If those belittling prayer after shooting are right, it’s not for the reasons they think

Every time there is a mass shooting, as there was yesterday in San Bernardino, California, we see the same rhetorical pattern. Some Americans demand more gun control; other Americans ask how any of the proposed measures would have prevented the latest attack. Because that question is never answered satisfactorily — which in turn is because most people screaming about gun control after these shootings are mostly interested in pushing for restrictions they have wanted all along, regardless of whether they would be effective — the first group has taken to ratcheting up the rhetoric in ways that are not constructive.

Yesterday, this escalation took an unexpected turn: against prayer.

Suddenly, people who on social media offered or suggested prayers for the victims, their families, police pursuing killers who were still on the loose at the time, were bombarded with a rejection of this time-honored response to atrocity. Prayer — the exact same response that many of the very same critics yesterday offered after the terrorist attacks in Paris just weeks ago — was dismissed as mere “platitude,” on par with putting teddy bears at a makeshift memorial shrine. Taking the cake, however, is today’s cover-page headline from the New York Daily News:

NYDN prayers cover

At Reason, Nick Gillespie argues the Daily News has it half-right:

“Whether your believe in him or not, God is not ‘fixing’ the problem of mass shootings — or any other policy issues that we face here in America and around the world. That is properly the province of men and women in the political and private spheres. And the fact of the matter is that when it comes to gun-related violence, the situation today remains far better than it was 20 years ago. A couple of truly disturbing and deadly events don’t change that.”

Gillespie goes on to note statistics reported by the Pew Research Center just six weeks ago which show the U.S. rate of homicide deaths by firearm fell by half between 1993 and 2013 (a relatively flat rate of suicides by firearm is the reason the rate of all deaths by firearm was down by “only” one-third), while the national rate of nonfatal violent firearm crime victimization was down by 76 percent during that time. He continues:

“To be clear: God did not reduce the gun-violence rates over the past two decades any more than he drove rates up in previous years. Human beings and better, more-open policies toward gun ownership helped to accomplish that.”

Having let Gillespie deal with one half of the Daily News’ headline — and that frequent response yesterday to prayer offerings — let me deal with the other one. If God isn’t fixing the problem that remains, why not?

To attempt an answer to that question, I’m going to agree with the critics, but not with their ostensible reasoning.

The problem is not that we need tougher laws instead of appeals to God. The problem is that too many of our appeals to God very likely are mere platitude.

How many of the “prayers” offered on Facebook or Twitter or blog comments or whatever precinct of cyberspace are accompanied by genuine prayers? Real, heartfelt prayers, the kind described in the Bible as offered by those rending garments, wearing sackcloth and ashes, fasting — in short, surrendering themselves to God and his will? I will confess here that at times I have been guilty of not doing that. (For the purpose of my question, I don’t think it matters whether one prays to the God of the Christian Bible or another; I’m no expert on other world faiths, but I would be surprised if most of them didn’t call for something similar.)

In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, the Lord tells Solomon the following after the king finished building the temple:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

How much humbling, how much seeking of his face, how much turning from our wicked ways is really going on in our land? Because if we are going to invoke the God of the Bible, at least, He has told us that’s what He requires. To be clear, I am not saying “we’ve had this coming,” as divine punishment, in a Falwell-and-Robertson way of thinking.

I understand many of my readers do not believe in God, or at least the Christian God. I am sure some of you will say we are not a “Christian nation.” That’s your right.

But here is a reminder for those of us who do believe: For prayer to be powerful, it has to be done right. Maybe if more of us did it the right way more often, more non-believers would take more comfort in our words when we offer them.

(Note: The third paragraph from the end was edited to clarify my meaning.)

Reader Comments 0

127 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

"Because if we are going to invoke the God of the Bible, at least, He has told us that’s what He requires. "


Yet we have a large group of people who claim THEY pulled themselves up to their current successes.  That those who are not successful "deserve" it.  Health care?  Only if they have the money.  And they claim to be Bible-believing Christians!

cc423
cc423

BS Kyle. These hypocrites who refuse to do things like pass a law forbidding those on the terror watch list from buying weapons can waste their "prayers" somewhere else. They are politicians who have made a fortune doing the bidding of the NRA. Their "prayers" are beyond hollow... they are an offense to everyone involved in these mounting tragedies.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@cc423

What other rights are you ready to deprive citizens of without any sort of judicial finding?

Leftists are busily working on depriving Americans of their first, second, and fourth amendment rights.  Let us hope Real Americans won't allow Democrats and their fascist politicians to do that.

lvg
lvg

@Lil_Barry_Bailout @cc423 Yeah repealing Obamacare is more important to our national security than banning sales of guns to suspected terrorists. Barry is right.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Why hasn't Obama prosecuted any of those folks on the terror watch list?

