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Time for another smiting!

Follow this link to read the story.

I hate faith healers.  I really, really hate them.  But you know – when they are faith healing other adults, I figure that well, the adults are adults and sure they should know better but what the hell.

But kids…  oh, when they mess with kids….

I know, I know.  It’s always the same with me, but I have to say it…  what sort of twisted, warped, sick, perverted system of belief could so circumvent, suppress, and subvert an instinct that is so basic that it goes back – way back – to before we were humans, before we were even apes?  Even rats and mice will fight to the death to protect their children.  It seems likely that our ancestors have been doing this since not long after we turned into mammals 220 MILLION YEARS AGO!!!!!!!  How powerful, and how evil, must a belief system be to so twist that basic belief that parents will believe their belief over the blatant evidence of every day life that medicine works better than praying, and is more likely to be beneficial to their children and potentially SAVE THEIR LIVES when they are sick???  And what sort of evil monsters would think that it was a good idea to teach this sort of belief to others?  What sort of power trip does someone have to be on to even WANT to open their mouths and tell parents that they shouldn’t take their children to see doctors?  And what sort of parents can sit in a pew, hear that coming out of the mouth of a leader of their religious institution, and not rise up, fueled by raging hormones and an instinctive reaction to protect their children, and get the hell out of Dodge?

But here’s the kicker for me.  Loony parents, well, they appear from time to time.  People just go batshit crazy sometimes, and sometimes even batshit crazy people are able to put Tab A into Slot B and produce children.  And people make mistakes – sometimes parents are going to make wrong choices for their children, and of those wrong choices a few will be catastrophically wrong.  But the two churches involved here have been responsible for teaching, no, indoctrinating parents with this sort of nonsense since at least 1971, resulting in the death of TWO DOZEN CHILDREN!  That’s not random, that’s not bad luck.

That is institutionalized instruction on child neglect and homicide.

Faith Tabernacle Congregation in North Philadelphia and First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park, may two She-bears – the protectors of cubs, who will stand their ground and fight to the death to protect their offspring from danger, may two She-bears show up at your worthless, lying institutions, rend to pieces those who teach such falsehoods and stupidity, and teach the survivors about the instinct to protect they young instead of making them pawns in some game of self-aggrandizement and control.

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The insanity of Saudi Islam

Aw – what a cute little girl!  Isn’t she just as cute as the dickens in her little pink hat, with her button nose and that adorable little gap between her teeth and those big, brown eyes and infectious kid smile?  Doesn’t she look happy?  Don’t you just want to give her a hug?

Don’t you just want to pick her up in your arms, break her arm, torture her with fire, beat her with cables,  break her ribs, rape her, break her back, and crush her skull?

I mean – who wouldn’t?

This is Lama.  She was five when her father did all of that to her – killing her in the process.    The reason stated, when he was brought to court, was that he doubted her virginity.

I mentioned that Lama was five, right?

ImageThis is sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi.  He is a holy man.  He has been a guest speaker on many Islamic television broadcasts in Saudi Arabia, where he has discussed such topics as the religious virtue involved in taking in and supporting orphans.  After he divorced his wife, he received custody of his daughter Lama.  One day he noticed that his pretty little daughter was behaving “strangely” and he began to question her virginity.  He took her to a medical professional who determined that her virginity was, in fact, intact.  This, however, did not quiet his concerns on the matter, and he determined that the only way to make a final decision on the matter was to rip out one of Lama’s fingernails, tear open her rectum and then burn it closed, rape her (“everywhere” according to one social worker), break her bones, and crush her skull before belatedly taking her to a hospital where she died.

Believe it or not, this article isn’t about him.

No, this article is about the court that tried him.  The court that determined that the fitting punishment for this crime was four months in prison and a $50,000.00 fine paid to the mother.

What is wrong with you people?

Lama lying in a hospital bed prior to her death.

Do you not even read the holy book that you claim to revere?  Isn’t there something – anything – inside your hearts and souls that tells you “hey wait a minute – this sort of sentence for such a heinous crime just doesn’t make sense!  Maybe we should actually punish people who rape and murder their daughters as a deterrent to people engaging in such behaviors in the future?”  How can you reasonably call what you dispense justice when you hand down sentences like this one.

