Guest Blog: Christine O’Neill: Pray? (The Newtown Massacre)

Pray?  You want me to pray for these victims of horror?  Pray?  Okay, let’s look at this logically.  Praying to something implies that something has power.  A God by its very nature is ALL powerful.  Omnipotent, ineffable.  Remember those words from Sunday school?  They mean God has an inconceivable plan for us, and can do anything.  I personally do not believe in God.  I believe in the power of human kindness, in empathy, in decency but I believe all those things are generated by the strength of the human mind. I cannot pray to an entity which, if all powerful, has allowed 26 people to be killed because someone had a bad day.  If it turns out that I am wrong if there is a divine being, He/She and I will have words!  There will be a reckoning.  How dare they have the power to stop this, to heal the mind of that young man, and not do so?  I believe, I have always believed, that Gods were created in the human mind to help us explain the inexplicable, and survive the insurmountable.  Gods, to me, are imaginary beings who soothe us in our times of trouble.

Praying, to my mind, is reaching out to an imaginary being to help us find what is already inside of us.  I simply cut out the middleman.  In some respects, if praying helps you do what you need to do, then fine, who does it hurt?  But what if it makes us complacent?  Something horrible has happened, and this morning I am seeing “repost this prayer on your Facebook.”  Is that it?  What does this possibly DO?  If this is simply a kind gesture of support for those families, of course it is a good thing.  My heart aches for them.  But then what?  God if one believes in him (let’s go with the male pronoun for convenience, I’m too tired to fight THAT battle today) ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN, and now we’re praying to him?  Folks, HE ISN’T LISTENING! It is our responsibility to step up, to fix things, to change our world so that while this doesn’t happen anymore.

Here is the danger of prayer.  You repost that FB thing, or you go to church or you walk at the beach and commune with your God.  You send out your sympathy to the cosmos.  Then you feel better, and you go about your daily life, you’re done, thank you very much.  NOTHING IS FIXED.  If you combine prayer with action, fine.  Have you called your senator?  Your congressman?  Have you found out how to start a petition to put laws on the ballot that will make the changes you think will help?  Have you thought long and hard about what needs to change?  If you have, and then you pray, or if you pray while you are trying to figure it out, perfect.  But what if all you do is pray?

I am angry.  Am I angry at the tortured individual who took innocent lives yesterday?  Only a little.  And a little at his parents, because being a Mom or a Dad is the most important job in the world, and somebody somewhere screwed that up.  Hitler had a Mom, she failed.  But as a Mom, I know that kids don’t come with a user’s manual.  The most important job in the world, and they don’t teach it in schools, they send you home with a little beautiful life and say, “Hey, wing it.” So I’m a little angry at his parents, but sometimes you do everything you can, and you just don’t have the tools to help your children.

I am angry that this has been happening for years, and we have done nothing.  A young man in my kitchen last night remarked that this isn’t that big a deal and it happens all the time.  The media just makes it a huge deal.  WHAT?  Then I thought a little.  Columbine was when he was two years old.  Since he was two EVERY YEAR on average 84 people in this country alone, are killed in inexplicable people on some personal rage filled quest.  I can remember when this was not normal, but to the current generation of high school kids, this IS NORMAL, he’s wrong, it IS a big deal, but he’s right, it happens all the time.

I am angry at myself because up to now I have been saddened and horrified, and made empty noises about what must be done.  Then nothing.  So I am asking you please DON’T PRAY, or at least DON’T JUST PRAY.  I’m not sure how to go about it, and I don’t (contrary to my own overinflated ego) have all the answers, but I must do something. I will start Monday morning with calling my congressman. I will move on from there.  Please, whatever you think will work to fix this, do something, work for it, and change this. Please.


2 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Christine O’Neill: Pray? (The Newtown Massacre)

  1. Christine:
    I share your concerns about a form of religion that cultivates, through pietism, an apolitical quietism. There are plenty of secular forces in our culture that also cultivate a similar end result and the religious crosscurrents are numerous. Those espousing a combination of fundamentalism and American exceptionalism, for example, have confused nationalism with an authentic faith that forsakes an understanding of justice.
    In contrast, modern American religious intellectuals like Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers integrated mysticism and activism. Likewise, from a Protestant perspective, Reinhold Niebuhr challenged a retreat into the arrogance of individual moral superiority in the midst of an unjust social situation, both in his book, ‘Moral Man and Immoral Society’, and in what has become known as the Serenity Prayer, “…to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.”
    Contemporary religious leaders have not done an exceptional job at reformulating concepts of ‘God’ and, I like the way you have allowed a place for those who pray and take action. I think we live in a time where clearly, atheists frequently carry ethical and (even if unacknowledged) spiritual leadership. The world is in too much pain for the religious to attempt to stand in the way of those who do good. I feel humbled by recent events but not reduced to passivity.

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