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

I don't believe in God for the very reason that you said that you do.  Black people prayed for 200 years to get out of slavery and another 100 to be treated fairly.  If there is a God, he simply hates Black people.  Oh yeah, my bad, they weren't praying right.

The whole argument is complete nonsense.  If you want to do something, then get to work doing it.  If you want to feel better about yourself for not doing what should have been done, then pray about it.  "God" will certainly give you way to absolve yourself of responsability and culpability.

lvg
lvg

 Kyle's article is misleading in that he does not state the reason prayer at times of mass murder became insuffiicent yesterday as far some  politicians were concerned:

"Your 'thoughts' should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your 'prayers" should be for forgiveness if you do nothing - again," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), whose own state is approaching the three-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.""""



Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/12/democrats-guns-gop-216382#ixzz3tHuBSBgj

RockTrimlove332
RockTrimlove332

Christians used to be considered to be pretty good people in America. Until they got corrupted and then taken over by right wing ideologues taking advantage of their gullibility. 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@RockTrimlove332

Democrats used to be considered pretty good people in America.  Until they started working to destroy normal families, excuse and enable sloth and criminal activity, and deprive Americans of their constitutional rights.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

"Prayer won't stop that  bear, we got to run for it"

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Jefferson1776 Two hunters walk up on a bear in the woods.


You don't think you can outrun that bear ? one says to the other.


No but I can outrun you.

RockTrimlove332
RockTrimlove332

Most guns are purchased legally by good guys. Good guys who fail to maintain control over their guns and allow them to slip into the hands of bad guys become bad guys themselves whether through greed or neglect or something worse.

Tougher laws against possessing guns without serial numbers would be a start. Creating a national registry whereby all gun sales - even between two private individuals - must be recorded would also help. Holding gun sellers (private or commercial) accountable for passing weapons to bad guys would actually make a difference. I'm not talking about locking people up for it. I am saying they would be fined and lose their right to own/sell guns.

That's the goal, isn't it? Guns for all the good guys out there? Nothing about what I suggest would interfere with that or with the precious 2nd Amendment.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

@RockTrimlove332  A national registry sounds nice in theory but in reality it would be impossible to enforce. Too many guns, too many private transactions. For proof of how poorly the government administers laws that are already on the books look no further than illegal immigration enforcement.

lvg
lvg

@RockTrimlove332 GOP has made sure feds no longer can keep a registry of gun sales -digital records prohibited. It is an "infringement" according to them.

DonPlummer
DonPlummer

Prayer without action is like faith without works. Actually its the same thing. My action is to join www.gunsesensega.org

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@FIGMO2

Right wing propaganda all dressed up to look saccharine and pretty. Just. So. Lovely.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Eye wonder @FIGMO2

And the individuals, Eye? Got anything "nice" to say about them? Any words of encouragement?

WWTJD
WWTJD

I think this topic is being 'gaslighted'.  the social media rants aren't against prayer -- they are against the hypocrisy of saying "I'll pray for you" follow by inaction.  From James 2, we know faith without works is useless


14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Bruno2
Bruno2

Hedley: "It (prayer) comforts many many people.  So yes it does do something."

IMO, where most "people of faith" go wrong is in creating a false dichotomy, as I think Kyle, Fig and some others do below.  They implicitly claim that lack of faith in a supernatural being predisposes people to act badly, or at the minimum makes certain "rewards" unavailable.  I have no problem with people taking comfort in a religious prayer, as long as they realize that same comfort can be achieved in equivalent, non-religious ways.


Unfortunately, it is human nature to want to feel "special", and organized religion is right there to feed that narcissism by claiming you can have a direct, personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  That's the part of organized religion that I find to be childish.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Bruno2

They implicitly claim that lack of faith in a supernatural being predisposes people to act badly, or at the minimum makes certain "rewards" unavailable.

Can you show me where I implicitly claimed such a thing, Bruno?

Certain "rewards". Why be coy, Bruno? Are you inferring heaven?

I would never presume to know more than God when it comes to the who, how, and why.

I know my place.

DONE HERE! Your kind never changes.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Bruno2

I also dislike how some religious people (and I'm being generous there with my language, deliberately so) seem to want to foist their religion on me.  Hedley said below something to the effect that 'we are a secular nation.' Unfortunately, I'm not sure that is quite correct. I know that parts of the Constitution support this notion, and we have historically held ourselves out to the world as such, but the reality of our history is a little different. The irony - to me at least - is that some of the biggest defenders of freedom and liberty seem not to see the hypocrisy of not wanting to allow others to enjoy the freedom to believe otherwise (or to not believe at all).   

