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An acerbic piece in Maclean’s Magazine from June had the title “America’s mass delusion.” The subtitle read, “Surprisingly, the strategy of praying to God is not stopping the mass shootings in the U.S.” That piece was recirculated when the news of the latest and largest mass shooting in the USA broke. Fifty nine (so far) people were killed and more than 500 wounded by one homegrown American terrorist with an assault rifle. A terrorist who, police found later, had more than 20 rifles in his hotel room (some reports say “more than 10”). He owned more than 40; 10 of them reportedly assault weapons – a weapon designed solely for mass killing of people.
Prayer didn’t stop him getting into a hotel with all those rifles. Prayer didn’t stop him owning and firing military-grade automatic weapons into the crowd. (And why aren’t the media telling us his religion, when they gleefully announce the religion of every non-Christian who so much as farts in a subway?)
Despite the flurry of “prayers and thoughts” for the victims that erupted when the news of the massacre broke, not a single one of those shot came back from the dead. Even the prayers of that uber-fundamentalist, VP Mike Pence, failed to move his deity to act on anyone’s behalf and you’d think he had pull with his god. So who are they praying to, if no one is listening?
Curiously, no one seems to be praying to have the NRA held accountable for its pro-gun lobbying that led directly to this and every other mass shooting in the USA. No one seems to be praying for stronger gun control legislation, for background checks or to ban assault rifles. Americans are too obsessed with their guns to pray for anything that resembles sanity about gun ownership.
Meanwhile, an NRA-backed bill to permit silencers on personal weapons is being presented. The conscienceless-GOP is pushing ahead with it despite the news of this latest shooting – feckless minions of their NRA masters. Is anyone praying that won’t pass? Why isn’t anyone praying the GOP will disappear so the country can find some peace?
Or Bill O’Reilly? The neo-fascist former Fox host apparently claimed that the shooting in Las Vegas is “…the price of freedom” for America’s sociopathic lack of gun control laws. Such an NRA shill should not go unprayed for… pray he vanishes, just like the NRA does.
But they wouldn’t have worked, even if they had. Prayers don’t work that way. They aren’t Aladdin’s magic lamp you rub for three wishes and *poof* you get a new sports car or an 80-inch flatscreen TV. They don’t bring anyone back from the dead, don’t cure cancer, don’t stop hurricanes, don’t send floodwaters back to the source, don’t stop wildfires or earthquakes, or planes from crashing into skyscrapers. Prayers haven’t brought clean water or electricity to Puerto Rico or any of the other hurricane-damaged islands. And they don’t stop the insidious lobbying of the NRA to get more guns into more hands and kill more people.
Every mass shooting that follows a previous one seems to be the worst in America’s history. The numbers don’t seem to go down. And the people do the killing aren’t usually extremists, aren’t political fanatics or religious nuts. They’re usually just ordinary Americans who buy their guns legally and then have a bad day. And these killings becomes so normal that the smaller shootings – like one in Kansas the day after Las Vegas – don’t even make the news because they’re simply accepted. Where were the prayers for the dead in Kansas? Do people stop praying when there’s only three dead? Or five? Ten? Fifteen? Is there an acceptable limit where you can ignore your prayers and wait for the next worst massacre to hit the news?
Maybe you think prayers ARE working in some nasty way. Maybe people are praying for more guns, more death, more NRA stooges in government being bought by their bribes. Maybe the Las Vegas massacre was the result of prayers to have more shootings in America and more deaths on the news. That might explain things, assuming a nasty, vindictive, murderous god was responding. But I doubt it. Gods are notoriously deaf to prayer, even those of their Republican True Believers.
There are more guns in the USA than people. According to the New York Times, the number of Americans killed on all battlefields in all wars in history is 1,396,733. The number killed by firearms in the US since only 1968 is 1,516,863. On average more than 13,000 Americans die every year from being shot. That’s almost 40 murdered every single day, often by friends and neighbours. But that’s misleading: that number is just homicides. Add in more than 20,000 gun-related suicides every year and the number tops 33,000 people who die by guns every year in the USA. That puts the daily average of gun deaths to over 90. And that doesn’t include more than 67,000 Americans injured by firearms every year.
Around 100,000 Americans will be shot, every year. A third of them will die. Thirteen hundred of the dead will be children. That’s a rate more than 25 times the average of every other developed nation. The brutality of gun violence in the USA is staggering. Prayer hasn’t helped save one of them: not one person in all those years of praying has been returned from the dead after being shot, not one had a bullet wound miraculously heal.
Maybe people are praying for the wrong things. You’d think if prayer worked, people would be praying for the end to gun ownership or at the very least sane gun control legislation, since guns are clearly the source of these lethal problems. Or praying for an end of the NRA – or at the very least to hold it accountable for its egregious lobbying to have more guns in American hands, not fewer.
No matter how hard people pray for an end to this ongoing violence, for an end to mass shootings, for an end to the senseless loss of lives at the hands of a murderous gun owner, it won’t stop unless guns are controlled and the NRA recognized for what it is: a terrorist organization. But who’s praying for that? Not the people the NRA bribes, for sure.