What kind of twisted version of religious belief do you follow that can turn your natural instincts to protect children, instincts shared by virtually every other mammal species, so far from their natural and healthy state?  What sort of sickly and barren souls live within you that you can even consider letting someone like sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi walk the streets of your land, free to marry, to have more daughters, and to murder them as he murdered Lama?  Is it really so desirable to discriminate against women that you are willing to allow sadistic, murdering, torturers of children to go free with minimal punishment?

O court, o judges who allowed the sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi to walk away from the terrible torture and murder of his beautiful daughter after a few months in prison and a hit to his checkbook, thou art cursed.  May the she-bears seek thee, find thee, and rend thee to bits.  They can go after sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi after they are done with thee.

Today’s Two She Bears is brought to you by Surat Al-Sura 17:31  “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.”

Jambavantha, smite!

Meet Asaram Bapu, a Hindu spiritual guru from India.  Asaram Bapu is a holy man.  Asaram Bapu is a spiritual guide.  Asaram Bapu supervises the operation of 366 ashrams worldwide.  So holy is Asaram Bapu that miracles are attributed to him, such as the miraculous helicopter crash.

Meet Jyoti Singh Pandey.  Her photo has yet to be published.    She was 23, and  lived almost all her life in Delhi.  On December 16, 2012 she was returning home from seeing “The Life of Pi” with a male friend when the two of them boarded a bus.  Unbeknownst to them, the bus was not in operation, but was being used for a joyride by its driver and passengers. Once aboard the two were set upon by six men – five adults and a juvenile.  The male friend was beaten senseless with an iron rod and gagged.  The men then dragged Jyoti Singh Pandey to the back of the bus, beat her into submission with the iron rod, and then gang raped her.  They then raped her with the iron rod, rupturing her internal organs and abdomen and then subsequently removed the rod with such force that her intestines were pulled out through her vagina.  The juvenile then pulled the remainder of her intestines out with his bare hands.

During this attack Jyoti Singh Pandey was not passive.  Despite her injuries she fought back, biting three of her attackers and leaving marks deep enough to later aid police in their identification.

When they were finished with their assault, the attackers threw Jyoti Singh Pandey and her male friend off the moving bus, then attempted to run over them but failed when the male friend managed to drag Jyoti Singh Pandey to safety.  The pair were rushed to the hospital, where it was discovered that Jyoti Singh Pandey had only 5% of her intestines inside her body.  She was placed on life support and later flown to a hospital specializing in organ transplants in Singapore, where she died on December 28th of a combination of sepsis, brain damage, and pneumonia.

Asaram Bapu, holy man, spiritual guide, and saint, had this to say regarding the incident:

 “Only 5-6 people are not the culprits. The victim daughter is as guilty as her rapists… She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop… This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.”

“Had she recited the Saraswati mantra, she would not have boarded any bus after watching a movie with her boyfriend,”

Asaram Bapu, you are an evil man.  You engage in the age old rape culture lies of blaming the victim for the crime.    You seem to feel somehow that if the woman had done something different, if she had acted differently, spoken differently, her rapists would somehow have had their evil intentions magically transformed.  And you feel that it was the responsibility of the female physiology student to do something to deter her attackers, rather than for her attackers to deter themselves.

Rape is not caused by victims.  It is not caused by what they do or what they say or where they are or how they are dressed.  RAPISTS cause rape, you reprehensible charlatan!  RAPISTS cause rape!  Victims of rape are VICTIMS – they are not enablers or participants or provocateurs.  Don’t you dare open your holy, lying mouth you living turd, and blame this woman for what was done to her.

Hinduism does not have two she-bears.  It does, however, have Jambavantha, king of the bears, who helped Rama find his wife, Sita, and fought her abductor Ravana, dealing him mighty blows with his hands and kicking him in the chest hard enough to lay him out flat.  Perhapse mighty Jambavantha will do the same to you Asaram Bapu.

This Two She Bears is brought to you by Manusmirti 3/56.  “Where women are honored, the Gods are pleased; but where they are not honored no sacred rite yields rewards.”
   

