Mass Shootings & The Complicity of Prayer
[Edit: I wrote this when cops got shot in Dallas. Two years later, nothing’s changed — just more blood on the sidewalk. So, I replaced a few words, a few names, and presto, it’s just as relevant today as it was then.]
“Pray for Parkland.”
There are countless tweets floating around Twitter now, echoing that sentiment. Soon, there’ll be another place we’re praying for.
Like we prayed for Sutherland. For Sandy Hook. For Orlando.
Gosh, praying’s working well, isn’t it?
In Spring, 2016, Canada got riled up when parents of a child who died from diabetes cited their faith as reason for not intervening as illness ravaged their child’s body. In the United States, in all but six states, it’s illegal to stand idly by as your child dies, claiming faith-based exception to intervention.
Yet the USA sees more gun deaths per day than any other rich, developed country — over five times more deaths daily.
Pray for them.
It’d would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic that the ironic “pray for them” statement is most often repeated by those who are the only people with the power to reverse this alarming trend — American politicians.
Politicians like Marco Rubio, and dozens more, are all recipients of the NRA’s money, and all claim to be God-fearing Christians, but I find myself wondering what they’ll hear from the Big Man when they reach the Pearly Gates.
My fall from the grace of God
When I was younger, I was a profound Catholic. So much so that I’d come home on Sundays, sit on little Gordie’s front stoop, and tell all the other kids what that day’s sermon was about. Unlike in neighbouring United States, Canada was fairly secular then and still is now. I was the only one of the gang of usuals in my ‘hood who attended mass.
It wasn’t until high school, when a classmate killed herself and the priest said she was going to hell, that questioning my faith leapt to new levels. That scorned suicide would be the final straw in my Catholic upbringing unraveling. It’d come in the final days of my parents’ crumbling marriage, when they had stopped attending mass, and I, in my piety, would pray for a while on Sunday mornings in lieu of our church-going.
I told my priest of this change in faith-based behavior and he told me it wasn’t good enough, that God wouldn’t accept my prayers if I weren’t receiving the sacraments of communion and confession in church.
I was still moral, I said.
Maybe, but lacking in the grace of God, said he.
The audacity of absolution
This time in my life coincided with my country learning a local serial killer, Canada’s most notorious, had been slaughtering young people* while continuing to attend Catholic mass. The youngest of the serial killer’s 10 known victims was just nine years old and came from my town.
Being resolutely pro-logic even at the age of 13, I told my priest that this murderer, Robert Clifford Olson, was a come-lately to Christ and Catholicism, that he attended church, and I asked if God would forgive him for heinously murdering innocents in between Sunday masses while failing to divulge the full details of his murders and their burial spots. My priest replied, “if God so chooses; the manhas been receiving God’s grace through the sacraments.”
That’s arguably why the murderer eventually chose the faith too. On Catholicism, the killer Olson was noted for saying, “It’s a great fucking religion — no matter what you do, they’ll forgive you. And if the Pope forgives me for what I done, who is anyone else not to forgive me?”
Constructs of faith and farce
Today’s religious climate in the USA seems much the same as that failed, nauseating logic. God oversees the violence, therefore the violence is part of God’s plan, so pray for the victims and let us all be healed.
This is why the gulf ever widens between the faith-based and those who spurn organized religion.
I have a hard time calling myself an atheist. I’m not even sure “agnostic” fits the bill. There’s so much we can’t explain about the world around us — and so much that is farcical — that I feel comfortable wondering if maybe there’s a mystical hand behind it all. Some today wonder if this world isn’t just some simulation writ large. Maybe we’re a cosmic game of chance under a pantheon of amused gods.
Who knows? Science is conceived upon constructs proven only by other constructs, all of which are just another kind of faith. Arguing “But science says!” only gets one so far. Faith is faith, whether by the gods or by the numbers.
Still, regardless of my potential-hand-of-mystics, science-as-a-construct mentality, my head explodes with every “Pray for __________” I see scrolling up my screen on social media after another (usually white) killer has shot up a room and sent ’em all to Kingdom Come.
Crimes of omission
I think it’s a crime against humanity to sit there praying when actions could be taken but are spurned by those who would call them divisive or insurmountable.
It’s akin to your roof springing a leak and deciding to pray against weather-based acts of God because you think the leak is part of God’s plan. Who does that? No one. They call a roofer and patch it up, because even if weather is an act of God, roofing is an easy act of man.
Where we can act, we should. If the Bible is right and the gift of choice was the ultimate gift of God, then for us to sit idly by as blood sprays anew on yet another schoolyard is as great a sin as pulling the trigger is.
Let’s amend the 6th Commandment to read: “Thou shalt not kill by omission.”
Now, many will tell you that the Commandments can’t just be interpreted, let alone amended, to suit the modern status quo, but that’s as laughable as it gets, because the 6th Commandment is an example of interpretation to suit the times.
When I grew up in the ’70s, right when America: The World’s Police really got its foreign intervention game on the go, every example I ever saw of the 6th Commandment was written as “thou shalt not kill.”
Today, you Google it and the interpretation has been changed to “thou shalt not murder.”
It’s an interesting linguistic shift because it absolves all those who must kill in wars. It absolves those who stand idly by as day after day sees dozens of murders in the United States of America. It pats on the back those who tweet “pray for them.”
The stench of hypocrisy fouls the air for me. To throw hands up and defer all blame, and give praise to God, is to ignore that we were given the right to choose. We could choose whether to act or to instead fall silent as we see abuses and sins around us.
It’s ironic, too, that the convenience of choosing which actions and remedies are available is precisely what has landed us in the situation where the rate of death-by-gun in America is 500% higher than the rest of the developed world on a daily basis, per capita.
Praying doesn’t work.
No amiable God wants his people standing idly by as their compatriots turn the landscape into a firing range.
Law: More divisive than death
This isn’t even taking into consideration that the founding fathers of a country born out of religious persecution wrote a fluid constitution intended to morph with and reflect the passage of time, an argument against constitutional protections of firepower that, then, was limited to single-fire slow-loading muskets, not rapid-fire weapons capable of unleashing 30-plus rounds in that same duration.
I concede your right to own a musket, but not an AR-15.
Shame on any politician who encourages us to pray for victims yet refuses to legislate that which might save their brethren in months to come.
Shame on anyone who cowers under the cloak of God while ignoring His righteous gift of choice.
Shame on those who would forget the lessons of Jesus in the temple, whereupon he upturned the tables of merchants selling goods and salvation in the house of His Father.
For a country that claims to take solace under the will of God, they have some awfully askew interpretations of lessons I remember well from Sunday school.
On this bloody day, I would ask that you choose not to pray for those slain in what was formerly Florida’s “safest town”, Parkland, but instead choose anger.
Be active and outspoken about this willful ignorance that keeps the USA as the country in which its first-world citizens remain the most likely to die in a hail of bullets.