Prayer Shaming and Human Consolation

Jake Meador wrote a blog post at Mere Orthodoxy on the so-called “prayer shaming” that occurred following the shootings in San Bernardino. He writes,

What we are seeing from many of the politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers” is simply another species of the prayer-as-gossip and prayer-as-performance ritualism that many of us saw as children and, quite rightly, rejected. Though there is something more to prayer shaming than merely this, a part of the prayer shaming we saw this week is a right and appropriate rejection of empty religious ritual.

There is nothing “right and appropriate” about the shaming of those who make the so-called “empty religious ritual“ of “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” We need to stop being obsessed with calling out those who fail to reach our standard of pure and “authentic” statements. It is simply good manners to say such things.

We ought to say this (and words like it), even if there is no formal ritual attached to it, because it is less a statement of religious ritual and more a cultural statement and recognition of the gravity of the situation—a recognition that the event is a saturated phenomenon, something beyond what normal, everyday life can fully grasp. Connecting the event with the idea of prayer is describing the event as soul-troubling and it puts the event in perspective.

It is for that reason—that it puts the event in perspective—that mentioning prayer is so consoling. It is a cultural device that raises the event up from an event of bare fact to a public object of contemplation and deep consideration. Such statements are not about rituals, action or the facts of the matter; they are how humans console one another.

So we should stop the authenticity madness. Liberals (that is, the ‘cultural’ elite) are obsessed with neat-and-tidy solutions to problems, and they have little patience for anything but scientific action. Some events, however, require prayingmore than a therapist, a bureaucrat, or some “authentic” and literal remark.

We live in a world in which places and events
take on value and meaning, and sometimes we assign values and meaning to events using words that can only ‘get at’ our thoughts and feelings toward it. Let’s not crush these useful and consoling words and gestures because they lack religious precision and go beyond the ability of liberal theory’s vocabulary to grasp.

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