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Prayer Shaming: The View From Jesusland

Can this nation stay together? The cultural chasm seems unbridgeable

Here is the full image of the New York Daily News wood for Thursday:


As I write this on Wednesday night, the public has just been told the identity of one the shooters: Syed Farook. We do not know any of the others, nor their motive, if it is known. But the New York Daily News, in its journalistic wisdom, has found a way to blame conservative Christians for this massacre. This, because the Republican politicians featured on the newspaper’s cover responded to the initial news of events in San Bernardino by offering prayers instead of calling for legislation.

We have learned a new term in these past 24 hours: prayer shaming. Emma Green might well have coined the term in her good piece for The Atlantic‘s website on the phenomenon. She collected examples of it that appeared in the liberal media, and on people’s Twitter feeds. Excerpts from her report:

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.


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.

As Green observes, the prayer-shamers make the unwarranted assumption that all religious believers are gun-rights supporters. Worse, they reveal a total lack of understanding of what religious people believe, and why. Politicians and others offered their prayers as the scene was still active. To religious believers, prayers are not “meaningless platitudes,” but appeals to the Creator of the universe to help the suffering, as well as an expression of empathy and solidarity with those who suffer. When my late sister was suffering from cancer, a Muslim man in Turkey who read about her on this blog e-mailed me to say he was begging Allah to heal her. That moved me greatly, because though I am not a Muslim, but a Christian, I knew that this stranger of a different faith was offering to my sister the greatest thing he could.

She still died. But I treasure the memory of that Turkish man’s prayers, and the prayers so many others offered us. We do not know the will of God, but we know that we are to pray without ceasing. Contemplation is not something we do instead of action; rather, we ground action in contemplation. Ora et labora; prayer and work.

People shot. In the office waiting for cops. Pray for us.” That’s the text message one man got from his daughter, hiding in the building under attack. She asked her father for prayers. Should she be ashamed, Daily News?

A couple of weeks ago, Roland Dodds, a secular liberal, wrote a good essay saying that the Left needs Christianity. Excerpts:

Yet even I can recognize the positive role a religious leader can have in pushing their flock towards left-wing aims. The Pope’s comments about inequality and capitalism have been much more impactful than a lefty economist’s might have been simply because his comments resonate with Christian morals and principles. The Pope’s comments force free market minded Christians to address the divide between their political and theological positions, and possibly move some of the flock in left-leaning directions.

I don’t subscribe to the religious teachings of the church, but I see something positive in the church as a communal institution. When I attend mass, the arguments delivered from the pulpit fall on deaf ears, but the serenity of the room captivates me. It is a sad reflection that the halls of the cathedral are one of the few places that haven’t been encroached upon by consumer culture. Nearly every other public and private space has been subjugated by consumerism. We are continually asked to contemplate a future purchase, or measure our current standing by the financial state of conjectural others via advertisements and marketing. I see these encroachments as a subtle yet subversive bending of the public psyche.


I hold a controversial position on the subject of common narratives that libertarians and liberals may find problematic. I believe that the tragedy of our contemporary society is the death of any meaningful meta-narratives that bind a community or people. Not only has Christianity faded in its communal importance, but in terms of political power, ideologies like socialism are ghosts of their former selves. What makes us a community or nation other than our proximity? What responsibility do I have to my neighbor if larger social ideals do not bind us together?

As much as I wish an alternative were present, Christianity in the West is likely the best bet at helping build a larger meta-narrative around labor and pay. We are seeing the result of the death of any unifying communal theory in our society today, with individualism and consumerism marching in tandem through civilization. With the death of socialism as a viable, revolutionary alternative to the state of the world, the Left must embrace Christianity. The Left without a unifying theory of justice that can extend beyond its existing adherents is one lost on a post-modern sea without the language to unite its crew.

That essay was written only two weeks ago, but tonight it feels like it came from another era, and even another country.

Do not underestimate the meaning of this cultural moment. We have reached the point in our culture in which leading voices on the Left feel compelled to shout from the rooftops condemnation on Christians for offering something as ordinary and decent as prayers for atrocity victims as a first response to news of the killings. Think about that for a moment. When the simple offering of prayers for the dead and wounded are grounds for spiteful attack, it is hard to avoid wondering just what commonalities bind us as Americans anymore. The hatred that so many liberal political, media, and academic elites, and now many ordinary liberals, have for traditional Christians — finding a way to blame us for the alleged crimes of one Syed Farook and his cohorts, as well as a paranoid gun-toting lunatic named Robert Lewis Dear — has gone to a place I’m not sure we can recover from.

I’m more liberal than many of my fellow conservatives on some political issues precisely because I am a Christian, and believe that my faith requires it of me. And I’m more liberal on gun control than many of my fellow conservatives, not because I’m a Christian, but because I cannot understand why it is a wise thing to allow civilians to own military-grade weaponry. However, I grew up in a hunting culture, in which guns were a normal part of life, and though I’m not a hunter anymore, I own guns, and feel quite comfortable knowing that many people in my part of the world own guns. Gun violence around here is very rare. It’s a different story among poor black communities in north Baton Rouge and in New Orleans, but there are a lot of poor black people out here in the country, only 30 miles away from north Baton Rouge, and there’s little to no gun violence.

Something else is going on here. The culture of violence in the United States is not simply a matter of the availability of guns. You cannot “truly end [the] gun scourge” unless you scrap the Second Amendment and disarm the entire nation. Not going to happen. Even though California’s gun control laws are the strictest in the country, those laws didn’t prevent this week’s slaughter. A liberal writer named S.E. Smith says that this just goes to show that we must have even stricter laws. Excerpt:

Citizens of most of the West and a fair chunk of the Global South are shocked by how insufficient our gun laws are, and they should be. What private individual needs to own a long gun? A handgun kept anywhere other than a range for recreational shooting? [Emphasis mine — RD] Military-grade equipment? We aren’t living in an era in which we need a “well-regulated militia.” In fact, the organizations calling themselves “militias” today tend to land on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of known hate groups on a regular basis. These are precisely the people we don’twant carrying guns. Many of them are terrorists disrupting American society and inculcating us with a sense of deep fear of going about our daily business.