How an Atheist Influenced a Church to Action

And in all fairness to my pastor friend, this could also be titled, “How I got Sent to Church by a Theist”, but since I’m the author… well, you know. Now for the story!

As I mentioned in my last post, “Prayer”, one of the things I noticed in the wake of the Newtown shooting was that a lot of my Christian friends talked about offering prayers for the victims and their families, but didn’t seem to have the same dedication to passing along information about concrete, physical actions they could take to provide aid and comfort to the families and children of Sandy Hook.  I had something of a back and forth about this with some Christians, including my friend Pastor Chris Owens of the First United Methodist Church of Laurel, MD.  Eventually, after some exchanges, I came up with an idea that I was willing to do some work for.  If Chris would come up with something for his parishioners to actually, physically DO on Sunday to help the victims of the Newtown shooting, I would undertake a task of his choice.

Chris agreed, and held up his end of things wonderfully.  You can see the details on his blog, but in a nutshell he got 108 sympathy cards sent by parishioners, which pleased me a great deal and seemed to be a moving experience for Chris and his flock as well.  This was the sort of thing I really loved when I was in the church – actually doing stuff.  While I felt that prayer was meaningful to me on an individual level, and even useful as a group activity for reinforcing community bonds and acting as an informal communications network about who in the community was in trouble and needed help, I never (well, maybe for a little while when I was in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) felt like it was one of those things that counted as helping someone.  My feeling is that it might be good as far as it goes, but that the church as a whole places far too much emphasis on it and too little emphasis on taking action other than prayer.  To help a congregation take real, physical action, well lets just say that was a big thrill for me.

But of course I had my end of the bargain to hold up, and for my task, Chris asked me to attend a church service.  My longsuffering and wonderful wife agreed to accompany me.  And so today we headed off to attend the 9:00 am service at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco.

***

Q: “When is the last time Christ was mentioned at Glide Memorial?”

A:  “When the janitor fell down the stairs.”

(Joke that was going around the Cal/Nevada Conference when I was a candidate).
***

Glide Memorial United Methodist Church occupies a special place in my heart and in my past.  When I was a candidate for the ministry, and a Youth Counselor, Glide was exactly what I thought a church should be.  Big on liberation theology, not so stuck on candles and prayer books.  Rev. Cecil Williams was considered sort of a joke by the people in authority that I talked to (and I have vivid memories of my mentor discouraging me from interviewing him as part of the candidacy process).  I only got to go there a couple of times, but compared to my home church in Oroville, it seemed to be diverse and energized and exciting.

Consequently, I was very curious about how Glide had fared over the years.  From looking at the website I was pleased to see that their community outreach had not flagged, and that Cecil Williams was still there (I was astounded by this – what Methodist pastor stays ANYWHERE for 45 years???)  When Chris asked me to go to church, I knew almost immediately that Glide was where I wanted to go.

And it was the right choice.  Glide is very close to the sort of dream church I would want to go to if I were a christian.  The community was highly diverse.  A lot of the traditional church trappings were missing – no altar, no candles, no prayer books, no hymnals.  Dress was everything from very formal to very informal, so my lack of fancy duds was not noticed.  There was lots of singing, lots of clapping, lots of “hug your neighbor/hold hands and sing/build the community” sorts of stuff.  There was testifying.  There was a sermon.  There was no communion.

There were, however, calls to action.  Real action.  Most of it centered around Newtown – the children’s choir had sung at the memorial service on Wednesday, and there was an active call for the community to give up their guns, with the pastors offering go to the police with anyone who wanted to turn in a firearm.  The church had collected over 10,000 toys for needy children, and distributed over 3,000 Christmas dinners to needy homes.  There was a prime rib luncheon for Glide members and the homeless coming up, and they would be serving meals on Christmas day.

“This,” I thought to myself, “is a nice place.”

People seemed to enjoy being there, seemed to enjoy participating, seemed to be very enthusiastic. It felt like a safe environment.  Though I didn’t get a chance to test it, I had a feeling that if I had let it be known that I was an atheist, the folks at Glide would have smiled, maybe looked at me a little bit oddly and maybe not,  shrugged, and welcomed me into the community anyway.

