Apathy, inaction, the status quo, & the pitfalls of faith and prayer

Recently an old chain-style email has been revived and gotten a lot of circulation on social media and the like, coming back as the gun control issue has made its way back to the fore of national discussion. The text of the old email, presented as the transcript of Darrell Scott, a father of two victims of the tragic 1999 Columbine High School shootings, is of him testifying at a Congressional House subcommittee hearing a month after the incident. Though presented disingenuously, saying that the session was “not prepared for what he was to say nor was it received well,” the transcript is accurate. To give you an idea of Scott’s statement, here are some notable excerpts (full text can be found here):

“I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy – it was a spiritual event what should be forcing to look where the real blame lies…here in this room.”

Going on to explain what the real problem is:

“We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and to violence. […] We do need a change of heart and a humble acknowledgment that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God!”

(Photo by Cris Watk)

All that prayer, unfortunately, is not going to solve our lax gun law problem.(Photo by Cris Watk)

Then going on to claim (another instance of false claims of persecution against Christians) that there have been legislative prohibitions to prayer in schools and that such an act is the true source of gun violence and the horror in Littleton – if only Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold has been free to pray in school without restriction, this type of thing wouldn’t happen! Or, perhaps, if they had been required to pray, Christian morals about not killing would have sunk in for sure. Somehow I think, in reality, it’s more complex than that.

This line of reasoning is nothing new. Every time there’s a disaster or tragedy that manages to pull at people’s heart strings especially well there’s the usual round of headlines – whether it’s Pat Robertson and his ilk making some claim about sinners incurring the wrath of God in the manifestation of a hurricane or a bombing or someone like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was a major figure in the 2011 evangelical prayer gathering in Houston. Dubbed “The Response,” the events organizers claimed the solutions to our national problems could be found in reaching out to God through prayer.

In case you’d forgotten, “The Response” was an event held in Houston, Texas which brought together thousands of Christians under this message (taken from the event’s website):

“America’s issues are not primarily financial, political or moral. Neither does America’s hope lie in one leader or institution.”

(Wow! I’m actually going to have to agree with that, for the most part! But let’s go on…)

“Our hope is found in the One who desires for us to turn to Him with all our hearts. This is our response — to call on Jesus on behalf of America, that He might hear our cry and that we would see a revolution of righteousness in this country.”

And you’ve lost me. The problems of our society? It’s nothing to do with politicians or American culture or business interests overriding the will of the people – it’s a lack of Christ! And the solution? To simply ask him to fix all of our problems. It’s so obvious!

Prayer is nice and all but if that's all you're going to do, you're not actually helping. (Image by Alan Eno)

Prayer is nice and all but if that’s all you’re going to do, you’re not actually helping. (Image by Alan Eno)

This is one reason I can take issue with religion – many individuals use it as a reason to avoid taking any responsibility for societal issues and an excuse to pass on implementing any real-world action or demanding change. Make no mistake – religion can and has done quite the opposite (see liberation theology as just one example) but does it always? As an atheist-leaning agnostic (I can’t say with certainty that there is no God and all that jazz, but utilizing Occam’s Razor leads me to believe there probably isn’t), I think I can say, at least for some of my peers (of this variety), that it is the undying certainty and the social apathy/misdirected energy that results from devout faith and abeyance to religion to be a matter that I find rather troublesome.

Any belief system that creates a sense of absolute certainty and unwavering dedication should be subject to scrutiny. It’s the same type of system that can allow decades of evidence to go ignored from dozens of scientific fields proclaiming repeatedly and politely that human actions have and will continue to negatively affect the global climate and ecology at an increasingly measurable and immense cost. The issue is well illustrated by a recent study which has found that 76% of Republican party members believe in a Second Coming (and the “End Times” which comes with it). Combine this with comments made by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) who sits on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and make your own conclusions:

“The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

It may sound like this piece I’ve written is an indictment of religion. In some sense it is but in a more accurate sense it is the questioning of a style of thought and decision making that comes from a world view that is necessarily static, absolute, and unwavering. Historically religion has provided a source of hope, social unity, and yes, even forward momentum. It’s also no secret that, at times, it has been used to destructive ends, too. But today, at least in this nation, it is too frequently used as an excuse for apathy and inaction – either “prayer is needed” or, failing that, whatever the target of lamentation is may merely be God “working in mysterious ways” – which, alone, are complete cop-outs.

I don’t care if you’re religious or not – inaction and complacency are the most dangerous attributes a civilization can have. There are plenty of apathetic atheists; but, as the religious right likes to remind everyone of so frequently, the US is a Christian majority nation. So frequently I’ve seen God, prayer or the Bible proclaimed as the solution to our problems – after a tragedy people gather together for a prayer vigil and the incident is merely shrugged off as “the will of God.”

Ghandi, a religious man, once stated that you must “be the change you want to see in the world.” He did not wait for prayer to guide him to justice or for a divine power to liberate South Africa and India. Nor did he see the propagation of his faith to be the one and only solution to the injustices he saw – instead he achieved change and bettered the world through his actions, through working on this plane of existence.

Because when it comes down to it – no one is going to fix our problems for us. You can put your energy into proselytizing and wailing about persecution that doesn’t exist, or you can work with (rather than against) those around you, regardless of faith or lack thereof, to better this existence. The “societal ills” we hear so much about all have solutions and a just and equal world is possible, but it won’t come from above or from outside, but within.