Another cowardly act of mass murder committed by an insane person, this time in a city not so far from the part of the world where I was born and grew up, and the calls are already going out for vigils and prayers for the victims of the madness. Don’t misunderstand me – I think it is quietly wonderful that people want to offer support of any kind for those people affected most directly by this sick behaviour. I am heartened by the outpouring of sympathy for the bereaved and heartbroken; I think at such times, when the worst of human traits – sickening, senseless violence - impacts so many people, we often witness the very best of human traits being displayed.
However. I feel bound to ask anyone with the intention of doing so, what do you think praying to your God will actually achieve? What will you pray for?
If you pray for the souls of the murdered, does it not cross your mind that your God (and I’m extrapolating, I know) has already made up his/her/its mind about those souls, which renders your prayers pointless? Or maybe this was all a surprise to your God (which surely raises some awkward questions around omniscience and omnipresence, doesn’t it?), and so those souls need some help from your prayers? Maybe you’re praying to alleviate the pain and suffering of the maimed – but again, the same principle applies; hasn’t your God already decided how that is going to work out? If so, aren’t your prayers almost insubordinate? Hmmm.
For religious people, faith is often something comfortable and comforting. That’s nice, and if it is your main reason for believing in your particular God (and having lived among people of faith all my life, I have a feeling that this is the case for most), then knock yourself out and enjoy the ride. However, what is the worth of blind, unquestioning faith – the kind that reasons that God (all-knowing and all-powerful) has a mysterious grand plan which explains (without actually explaining anything at all, because asking for an explanation is a display of a lack of faith and will get you an eternity of suffering if you’re not careful) why acts such as bombing unsuspecting people are allowed to take place? Not only that, but isn’t it rather contradictory to believe that God has allowed something awful to happen, and then to believe that you need to pray to him on behalf of his victims? I confess that the sense of that escapes me. But perhaps your faith gives you some special insight into your invisible (unless he shows up on a piece of toast, of course) and silent God’s will.
Since I’m not a person of faith (having been indoctrinated from birth and finally, FINALLY seen sense more than thirty years later), I’ll ask the question of your God for you: WHY?
- · Why did you not stop this murderous act at some point during the events leading up to it?
- · Why did you do nothing, knowing that lives would be horribly ended and that hundreds of others would be devastated?
- · What IS the purpose of you allowing such hideous evil? Why should your purpose be ‘mysterious’?
- · What do you want from your worshippers that can only be achieved by such pain and suffering?
Of course – to borrow the reasoning of the late and great Christopher Hitchens – there is the chance that God is real but not what we think. Perhaps God doesn’t know that people are going to carry out hideous acts – in which case he is not omniscient as claimed. Perhaps God knows what is going to happen but is powerless to intervene – which can be a little embarrassing when boasts about omnipotence are being bandied about. Or – and this is a little troubling but most in keeping with the Christian Old Testament – perhaps God knew exactly what a small group of his creations had in mind for a larger number of his creations, but didn’t care. If so, God is a psychopath, in which case we’re all in the shit.
Whichever way I look at it – including from the retrospective stance of a believer – praying for the victims of any kind of disaster seems rather pointless, if not foolish. If you believe in a benevolent God, then such things are hard - if not impossible - to explain rationally. Taking the ‘mysterious ways’ argument and clutching it to your chest with your bible is a cop-out, and deep down, you know it. Either God exists and allowed this latest atrocity to take place, or he doesn’t exist, and we’re all just doing our own thing, masters of our own destiny.
Prayer? Nah, you can hide in there if you want – and be no less deluded than the cowards who perpetrate such acts of murder in the name of their God - but I’d rather be honest with myself.
I shall not be joining you in such foolishness.