Monday, September 21, 2015
the power of prayer...to provoke
"When very bad things happen around the world, people search for news; they do not search for prayers, the Bible, the Quran or anything related to religion." - Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Googling for God
i took comfort in the quote above when i read it in yesterday's new york times. when you look around sometimes, it can seem like the whole world is filled with religious fanatics, but it seems that the trend is actually in the opposite direction, with more people than ever identifying as atheist or agnostic. and that somehow gives me hope.
late last week, a terrible tragedy occurred in the little town where i grew up. a whole family - mom, dad and four children, were killed when their home burned down during the night. i didn't know them, but recognize that it is truly a horrible event with a very big impact on a small community. i immediately went in search of news of the tragedy and found an article on the website of the nearest town with a daily paper, the mitchell daily republic. this link is not the original version of the article, it was updated over the next couple of days, to include more facts about the events. but the initial version had very few facts and a whole lot of god in it. and i have to admit that i felt sorely provoked by that. a daily newspaper that can't even provide the facts of a story, but instead manages a couple of quotes from distraught community members about how they're praying about it and providing ministerial support for the children of the school district. thankfully, they were also providing school counselors, even calling in some from other schools, but what happened to the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state?
there was another article later the same night with even more religion and quotes from two ministers (apparently they're the ones willing to speak to the press) about how the family was well-prepared to meet their maker. yes, really. click the link. interestingly, no one was asking where god was when the fire started. if you believe in such things, that might be the pertinent question.
i've been pondering all weekend why this provoked me as much as it did. i think, like many things, it's a complex web of reasons. an eternal struggle to distance myself from provincial practices. worries about sending my child into that den of fundamentalism next year. an undoubtedly haughty disdain for small, religious thinking brought on by years of over-education and global living and observation of a world made a worse place to be by religious fundamentalism of every stripe. in short, the personal baggage that i carry around. and when something awful happens, it triggers a deep reaction in us and mine was one of disdain for those wishing to see this tragedy through the lens of a god that was apparently not benevolent enough to keep it from happening.
times of tragedy and loss make us need comfort. the comfort of a community gathering together is a powerful thing. we proved at the storytelling evening for my father last november, that being together, sharing stories and laughter and tears and affection and more laughter are enough, there's no need to bring god into it. i have nothing against privately having a word with a higher being or beings, but can't we keep it private, just between us and her/him/them? does it have to be splashed across the pages of our newspapers too?
UPDATE: the story gets worse, much worse. autopsy results have revealed that the wife and four children were murdered before the husband apparently set fire to the place and turned the gun on himself. i really do wonder if they were as prepared to meet their maker as that minister suggested...