Praying is Pretending to Do Something

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Did you know that elevator buttons usually don’t do anything? Yes. They are actually programmed to do nothing while you’re hammering on them, willing the doors to close, dadgummit.

Then why do elevators have them? Mainly to give you a sense that you have some influence over your situation–to make you feel like you can do something. I heard once that ATMs make their whirring noises to keep people from kicking them to make sure they’re doing something, though that may or may not be true.

Elevator buttons and ATM noises are about you, not about elevators or ATMs.

Why am I talking about all this?

Many of us were raised to pray for everything. When you pray, you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

  • When someone says they have cancer, saying, “I’ll pray for you,” gives you a warm feeling of helpfulness.
  • When you hear news of a school being attacked by some terrorist, praying gives you a sense that you’re fighting back against an evil world.
  • When you have an anger problem, parying about it makes you feel like you’re solving your anger problem.

But prayer isn’t helping someone with cancer, making the world a better place or solving your character flaws.

It merely makes you feel like you’re doing those things. It’s fake effort.

Cue Captain Obvious: Life is hard, and having a “thing we can do” in the face of overwhelming complexity may help us cope. So, like elevator buttons, prayer is about us.

At its best, prayer can help us work through our thoughts. But at its worst, it can make us feel like we’re doing something while keeping us from actually doing something.

What other kinds of fake effort are there? Many of us were raised to feel guilty for things. But feeling guilty isn’t undoing the past; it isn’t solving our problems and it isn’t making things right. It’s fake effort.

Like elevator buttons, guilt is about us. At its best, it may motivate us to get up and do something different.

But at its worst, guilt accomplishes nothing and harms yourself in the process.

So, beware fake effort! Don’t forget the real goals you’re going toward and do the work.

– Jimmy

PS – If you want a real mind-trip, look up “moral licensing.” All this fake effort plays right into it.


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