Whatever you do, don’t pray!

The mass murders in San Bernardino, CA have dominated the headlines in the U.S. for the last several days. The latest big development is that the atrocity turns out to have been another instance of Islamist terrorism.  The female member of the husband and wife killing team apparently ‘pledged her allegiance’ to the so-called Islamic State just before she began slaughtering innocent people. So, the FBI is treating the massacre as an act of terrorism. (Just to be clear: the FBI most definitely is not treating the massacre as an act of ‘Islamist terrorism’, because the Obama administration never, ever puts those two words side by side, but that is another story entirely.)

Of course, when the news of such deadly violence against innocent people first breaks, we naturally send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their loved ones.  That would seem to be an almost universal human reaction, under the heart-rending circumstances.  It turns out, however, that that kind of reaction is in many cases inappropriate, improper, and in fact worthy of withering criticism.  You read that right: unless you profess a very narrow, fixed view as to what political remedies should be adopted to counter mass murders—that is, unless you are an advocate of ever-more-restrictive gun control laws favored by the Democratic Party (Bernie Sanders, of course, gets a free pass here, because after all his Vermont constituency does include a lot of hunters)—you really shouldn’t be offering your prayers at all.

In the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre, many people tweeted their reactions—I’m sure there were thousands of messages.  Some of them came from Republican politicians. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan were among those who had the temerity to tweet that they were praying for the victims.  Almost instantaneously, Christopher Murphy, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, trumpeted his own tweet: “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”  Thus, only hours after the killings, Sen. Murphy was in sufficient control of his emotions to be pushing for what he considered to be the correct “steps to take” to deal with mass killings, and to warn other politicians that, if they didn’t endorse his proposals, they would have to prayer for their own forgiveness.  (Sen. Murphy didn’t make clear to whom those prayers for forgiveness would have to be addressed—whether to the senator or to G-d.  Perhaps, in the senator’s mind, that isn’t such a big difference.)

Some newspapers quickly weighed in with the same theme. The N.Y. Daily News blared on its front page: “God Isn’t Fixing This”, along with snapshots of the tweets from the four offending Republican politicians who sent their prayers to the victims.  The sub-heading described the four as “cowards”, presumably because, in the minds of the editors of the Daily News, Republicans lack the courage to disagree with the National Rifle Association and anyone else who does not support the gun control measures endorsed by the newspaper.  The N.Y. Times editorial board was somewhat, but only somewhat, less pointed when it wrote: “America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing[.]”  Still, the message seems clear: if you’re praying but not agreeing with us, your prayers don’t count for much.  Maybe there’s no war on Christmas, but it’s beginning to look like there’s a war on prayer.

When Sen. Murphy was asked to elaborate on his tweet, he said: “You get elected to Congress not to send our [sic] sympathy tweets, but to pass laws to keep people safer. And we are utterly failing in that responsibility.”  If you think about this remark, it’s obvious that the senator has somehow lost sight of the fact that people who are elected to Congress are still people.  Even so high an honor as being elected to the U.S. Congress does not raise one to a super-human status.  Those who are elected to Congress are still permitted, and even expected, to have the same kind of thoughts and feelings as the rest of us have, and that includes sympathy and prayers for the comfort of the grievously afflicted.

It is an enormously sad and disheartening state of affairs when even prayers of comfort and consolation are instantaneously treated by some opinion makers on the left side of the political spectrum as nothing more than moves in a political game, to be immediately countered by moves on their own side.  The message is that the only people who should be offering prayers are those political players who agree with Democratic political proposals.  Could it be that Sen. Murphy believes that G-d listens to prayers only from registered Democrats?  Or, might it even be the case that the Almighty actually is a registered Democrat?

Someone ought to ask the junior senator from Connecticut about that.




About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973