Proms, Prayers, and Prey: The Lion and the Antelope

A photograph of a group of high school students praying before their prom dinner sparked an angry debate on social media. The image was posted by Oakland journalist Frank Somerville after one of the youngsters’ mothers sent it to him as a counterpoint to all the tide pod eating, condom snorting stories about today’s youth.

He shared it in good humor and said it was ‘really nice’ to see young people behaving that way in public.

‘It says a lot about young people these days,’ he wrote.

prayAnd the politically correct wolves of Facebook pounced. Taking issue with such an image of prayer.

“Saying grace over your food says nothing of your moral compass, integrity or character … Behaving well at a restaurant while in your late teens, and being considerate to people, should not be Facebook praise worthy.”

“I see well behaved people doing terrible things, misbehaved people who just take care of someone in need. Being a Christian doesn’t mean they are well behaved.”

“My guess is their opinions on gay marriage, interracial families, equal rights, and other things we hold dear might not thrill you.”

*(note I did not adjust the grammar of the quotes, just left them as is)

Who knew that appearances on Facebook are praise-worthy?

Where to begin?

First, let it be clear I am the last person in the world to defend the efficacy of prayer. But the tone of the criticism says more about the fundamentally disingenuous nature of the critics than about what the photograph represents.

Every generation has its Tide pod eaters. There were fads for eating live goldfish (PETA members will faint at the thought), stuffing people into phone booths (a what?), Panty raids (can you imagine?), and myriad other juvenile idiocies concocted by young minds. The difference is they were not live-cast for all the world.

The fads of the “good ‘ole days” were not all so much better, they just had less publicity.

Those who take issue with an opinion contrary to their own without respecting the other’s rights to their own beliefs demonstrate themselves to be self-contradicting fools.

Many religious organizations, Christian, Islam, and others, doctrinally oppose gay marriage. Some probably cringe at “mixed” marriages (Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles, Red Sox and Yankee fans.)

Some offer compassionate tolerance, others outright hostility. So what? They can hold any belief they like. They can insist on it within the tenets of their faith. They can lobby against it in the public forum as an exercise of their first amendment. They just cannot impose it on others.

Those who take issue with the nature of this photograph as not representing the youth of today show their bigotry and intolerance. It’s a simple image of a moment in time, not a declaration of generational superiority.

Let me be clear about one thing, I see no efficacy or value in prayer other than as a means of aiding contemplation. I do not think it harmful unless it is the sole choice of actions to deal with a problem, then it can be downright deadly. Nobody prays for God’s protection, then drives through a red light.

At least not more than once.

Here is how I think of prayer.

In the savannahs of Africa, a giant herd of antelope gathers at a watering hole. The elder antelope leads the group in a prayer before drinking the water. “Oh, Father Antelope. Protect us from the lion and those who would harm us.”

Meanwhile, on a hill overlooking the watering hole, Simba leads a pride of lions in prayer. “Oh Father Lion, let us be swift in the chase to catch the antelope and feed us all.”

Simba then sends the female lions off to the hunt. Hey, this is nature, not political correctness.

The lions pounce on the herd, chasing several down and killing them. They return to the lion den, let Simba eat his fill, divide the leftovers, and life is good.

Meanwhile, the surviving antelope look to the elder. “Why did God not answer our prayer?”

“It’s the mystery of faith. Now thank God he protected you.”

Next day, the same scenario. The lions pounce on the herd, but all the antelope escape. The female lions return to the den.

“Simba, why did God not answer our prayer?”

“It’s the mystery of faith. Now be quiet so I can sleep and rest for tomorrow’s prayer.”

Prayer, the self-fulfilling prophecy whenever it works.

As to the kids in the picture, they all seem like sweet kids. Perhaps they will never make the news for eating tide pods or snorting condoms. Perhaps they will grow into productive adults. Perhaps one got knocked up that night. Perhaps one will turn out to be a serial killer.

Who knows?

Let us pray.

 

The Folly of Prayer vs. Guns

Here we are, just a few days out from the latest mass shooting, and what have we learned? A systemic failure allowed the shooter to buy firearms. He escaped from a mental health facility. He was court-martialed, imprisoned, and then dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for a conviction relating to domestic violence.

There’s a possibility of a rape case. Murky and unclear on what happened.

We also learned that bump stocks, the accessory which acted as a force multiplier in Las Vegas converting a legal semi-automatic weapon into what was essentially a full-auto, are once again for sale. This contributed to the high casualty count in Las Vegas; just a short time ago and we’ve already forgotten.  (http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/01/smallbusiness/slide-fire-bump-stocks/index.html.)

This restarting of sales, despite now long forgotten long-winded speeches on the floor of the House and Senate to ban such items, boils down to one thing; profits matter more the people.

The company that sells them, after what they must have considered a respectful pause (perhaps it was 58 days, one for each of the dead) ramped up sales again understanding the short-term memory of Americans and the inertia that is our government.

Plz godAnd just like Las Vegas and the incidents before it, scenes of prayers and candlelight vigils with imprecations to “Almighty God” for his compassion and intervention inundate the media.