There is something energizing about being with a large group of people who are really into something – really fired up about it.  You can see it at political rallies.  You can see it at gaming conventions.  You can see it at meetings like Skepticon.  But one of the most common places to find it is at a happy place of worship.  Just being surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are really, really excited to be where they are and doing what they are doing has an effect on even curmudgeonly outsiders like myself – while at the service I felt all the old moves coming back – the clapping, the raised hands, the swaying, the “amen!”  Even the cadence of the sermon, much different from my home church, had me nodding and thinking “Yes!” and “Preach it!”  The group just sort of sweeps you up and carries you along and if they are joyful, you will start feeling joyful too just by being with them.

Now I disagree with Christians (along with other religious groups) on a foundational level.  Some of portions of their doctrine are things that I just don’t believe, and probably won’t believe ever again.  And that is going to lead to a certain amount of friction, because these are things that Christians consider to be very important and hold to very deeply, just as many of my views on the same issue are very important to me and I hold them very dear.  It seems unlikely that I will overturn some of the basic doctrines of Christianity, and it is also unlikely that they will convince me that my thinking is in error.  Since Christians believe that they have a sacred responsibility to spread their word to those who do not believe, and I am a stubborn and curmudgeony git who just can’t just smile and shrug things off, we are going to get into it on occasion.  That’s just the way it is.

But there is also common ground, a lot of common ground.  And it can be seen (at least by me) at places like Glide Memorial.  Going there was a reminder to me that most Christians are good folks that do good stuff and try to lead good lives.  Of course I knew this before, but it’s nice to see it up close once in awhile.

Did this experience convince me that there is only one God, the Father almighty. and that Jesus is his only begotten son who died for our sins and rose again?  No.  No scales fell from my eyes on the road to (or from) Glide – though I can now recommend a restaurant that serves nice lemon chicken. But even though I did not have a reconversion moment, it was a good reminder that there are many good people out there who are Christians, who believe many of the same things that I do about the physical world, how to deal with sorrow and hunger and homelessness and addiction and violence.

This installment of Two She Bears brought to you by Isaiah 58:10.

 

 

Oh for crying out loud

Sometimes it comes so thick and fast that I have to post like mad.  So – the following really, really stupid and self-centered assholes are hereby mentioned.

JAMES DOBSON
“Our country really does seem in complete disarray. I’m not talking politically, I’m not talking about the result of the November sixth election; I am saying that something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God.

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed 54 million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.

SAM MORRIS

“And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”

“We get all up in arms about 20 children being shot in a day care but we don’t give one good-glory rip about the 4,000 that were removed violently from the wombs of their mothers [in abortion procedures] the same day,” Morris said. “I believe they use children and Christmas and all that to pull on our heart strings about gun control. That’s what it’s all about.”

Morris went on to criticize public schools, which he said teach children about evolution, sex and “how to be a homo.”

BRYAN FISCHER

“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.

Now we have spent since 1962 — we’re 50 years into this now–we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don’t want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don’t want to pray to you at graduations, we don’t want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech…

In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God’s word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”

Let me put this as gently as I can.  You people are self-serving, egotistical, attention-mongering assholes.  You lie and twist the truth, you look for scapegoats based on your own political agenda, you spew hatred and bigotry at a time when people need to hear of love and kindness and support.

In short you have said very, very bad things for very, very bad reasons, and you really  need to be torn to shreds by angry bears.

DISHONERABLE MENTION

NEWT GINGRICH

“When you have an anti-religious, secular bureaucracy and secular judiciary, seeking to drive God out of public life, something fills the vacuum. I don’t know that going from communion to playing war games, in which you practice killing people is necessarily an improvement.”