JB-
JB-

Every week an Irishman prays to the statue of Saint Mary, please, please let me win the lottery. Years go by and nothing happens so he decides he needs to pray every day, "Mother Mary, please, please let me win the lottery." After 10 years he goes to the statue and says "I've been praying every day. Why won't you answer my prayers?" Suddenly the statue comes to life, looks lovingly down at the Irishman and says "My son, please, please buy a lottery ticket."


God helps those who help themselves. Get to work people.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Prayer for political or personal gain....well its a free country.

ByteMe
ByteMe

The problem is not that we need tougher laws instead of appeals to God. The problem is that too many of our appeals to God very likely are mere platitude.

When a politicians offers prayers for problems in our society while actively working to ensure the status quo remains in place... yeah, that's a platitude all right.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Kyle:

You're fast learning the reason I rarely (lately NEVER) discuss religion OR faith on the AJC blogs.

The discussion begins with small skirmishes and ends in all-out battle.

In order for someone to be right, others must be wrong.

I'm outta here. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@FIGMO2 That's one reason I don't post about the topic very often. But this instance seemed worthy of comment.

lvg
lvg

I bet Mr. Farook was praying to Allah to kill all the infidels as his Saudi clerics taught him. Does that prayer count?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@lvg

Just answered that same question down below.

sssinff
sssinff

Are you really implying that gun violence is down because people have prayed?


Sheesh....we'd still be in the dark ages if everyone relied simply on prayer to solve their problems. You pray, leave skepticism, reason, discovery, and progress to the rest of us.

Bruno2
Bruno2

Fig:  "I've always said that a liberal's greatest frustration with another's faith in God is because they can't touch it. Can't take it away."

Fig--Respectfully, I think you're way off base in your assertion.  I don't give a crap about anyone's faith unless they start using it as an excuse for bad behavior, or as a substitute for more effective action as Nick Gillespie decries above.


Kurt Vonnegut Jr helped me see the light as a teenager in one of his novels in which a man killed his GF and claimed he did so out of love.  Kurt's commentary was that the world probably needed less "love" and a lot more common courtesy.  In Biblical terms, Matthew 7:16 "By their fruits you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?"  Also, James 2:14: "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"

Simply put, actions speak way louder than words, so why put so much emphasis on the words??

@eidsonb
@eidsonb

@Bruno2 You quoting of scriptures is taken out of context.  Faith without good works is a dead faith.  Works dont get you to heaven, but is a sign of a faith that is alive and growing.  


FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Bruno2

Which words...The Bible's or mine?

What do you know about my actions, Bruno?

Are you the Bruno of old?

@eidsonb
@eidsonb

These are the same people who think that they can fight wrongs with twitter hashtags.  

lvg
lvg

I pray that some day we have Supreme Court Justices who are not biased in favor  of the NRA, follow judicial precedent on the second amendment and read the plain language of the preamble instead of creating a fundamental due process right to own guns out of whole cloth while disregarding the preamble to the second amendment.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@lvg Heard something this morning while sipping coffee and watching news I wasn't aware of.


Every single sitting SC justice went to either Yale or Harvard. Haven't checked it so if that is wrong I'll stand corrected. 


There is something funadementtly wrong with that IMO


And certainly not suggesting those are bastions of conservatism etc. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Excellent article, Kyle.

I've always said that a liberal's greatest frustration with another's faith in God is because they can't touch it. Can't take it away.

They can try to diminish it, discredit it or mock it but it lives on in those who maintain it.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@FIGMO2 Generalize much? Does that mean all cons are neanderthals? Oh course not.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@RoadScholar @FIGMO2

Not here to argue with you or HEDLEY.

Sorry, if that's what you were looking for.

"a" liberal's indicates specificity.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@FIGMO2 @RoadScholar  I've always said that a liberal's greatest frustration with another's faith in God is because they can't touch it. Can't take it away.


Its nonsense because in truth that stream flows the other way. Im secular and don't want others religious beliefs forced upon me.


If someone else chooses to be religious I respect that. But being moral does not require religion. I don't need the ten commandments to convince me murder is wrong. 



lvg
lvg

@FIGMO2 Yeah I am frustrated with Mr. Farook praying to Allah to kill all the infidels like his Saudi clerics taught him.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@FIGMO2 @Hedley_Lammar @RoadScholar What do you want me to say, Hedley?


You just did.


The point is liberals aren't trying to take someones religion away. We just don't want it forced upon us. 


We are a secular nation. That isn't going to change

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@lvg @FIGMO2

I'm not convinced that's why he killed. I'm patiently waiting for his motive to be revealed. Could be we'll never know.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@FIGMO2 @lvg Me either. First I heard was some sort of workplace dispute.


But who knows at this point.