Perspectives

Prayer Shaming and San Bernardino

On the Friday (Dec. 4) after the horrific San Bernardino massacre that claimed at least 14 lives, authorities have all but pieced together the motives of the married couple who perpetrated the act of terror.

The latest news — Syed Farook’s wife had pledged allegiance to ISIS, and the couple had turned their home and garage into an armory of bomb making material, guns and ammo.

Many, of course, are superimposing their own narratives, just as they did a week earlier with the Colorado Springs shooting. And as they did with that crime, some have found a way to implicate Christians.

And that way is what Emma Green of the Atlantic Monthly has dubbed “prayer shaming,” referring to comments in both social and conventional media criticizing those, especially GOP candidates, for saying that their thoughts and prayers were with the people of San Bernardino.

The epitome of “prayer shaming” was the front page of the New York Daily News on Thursday, which read “God Isn’t Fixing This,” and called talk of prayer “meaningless platitudes.” As Rod Dreher rightly commented, these kind of statements “reveal a total lack of understanding of what religious people believe, and why.”

They also reveal the extent to which, as Ed Stetzer puts it, Christians have lost any “home-field advantage” we may have had in the culture.

Until last week, saying that you were praying for someone was seen an act of kindness, even if the other person didn’t believe in the efficacy of prayer. For example, the late atheist Christopher Hitchens thanked the people who were praying for him after he was diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life.

And more recently, Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” criticized British theaters for refusing to run a Church of England ad about the Lord’s Prayer. He said “If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”

While I would never call prayer “trivial,” I can’t help but notice that the two leading public atheists of our time were more gracious about prayer than many American activists and media elites. For them, prayer is apparently a “meaningless gesture” and a poor substitute for “doing something.”

Of course, they assume in the process that, 1) we know what that “something to do” is, and 2), that this “something” will actually solve the problem.

And it’s precisely here that the technocratic worldview of many activists and critics is revealed for what it is. Their faith, while not in prayer, is in something else. Namely, that all human problems and challenges, such as climate change, gun violence, and even terrorism, are problems that can be solved if only we apply the right technique, which in these cases, are the right laws and public policies.

In this worldview, the world and all its complexities can be reduced to mathematical models, and controlled by our best ideas and efforts, and the problems can be, if not eliminated, at least ameliorated.

But it’s a worldview that consistently fails. In the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008, Wall Street honestly believed it had mathematically solved the problem of risk. It hadn’t. The climate models being used as the basis of the recent Paris conference on climate change completely failed to predict what has actually happened over the past 15-20 years.

And there’s no reason to believe that the “something” the critics of prayer are advocating will reduce, much less stop, the kind of carnage we saw in San Bernardino.

And yet, as the psalmist put it, nations continue to rage and people continue to plot in vain. Their worldview just can’t imagine otherwise. But as the psalmist added, it’s the Lord alone, that can “make us dwell in safety.”

John Stonestreet

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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