DANIEL VAUGHAN: Why We Offer Prayers After Mass Shootings

Attacking anyone for offering prayers in the wake of a tragedy is becoming a trite hallmark of the left. But in the wake of the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that took the lives of 26 people ranging from ages 5 to 72, attacks on prayer take on a more vicious tone: the left is telling the dead, the victims, and their families that their prayer is useless.

I never thought I’d have to write a defense of prayer in the aftermath of a catastrophe. But with each passing tragedy, an increasing number of liberals — from celebrities and news journalists right down to people I know — are echoing variations on the same theme: prayers are meaningless, and anyone who offers them is a clown.

This isn’t a unique charge against Christianity. Christians have long been blamed for the action or inaction of their God. St. Augustine wrote an entire treatise called The City of God in which he defends Christendom from the charges of pagan Romans saying Christianity was to blame for the sack of Rome. There’s nothing new under the sun.

The first thing to note about the anti-prayer stance is that it’s unquestionably atheist and secular, from a defined segment of society which venerates science as divine. Saying prayer lacks power, or it didn’t stop murder, is a theological conclusion — not a fact.

In their zeal to attack people and groups they dislike, anti-gun types attack prayer to prove an unwillingness to act by politicians. But in doing so, they also attack the faith of the dead and their families, declaring all faith trivial. Selecting a mass tragedy as the exact moment to launch atheist attacks on prayer shows a remarkable absence of compassion or sympathy.

Further, even if they don’t mean it, people who do offer prayer show more respect for the victims than anyone lashing out at petitions to God. This is especially true when the attacks on prayer are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to score political points. There’s no reason to harm victims more.

The second problem here is that by attacking prayer as a vehicle to provide comfort, the left unconsciously gives moral cover to the attacker. They’re saying that while his actions are wrong, the killer’s thought process of treating parishioners as useless has some merit. The killer murdered out of a motive of hate towards the religious. Those that mock vindicate that mindset by lashing out at those same people for praying.

As Solomon observed, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” One doesn’t become a mass murderer overnight. There’s a long evolution to get to the point of destroying life so casually. Part of that journey is viewing prayer and those that pray as worthless. Devaluing life has a long history of victims.

Thirdly, the left claims that all of the mockings are a tactic to show lack of action by Congress on common sense legislation. “Doing something” is declared the goal, and anyone against this stands athwart progress. You’ll recognize here that no legislation ever happens under either party. (That’s because everyone knows most gun regulations are useless.)

Somewhat ironically, if you hold the “do something” crowd to the same moral standards they hold prayer, they’re guilty of the same hypocrisy. If prayers are a worthless exercise, then useless regulations are a slap in the face to the victims; you’re telling them that the legislation is just political points scoring, not an effort to help.

There’s an old saying among lawyers that’s meant to teach an important lesson to students: hard cases make bad law. The harder the case, the more likely you’re dealing with fraught emotions, the more likely it is you’ll create a bad legal precedent for future generations. Saying we should “do something” in the aftermath of every tragedy runs into this legal realism: “common sense” gun laws are usually either useless or unconstitutional.

The reason we give our prayers is that it focuses us on who matters in tragedy: the victims, their families, and their community. Police and other law enforcement agencies can handle the criminal element, but it’s up to everyone else to help people heal. We should question how we’re changing things to accomplish this goal.

Gun violence as a whole is falling even though we have seen an uptick in mass shootings. Guns and prayers aren’t the culprits; news cycles which make household names out of the killers are “largely responsible” for the increase in mass shootings, according to research from the American Psychological Association: mass killers want the notoriety that comes with the media coverage.

And while that’s not the condition for every mass shooting, it should make us question how we can more thoughtfully cover these events. Prayerfully minded people focus on the victims. Prayer mockers are focused on their political opponents. Our media and social media just wants the fray.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, prayer focuses on changing the heart of man. It takes a truly lost and destroyed soul to enter a church building and open fire on innocent people. No amount of legislation will find and fix people with those motives.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, churches were packed. People sought answers and sought solace in God through prayer, faith, and community in their local church. More than 15 years later, that doesn’t happen anymore. We’ve had multiple mass shootings and another terrorist attack in New York City this year alone. Instead of coming together to seek answers like we once did, we now attack one another.

That lack of unity and compassion for each other does more to explain what happened in Sutherland Springs than anything else — and only prayer can change that.

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