We can blame the gun lobby for all of this, and we should keep blaming the gun lobby until Congress cannot avoid this problem any longer. Even though we keep saying this after every mass shooting, it is apparently not enough. We must march on Congress, we must lean on our representatives, and we must vote for candidates who promise to take aggressive stances on gun control. We owe it to our dead, if not to ourselves.

This is the kind of thing that makes me grudgingly respect the NRA. Why? Because S.E. Smith and those like her cannot imagine why anybody should have the right to own a gun. No hunters. No sport shooters. No law-abiding civilians who want to own a gun for protection against criminals, or wild animals like the poisonous snakes that are common in my part of the world. It’s all the gun lobby’s fault, all of it, according to S.E. Smith, who lives in northern California and writes about things like transmisogyny, and how paying for surgery to chop her “hated boobs” off is her own “American dream.” S.E. Smith and I live on the same planet, but in different worlds — and to be honest, I kind of doubt that we live in the same country.

Whatever. This is not a post about gun control, about which I believe honorable people can disagree (though let it be said that not everyone who disagrees, on both sides of the issue, does so honorably). This is a post about liberals — ordinary liberals, not fringe folk like boob-choppers — who hate conservative Christians so much that they react to a mass shooting by denouncing those Christians for praying for the dead, calling their prayers “meaningless platitudes” (unlike #SendOurGirlsHome, I guess).

This is ultimately a post about alienation. And exhaustion.

I’m sick of mass shootings too. Last year, at a party, I met one of the victims of the Colorado movie theater mass shooting. She was on crutches, and told me how the bullet shattered her knee. And I’m tired of poor and working people not having health care. It affects people dear to me, and yes, given that outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal turned down Medicaid expansion money, thinking of how much my friends are suffering affected my vote for Louisiana governor this year. I don’t know any liberals who are more disgusted by Donald Trump’s campaign than I am, and most of the conservatives I’m close to feel the same way (even as we have no love for the GOP regulars). I left the Republican Party officially several years ago, and registered as an Independent. Point is, I vote my principles, not the party line.

But here’s the thing. I remember what progressive militants did to Brendan Eich. I remember when that same band savaged that small-town pizza parlor in Indiana earlier this year. We have same-sex marriage by order of the US Supreme Court, and now the US Government is going after public high schools, demanding that they allow young men who think they are young women to change in girls’ locker rooms, and vice versa. We have seen our universities kick people like us off campuses for being insufficiently diverse, (remember what happened to Tish Harrison Warren and InterVarsity at Vanderbilt?), and this fall have watched as university administrators have yielded to bizarrely illiberal demands from militant protesters. These protests haven’t targeted traditional Christians yet, but can anybody doubt what would happen if the campus left decided to do that, in the name of their sham “diversity”?

Look. Traditional Christians and other social conservatives know what’s coming. We know we may not be able to stop it, but we also know that we had better fight back, while we can — and that resistance is not only through voting. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been saying this for some time now, in all my Benedict Option blogging, but seeing how eager so many liberals have been to pin Colorado Springs and now San Bernardino on Christians, despite having no evidence whatsoever to justify their scapegoating — well, it feels like this is not just another one of those things, but something much, much bigger.

As I was writing this post, a friend who is a smart observer of cultural politics sent an e-mail with the subject line “Prayer shaming.” The text of the e-mail said:

This is a very big cultural moment. Total exposure of the fault line.

Yes. This is true. I’m not even emotional about it, not anymore. In fact, there’s a kind of serenity in accepting that this social compact is probably irretrievably broken. It is always better to live in truth. This feels like the moment when Tish Harrison Warren — who, as it happens, will be staying with us tonight — realized how much the Vanderbilt administration hated Christians like her — moderate Evangelicals who held the same beliefs about same-sex marriage that Barack Obama professed publicly at the time (2011):

For me, it was revolutionary, a reorientation of my place in the university and in culture.

I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space.

The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.

It didn’t matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn’t matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.

The line in the sand, the fault line, has become an unbridgeable chasm — and people like me are on the wrong side of it. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, Christians. This is good information. This is a useful thing to get learned. So learn it. And pray, and think, and act. It’s important.

Since I began writing this post, more has been made public about shooting suspect Syed Farook, whose father described him as a devout Muslim:

Longtime neighbors in Riverside were shocked to hear Farook could be involved with such a brutal attack.

“He was quiet but always polite,” Maria Gutierrez told The News. “Maybe two years ago he became more religious. He grew a beard and started to wear religious clothing. The long shirt that’s like a dress and the cap on his head.”

“I know he was very smart. He went to college early. He and his brother were always working in the garage on cars. Until like 11 p.m. at night. I think his mom was a nurse and his older brother was in the military.”

“If it’s him, I’m very surprised. Can you imagine? They were my neighbors for so many years. I never would guess.”

And this just in: Police identify the other dead suspect as Tashfeen Malik.

Somehow, this is going to be the fault of Christians too. We will be told not to blame all Muslims for this — and that’s fair, and necessary — but remember that we were just told the other day by our liberal media betters to blame all pro-life Christians for the paranoid crackpot who shot up the Planned Parenthood.

Come on down, brother. Leave L.A., move to La. We got guns, Jesus, boats, boudin, everything you need.