Recently, after any firearm-related tragedy strikes our nation, people of faith have been derided for sending thoughts and prayers for the families of the victims. The implication is that thoughts and prayers are meaningless and that your sincerity, reverence, and sympathy for the loss of human life are measured by your support of gun legislation. You didn’t agree on a policy solution, and therefore your “thoughts and prayers” are empty gestures… Words uttered out of guilt for your own culpability.
This is a deeply disturbing and ignorant rhetorical tactic. While I’ve addressed the issue of creating policy after any and every horrible event that happens here, I want to take a moment to address the strawman that has been raised against the concept of thoughts and prayers.
From Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of Prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children.
Besides being condescending to people’s belief systems, his statement fundamentally and intentionally misrepresents what people of faith actually believe.
No person believes that if they pray enough, God will stop bullets in the air. And no person believes that thoughts and prayers will bring their loved ones back from the dead or prevent evil from rearing its ugly head.
What they do believe, however, is that it is their fundamental purpose to manifest virtue in their life, and by doing so, allow God to work through them. What they do believe, is that by reflecting (thoughts) on their own purpose, and by asking for and seeking opportunities to serve that higher purpose (prayers), they may be able to do a small amount of good in a world that is so lost in nihilistic ideology. What they do believe, is that the loss of a loved one is excruciatingly painful and that they’re to attempt to lighten that burden in any way they can.
There is a sickness that affects us, and it isn’t mental illness or guns. Those are the scapegoats. The devils we know. The devils that we feel we can change. No, our sickness is from our rejection of meaning, and ultimately, virtue.
When the top cartoon for teenagers and young adults, Rick and Morty, is a comedy centered around the insignificance and meaninglessness of human existence, are we surprised by suicide rates or the blatant disregard for life? When we subscribe to hedonistic philosophies that crown pleasure or power as the pinnacle of human existence, are we surprised when a shadow grows more prominent within our youth? When our idols are not persons of character, but rather, persons of fame, are we surprised that our character decays?
It is my humble judgment that we could use more thoughts and prayers, not less. While the language of thoughts and prayers is metaphysical, the underlying idea is not limited to Judeo-Christian believers: We could use more people asking for and seeking opportunities to positively impact those around them, not less. We could use more people living their life purposefully and with meaning, not less. We could use more honest self-reflection at the personal and communal level, not less.
This isn’t as simple as gun legislation or mental health legislation (although those may be necessary). It is an effort that requires a dramatic elevation of our moral consciousness. At a certain point, we have to realize that the human condition cannot be easily legislated and that many of our policy discussions are nested in larger discussions of morality and philosophy that we’re refusing to have. Those who condescend thoughts and prayers not only mock good-hearted people for political advantage, but they mock the best hope we have at addressing the deeper issues that underlie these tragedies.