Bashing prayer proves how little secular elites understand faith

Bashing prayer proves how little secular elites understand faith
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In response to the “thoughts and prayers” for the recently bereaved in the tragic church shooting in Texas, there has been a firestorm of scorn from some politicians and celebrities mocking the faithful. Ridiculing people who pray is nothing new in elite society, of course, but our hyperactive social media amplifies the mockery, and the shoot-from-the-hip style of our Twitter culture sometimes leaves people sorry later for their insensitivity.

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One celebrity who is already sorry for his ugly tweet is Wil Wheaton, an actor with over three million followers on Twitter. This is a man who knows he has a megaphone and chose to use it this way to respond to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE’s call for prayers for the people of Sutherland:

“The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of (expletive).”

As of Tuesday evening, he had not deleted the tweet, although he tweeted a follow-up apologizing to “sincere people of Faith.” I suppose “sincere” is meant to disqualify Speaker Ryan in this context, who Wheaton seems to have decided is a religious hypocrite.

Here is the fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of prayer in one ugly tweet, and an illustration of how those who don’t value religion are becoming unable to understand its value to millions of Americans. Prayer, as any one knows who practices their faith sincerely, is not a superstitious talisman against suffering and death. The famous philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, is said to have put it this way: 

“The function of prayer is not to influence God but to change the nature of the one who prays.”

The purpose of prayer is not to ask God to organize our lives as we would have them be, but to organize our own minds and hearts to accept the hardships and trials that life inexorably brings. And even more than to simply accept, to triumph over them, replacing despair with hope, hate with love, and separation with unity. Every American of faith knows that most of the survivors of the awful tragedy in Sutherland Springs will respond not with disbelief in the power of prayer, but instead will redouble their supplications. Because like C.S. Lewis, they will be filled with the knowledge of their helplessness and need, and they will turn to the only real source of help.

Some would like politicians to turn automatically to gun control legislation as the solution for disasters like mass shootings, and disparage the effects of prayer. Such legislation may or may not have its merits (I’ll leave that to others to debate), but it can never do what prayer does for the suffering and for the people whose hearts bleed across the country.

For the bereaved, God will not take away their pain, but he can make them stronger than their suffering. They will receive the graces they ask for in abundance. Things ineffable like forgiveness and love and hope and comfort, and of course “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” The millions who pray for the people of Sutherland Springs long to help them, and so they turn to the one who can. And they ask that their prayers help their suffering brothers and sisters.

These are elevated concepts, much higher and nobler than the realm of politics and tit-for-tat twitter threads. There is a vast brotherhood of Americans praying together in their need and weakness, and seeking help and strength for themselves and for others. It would be wonderful if those who are shut away in their secular bubbles, lacking supernatural understanding, at least refrain from poking fun at the good hearts who do what people everywhere, up and down the ages, have done in the face of tragedy — pray.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association and Maureen Malloy Ferguson is the Senior Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association.