Directly following the horrendous killing of 14 individuals in California on Wednesday, politicians–in conjunction with American citizens–mourned the loss of American life. At the same time, they decided to do what people have always done following a tragedy: pray. For centuries, prayers have been accepted–and often embraced–by the media. However, the day following the tragedy, today, the New York Daily News front page is this:
Whether it be in their brash headline or in their description of prayer as a “meaningless platitude,” Daily News is clear: Why would anybody bother praying when it doesn’t stop mass shootings?
It’s an interesting question, and an absurd one at that. As a Christian, I pray all the time, especially in times of struggle. However, all religion aside, is it so morally reprehensible to utter a prayer to God when one mourns the loss of others? In this post, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t feel guilty for praying after a mass shooting, regardless of what Daily News, the Huffington Post, Think Progress, and Salon say.
First of all, the tragedy that took place in San Bernardino was not one that should be ignored; but it should not justify the media’s hyperbolic politicization of the gun violence “epidemic” currently plaguing America. During times such as these, articles warning of the prevalence that gun violence has in America are nearly inescapable. In all reality, however, the Pew Research Center reports that gun violence in America has dropped significantly in recent years. Since 1993, our nation’s overall gun death rate has declined 30%.
Putting the current severity of gun violence into context should not belittle tragedies like the one that occurred Wednesday. It should, however, allow us to better understand the exaggeration the media has employed as it relates to our “gun crisis.”
Whether or not gun control is an ideal solution to the mass shootings that our country faces is a debate that has raged on since, well, the beginning of gun control (my thoughts here). In October, the Huffington Post found that not even half of America supports stricter gun laws, and only 35% of Americans think these laws would actually be effective in preventing mass shootings.
Clearly, America has not come to a clear consensus on whether or not our politicians should implement sweeping reforms to restrict gun access in our country. So, why does our media tell these same politicians to stop praying, and start “acting”? Over half of America doesn’t think such “action” is necessary, and a mere one-third actually think it would be a solution to tragic events such as San Bernardino. Politicians are elected to represent the will of their constituents, not the nonsensical demands of the liberal media. If anything, the fact that the majority of America believes further gun restrictions would be ineffective is proof that possibly, prayer is the only desirable action in the face of such unavoidable tragedies.
But further, it seems as if the media creates a forced-choice scenario, in which Americans are only able to a) pray or b) implement strict gun control. In other words, one praying in the face of tragedy automatically disqualifies them from acting in the face of such injustices. This argument, that the two are mutually exclusive, is not only illogical but is as well the justification for silencing all faith in disastrous scenarios. Clearly, individuals–politicians or citizens–can pray for a better world and propose reforms which they believe will help along the way. Our society is composed of citizens desiring to make the world a better place; how they do so is irrelevant to me.
From a philosophical perspective, is prayer in the face of adversities really morally objectionable? Authors such as Rich Shapiro of Daily News imply that prayer, in comparison to action, is a counterproductive wild-goose chase that should be ceased immediately. Regardless of its “ineffectiveness,” is anyone justified in calling for the discontinuation of prayer? Even if prayer is as pointless as the belief that Santa Claus is actually real, who does it harm? Prayer harms no one, and its intent is to help others. The politicians who offer their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of tragedies are attempting to portray sorrow in conjunction with hope. Gun control “action”–in the eyes of the American public–is counterproductive, yet I doubt anyone in America would claim to have ever been harmed by the prayers of our nation’s politicians. To our country, prayers are not “meaningless platitudes,” they are sources of hope and expressions of empathy for those who suffer.
I understand that my post-mortem prayers will not save the 14 people who lost their lives in San Bernardino this Wednesday. But will the condemnation of prayer do any better? We should not allow the tragedies that occur in this country to become battlegrounds of cultures and fights between religions. Out of respect for the victims of such tragedies, we should not divert our blame away from the villains of this heinous crime to a group of people attempting to express solidarity and support for the victims themselves.