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On Doing Nothing
"Thoughts and Prayers" in a Political Age
People all across the country are demanding action in response to the latest school shooting. And although there have been exceptions, generally action is implicitly assumed to mean political action. This is one of the defining characteristics of modern life — we are far more politicized now than at perhaps any other time in human history. So much so that even to call for a moment of silence is being seen as not only irrelevant but actively harmful:
Grumbling and jeers met the request for a moment of silence for the 17 people killed last week in the Florida school shooting.
“Let’s do something for them!” one man yelled… Another participant cried out, “We’re done with thoughts and prayers!”
Expressions of basic human love and sympathy are now being perceived as nothing more than a kind of filibustering of political progress. And yet can anyone believe that lack of legislative progress, as opposed to lack of basic human love and sympathy, created a world in which our children massacre each other for no reason?
Better gun control laws might have prevented, or at least mitigated, the murder of seventeen innocent people. Perhaps such laws are necessary. But at best, such laws are merely an external restraint on an inner illness that they cannot even pretend to cure. No legislation can heal the human heart. No activism can protect us from the evil within ourselves.
Only prayer can do that.
And even if you don’t believe that to be true, at the very least it should not be considered an offense to honor the dead, to mourn a tragedy, and to express solidarity with one another in the face of a horror that was manifestly caused by the isolation and alienation of a very troubled young man.
To some, to pray and to speak words of love might seem like taking the easy way out. It might seem that such things are only distractions from the real work, the political work, of fighting evil. But a very wise man, one who had seen firsthand the attempt to use political methods to create a society without sin, once wrote:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?