In a previous post, I analyzed and aggregated many of the comments some Christians in my community were voicing in response to the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy named Tyler Winstead. In particular (and as expected for better or for worse), Rev. Michael Brewster of Mount Zion Baptist Church received a great deal of coverage in the media and had a really good opportunity to offer some solutions to respond to violence in Northeastern Pennsylvania…but he blew it. Instead of offering some real-world solutions or attempts to ebb violence, Brewster used the opportunity to preach empty words and grandstand for his faith; Brewster noted that he would employ “the weapon of unconditional and radical love for humanity. Brewster also said that Tyler “is in the best hands he ever will be” and that God and Tyler’s family have forgiven the person who was responsible for Tyler’s death.
Before authoring my previous post — and even commenting on the issue — I considered whether I should comment and whether this is, as many say, ‘a battle worth fighting.’ Should atheists just ‘leave the situation alone’ and not respond to the often wild claims that theists are making that do absolutely nothing to rectify a situation? In this case, comments are not only of a grieving nature, but rather are — at least in Rev. Brewster’s case — intended to actually do something to combat violence. When the solutions that are offered are vapid and do nothing, I feel some sort of responsibility to challenge the solutions and hold preachers — who often never get challenged — accountable.
It is quite clear that Rev. Brewster’s solution of appealing to God has failed and is continuing to fail. When I was an active churchgoer and committed theist, I recall the daily ‘prayers of the faithful’ in which the persons speaking and presiding over the mass would petition God for changes in the world ending with “Lord, hear our prayers.” On some occasions, I was even the person who had read these petitions from the podium. With all of the prayer going on — and the parishioners who honestly believe that God intervenes in human affairs — one would expect to see quite a different world than the one we see now…but we simply don’t.
As Prince Prospero in the movie The Masque of the Red Death notes, “Famine, pestilence, war, disease, and death” ‘rule this world.’ If we can, instead of petitioning to a God and believing that our prayers are actually doing something, realize that earthly problems will only be solved by earthly beings, I would wager that much more would be accomplished and much less time would be wasted by those who falsely believe that their prayers are doing something to remedy a situation.
Religious persons and atheists often, for various reasons, ask, “What’s the harm?” when considering prayer and pleas to God. This is it. People are led to believe that their words are doing something to change this world and that so-called ‘holy men’ who allegedly are called by and communicate with God are the beacons of hope that are needed to solve problems. ‘Holy men’ and parishioners can solve problems, but this won’t be accomplished by kneeling and closing eyes. We need to open our eyes to the world around us and accept reality for what it is.
While it is certainly the case that some theists out there do not believe that their prayers will be answered by God and only believe that prayer is a meditation or reflection of sorts, we can’t deny that many theists literally believe that their petitions can be answered by God and that their prayers are actually doing something to fix problems here on earth.
Many parishioners and pastors, sadly enough, are “Living a Lie” as the Epica song suggests with its very powerful chorus:
Hope is a desert running dryDeep insideYou refuse to face the factsBut pray for lifeFind salvation in distressWe will waitFor the day you break out and reawake