Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thoughts and Prayers

What good is it . . . if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save [anyone]? Suppose [someone] is without clothes and daily food. If one . . . says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and [be] well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

This passage from the Epistle of James (Chapter 2, verses 14-16) came to mind as I read and heard the various politicians offer their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of the shootings in Paris, in Oregon, in Colorado, and most recently, in San Bernardino.

It goes without saying that anyone who has the capacity of thought should in some way project that thought toward the victims of such horrors. And anyone whose faith tradition includes a belief in the efficacy of prayers should certainly be praying for the survivors and loved ones in these tragic times. That is the least that any of us can to do; pause to consider . . . and pray.

But as the quotation that leads this essay reminds us, in slightly different words, talk – even thoughtful talk, even prayerful talk; especially pious talk – is cheap. To tell a needy person, “go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but to do nothing about their needs is to do nothing at all. And to tell the victims of slaughter by military grade weapons, “I’m thing of you; I’m praying for you,” when we have the capacity to do something more meaningful is a mere waste of breath and insensitive to the grief they are enduring.

There are things the politicians can do about gun violence that they refuse to do because they are captives of the NRA. They have sung the NRA’s theme song so long that they have forgotten that it is mere propaganda; they now believe it is Biblical-grade truth. They take their turns at the altars of Fox News berating anyone who would suggest that a person who is on the Homeland Security’s No-Fly list should be denied the right to own a military assault rifle. They will not be satisfied until every citizen in every venue is “packing heat.” Then there will be peace. They are fools – calculating fools – and the majority of the American citizens know that to be true; even the majority of NRA members know that to be true. So why does nothing change?

That brings me to another thing – beyond mere “thoughts and prayers” – that can be done. If the majority of Americans elect not to “pack heat,” and they do; if they know that assault style weapons have no place in civilian life, and they know this; if they know that gun registration is no threat to the freedom of our citizens, and all but the most radicalized know this, then why don’t they add some deeds to their “thoughts and prayers?” Why don’t they throw out – or at least make credible threats to throw out – their Senators and Representatives who have sold their souls to the gun industry and its advocate, the NRA? Why don’t they resign their membership in the NRA and the Republican Party until both organizations come to their senses?


Every sentient citizen of the United States is either thinking of or praying for the victims of violence today. Our TVs command our attention and our sense of decency (or guilt) requires us to pray or at least observe a few seconds of silence. But if we, as a nation, only say to the wounded, the widows and orphans, “Be healed, stay safe, be happy again;” if we do nothing to lessen the likelihood of future tragedies; if instead we allow our nation to become the arsenal of violence, then our words are hollow and our professions of concern are nauseous.

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