It was, I think, comedian Anthony Jeselnik who inspired the openly hostile reaction against thoughts and prayers. His 2015 Netflix special was entitled Thoughts and Prayers and featured the comic in his trademark persona as a dark-natured, cynical guy who breaks taboos and slays sacred cows with vicious sarcasm.
“This is who I’m making fun of when I make a joke on Twitter the day of a tragedy,” Jeselnik says in his routine. “The people who see something horrible happen in the world and they run to the Internet. And they run to their social media … And they all write down the exact same thing: ‘My thoughts and prayers …’ Do you know what that’s worth … ? Less than nothing … All you are doing is saying, ‘Don’t forget about me today.’”
I think Jeselnik is very talented, smart and funny and I enjoyed his special a lot. I think the people who took him seriously and turned this into an issue are knuckleheads.
When tragedy or atrocity strikes — as it just did with the mosque shootings in New Zealand — thoughts and prayers are not just an expression of compassion. They are, more importantly and more wisely, an expression of humility and helplessness. They are a way of saying: “There is nothing we can do in the face of this wickedness but we stand in solidarity with the victims and ask God to comfort their families in their sorrow.”
Almost every other reaction is absurd. To suggest you have the solution to the eternal problem of evil in the form of addressing your pet peeve or of blaming and attacking your political opponents is disgraceful. It is to use the bodies of the slain for a soap box. It degrades you and insults the victims.
It is likewise absurd to extrapolate from the murderer’s philosophy in order to condemn philosophies that may have something in common with it. There are psychopaths on the right and left. I assume that, right and left, we all stand against them. I am a small-government, classical liberal American conservative. I think the Democratic party has lost its collective mind. But I am more than willing to stipulate that Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, Jim Jordan and Nancy Pelosi can all agree that murdering innocents at their prayers is bad. This is not where our disagreements lie.
The clown who opened fire on the New Zealand mosques released a social media statement praising white supremacy, Chinese Communism, fascism, climate change alarmism and who knows what else. I find all these philosophies ridiculous and even dangerous. It’s therefore tempting to me to blame them for the actions of this unholy jackass. But that’s nonsense. Even if some of these philosophies inherently lead to violence, the proof would be in statistics, not in the opportunistic rhetorical abuse of a tragedy.
Nor should we be ashamed or unwilling to set serious debates aside for a moment in order to let mourners mourn and the law do its work. The looney tune Queensland Senator Fraser Anning who used the mosque shootings as an occasion to release a statement condemning Islam should be kicked out of office — literally, if that’s not out of keeping with New Zealand law.
We all have ideas and opinions but murderers should not be allowed to become part of our conversation. I support the broadest reading of the Second Amendment, but I acknowledge there are good people on both sides of the issue and neither side is discredited by the actions of a madman. I have concerns about Islamic ideas and their relationship to all that is great and good about the West. But I want to hear those concerns addressed in the honest and unfettered debate of experts, never with violence against the innocent.
We do not have to talk about any of these things today.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote: “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.” In the face of evil and unimaginable suffering, there is nothing wrong with having nothing to say. All we can do is feel for the victims and appeal to that great Heart of Righteousness we trust will triumph at the end of time.
My thoughts and prayers.