was from a piece Adam wrote in the Chicago Tribune’s blog “The Seeker” a couple of years ago. And he went on to make an especially good point:

The Humanist world has recently sponsored a counter-program – the National Day of Reason, which celebrates the power of the human mind to understand and improve the world. But I have an even better idea. While reason is certainly a worthy value to celebrate, the secular counterpart to “Prayer” is not “Reason” – it is “Action.”

The counterpart to prayer is doing something.

There are secular equivalents of prayer. Facebook is full of them. I’m sure there are people who “like” 50 humanitarian causes a day, achieving that same illusion of having done something. And like the prayer, I think that self-satisfied illusion often keeps the liker from actually doing something. It relieves the pressure, gives that little shot of dopamine, makes us feel ever so good about ourselves. Of course there’s a whole neologism for it — slacktivism.

A recent Georgetown study casts some doubt on that assumption, showing a high correlation between those clicks and actual real-world effort. Interesting piece, though it seems correlation and causation still need sorting.

My take-home is that secular prayers, if they go no further, are no better than sacred ones. Action, real action, is still what matters.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.