Wednesday, December 2, 2015
In The Atlantic, Emma Green reports on Democratic and Republican reactions to the San Bernardino shootings, and how a noticeable number of liberal/progressive commentators are "shaming" people who've expressed the sentiment that "our prayers are with those affected." For example, she quotes a Think Progress editor and pretty aggressive atheist named Zack Ford, who tweeted, "Stop thinking. Stop praying. Look up Einstein's definition of 'insanity.' Start acting on gun violence prevention measures." Green thinks there's a developing pattern here indicative of the changes in religion and politics:
There are many assumptions packed into these attacks on prayer: that all religious people, and specifically Christians, are gun supporters, and vice versa. That people who care about gun control can’t be religious, and if they are, they should keep quiet in the aftermath of yet another heart-wrenching act of violence. At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.
I certainly hope that the "shamers" are in the minority; I hope that for the sake of the left, which (to say it for the umpteenth time) has no hope of making progress in America if it divorces itself from religious inspiration. I'd hope that many of those who attack prayer alone as insufficient, and want action, are reflecting something of the attitude of the prophet Amos (see 5:21-23, NRSV):
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies....
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
If you are impatient with unaddressed matters of justice, and you think that religion can throw up pious distractions from those matters, you have the Biblical prophets on your side. As Green points out, praying and acting are far from inconsistent. See the familiar list of social-justice movements the left commends, from abolition to women's suffrage to civil rights, that have been inspired by preaching and prayer. I think that most Americans on the left still recognize that--although unfortunately, Green is likely right that more and more do not.