Mr. Gingrich is not a member of the clergy, but I felt that he deserves mention here because of his access to the bully pulpit of the talk shows, and because he makes much of being a religious public figure.  Mr. Gingrich, stop bloviating and go play some “Call of Duty” or cheat on your wife or do whatever it is that you do for fun, but seriously – stop putting the blame for this tragedy on secular society for your own political gain.  Twenty-six dead people are not props that you can manipulate for your benefit.  It’s just wrong and evil.  Not quite as wrong and evil as the people above, but if the she-bears aren’t tired after ripping them to pieces, you are certainly deserving of their attentions in this case as well.

This installment of TWO SHE BEARS is brought to you by 2 Timothy 2:16.

Dear Reverend Huckabee

You stated publicly “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools, Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Seriously?

Seriously.

Look Reverend, I understand.  I too felt rage and horror at this senseless act.  I too want to make sense of it, to figure out a reason for it, to somehow fit into my world view the fact that some horrible, horrible person could walk into a school, murder 20 children between the ages of six and seven, along with six adults, and balance that out with some sort of justification for why the world is the way it is, and all the beauty I see in it can be marred and stained by such a huge tragedy.

If you only went that far, I would be willing to cut you some slack.  The heat of the moment, the shock, the grief, all that.

But you went on, didn’t you?

Didn’t you?

“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.  And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised … when all hell breaks loose.”

It is here, Reverend Huckabee, that you go  completely off the rails.  Let me spell out for you where you are going wrong with the above statement

  1. “We don’t have a crime problem” – murdering people is a crime.  Murdering 20 children and six adults is twenty-six crimes.  An incident where twenty-six people are murdered IS A PROBLEM!  The only reason that it doesn’t seem like much of a problem to you is because  almost 13,000 people were killed in the United States last year, making this single little murder spree virtually inconsequential in terms of the murder rate.  If this were Australia or Sweden or France where the murder rate is less than 1/4 of ours, the entire nation would be screaming about it.
  2. “…we don’t have a gun problem…”  That’s just stupid political bullshit.  We DO have a gun problem.  Lots and lots of people are being killed using firearms in this country.  People who really shouldn’t have guns have them.  That’s a problem.
  3. “…or even a violence problem.”  Each year over 3x as many and sometimes 4x as many people are killed via homicides as were killed in the attacks on September 11th.  Did you think that the attacks on September 11th were a problem?
  4. “What we have is a sin problem.”  Now you aren’t even trying.

Reverend, are you seriously, honestly, going to go on television and inform viewers that these people were killed because God couldn’t go into the school to save them?  Then perhaps maybe God should have STOPPED THE KILLER BEFORE HE GOT THERE!  Or is God not allowed on roads, sidewalks, grocery stores, or gas stations either?  Where precisely, Reverend, IS God allowed?  In the last 11 years there have been 18 church shootings in the US, so God apparently isn’t there either.

(As a side note, do you find it a bit ironic that you are making statements like “And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations” while being interviewed as a guest on one of the most widely watched broadcast channels in the United States?  Well I do.)

Reverend Huckabee, this is not an argument.  This is not theology.  This is not an attempt to guide your flock or educate people about your religious beliefs or teach people how to be closer to God or comfort those who are in pain due to trauma or lost loved ones.

THIS Reverend Huckabee is nothing more than a naked grab for attention, an opportunity to bloviate, a chance for you to toot your own horn, make some headlines, and smear people who had absolutely nothing to do with this, but with whom you do not agree politically with the blood of murdered children, which you have metaphorically scooped up in your hands and gleefully flung about on national television in an act of self-aggrandizement for yourself and character assassination against those who have beliefs different from yours.

This was contemptible, and you fully deserve to be torn to pieces by bears because of it.

This installment of Two She Bears is brought to you by Exodus 20:16.

Not gravid FEMINIST bears!!!! Have mercy!

Prayer

This isn’t your normal “Two She Bears” article, in that I don’t want to discuss some religious person doing something heinously wrong and deserving of the attentions of two angry bears.

Today I am going to talk about prayer.

I am an atheist, so I don’t find prayer to be a particularly rewarding activity.  But I do see the allure of it for people who are believers.  The chance to communicate, directly, with the most powerful being in this or any other universe – to tell Him your wants and needs, your sorrows and triumphs, or just to chat, and have that ultimately powerful being listen to you, communicate back, and possibly even act based on your wants and needs…  well lets just say that having a conversation, a give and take, an exchange of ideas, or just a relationship with the most powerful being ever, is a profound thing.  It is a unique activity in all of life’s experiences – there is nothing to compare it to really, it is singular.

