I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment surrounded by people who swore upon the power of prayer. My mother, who I love and respect deeply, has a powerful testimony about prayer in her own life. I, on the other hand, never took to prayer. Maybe I didn’t clinch my hands tight enough or shut my eyes hard enough or speak the optimized words, in order to hear God. The act itself felt like bargaining with some psychic reserve I sought out in hopes of a loan or a fix rather than a communion with the creator of the universe. In church, as a child, I often found myself looking around the room as others prayed. What were they seeking and would they find it, I wondered.
Today, GOP Presidential candidates, as they are want to do in this Violent Year of Our Lord 2015, offered their thoughts and prayers via Twitter to the victims, families, and first responders associated with the San Bernardino terror attacks. Gunmen killed at least 14 and injured 17 more at a center for people with developmental disabilities. The gunmen were not Muslims, and as such the phrase terrorist attack has been absent reports thus far. Let’s not bullshit ourselves: this is a terrorist attack whether the gunmen were white, brown, or green. (I understand the FBI’s definition of terrorism, and what it entails, but to say only Muslims are capable of terrorism in the modern age is a dangerous road.)
Maybe I should feel comforted a greater force might be looking down on the many people suffering horribly today but I do not. Nor do I feel comforted that the candidates jockeying for ungodly power took the coward’s route on social media without offering any potential solutions for how to curb mass shootings, of which there have been 352 in 336 days this year. Most of all, I came away thinking prayer won’t save America from the mass shooting epidemic that has descended upon it like an Old Testament plague in 2015.
My dozen or so years indoctrinated in fundamentalist Christian dogma taught me that sacrifices, not to mention changes, were often necessary when you prayed for something. Say, for instance, a man stood before the church asking for prayer and forgiveness for cheating on his wife. The expectation then was that he would not continue cheating on his wife because staying monogamous was too difficult a standard to bear. I mean, you pray because you’re weak but if you’re not willing to take responsibility for your actions then why pray?
Prayers offered by the GOP presidential hopefuls in the wake of today’s shooting or the hundreds like it this year are not an earnest request for an answer to heal our divided hearts and minds and reverse our violent ways. They’re a suggestion to the mass audience, shocked and horrified by the perpetual nature of these shootings, that they care. How much? Enough to have their assistant press send on a 140-character message, I suppose. Not enough, sadly, to impose any regulations on the flow of 300 million firearms in this country. To do so would infringe upon more than our precious Second Amendment. It would slow profits for America’s multi-billion dollar firearms industry. No loving, free market-creating God would suggest such a thing.
Then again, America’s God is not the God of the Bible nor is America a Christian nation, as some would suggest. America’s God is violence not some benevolent bringer of peace. If Jesus came back today those in power would denounce him and he would be put on a watch list immediately. We worship violence for numerous reasons – greed, fear, security, revenge, boredom. We are a violent nation consisting of violent people with violent ideals. Always have been. Perhaps the 24/7 media cycle, camera phones, and the Snowden revelations have made this even more apparent than the books of intellectual dissidents like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky in the past.
Just this past week we’re confronted with news of the Chicago Police Department’s mass cover-up of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald; a terror attack at a Planned Parenthood; revelations that a man spent 13 years in Guantanamo Bay on a case of mistaken identity; reports we’re putting boots on the ground in Iraq (again); and a field of GOP presidential candidates competing to see who can score the most inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Syrian refugees, or immigrants, all while offering emotionless tweets in the wake of San Bernardino. Meanwhile, in our free time, we glorify those who assault others in our modern coliseums and on our TV and movie screens. We revel in this shit until it’s us.
None of the activities or news items I’ve mentioned suggest we are a culture or a people interested in peace or truth or love. Pretty much the opposite. You can pray all day long for God to change your heart. Maybe, if you’re more devout than I am, you’ll notice a difference. First, you have to want to change. Minus that, it all amounts to a waste of breath.