At least 14 people were killed and 17 others injured in San Bernardino, California, by Syed Farook and Tafsheen Malik, a couple who later died in a shootout with police. As with the tragic rampage in Colorado just a few days prior, there’s a frustrating lack of details. Many in the media at first focused, as they tend to do during mass shootings, on their anger with the National Rifle Association, a large gun rights and gun safety organization. Some focused on the fact that the shooting took place about a 25-minute walk from a Planned Parenthood facility. Really.
Progressive and liberal politicians called for gun control. And other politicians prayed for the victims and their families while waiting for more information.
That’s when things got super weird. For some reason, much of the media began mocking the efficacy of prayer. This was happening while victims of the shooting were actually asking people to pray. I mean, the critiques were everywhere. An editor at ThinkProgress said, and I quote, “Stop thinking. Stop praying.” There’s a bumper sticker for you!
Here’s how The Huffington Post put it:
Stunning. “Public officials are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills?” Their “useless” thoughts and prayers?
Twitter highlighted in its “Moments” section another progressive journalist’s campaign to shame politicians who prayed for victims. And a senator from Connecticut tweeted about the attack, without understanding the perpetrators, their motive, or their relationship to any proposed or imagined gun restriction:
A well-regarded, progressive Washington Post journalist wrote this:
Nailed it, Mr. Weingarten. The people who are the problem are the people who are praying. Airtight logic! Most blasphemously, the New York Daily News attempted to get page clicks with this cover, seemingly stolen straight from the progressive echo chamber but amped up a notch:
I’m honestly not sure what possessed all of these media types to choose “people who pray” as the target of their anger. It was really weird and revealing. Almost more of a temper tantrum than anything else, particularly since progressives immediately turn to prayer of a different kind in the aftermath of tragedy. I wrote about this a few months ago when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing five people and injuring many others. Before anyone knew anything about the cause of the crash (it was later suggested to be a speeding train operator), journalists began blaming future potential budget cuts to the corporation that receives more than $1 billion in federal subsidies each year. It’s natural to feel helpless in the face of tragedy, and the desire to have someone to blame is understandable. That the people the media blame so frequently are “Republicans” is perhaps telling, but let’s set that aside.
Theodicy attempts to defend God’s goodness and omnipotence in light of the existence of evil. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” the question goes. (To which a Lutheran might reply, “Trick question! There are no good people!”) There are various schools of thought and debate, rekindled with every hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, act of terror, and mass shooting. Progressives seem to begin their response to tragedy with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good governments?”
The theodicy of federal government seeks to defend the goodness of government in the face of tragedy. So just as some religious groups might blame a weather event on insufficient fealty to the relevant god, some progressives blame — before we actually know what is even going on in a given tragedy — insufficient fealty, sacrifice, and offerings to the relevant god of federal government. And so they explain that the god of good government would have been able to take care of us if only we’d given it sufficient power to do so. In this case, that power is gun control. Progressives tend to believe that government — if made to have sufficient size, scope, and proper management over the affairs of man — will fix or at least seriously mitigate the problem of evil in the world. Conservatives tend to believe that human nature is flawed and inclined toward bad things. Conservatives believe that government, being made up of humans, will also be inclined toward bad things, and therefore it must be restrained and not given a dangerous amount of power. They tend to see greater success for fixing problems in society with voluntary associations and institutions, such as families and community and organizations. Progressives tend to believe that man can be perfected, and perfected through government action. These almost cartoonish denunciations of prayer we saw yesterday, combined with the implicit praises of government action, are best understood as a sort of primitive religious reaction to the problem that growth of the state still hasn’t fixed the problem of evil in the world.
“Something must be done!” is a prayer.
Scott Shackford (@SShackford) December 3, 2015
“We need some legislation for whatever it is that’s happening.” — our dogmatically, religiously socialist friends on the left
The Scandalous DJT (@AceofSpadesHQ) December 3, 2015
And these calls for the big government god to shine upon them with mercy are frequently more ritual than anything else. The people who find hope in big government don’t seem to be terribly interested in more than the ritual of proclaiming their piety, announcing how happy they are to not be like the “other men,” and half-hearted proposals of unworkable legislation that (surprise!) never solves the problem of man’s fallen condition.
The Huffington Post piece began, “Public officials are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills.” In fact, the Psalmist put it well a long time ago as “Put not your trust in princes.” This is wisdom understood by Jew, Christian, and secular libertarian alike.
It’s not just that believers don’t put their trust in earthly government officials, it’s also where they do put their trust.
The phrase “thoughts and prayers” can be grating, but not because prayer is not efficacious. Rather, the “thoughts” portion can seem somewhat meaningless. Combining it with prayer makes it seem like prayer is nothing more than “thoughts.” But prayer is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus spoke about it extensively, explaining to those of us who follow him how to pray to our father in heaven. Perhaps you have heard of the “Our Father,” which provides the model of prayer for the Christian.
Prayer is described throughout the entirety of Scriptures, from Moses’ telling of discussions with God all the way through St. John’s glorious vision of the consummation of prayers in the restored heavens and earth, described in Revelation. And the Gospel of Luke describes how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion — “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Jesus tells us to call God our Father. He tells us that God wants us to ask him for things like a father wants his children to ask of him, so he can answer and give them what they ask for to show his love. If you are genuinely interested in why Christians pray, this introduction to the Lord’s Prayer is a great primer. For the Christian, we pray because God commands it, and that means it’s extremely important but also that you don’t need to feel unworthy about doing it. We know God wants to hear our prayers and will use our prayers to help us in our sanctification. And perhaps someone can explain to the theological giants over at the New York Daily News that answers to prayers aren’t like some divine soda machine where you put the money in and out pops a Fresca or whatever.
We pray also because of our needs; the community’s needs, which, in love, we should take on; and the burdens of all of our neighbors and even our entire country and world. Here’s a sample that came across my Twitter feed yesterday, from the great memoirist Mary Karr:
These burdens are so great that we should be in constant prayer. And as we reflect on all the abundance in our midst, we should be in praise and thanksgiving. For the Christian, all prayer is centered in Christ Jesus and what he has obtained for us — a rescue from the darkness of sin and death. These are fairly large concepts, and sadly they are mostly beyond the capacity of far too many journalists.
But prayer isn’t just “thoughts” and perhaps people could really drop the “thoughts” portion of the phrase. Kudos to Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan for their more theologically precise public statements in that regard.
Prayers And/Or “Action”
Now, many gun control advocates said they weren’t disparaging prayer — however much that was exactly what was going on — so much as calling for other action. It’s good to remember that prayer is action. But whether your God is God or the FBI (or whatever agency you hope will seize up to 300 million guns in the country), it’s also true that there is no conflict between praying to God, who, as the Founders put it, creates us and endows us with certain inalienable rights, and other action. That could be working within a community to change people’s hearts and minds from violent ideology. It could be working with your neighbors to help them avoid choices that lead to dangerous social isolation. It could be teaching Sunday School or otherwise inculcating children in the faith. It could be managing your family well. It could be gun control or efforts to help families with adult members with mental illness. It could really be any number of things.
What’s wise is to understand that there are many options for working to improve society. If, like so many journalists, your particular religious denomination is the one that’s fundamentalist on gun control, fine. But understand that not everyone is part of your religious sect or shares your assumptions.
The bizarre outpouring from journalists of anti-Christian sentiment yesterday was not becoming. And some of it was downright alarming. But consider that many journalists didn’t really understand what they were doing. They are bad at understanding the religious practices of much of the country, of course. But they’re not particularly good at understanding their own theodicy and its attendant rites and rituals either.