I understand that.  I even respect, without necessarily wanting it for myself.

But I have an issue.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which left 20 children and six adults dead, I saw a lot of comments and postings from Christians (and I admit that I am talking primarily about Christians here, though what I say seems to be applicable to prayer in general) that began with the words “Please pray for…”  They were everywhere on social media, but they were not limited to social media – politicians, talking heads, media celebrities, anyone who could get their words made public seemed to be asking for prayers for the people of Sandy Hook Elementary.

I found these statements odd in a way that I never did when I was in the church.  When in church it was very common for me to hear, on a weekly basis, about members of the church who needed our prayers.  And this made sense – even within a community of a couple of hundred members or less, it’s hard to keep track of everyone all the time.  If there was someone out in our little group who was ill or in trouble, maybe I would hear about it through other means and maybe I wouldn’t.  Moreover it was a good thing to have the community pray for one of its own – it strengthened our bonds as a community and made us aware of members of our church who we might not otherwise know well.

But Sandy Hook Elementary was a different matter entirely than Mrs. Darling the organist having hip surgery.  This was a nationally reported event.  And it was a horrible tragedy, one that struck at the hearts and minds of everyone throughout the nation, regardless of their beliefs.  So when I started seeing social media posts and hearing politicians and celebrities speak, and being exhorted to pray for all those who had been affected, one of the first questions I asked was “Why do Christians think they need to remind one another about this?”

When I was in the church, prayer was a ubiquitous part of the religious experience.  We were taught to pray about almost anything that went on – to pray for guidance when we were confused, to pray for comfort when we were sad, to pray for intercession when those we cared for were somehow in trouble, to pray in order to thank God for triumphs and successes, to pray simply to become closer to God, to pray for forgiveness when we knew we had done wrong.  It was second nature, when facing adversity or tragedy or success or awe or, well, practically anything to pray about it.  Prayer was THE go-to activity, useful for any occasion.  Terms like “the power of prayer” were often used expressions to remind us of prayer’s efficacy.

Assuming for a moment that my experiences with prayer in the church were typical, I had to wonder, when seeing this flood of prayer reminders, “Do Christians really need to be reminded – repeatedly – to pray when something like this happens?”  Thinking about it, my conclusion, based on my experience, is that really they don’t.  Praying is an important, well-taught, well-reinforced activity within the Christian church, and Christians know very well that their religion teaches them to pray for those who are in trouble.

So why all the calls for prayers?  What is their purpose, if Christians already know that prayer is an important and helpful thing to do?

Certainly there are a small number of Christians who will, due to shock or horror at events like the Sandy Hook shootings, become paralyzed and may need a reminder.  But my feeling is that overall, its code.  It isn’t an exhortation to action so much as it is a reminder to Christians during times of difficulty, when doubts might spring up, that they are in fact able to take action and be helpful, and that their religious beliefs about God’s goodness and mercy are not undermined by the tragedy.  The Christian faith as a whole has figured out by now that trying to spin the idea of a madman shooting 20 children and 6 adults to death as some sort of blessing (“They are with God now!”  “It’s all part of God’s plan!” or even “This is a sign that God is mad at us for X!”) just don’t play well in modern society.  At the same time, Christians, like anyone, are shocked and horrified when such events occur, and want to feel nurtured and comforted by their community.  My feeling is that all the “Please pray for…” statements are less intended to aid the Sandy Hook families, and more intended to comfort fellow Christians who might feel lost, confused, and heartbroken by the tragedy.

And I am going to say that there is nothing wrong with this.  Groups need a method for coming together in times of trouble, and this one works just fine.  My friends on Facebook who believe let one another know that they are not alone – that there are others out there who feel the same way they do, who are reacting in the same way they are, who are doing the same things they are doing.  And that makes them feel better.

