Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pray the suffering away

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for the warm welcome. Before we begin the ceremony today, we turn our thoughts to those suffering from yesterday's tornados.

This is a bad storm that affected a lot of people in a variety of states. Our administration is reaching out to state officials. I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them; but more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up and -- hold those who suffer up in prayer. Loss of life, a lot of loss of property -- prayers can help and so can the government. And so today before we begin this important ceremony, I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them.
Here's faith-based politics at its most callous & wrong-headed: the belief that our president's job is to tell us to pray, prayer is our civic duty, & prayer fixes things. Bush is passing the buck to us, & we're supposed to pass it to God. Good luck rebuilding the homes & lives the F3 tornados ripped apart.

The ancient Hebrews & their leaders were severely punished by God time & time again not because they didn't pray enough but because they didn't do the right thing & show justice & compassion. Later, Jesus in his rabbinical role placed a good deal of importance on prayer. But his modest (& at the time, shocking) advice was to hold the greater law of love over the strict observance of the many & detailed Jewish laws regarding the sabbath & relationships with gentiles. Jesus got into trouble for healing the sick on the sabbath.

Dammit, we have FEMA because we can't pray away tornados. Nor have we been able pray competence & intelligence into this terrible president. We can't pray New Orleans into wholeness. Prayer doesn't armor our soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan or bring them home. Those who pray do so mostly because it makes them feel good, or because they believe it effects positive changes on the supernatural plane.

Some years ago, I had a vivid dream about my grandmother that made me wonder if she was stuck in a purgatorial existence. The dream so alarmed me that I began lighting a candle for her whenever I was in a Roman Catholic church. She was Catholic, I'm not. But if one accepts the possibility of an afterlife, it's the only way one can help someone who happens to be dead.

Suffering in Arkansas & Tennessee is another matter. As much as those places seem like a another world to me, they are in The United States, & it isn't possible for me or my state governent, New Jersey, to give much practical aid. We have a national government to act on our behalf. So don't tell us that "more importantly" we must pray, Mister Monkeybrain Methodist. More importantly, you must say what you are doing to alleviate the suffering, with the earthly powers & agencies we foolishly put into your inept care. & do it.

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I'm hoping the day will, soon, come when everyone will realize the futility of prayer. Tornados or otherwise.
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