Hugging > praying.
Oh, wait. Hugging? Hugging is great! I thought you said "praying."

Well, this article about the phenomenon of "prayer shaming" was published by The Atlantic yesterday at 3:24pm PT, about four hours after people started shooting people at a holiday party in a hospital (and slightly less than four hours after they stopped to reload then started shooting more people). Given all the shooting and praying that has been happening lately—to say nothing of the fat load of nothing else in response to it—Emma Green could have written it any time in the last month or two and kept in in the drawer, ready to deploy.

There’s a clear claim being made here, and one with an edge: Democrats care about doing something and taking action while Republicans waste time offering meaningless prayers. These two reactions, policy-making and praying, are portrayed as mutually exclusive, coming from totally contrasting worldviews. Elsewhere on Twitter, full-on prayer shaming set in: Anger about the shooting was turned not toward the perpetrator or perpetrators, whose identities are still unknown, but at those who offered their prayers.

With you so far...

This cynicism offers a view into just how much religion and politics have changed in the United States. Prayer and political action have a deeply entwined history in America. From civil rights to women’s suffrage, nearly every social-justice movement has had strong supporters from religious communities—U.S. history is littered with images like the one of pastors and rabbis marching on Selma, side by side with political activists.

Mmmm, okay. Basically still on board, with reservations.

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.

Annnnnd, no. That's a false summation of the "packed in" assumptions .Also, these objections can't really be called "attacks." The objection to saying "my prayers are with the victims" of actual violent crime is an assertion that prayer is an inappropriate, buck-passing exercise in refusing to confront or even acknowledge reality. There is no god, but even if you think there is, you're going to have to admit sooner or later that this god does not make laws or influence behavior in ways that mitigate the need for actual, enforceable laws.

In other words, you don't have to be an ideologue on either side to be offended by someone offering prayer as consolation to injustice. What astonishes me is that anyone, anywhere isn't offended by it. I don't mean to suggest that it's theoretically "offensive." I mean to suggest it is morally wrong. Prayer may not directly cause acts of terror and murder, but it absolutely promotes and preserves the conditions that do cause them.

I would go a step further to suggest that prayer is not just insufficient but harmful—not only in crisis situations (when it is just empirically ineffectual), but every single day. Every prayer is a tacit and/or explicit affirmation that the navigation of human life, human interaction, and human interdependence are somehow not the responsibility of humans. This can obviously take much more malign significance in the minds of the deeply faithful, but even in those little "god, give me strength"/"wow, the universe is really looking out for me today" moments, all of humankind is subtly diminished by the suggestion that there is a deity whose plan is being served by our suffering, and, more to the point, other people's suffering.

It may happen to be true that Republicans and their far right/off-the-chart fringes are more vocal about both their pro-gun convictions and their religious affiliations, but Democrats are just as bad in their way, offering platitudes and panaceas where unpopular thoughts and aggressive medicine are required. Likewise with the different strands of faith; Christianity and Islam are indistinguishable from each other in every important way. Despite what their defenders like to say to the contrary, they both encourage the view that life on Earth is meaningless when compared to life after death. In addition to not being true, this idea is dangerous.


People's private inner lives are their private inner lives, and that's all fine. But anyone who calls for public prayer, or worse, declares their own prayer as a solution, or even a contribution, to a problem as serious as mass murder, ought to be at least a little ashamed.

Except that I also think wishing "shame" on others is the wrong approach, and just another part of the problem of our complete inability to communicate persuasively with anyone who doesn't agree with us. (It's always hard to know which of the two meanings of shame to grab onto in these circumstances.) But prayers certainly shouldn't be encouraged.

Regardless, I'm sure of two things: what Green calls "prayer shaming" does not qualify for inclusion in the pantheon of slut-shaming, fat-shaming, and other otherings that continue to vex the internet. What she calls prayer shaming is really just people demanding a little better from their fellow humans.

I often think about Spalding Gray. Too often, maybe, but there you are. I think about the story he told about the time he was 14 and passed out with his arm touching the radiator and woke up with what he called “this dripping-rare, red roast beef third degree burn.” He asked his Christian Scientist mother to take him to a doctor and she said no, "Put some soap and gauze on it and know the truth."

At least she offered him soap and gauze.