One thing I am not going to do here is to discuss the efficacy of prayer.  I understand that Christians (and other religious groups) feel differently about this than I do, and  I don’t feel like picking a fight about it over the bodies of 26 people.  But I am going to say that I think that prayer, as it is described by the religious community, is passive, rather than active, when it comes to affecting anything outside the individual praying.  Even accepting for the moment that prayer has power to change the universe, to heal the sick, to aid the poor, it is still passive because it is not actually doing any of those things itself, but rather is asking God to do those things.

The problem I see here is that too often I perceive that Christians consider praying about something to be the end of the matter.  Sometimes that is sensible – there are some tragedies that we simply cannot affect personally, and if you believe in a deity with limitless power, and one who responds to prayer with that limitless power, then it only makes sense to put out the word for a being who CAN personally affect the tragedy or difficulty or suffering that you would really like some of that power focused on helping.  But I think that too many Christians stop there without giving a real hard think to what they can do, themselves, to help.

Why does this happen?  I am not sure.  I can envision a lot of reasons.  Perhaps it is the natural tendency of things to lose momentum.  Perhaps there is a feeling that once matters are turned over to God, further efforts would be pointless.  I wish I knew, because if I knew I could make more concrete suggestions.  But here’s one.

I was very troubled by this over the weekend, and I eventually turned to my friend pastor Chris Owens for a favor.  I asked him if he would ask his congregation this weekend to write a card or a message, or take some sort of physical action, in addition to prayer, for the victims and survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary.  He agreed, and this Sunday his congregation did just that (I am hoping that he will tell that story on his own blog, and I’ll provide a link here if he does).  But that in turn got me to thinking about the church and prayer.

There is an aspect to prayer that I think is very dangerous.  That is the idea that often seems to creep in that in a crisis or tragedy, prayer is sufficient.

Sometimes, there is just nothing earthly one can do about a problem.  There are so many, MANY problems out there demanding attention that nobody can respond to them all with physical aid.  If I give money or time to helping the people of Sandy Hook, that’s money or time that I am not devoting to other things, and so I prioritize.

But sometimes, when a tragedy occurs, there IS more we can do.  All that is needed is to spend a bit of time looking or thinking creatively and something will come up.  And I think that the way prayer is often taught in the church actually hinders this.  The place where most Christians learn about prayer – not only through teaching but through actual modeling – is at church (I presume this to be true for other religions as well).  But most prayers at a church service are highly ritualized and largely passive in nature.  Seldom is there any sort of physical act tied to the issue being prayed over.  The vast majority of what people learn about prayer in church is that prayers are a) formulaic in their words, patterns, and recitation, b) passive, in that they are dictated by either the church book of prayer, or the person leading the worship service, c) sufficient unto themselves, because they are seldom accompanied by other activities designed to address the issues that the prayers focus on.  Such activities may occur at other times, but they are largely decoupled from the act of prayer.

One of the best things about prayer, I always thought when I was in the church, was the sheer informality of it.  You can pray anywhere, while doing anything.  There is no necessity that prayer be treated as an end in itself.  For centuries monks have made work for their monastery into acts of prayer, and it is a wonderful idea.  Too often these days I see Christians making a big deal out of prayer, and not spending enough thought or effort on the activities that can go with prayer.  I think that they are missing out on an important component, which is that prayer should be a matter of last resort.  By “last resort” I don’t mean that prayer should be done only when nothing else can be done, but that prayer is something that can be so ubiquitous, so flexible, that it can be done in addition to anything else.  Prayer is the EASY part.  It should be at the bottom of the hierarchy of “ways to help” not due to any value judgement about its efficacy, but because it is universally accessible – any time, anywhere.  Finding out where to send money or sympathy cards or canned food or whatever is needed takes time, some effort, and maybe some research.  Prayer really should require none of those things.

It seems to me that there should be more effort and time devoted to the idea of coupling the act of prayer with more physical activities.  Jesus told us to help those who were in trouble.  Jesus was a smart guy, and if he had meant “pray for those who are in trouble” he would have said that instead.  And Jesus certainly wasn’t anti-prayer.  Helping others as an act of prayer, out of devotion to God, is something I wish was emphasized more strongly in the worship services of most churches.