And who is doing all this killing? Refugees? Illegal immigrants? Foreigners? No: Americans. Americans who bought and owned their guns legally. As noted in the Atlantic,
Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015: Zero.
In Business Insider, it adds,
Since 9/11, however, foreign-born terrorists have killed roughly one American per year. Six Americans have died per year at the hands, guns, and bombs of Islamic terrorists (foreign and domestic).
Americans, the article notes, are “260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning” than killed by a foreign terrorist. But, it adds, they are “129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault.” That speaks volumes.
In his somewhat satirical, but very relevant piece in Maclean’s, author Scott Gilmore asked,
“Is America’s national Thoughts and Prayers Strategy (TAPS) no longer working? This is a troubling possibility to consider, but it may be time to ask the question.”
More to the point, I think it’s time we questioned any religion, any religious authority or leader and any politician who promotes it instead of solving the problem. Calling for prayer is merely a guise to get people to stop thinking about the issues and the real causes and instead pray. It’s a distraction from the truth behind these killings; a truth the government doesn’t want discussed openly.
Prayer may give solace to the person praying, but does nothing to those prayed for. Prayer has become for too many who profess religious beliefs a mere substitute for taking action. Easier to pray that volunteer time, to donate money, or to campaign for meaningful change. Easier to pray than to protest the easy gun access that permits such killing. But massacre after massacre reinforces the simple, basic truth: prayer doesn’t work that way.
I’m not saying that simply because I’m not a believer. I’m saying it because it’s a stark, empirical truth: prayer has not solved the problems, has not restored anyone or anything to its pre-disaster or pre-shooting state. Prayer has not stopped the killings and it never will. Someone has to act in a meaningful way that changes the narrative.
In Michigan this week, a couple of young parents were charged with manslaughter for allowing their sick infant to die rather than get her treatment because that went against their religious beliefs in divine healing. They prayed for her. She died. They prayed after she died. She stayed dead. The police filed charges. The church leaders where they attended should also be charged as accomplices. They contributed to the baby’s death as much as the parents. Why should they escape accountability? They are as responsible for the baby’s death as the NRA for the Vegas murders.
Prayer isn’t a substitute for medical care, or for the responsibilities of parenthood. Do a Google search on “parents prayed let child die” and see how many stories there are where parents let children die because they chose prayer over medicine. It’s a sickening statistic but many state governments allow religious exceptions in their civil laws on child abuse and neglect to permit faith healing and other practices instead of providing medical and other care. That is utter madness. Children are dying needlessly and often in agony because prayer isn’t working no matter how strong the belief of the parents. Prayer never saves them.
Gilmore sarcastically comments,
Perhaps we are not praying enough. Church attendance is down considerably in the United States. This presumably has a direct impact on both the frequency and quality of prayers. If this turns out to be the issue, the government could look at improving public transit links to places of worship, or perhaps even subsidizing sermons as a means to end gun violence.
But if one prayer doesn’t work, if one sincere, honest prayer from a True Believer fails to change things, why should 1,000 by less sincere believer? or a million?
Americans build megachurches that can hold thousands of people for prayer, yet hurricanes devastated large ares of the southern USA despite them. The true nature of those megachurches was inadvertently revealed to the world during Hurricane Harvey this summer. In Houston when thousands of people needed shelter and safety from flooding, Joel Osteen – pastor of the gigantic Lakewood church that can seat 16,800 – closed his church’s doors. He told people to “lean on their faith” and tweeted from the safety of his $10 million mansion they should to pray. It took a lot of internet and TV shaming to get him to open those doors for the needy.
American evangelists and televangelists like Osteen and Pat Robertson have convinced millions of worshippers that prayer actually does something, but all that’s really happened is that these con artists have become rich by fleecing their gullible congregations. Before Hurricane Irma struck Florida, the Curt Landry ministry published comments online suggesting prayer could intercede with their god to stop the storm:
Could the following be a key to turning, or stopping Hurricane Irma from reaching Florida and the East Coast of the United States? And if so, what harm would it cause for the Body of Christ to rise up in intercession, as a collective unified force in the midst of this imminent and crucial hour, to reach out to very throne of God with our decrees? …It’s time to unify and dismantle Satan’s authority over our land and its atmosphere. Let’s unify and come into the courts of Heaven and agree to stop Irma in her tracks, sending her back into the sea.
Irma and whatever god they believe in were unmoved. Dozens, possibly hundreds of people ignored repeated warnings to evacuate and instead stood on Florida beaches to pray Irma away. Irma hit them anyway.
But that didn’t stop the religious right from claiming they beat it. Pro-Trump wingnut Lance Wallnau actually claimed his prayers turned the storm away – despite extensive news coverage proving it didn’t:
”It went from a category five to a four to a three to a two to a one. It’s an amazing intervention of God and we have to praise God.” He added, “We have to take our place to protect the nation and that is exactly what we did. They may say we’re crazy — hey, they said I was crazy when I prophesied Trump; I’m telling you we were not crazy when we were dealing with the hurricane.”
