May 22, 2013

Prayer and Tornados

I am sure all of you know of the massive storm that hit Moore, Oklahoma from Monday.  I watched on TV as that monster formed and knew it was going to be bad.  I didn't realize it was going to be this bad.  I still haven't been up to see the damage as the last thing I want to do is get in the way.  There will be time for that.

Meanwhile we have already had some craziness.  First, it was our own Oklahoma Senator Coburn suggesting that aid will come to Oklahoma only after it has been offset by other budget cuts.  As I told someone else, this is the equivalent of offering to save a drowning man, but only after he signs off on payments to you.

Then, we got the ubiquitous crazy right wing fundamentalist in the form of Pat Robtertson suggest that the victims could have avoided the storm had they prayed harder.  I know.  The man is a complete loon and nutjob.  But here he has more in common with saner Christians than they would like.  Robertson says that if enough people prayed, God would have intervened.  That is essentially how many Christians already talk about prayer.  This is the logical conclusion.  If more people praying is better than less, then God somehow needs prodding, and he is prodded in a democratic fashion.  And if a bad thing like this happens, then it is a result of not enough people praying.  All of this is reminiscent of Smitty's great comments on equally bad theology coming from a ND legislator who blamed gun violence on abortion.

A friend recently panicked when her mother had a severe health issue, and asked that people "pray hard."  One of her friends commented, "I just prayed."  What does any of that mean?  Is God only swayed when people pray "hard" or does he take note of those comments?  I feel like I am stuck in Bill Moyer's story about LBJ asking him to pray in a cabinet meeting.  Moyers started and heard LBJ shout from the other end of the table, "speak up, Bill.  I can't hear you."  To which, Moyers responded, "I wasn't talking to you."  I doubt very much that any of this is aimed at God.

Robertson sees all of this as literal.  I suspect that for many people, "I will pray for you" or "can you pray for me" is simply an expression of concern or a cry for help.  I have no problem with that.  I have no problem with praying for people in crisis that they might be able to find peace or comfort.  But I have a big problem with prayers that turn God into an ogre.


Bob said...

Let's just say that God decides all that happens in the universe including who lives and who dies, allows some kids to survive a storm, while other kids starve on the other side of the world. What an asshole this God guy must be.

Smitty said...

Thanks for the nod, Streak!

What *is* praying?

It's sitting quietly and *thinking* about something for a minute. To say "I'll pray for you" is just as you say in your post: it's an expression of concern. And sometimes it is indeed really nice to know that in someone's every-day busy life, they're going to carve out a few minutes and just think about you. That's...sweet. That's community. And in a modern world, that's a lot more than most people do. So sure, I'll take your prayers.

What does prayer *do*?

Besides for above - conveying thoughtfulness and concern - it seems to do little more than comfort people who rely on it as a direct link, a phone call, to a higher being. But really only for those that really really believe that in their hearts. Is that a bad thing? Not at all! If you need that mindful hug of a prayer to feel some sort of comfort or peace, do it. Please!

But here's what prayer *doesn't* do: it doesn't stop tornadoes. It doesn't stop bullets. It won't keep a ship from sinking, it won't stop volcanoes or earthquakes or make bad people go away. It doesn't change outcomes.

As I said in the post previous to this one, it's a naive reaction to random bad events (or even random good ones; people don't just pray when they're scared). It's a little funny to believe a single prayer to some deity is going to prevent a natural disaster from doing what ever the hell it's going to do, especially with how randomly natural disaster occur and move. It's really incredibly sad to lay blame not at some deity's feet but at our collective feet for not praying hard enough to change the shape and direction of natural events. That's not even poetically sad, like I said in the previous post. No, that's harmful, mean, and ignores how the world works. It is blame, and it is a throw-back to witch-doctor era thoughts about "we need more sacrifices or god gets angry erupts volcanoes." No. We are evolved. We understand - or at least we should - that bad events happen because of random events outside of our control. I hate that Pat Robertson blames us for natural events, ignoring what is simply...random nature just happening.

Prayer, also, won't fix anything but a broken heart. It won't fix buildings, towns, broken bodies, cars, or bankruptcy.

I don't believe prayer works. I *do* believe focusing on an issue, thinking about an issue, and then making a plan of action on an issue works. But I don't want to say to people who really in their hearts believe in the power of prayer that they ought not. What I do want to say to those people, though, is that prayer is useless....without follow-through. Pray for the victims, then give to the Red Cross. Or make dinners for someone you know. Pray and give blood. Pray and go dig some ditches and raise a wall.