When news of the horrific mass shooting in San Bernadino hit, various public figures offered traditional prayers for the dead and wounded and their families in a tragic hour. Some also used the opportunity to once again urge gun control legislation. Nothing unusual in either. Both seem perfectly legitimate, indeed quite predictable, reactions.
What was unusual was the reaction to the reactions. A number of news outlets and commentators harshly criticized public figures for their religious sentiments, which they characterized as “meaningless platitudes.”
Some asserted that not only are pious expressions insufficient without a call to action — namely, gun control — but that prayer has no place in such events, and that it would be better if politicians would refrain from such comments altogether. Prayers, they say, “aren’t working,” and they don’t want to hear about them anymore.
The phenomenon quickly earned a name: it was dubbed “prayer shaming.” The very name is jarring. That such a thing could gain any degree of acceptance in the national discussion only adds to the torment over the recent bloodshed in San Bernadino and elsewhere.
There is no single source to the phenomenon. While some may claim that it is born of the anguish and frustration that many feel as killing follows killing and the list of innocent victims lengthens with no end in sight, there is no reason to believe that these so-called “prayer shamers” care any more about the victims than those whom they are attacking.
There is a clear partisan motivation to the anti-prayer outburst stemming from the assumption that stricter gun control legislation will mitigate, if not entirely solve, the problem, and this faction lashes out at those who disagree.
Leading the shamers was one New York tabloid that bracketed its huge, front page, anti-prayer headline with photos and prayer quotes from four Republicans — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham. In the paper’s coverage, it explicitly sided with pro-gun control Democrats against Republicans who seemingly offered prayer but nothing else in response to the bloodshed.
On a deeper level, it is likely that a primary force behind this phenomenon is yet another attack against the very concept of religion. There are many — whether consciously or subconsciously — who fear the recognition of an Al-mighty, and the ethical and moral responsibilities that come along with such recognition.
These individuals will go to any length to attack the beliefs of others, deluding themselves into thinking that somehow, by closing their eyes tightly to reality, they can abdicate all sense of responsibility and do as they please and when they please.
Religious people know very well that G-d always hears and answers our prayers, though sometimes — for our own benefit — the answer is No.
The Alm-ghty’s help is something we all need, far more than we need an effective political program.
This politicization of prayer bodes ill for the interests of this country. One could even say it is anti-American.
In the past it was generally understood in America that prayer is a bipartisan affair. Democratic politicians, no less than Republicans, routinely invoked the Creator, not only at funerals but in campaign speeches, fundraisers, just about every chance they got. The mottoes of “In G-d We Trust” and “one nation under G-d” are testimony to the broad recognition of religion’s place in America.
Even politicians and commentators who were not themselves religious were respectful of the great majority who were. Some also realized that religious belief is an invaluable source of morality and stability, especially during times of rapid change.
The phenomenon of “prayer shaming,” which runs counter to the mainstream of American political tradition, is the latest manifestation of a disturbing trend away from faith and respect for faith.
The shame is on those who seek to shame those who believe in G-d and prayer. A most powerful refutation of the prayer-shamers came from the blood-soaked rooms of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino itself:
“Pray for us,” a woman texted her father from inside, while she and her colleagues hid from the gunfire. Outside the building, evacuated workers did just that. And they weren’t ashamed of it, either.