Let’s get one thing straight. Not one prayer, in the history of the world, has ever prevented anything from happening. No matter how sincere the individuals gathered in prayer may be, not one prayer ever worked.

Now I know there be wailing and gnashing of teeth by the religious who’ll say I cannot know for certain what prayers worked. Nonsense. I saw hundreds of thousands of people, sincere people, pray after each mass shooting incident. While I wasn’t privy to their words, I can make an educated guess that many prayed for God to prevent such incidents.

God didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

It underscores the wasted energy and placebo effect that is prayer.  Even my friend and co-blogger on the Heretic and the Holy Man, Kent Harrop, concedes that prayer is not enough. (https://greenpreacherblog.com/2017/11/07/when-prayer-isnt-enough/)

Although he still sees the value in the effort, I disagree.  People prayed to end each and every war. Followed by more wars. People pray and the world continues to turn.

What we require is action. And in our capitalist society, economic action produces results. To change things, to motivate Congress and your fellow Americans to come to grips with the problem of gun violence, you must hit them in the pocketbook.

If profits matter more than people, there lies opportunity.

But what about the Second Amendment and the sacred right of bearing arms? It is a difficult aspect of America to reconcile. But, this article in the NY Times does a good job of putting the heart of the problem in perspective. Our willingness to allow easy access to high-capacity weapons is what differentiates us from the rest of the word.  You cannot stop someone intent on causing harm, but you can limit the means available for him to do so. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html)

The Second Amendment provides the right of self-defense to all citizens.  To interpret that to mean carrying concealed weapons to and fro in society is a stretch. To interpret the Second Amendment to mean there can be no limitation on weapons possessed by a citizen, or the amount of ammunition, magazine capacity, or other factors is a fallacy. We already do it to a certain extent, albeit minimal.

The latest shooting underscores the issue.  Aside from the fact he shouldn’t have been able to buy the weapons in the first place, he went to that church with fifteen magazines and fired over Four Hundred and Fifty rounds.

There is not one logical, rational, or legal argument to support an individual owning such level of firepower.

That is the risk of adhering to a strict, inviolable Second Amendment. Safeguarding innocent lives should trump any such interpretation.

To argue that the Second Amendment prevents ANY restriction on possession of firearms is nonsense. It is an argument supported by the NRA and those members of Congress on their payroll, and it must end.

Now, there will be a chorus of voices shouting, “but an Armed American Stopped the carnage.” “If not for him, more would have died.”

If we end gun violence with gun violence, we enter a never-ending cycle. An infinite loop. A zero-sum game. If we accept this, we must resign ourselves to future incidents.

There is one common denominator in most incidents we see from our home-grown shooters, domestic violence. And the history of our dealing with this issue is one fraught with inconsistency and failure.

We have prisons full of non-violent drug offenders, yet treat those who commit domestic violence in a much less serious way. Will jailing all those convicted of domestic violence solve the entire problem? No, but I think it a better use of prison space than someone caught possessing marijuana.

Until we recognize domestic violence as a warning sign and deal with it, i.e., lifetime ban on firearm ownership, forfeiture of all firearms, these incidents will continue.

Until we impose reasonable limitations on magazine capacity and quantity and type of ammunition, these incidents will continue. To kowtow to the argument that AR-15 type firearms are necessary for hunting and limiting weapons capacity infringes on Second Amendment rights is idiocy.

I have no issue with anyone of sound mind owning firearms. I have no issue with anyone owning an AR-15 if they choose that as a weapon for hunting or self-defense. I have an issue with the availability of bump stocks and no restrictions on owning high-capacity magazines and enough ammunition to fire 450 rounds in a church.

On the argument that an armed citizen was the answer to ending the problem, such a philosophy frightens me. The qualifications for getting a concealed carry permit are a joke. There are minimal requirements to show not only the ability to fire a weapon but the wherewithal to judge the circumstances under which identifying and firing on a target is necessary and prudent.

Here’s an interesting point, most Police Department, particularly in large cities, tell their officers not to resort to using their weapons off-duty unless necessary.  The reason? Responding officers face not only dealing with an armed suspect but sorting out the good guys from the bad guys. Just look at the number of “Friendly fire” incidents where cops killed other cops. Add minimally trained civilians into the mix, and it is only a matter of time before a cop kills or is killed by a well-intentioned civilian. Thus, compounding the tragedy.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, but motivating Americans to do something about it may lie in my earlier point. Money talks. If the NRA isn’t willing to compromise, stop supporting them. If Congress doesn’t listen, stop contributing. If companies sell unlimited quantities of ammunition, stop patronizing them.

If we can sue automobile makers for defective products, if  we can hold tobacco companies responsible for a “legal” products bad side effects, if we can sue McDonald’s for selling hot coffee, all of which has made things safer, then why not gun and ammunition makers?

If we do not work toward a solution to the problem, resign yourself to future similar headlines. If you want to waste time praying, have at it. But know this, it will fail, and more innocent people will die because we are unwilling to face our responsibilities.

One definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. That’s the history of prayer in ending these incidents. Hold your faith in any manner you chose, but human intelligence and effort are necessary to solve this problem.

It’s been a while since I sat in a church, but I read all the books. I recall these words, God helps those who help themselves.

Time for us to do something, save praying for the World Series where no one dies.

 

God is Deaf

The motivation behind the latest terror bombing in England remains to be seen, but I cannot help but be struck by the pleas for an intervention by some Supreme being as a salve to the pain and anger.

One segment offers prayers to the healing power of a god while another offers prayers rejoicing in the blessings of the same god bestowing success in their efforts.

It underscores the dilemma of a god who either can do something to prevent these tragedies but chooses not to or is powerless to stop it. Thus prayers or petitions for intercession are a waste of time.

If it turns out the underlying motivation is some twisted interpretation of another monotheistic text compelling such acts in pursuit of pleasing this same god, all the more tragic is our continuation of similar pleas to our version of the same being.

Until such time as humans learn that our actions affect this time and place in the universe.

Until such time as we understand that our differences need be resolved with words and rational thought, not offerings to an invisible deity.

Until such time as we all realize that each of our lives is intertwined on this planet.

Until such time as humans learn to live with our differences, not seek to impose one way by force of arms, acts of cowardly terrorism, or exploitation of our fellow humans, I fear such acts will continue.

The short-term answer here is to hunt down those responsible and prosecute them within the law. The long-term solution is much more complex.

As long as human beings see these acts through the spectrum of us versus them, of our interpretation of god opposing theirs, of our way as the only way, all the prayers in the world will be lost in a black hole of futility.

Prayer in School IS the Answer

Putting prayer back in schools may in fact BE the answer to our problems. I have thought about this and have changed my mind, perhaps it is time to do this.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am an Atheist or more correctly an Anti-theist. On this I have not altered my feelings or convictions.

But, in light of the many tragic events that have occurred, we have nothing to lose. Of course, this flies in the face of the stubborn fact that there has never been a scientifically valid study demonstrating the efficacy of prayer, no repeatable experimental process unequivocally showing a direct effect of prayer, and no consensus on what form of prayer works best, or at all.

Then there is the annoying secret agenda driven US Supreme Court that obviously wants to turn us all into Marijuana smoking, same sex couples, with full health care.

They consistently shoot down any attempts at reintroducing prayer in the public classroom.

But I have a solution.

We introduce Prayer as part of the educational curriculum. Each day we have every student in the United States recite a different prayer, from all 22 major religions, and the thousands of sects, off-shoots, and myriad of minor religions. We have perhaps two fifteen minute Wikipedia style lessons daily explaining the tenets, doctrines, and precepts of the religion to educate our children.

There is a risk here.

Studies show the religiosity decreases with higher educational levels. We risk unveiling the faults, fallacies, and inconsistencies rampant in all religious doctrines. If you have ever read the Bible, or the Koran, or any other “God inspired” document, it can be troubling.

The other problem will be the resistance from within the religious organizations themselves. They support prayer in school now, but what if it were all prayers and all religions?

In a document written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, entitled “Dominus Iesus“, he essentially says the only true Church is the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Pope Benedict, as then Cardinal Ratzinger, encourages embracing all religions as having “some” benefit in directing men to the true God. Yet he clearly states all other doctrines are wrong, but tolerable, in as much as they provide some benefit to finding the true path, as long as everyone knows the Catholic Church is the one and only true faith.

I am afraid such teachings illustrate the true message of the general attitude in the United States toward prayer in school, it must be the “right”, meaning Judeo-Christian, one.

This invites interference from the heathen Supremes once again.

But education, that is a worthy, Constitutionally friendly, goal.

Let’s teach them about all religions. Let’s pray in all faiths, all languages, all doctrines, to all the “Nine Billion Names of God” to borrow from the title of the Arthur C. Clarke classic.

It would be the biggest test of the effect of prayer on the world. Schedule one or two sessions per day. 180 days per school year. By the time all public school students graduate high school we would have generated a significant number of prayers.

Perhaps it would change the world, or maybe it wouldn’t and we could move on to other solutions.

Blaise Pascal, a brilliant philosopher, once proposed what has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager.

“God is, or He is not”

A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.

According to reason, you can defend either of the propositions.

You must wager. (It’s not optional.)

Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal’s_Wager)

To summarize, if you believe in God, and he exists, you win, if he doesn’t you’ve lost nothing, if you deny the existence of God, and he does exist, you lose.

So for the investment of a few hours on Saturday night or Sunday morning perhaps you buy yourself some Eternal Salvation Insurance. Besides, there is no football on then anyway.

My point here is that there is a significant number of people in this country that BELIEVE prayer would make a difference.

We can pacify the multitude, test the premise, expand understanding of different faiths, and, as Pascal is intimating, play the odds.

If it works, great, if it doesn’t we can move on to a more intellectually sound, scientifically established, rational approach to preventing tragedies.

And taking all the guns, as promising as it sounds, is equally untenable.

Pray hear me, I beseech thee.