The left’s scorn for ordinary Americans knows no bounds. As police searched for the shooters who attacked the Inland Regional Center, an organization that works with those with developmental disabilities, commentators on the left quickly leapt to pre-ordained conclusions: we need more gun control (President Obama and Hillary Clinton); this must have happened because of rhetoric about Planned Parenthood (CNN and MSNBC). But the most egregious foolishness of all came courtesy of leftist journalists from The Huffington Post to Vox.com to Mic News, as well as Democratic legislators.
They focused in on the people who had the temerity to pray for the victims:
Your "thoughts" should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your "prayers" should be for forgiveness if you do nothing - again.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 2, 2015
Official GOP position: "Praying." "God bless." "Praying." "Thoughts and prayers." "Praying." "Thoughts and prayers." pic.twitter.com/OyW3fQvm4w— Scott Bixby (@scottbix) December 2, 2015
Other countries must have fewer mass shootings because their conservative politicians offer thoughts and prayers more vigorously.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) December 2, 2015
At least 14 dead and 14 injured. But lucky for them, the GOP is offering up loads of thoughts and prayers!— Markos Moulitsas (@markos) December 2, 2015
Fuck your prayers. https://t.co/y1nb2Jbxif— timheidecker (@timheidecker) December 2, 2015
Huffington Post ran with the headline, “Another Mass Shooting, Another Deluge of Tweeted Prayers,” with reporters Sam Stein and Arthur Delaney writing:
Public officials are the people society trusts to solve society's ills. Like, say, gun violence. But every time multiple people have been gunned down in a mass shooting, all these officials can seemingly do is rush to offer their useless thoughts and prayers. And so they did after news broke about multiple casualties in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday.
This is vile and asinine. The same people who believe that when radical Muslims engage in mass shootings, that's not an indictment of Islam, are now pointing to Christians who pray for shooting victims and labeling them the problem. According to these deep thinkers, if you shout "Allahu akhbar!" while shooting crowds of innocents, that's not religious in any way; if you pray for the victims, you're a religious nutjob.
For the left, appeal to God is directly opposed to the power of government; relying on God for personal strength and uplift sucks the energy from mass movements to force government action. If you look to God when tragedy strikes, the logic goes, you’re looking away from the One True God: government, which can alleviate all of your problems. Prayer is useless; it's you talking to the wind. You need government -- and while your words may be empty, the hashtags and empty phraseology of the President of the United States aren't.
This is childishly ignorant about the nature of government. More importantly, it's childishly ignorant about the nature of prayer.
Obviously, prayer does not foreclose action. Pro-life people pray all the time, and then organize to help push government in a certain direction. Martin Luther King Jr. used prayer as a way to strengthen himself and his followers for the political battles to come. You can pray for strength for those who have been wounded, pray that God will reach out and guide those who have been hurt and embrace those who have been killed. Then you can go out and take a political position.
Furthermore, Stein and Delaney and Yglesias seem to suggest that the goal of prayer is to somehow convince God to do what you want. If you want God to stop mass shootings, you pray to Him to stop mass shootings, and He then intervenes. This denies human agency, and it also turns God into a gumball machine: put in your prayer nickel and wait for the treat. That’s not the goal of prayer. As CS Lewis once wrote, “It’s quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort; it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.”
Maimonides says that prayer is designed for man to recognize the primacy of God and bring you into consonance with His mission for you; prayer is an expression of thanks to God for all He has done and continues to do for us, and it is a plea to God that we fulfill our missions before Him. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind – God is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. Prayer changes us, because it reminds us that God cares about us, and that we must care about God. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Prayer is the act of listening to God listening to us.”
And communities draw strength from prayer. So do individuals. People change their habits by relying on strength drawn from prayer to God, particularly communal prayer. Studies show that religious people, particularly people who pray regularly, live longer lives, avoid self-destructive behaviors, and have better mental discipline. When you promote prayer, you promote people thinking beyond themselves, making themselves broader and better people. Sociologist Jonathan Haidt writes:
People step out of their everyday profane existence, which offers only occasional opportunities for movement on the [spiritual] dimension, and come together with a community of like-hearted people who are also hoping to feel a lift…When this happens, people find themselves overflowing with love….This love has no specific object; it is agape. It feels like a love of all humankind…Such experiences give direct and subjectively compelling evidence that God resides within each person. And once a person knows this ‘truth,’ the ethic of divinity becomes self-evidence.
So yes, prayer does something.
It may not do what you want it to do. It doesn’t make all violence disappear. Sometimes, as CS Lewis says, God says no: “Prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them.”
But that does not make prayer useless. Prayer means something for those who pray and those who receive those prayers. Opposing and mocking prayer makes those who oppose it spiritually blind and morally obtuse, seeking solace in the Great God of Government, spitting on those who take another God – the real God – before it.