What’s truly frightening is that many gullible, hard-of-thinking people believe him, even though they can see the truth with their own eyes. Maybe they think they turned away their god’s rather to strike elsewhere instead. Maybe that lethal earthquake in Mexico city was the result of them praying away the wrath of Irma. After all, it was god’s wrath and it just can’t vanish. it has to go somewhere… where better than to the land Trump hates the most?
And that’s part of the problem, too. In America, religion and politics – evangelist/fundamentalist Christianity and far-right politics in particular – are so intertwined that they are inseparable. Religion is at the heart of the nation’s government, and now more than ever it’s beginning to look like a theocracy. The calls for people to pray after the massacres in Sandy Hook, Orlando or Las Vegas are usually followed by accusations that they were caused by unbelief in government, or by atheists, socialists, Democrats or Obama supporters – anyone left of absolute far right. After Las Vegas, the doddering Pat Robertson, one of the most vile of these reptiles, claimed the shooting was,
“Violence in the streets, ladies and gentlemen. Why is it happening? The fact that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation they say terrible things about him. It’s in the news, it’s in other places. There is disrespect now for our national anthem, disrespect for our veterans, disrespect for the institutions of our government, disrespect for the court system. All the way up and down the line, disrespect.”
No, Pat: it was caused by easy access to weapons, promoted and encouraged by your friends in the NRA and their bought politicians. But the NRA has engaged in its culture war for many years and has enough money to buy silence and, where necessary, prayers. Robertson, for example, endorsed people bringing guns into church and said “blessed are the fully armed.” We know who has bought his loyalties.
The other issue that should be considered is whether the wrong people are praying. For example, when a notoriously adulterous politician tweets out his “thoughts and prayers”, does that carry more or less weight than a nun who silently mouths the same words over her rosary? There really should be better metrics to track this.
Are the prayers of a congregation gulled into turning their minister into a multi-millionaire through their donations more or less valid than those of a single person who instead turns up at the aid station to hand out water and food to those dispossessed by the disaster? Are the prayers of a philandering, lying, greedy president more or less valid than those of an ascetic monk? Or those of an ex-president who actually has credibility? Trump commented to the media that,
Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded or lost the ones they loved so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack,” he said. “We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace, and we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.”
But what did those prayers accomplish (if the liar ever actually uttered them)? The nation didn’t find peace or unity, evil still exists – and in his own house, too – and no innocent is safe while the NRA controls the strings of the US government.
Or do they pray to the wrong god? There are so many to pray to, from Marduk to Ganesha to Thor and Santa Claus. Maybe this god they opportune doesn’t answer big, generous prayers, only little, selfish ones. You can’t pray away a hurricane, but maybe you can pray for an iPhone 8 and get it. Or a new boy/girlfriend. Or a passing grade on the next exam. Maybe your god only deals in greed, not in the greater good. Maybe you’re more likely to win a lottery because you prayed for it than getting a mass shooting undone. After all, there are a limited number of lotteries out there: there’s at least one mass shooting every day in the USA.
Jarvis DeBerry, a columnist in New Orleans commented after the Vegas shooting,
… a whole lot of people people are going to be sending their thoughts and prayers to Las Vegas today. Their thoughts and prayers aren’t meaningful. Their thoughts and their prayers aren’t going to change a thing… our government officials have collectively decided that the freedom to own high powered weapons is more important than the freedom not to be blown apart by them. … This is our everyday American experience: mass shootings followed by thoughts and prayers, mass shootings followed by thoughts and prayers, mass shootings followed by thoughts and prayers and on and on and on.
Even some US politicians have woken up to the fact the prayer isn’t working. Today US Senator Elizabeth Warren was quoted as saying, “Thoughts & prayers are NOT enough.” They never were. Prayer doesn’t work. Prayer hasn’t solved these problems and they never will. It hasn’t saved anyone, stopped extreme weather, made a terrorist turn back. It hasn’t made the NRA go away: they’re stronger than ever these days.
Gun lobbyists like the NRA always claim the constitutional second amendment gives them the right to unrestricted gun ownership. But the amendment says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Got that? It was meant to protect the right of state-organized militia, NOT individual ownership. But the NRA represents weapons manufacturers, so they claim otherwise because it’s all about the money. Profits are more important to them than people’s lives. Manufacturers and their lobbyists dote on these massacres because they generate fear and fear sells guns. It’s them telling you to pray for the victims because it will distract your attention from the real problem: easy access to guns.
This isn’t freedom: it’s a prison of fear and escalating weaponry. Even if everyone in the crowd had been armed in Las Vegas, they would not have been able to stop the shooter from killing and injuring hundreds. But effective gun control would have meant he did not have access to automatic weapons or assault rifles.
Only sane legislation, sane attitudes towards violence and gun control, and freedom from the NRA will make a difference for the USA. Stop praying and start doing something useful. Protest, not prayer, is the better choice. Stop praying and organize yourselves.
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